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Jul 09 2017
by Caroline Mulvaney

Why I Almost Went to College in Ireland

By Caroline Mulvaney - Jul 09 2017
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For a lot of high schoolers who are starting to think about college, especially in the U.S., the idea of attending a university in another country doesn’t occur to them. Many students and their parents view the idea as being too out of their comfort zone or difficult to navigate. My parents and I didn’t have the same thought process, however. When I was 14, I left home to attend a boarding school in Dublin, and it was while I was there that I was introduced to Trinity College Dublin, or TCD. It’s ranked in the world’s top 100 universities, was founded in 1592 and has alumni like the playwright Samuel Beckett in its repertoire. As a teenager who was almost certain she wanted to pursue an English degree, I was immediately attracted to TCD for several reasons.

One of the reasons I liked the college so much was because of how old it is. Stepping onto the campus is like stepping onto the set of Harry Potter — some rooms in the school were even shortlisted to be used as filming sites for Hogwarts scenes. There are countless bits of history and stories wherever you go. The library is the largest in Ireland and has volumes so old, you have to have a special certification just to touch them. It’s like an English major’s dream. And that’s not to mention the number of famous authors, poets and playwrights who have been educated at the school, including Oscar Wilde, a personal favorite of mine. Trinity was a place where I could picture myself sitting at one of the benches on the lawn and writing that novel I had always dreamed about.

Besides the school itself, Dublin was also a major attractant for me. It is my favorite city in the world, undoubtedly. The pubs and bars are as charming and Irish as they appear in movies, there are countless bookstores and museums to explore and pass the time in, and beautiful cities like Howth and Galway are easily accessible by a quick train ride or a few hours in the car. Everything has a feeling of life to it that I felt I couldn’t find in my rural southern town. Of course, I also love rainy weather, which is a necessity to enjoy any time in a country like Ireland. All in all, Dublin was a place I felt I could call home, no matter how far away the home I was born in may be.

Finally, to seal the deal of what made Trinity the perfect choice was the cost. Tuition, airfare, insurance and miscellaneous charges like food and textbooks were still a third of what I knew I would be paying to go to an Ivy League school, or many of the other schools I had applied to in the U.S. I would have money left over to buy an apartment and start a life in Dublin, if I wanted to. And when I was 14-turning-15, I thought I wanted to.

However, when my senior year of high school came around and it was time to actually make the decision of where to go to college, my mind wasn’t as made up anymore. I had been away from Ireland for two years. It wasn’t long, but it was enough time for me to admit to myself that I may have been romanticizing some aspects of Dublin in my head. I could no longer picture myself sitting on that bench on the lawn, writing my novel. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to study English anymore. Nothing in my mind was certain.

I think it’s this uncertainty that dulled the joy of being accepted to Trinity. Even though I knew it should have been an event to be celebrated, I always had this twist in my gut whenever my parents brought the school up or I received another email from their admissions office. It took me a while to push down my anxiety and come up with a list of actual reasons as to why I maybe didn’t want to go to my dream school anymore.

The biggest reason was the matter of having a choice. Senior year was a tough one for me. My grades started to dip, I was struggling with anxiety and I even got suspended only a few days into second semester. I was becoming the polar opposite of the straight-A, perfectly behaved student I had always been, and my future was suffering because of it. The college rejections started to roll in. Schools I had dreamed about since elementary school were sending me letters that, to me, said I wasn’t good enough. It was starting to seem like Trinity would be my only option simply because it would be the only school that accepted me. Even though it was a school I thought I wanted to go to, it now felt like I was trapped into it.

On the less emotional end of the spectrum, another reason I decided I didn’t want to attend TCD was because the major you named when applying to the school was pretty much binding. It was very difficult to change from one area of study to another, and practically impossible to do it if you were trying to change from the sciences to the humanities, or vice versa. As someone who was trying to decide between a career in English or a career in neuroscience, this was a big red flag for me. I wanted to go to college somewhere where I could explore my interests and decide which one I wanted to pursue in life.

The final line through Trinity’s name on my list came when I flew over to have a student-guided tour, a few days before the deadline to decide where I was going to college. As I was walking around Trinity, I realized that it didn’t feel like I was touring a school — it felt like I was touring a museum. There were more tourists on the campus than students, and the students I did see didn’t seem to have any sense of unity amongst themselves. There were no school colors or saying hi to each other or sharing notes on the benches. The line between the campus and a tourist attraction was muddled. For me, I wanted someplace where you stepped over some invisible line and BAM —you know you’re on a college campus and surrounded by college students. Trinity didn’t do this for me.

In the end, the decision was a difficult one. I actually cried at the thought of not living in Dublin. But now, as I prepare to go to Georgetown in the fall, and I look over the lists of pros and cons I created as I was deciding where to spend the next four years of my life, I feel confident in my choice. Trinity is an incredible place that will always hold a bit of me with it. It simply wasn’t the best place to get me to where I want to be in the future, including how I want to feel as a student in the college I attend. 

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Caroline Mulvaney - Georgetown University

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