It was during the first term of Year 11 (aged 16) that I started to think more seriously about my future.
I had lived in my hometown of Plymouth in the UK for my entire life. It was a nice place to grow up, but it was little more than that, and the thought of studying in the south west of England for longer than I needed to was maddening. I didn’t have an exact idea of what I wanted to study at university, let alone for what purpose, but I knew I wanted to do something different. When I expressed this feeling to my teacher, she recommended I think about applying to an American institution.
At first, I knew almost nothing about the American education system, beyond the fact that it was, for lack of a better word, different. All I had was a surface-level idea from Hollywood films and television shows, of shiny, fresh-faced students at places like Harvard and Stanford with a whole world of opportunities at their fingertips.
Slowly, I educated myself. There was plenty of information online about what I needed to do to apply, including advice from current students in YouTube videos and blog posts. I would be required to take the SAT (the American standardised test) and fill out a few more applications than the usual five if I were to apply to British universities. Nevertheless, I felt it was worth a shot. America does, after all, purport to be the land of opportunity. In December 2016, I was accepted to Yale and started studying there nine months later.
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My decision to study at Yale instead of going to a British university was not a difficult one. Unlike English universities, where students typically study only one subject for three years, Americans more or less study as many subjects as they want to. Prospective students don’t apply to study history or physics, but liberal arts: where students choose classes from a large list, with each class acting like a building block towards a degree. When it comes to extracurricular activities, American universities encourage students to pursue as many interests as possible, to make connections with others and to have fun doing so. This massively appealed to me.
Officially, I am reading history. In reality, I am studying mostly history, but taking classes in Italian, English and political science. When I was weighing my different options for university, I knew that I didn’t want to confine myself to one subject. I also didn’t want to be cooped up in my room all the time with my head in a book, I wanted the opportunity to learn from my peers and explore new subjects: both things that are not only accommodated but actively encouraged in the US.
When I was choosing which American institutions to apply to, Yale became a personal favourite very quickly. Beyond the more superficial details like the campus’ extraordinary beauty, I knew it would be a place where I would be challenged academically, both inside and outside the lecture hall. Online I saw videos of the Yale Political Union and of university events hosting international figures, from Tom Hanks to Hillary Clinton. I also saw videos from Yale’s admissions office, detailing where and how students interacted with one another.
Then I learned about Yale’s residential college system, and I was completely sold. Fashioned on the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, Yale was unique among US universities to have specific living spaces for its students, each with a distinct organisation and identity.
There is a famous article written by a former student titled “The Opposite of Loneliness”, in which the author details how there isn’t an antonym for loneliness, but that Yale embodies whatever that word would be. Some people I’ve asked have said that this article convinced them that Yale was the place they needed to be. Even though I hadn’t read the article before I came here, I can confirm that its sentiments are completely accurate. Yale is a place where you can live with your best friends, debate your competitive classmates, and feel at home doing both.
Two years in to my course, I am still thankful that I chose to come here. Away from the grey skies of soggy Devon, I am free to study what I want, have made amazing friends from all over the world, and feel I am where I need to be. I certainly made the right decision.
Read more: Best universities in the United States