In this day and age, the pressure is to succeed. Starting earlier and earlier, society tells kids they need to aim for the stars. Teachers worry when their first graders donít yet know which Ivy League school they wish to attend; mothers bring their 5-year-old daughters to college counselors the minute they say they want to be fairy-princess-veterinarians; fathers seek counseling when their sons only want to be optometrists.
While these scenarios may be exaggerations of reality, the pressure to get into a great college is very real. As I begin my college search, Iím faced with trying to balance everything I need in order to get admitted: grades, AP credits, extracurriculars and community service. No secret formula ensures that full-ride scholarship, so high-achieving students interested in college need to do their research.
Since every school requires a different skill set for its incoming students, kids need to first decide which college experience they want. For example, size matters. Do you want to go to a large school like Arizona State University with 72,200 students, or a small local college like Thomas More College in Kentucky with 1900 students? The number of students enrolled at a university often reflects the class sizes (however there are many exceptions), so a student interested in a closer, more personalized learning environment might want to take a look at schools similar to Thomas More. Another factor to consider is the atmosphere of the campus. Do you prefer a social, fun environment like Bringham Young University in Utah or a studious, serious environment like Harvey Mudd College in California? College is supposed to be an experience, and attending a college that doesnít fit your lifestyle may hinder a positive experience.
One last element to look at is where exactly you want to go to college. Names or prestige of universities aside, actual location may be most important, and students with college options abroad have considerable options. The expectation of an American student to go to an American school is meant to be broken, and as it turns out, studying abroad may be the more practical option.
Let us first consider the options we have, exemplified by the stereotypical school of each type of college. The categories to look at now are the prestigious schools, the practical schools and the out-of-reach schools. The prestigious school, headed in this article by Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts, is known for its selectivity and high prices. The practical school, represented in my case by FSU (Florida State University), provides a good education while keeping the costs and stress-levels down. The out-of reach school is a different breed of university that, illustrated by Stockholm University, may seem too far away from home but actually provides a great alternative to American school pressures.
Many teenagers in the U.S. can only dream of going to a university like Harvard; its world-renowned programs educate the countryís top players. With an acceptance rate of about 6 percent, not many of those dreaming youths will achieve that goal. Even if a student is accepted, a total bill of $65,150 limits many families. However, Harvard does award substantial need-based grants for families.
Even if one can pay the steep bill, what exactly does that $65,000 provide for a student? According to a recent anonymous op-ed published in Harvardís student newspaper, the tuition provides mental illness and not much treatment for it. While students struggling with such serious mental illnesses as schizophrenia are the extremes and the rarities, a suicide rate of about 18 percent (as estimated by Crimson, the school newspaper) reflects how the pressures of going to such a demanding school affect the individual student. This said, the students who graduate from Harvard often succeed to hold prestigious positions of power and influence, and many swear to it as fully worth its costs.
Many more families look into the idea of a state school, such as FSU. More than half of the students who apply to FSU get accepted, so a university like FSU provides a backup plan for those who aim for the Ivy Leagues but are among the 94 percent who Harvard does not accept. FSUís in-state tuition may be as low as $6,507 and out-of-state tuition as low as $21,673. U.S. News ranks FSU as number 91 of national universities (compared to Harvardís number 2 spot). Many students report that FSU provides a great education with much less stress than a higher-tier college.
However, college provides an opportunity to learn new cultures and explore the world, and staying in-state would limit the opportunity to explore.
The more adventurous student may opt for an out-of-state choice, maybe even an out-of-country college. As of now (and until legislation changes these rules), Swedish and Swiss citizens, along with citizens of other countries in the EU and EEA, are entitled to a free education at a school such as Stockholm University. A non-citizen may pay from $14,000 to $22,000 in tuition, depending on the program. A free education, invaluable in todayís economy and society, protects students from costly student loan debts. Along with a great value for an EU citizen, for those who do not speak Swedish fluently, or may just prefer to learn in English, Stockholm University offers one bachelorís program and 76 masterís programs in English. For someone who wants the experience of a new culture, a change in scenery, and a valuable college education from a college without completely emptying their pockets, the universities of a different country provide a great option.
With the pressure of choosing the right college comes the pressure of taking the steps toward the final destination: the future job, the future home, the future family. How is it that a student may not even know what to wear the next day but is expected to know how to take those first steps? Going to college represents one of the biggest first leaps, and analyzing the options out there helps narrow down what a student truly needs. Thinking outside the box and looking to more nonconventional options provides much needed contrast to the factory-like layout of the domestic American education system.

Beatrice Rodewald is a young writer and citizen of two countries, maybe threeóSweden and the United States along with Swedish America in the middle. True to her bicultural roots she has also contributed to magazines such as SWEA International. She lives in Florida, but her grandparents live in Sweden, where she frequently visits and learns about her cultural heritage. At home, she writes stories, takes pictures and plays volleyball.