Meher Babbar, a member of the College of William and Mary class of 2018, is also a member of the St. Andrews class of 2018. Babbar earned degrees from both universities, splitting her undergraduate career between the U.S. and U.K.
Babbar was part of William and Mary’s joint degree program with the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland. The program has students spend two undergraduate years at William and Mary and the other two at St. Andrews. To get into the program, students must apply to each college separately and be accepted to both.
At first, Babbar got an email from William and Mary saying she was accepted to the college. At the bottom, it said if she was accepted to the St. Andrews program she should have heard from them already.
“I remember at the time thinking, ‘Oh if I did not get this email this definitely means I did not get into the program,’ and in that moment I was so crushed.” Babbar said. “And the next day they sent the email ... ‘you’re in.’ Looking back, that is what made me sign up for it because it was an amazing, amazing opportunity.”
Even before heading to Scotland, Babbar was exposed to St Andrews at William and Mary through guest lectures and classes taught by professors from there.
One struggle Babbar said some students face while overseas is the difference between the British and American education models. In American colleges, most of your grade is built over the semester with the final usually counting as 30 percent of your overall grade. But in the U.K., Babbar said the final makes up about 70 percent of your grade, with other work during the semester making up the rest.
“I had some friends who really struggled,” Babbar said. “I had friends who had 4.0s here and over there were on the border of failing because they did not know quite how to do work there.”
Also, the U.K. focuses more on an in-depth approach to study versus the U.S.’s breadth approach. So while you take a variety of subjects and electives at an American university, in a British university, Babbar said, you only take classes related to your major.
“In your final year of school in Britain you take a final exam in two or three subjects, and those subjects you apply for at university knowing your major, then when you get in you only study those subjects,” Babbar said.
Babbar said she sandwiched her time between the two universities, spending her first and last year in the U.S. and her middle two in Scotland. She admitted it was hard to leave the group of friends she made that first year in Williamsburg.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to go somewhere else for two years? This is insane.’ As the year went on I thought, ‘There is no way I can go to St. Andrews, there is no problem with it but I cannot leave William and Mary,’” Babbar recalled.
While she said the fear “ate her up,” Babar ended up making the jump to St. Andrews. Looking back, she said it’s funny how worried she was because she had an amazing time studying there.
“But, you know, fear is a big thing … making that jump is a hard thing for a freshman because your classmates are going to be spending the next three years together and you have to realize you won’t be,” Babar said.
Knowing that her time was limited at both universities made Babbar push herself to be a bit bolder.
“You can always just think, ‘Well I won’t be here next year so I might as well go ahead and give this a go,’ rather than, ‘Oh, maybe next year I’ll do it,’ ” she said. “In some ways, knowing that your time is limited, you really put your stock into the things you do, you don’t waste your time with unnecessary clubs or unnecessary people, you really think about what matters.”
While Babbar could attend graduation at both colleges, for financial reasons she will only attend William and Mary’s commencement.
“Its a bit strange to graduate from a place you have only been at for two years, and only one of those years feels real because freshman year is so far in the past I’ve almost forgotten it,” Babbar said. “But I’m excited.”
This summer Babbar will intern at a law firm in D.C. before heading to law school at Northwestern University in Illinois.
This time, Babbar is not afraid to build a life in a new place.
“I think not being afraid of change and being self-reliant has been a huge growth area since freshman year, I think largely aided by the program,” she said. “So forcing me to be like, ‘You have good friends, but let it go and start all over again.’ ”
She said while most college students go through this process, the St. Andrews program forced her to face it sooner, and it taught her some valuable lessons.
“I’ll be working in D.C. for a summer, I’ll be in Chicago next year, I’ll be in London for a summer — and I’ll always find a home for myself because I believe in myself, and I don’t think I would have had I not been in this program,” Babbar said.
Want to learn more?
To learn more about William and Mary’s and St. Andrew’s partnership program or how to sign up, visit wm.edu.
William and Mary’s main commencement ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at Zable Stadium, 100 Stadium Drive. While this is a ticketed event, those who can’t attend in person can watch a live stream of the commencement through facebook at facebook.com/williamandmary.
College of William and Mary Commencement
When: 9 a.m. Saturday.
Where: Zable Stadium, 100 Stadium Drive, Williamsburg.
Speaker: Sen. Mark Warner.
Tickets: Ticketed. Live stream available at facebook.com/williamandmary.
Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.