From Croydon to Columbia

By - Thursday 7th September, 2017

A student from Thornton Heath hopes that her story will inspire other young Croydonians

It may sound dramatic, but you could say that Thursday 30th March 2017 was a turning point in my life. It was the day that I found out that I, a state school student from Thornton Heath, got into Columbia University in the City of New York, an Ivy League university.

Most year thirteen students in the UK know the gut-churning feeling of sitting in front of a computer to see whether you got into university via an online update. You may try to tell yourself that you are unbothered, that whatever happens happens – but an indisputable feeling of angst tells you otherwise. This is how I felt on that Thursday sitting in my bedroom waiting for that dreaded but anticipated update email from the Columbia undergraduate admissions website.

I clicked on the link, instinctively holding my breath, only to see a video buffering. My immediate thought was ‘Great, they’re going to reject me through a video, wonderful’. So when I saw ‘Congratulations’ being spelt across the screen over digital confetti and the beautiful Columbia campus I stared in disbelief for a solid minute. Still baffled, I clicked on the next link to see not one but two letters. After carefully reading the first, an acceptance letter, I scrolled to the second, which read that I had been chosen by the admissions team to be a Kluge scholar because they considered me one of the most talented in my year. Suddenly I was filled with shock, confusion and an overwhelming wash of elation.

My chances of entry to an Ivy League school were small

The journey up to that point had been very difficult. I decided that I wanted to apply to American universities in August 2016, which is very late in the game because I had to apply before Christmas. In four months I had the task of researching how to make a successful application, teaching myself for and getting a good grade on three SAT exams, writing personal statements and filling in my application form, all while applying for British universities and maintaining my grades at the same time. Additionally, I had to maintain my schoolwork and use mostly free resources (thank God for the internet) as that was all that I could afford after the SAT fees.

But I got through it with the help of my teachers and head of year at Norbury Manor Business and Enterprise College, who did their best to support me despite the school having little experience sending applicants to American colleges (they even paid for a two hour SAT tutoring session). Nonetheless, considering that I went to a state school and applied using no official third-party help, my chances of getting into an Ivy League school were very small. That’s why I almost can’t believe that I’m in this amazing position. I am the first person from my family and school to make this step.

My hometown has stepped in to help me

The only barrier between me and Columbia was been money. This entire process has made me truly realise how lack of finances can really impede social mobility and opportunities for people with backgrounds like mine. The university gave me a generous grant and I plan to work on campus during my entire time at Columbia, plus I have my own savings from work and support from family and friends. In spite of this, there’s a gap in my finances that I need to fill.

And this is where my hometown has stepped in to help me. I started a Crowdfunder page called #Croydon2Columbia to help out with some of the expenses of going to university. There’s an additional cost for me as well: I battled with cancer when I was fourteen, so although I’m in remission, my medical insurance are higher than normal. Although my campaign did not hit the full £11,000 target to cover my health insurance, a computer and some of my living expenses for the first two years of my course, I was delighted and grateful to have raised enough to cover my first year and part of my second.

I’m writing this from New York where I’m settling in on campus and just about to begin my studies. I’m excited and happy, and would like to thank everyone who helped me by contributing to my Crowdfunder and also for all the support and good wishes I received.

I aspire to be a writer and I’ve been striving toward that goal since the year after I overcame cancer. I won ‘Young Reporter of the Year’ in 2014 and I started writing for the Croydon Citizen in 2015 (in fact, I included my articles in my Columbia application). I’ve also written for the Roundhouse, the Croydon Guardian and the Economist Educational Foundation, and now I want to intern at the myriad of New York’s news desks and writing rooms. I’m doing my best to embark on an incredible journey. I hope that my story helps other young people from backgrounds like mine to realise that life is full of opportunities and to reach out for them.

You can find out more about Liberty’s journey from Croydon to Columbia on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

Liberty Martin

Liberty Martin

Born and raised in Croydon with a rich Jamaican heritage, Liberty Martin is a keen aspiring journalist and writer. After winning the Guardian’s Young Reporter of the Year for Years 10 and 11 in 2014, she’s hungry for a good story and wants to travel and learn about the world around her. Always interested in a topical debate, Liberty’s constantly reading online blogs and news websites to keep up-to-date with the latest news. She’s obsessed with chips slathered in vinegar, elephants, Frank Ocean and wants an extensive library of books in her future home. At school Liberty is studying English Literature, Spanish and History at A Level and sings in her school choir.

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  • Jonny Rose


    You absolute HERO!

    Well done for enduring of what life has thrown at you and making it this far. Getting into an Ivy League school is a phenomenal achievement and I hope you will write about your experiences for your audience ‘back home’ in Croydon once you are there :)