In freshman year, I definitely thought I would be attending a college situated five hours from my home by car at the very maximum.
As a student in the Northeast, there is such a range of colleges within driving distance. So how did I end up in Scotland?
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I read Brideshead Revisited
by Evelyn Waugh at a young age. While I missed certain nuances (I really thought Sebastien and Charles were just friends), one part of the book stuck with me.
Oxford, as described in the book, was my dream of what college would be like. Fast forward ten years and I had applied to fifteen schools in the US and one abroad.
Certain things about schools abroad, like studying only one subject and no other for four years, kept me away from applying to my dream childhood schools.
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At the same time, the only US college on my list that used the Oxford model (small classes that broke off into one or two-person “tutor” sessions) was Williams College, the best liberal arts school in the country (a very lofty goal).
Happily, I found a compromise in St. Andrews, a gorgeous school in a medieval town with beaches, golf, and a wonderful city (Edinburgh) only an hour away.
There, I could change my major without restarting college while still studying in small groups with a tutor.
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Not everyone goes abroad, obviously. In my high school, I can only recall four students going abroad (to Israel, Ireland, and New Zealand) out of a class of 446 students.
Still, as a prospective college student, you owe it to yourself to explore all of your options. Read on to see if going abroad may be for you.
In the college process, you must be honest with yourself. We’d all like to be mature, independent, and consistently on top of things, but we must face reality.
You don’t have to have the personality of a globetrotting 30-year-old to study abroad. But you should be a few things.
First, you have to be independent. Everyone who goes to college will be faced with new responsibilities, such as making your own bed and eating a healthy diet.
Outside the U.S., however, many universities expect more independence. My college representative stated that there will be no one there to make sure that I go to my classes or that I hand in intelligible essays.
I would need to arrive with a willingness to take responsibility for myself.
Also, you might have to let go of a rigid circle of friends or ritual. Wherever you go, you’ll face new accents, foods, social situations, and traditions.
Don’t expect time off for Thanksgiving (I was so crushed to hear I’d be in class on Turkey Day) or that people will have similar activities.
Be adaptable and flexible. Hang out in the pub instead of a frat. Join the equestrian or rifle team instead of ultimate Frisbee.
Finally, be aware of what you’ll be gaining and losing.
If you’re willing to give up seeing your family every weekend so that you can stay at your friend’s house in France or take a train to a polo match in London, then maybe a foreign university may be for you.
If you may want to try going abroad, but not for four years, there are also a bevy of opportunities for you.
Your Study Abroad Options
If you’d like to study abroad, there are a host of programs available for every type of student.
If you feel committed and want to experience life in a foreign country, you may want to apply to any number of schools in the way EU students do - through UCAS or whatever service your desired school uses.
St. Andrews uses Common App, which made my life much easier.
If four years is overwhelming, joint programs like the St. Andrews and College of William and Mary Joint program may suit you. You’ll spend two years abroad and two years in the U.S. Other options include any of Johns Hopkins’s 5-year MA programs.
If you don’t speak anything other than English, you may wish to study in the UK, Australia, or Canada.
If you do speak another language well enough, you may even wish to live in a country that uses that tongue so that you can become fluent. Keep in mind that you may need to have a firm grasp of the language in order to obtain a Visa.
The best option to appease worried parents may be the foreign campus of a U.S. school, such as NYU’s campus in Dubai or Israel. That way, your credits will definitely transfer.
In all, consider studying abroad for one semester, two years, or your entire college career. A program exists for every situation.
Foreign universities are often less expensive and may have interesting travel and internship opportunities.
Whether you’re staying a mile from home or traveling across the world, you can make the most out of your college experience.