“St Andrews? Isn’t that where Will and Kate met?”
This is always the first question that friends and family ask after they find out I would be spending a semester abroad. Yes, even in the United States, the connection to Prince William and Catherine “Kate” Middleton is a definitive property of the university. Due to the Royal Wedding and the recent birth of Prince George, the story of Will and Kate’s relationship has reached impressive levels of popularity. I’ll admit, before arriving in Scotland, the association to the Duke and Duchess was one of the only things I knew about St Andrews. At orientation, JSAs eagerly searched for those lucky enough to live in the “Will and Kate” hall and, therefore, the best hall on campus. One week in town, however, will quickly reveal that the real advantage of living in St Salvator’s is being able to roll out of bed, shower, grab breakfast, and make it to tutorial in less time than it takes a DRA resident to reach town. The common obsession with the prince and his bride brings up an interesting question, though: does the Will and Kate story rightfully take such a prominent place in the history and experience of St Andrews? The answer: anyone is justified in making the connection so long as it does not dominate his or her view of the University.
In many ways, for the University, the connection has been beneficial. Since the beginning of Prince William’s matriculation process to St Andrews, application rates have increased significantly. As a disclaimer, I do not think that we can attribute the steady increase in applications completely to the royal couple’s attendance – given current economic woes, the cost of tuition is an excellent incentive for an American student to apply. Numbers found on both the St Andrews and College Board websites indicate that the cost of tuition at St Andrews is about £2,000 less per year than the average cost of tuition at a private four-year university in the United States.
However, there may indeed be a connection; the number of St Andrews applicants increased by 44.4 per cent in the year 2001, just after Prince William made officially announced his university plans. With numbers like that, the now Duke of Cambridge’s influence on the popularity of the university is hard to ignore. Kate Nicholl’s book Kate: The Future Queen asserts that even Kate Middleton fell victim to what Womersley calls the “William factor” . The book claims that Kate intended to attend Edinburgh University and only applied to St Andrews after hearing of Prince William’s decision to attend. Could it be that Kate is just like the American JSA that tweets “Off to meet my prince #scotlandbound” minutes before boarding the flight to EDI? Probably not, considering the fact that the book also claims the two had met before beginning their first year modules, implying that art history was not the only history that the couple had together.
The problem with the connection arises when one adopts the belief that the legacy of the world’s favorite couple is all that the University has to boast. Unfortunately, in celebrity-centric society, it takes a main focus. While visiting some friends studying at the University of Cambridge for the semester, I had a conversation with their program director in which she jokingly apologized for stealing William away from us. My thoughts: “Seriously? You’re apologizing to me? Do you realize that I go to school on the beach (lack of sunlight notwithstanding) and arguably the world’s most famous golf course? I think I’ll survive.”
Ultimately, the matriculating student’s opinion of his or her own university is far more important than anyone else’s. Perhaps you chose the school because it was Scotland’s first, or for the opportunity to study one of over 600 degree options. Maybe you were searching for a library with a security system that is just as tight walking out as it is walking in. Whatever the reason, it is your reason, which should be validation enough. By accepting this attitude, the Will and Kate connection becomes more of a fun fact than the defining characteristic of the St Andrews experience. If the students maintain a sense of pride in their research opportunities, thriving societies, and historic location, the rest of the world will begin to understand the reason that the Duke and Duchess attended St Andrews, rather than focusing on the fact that that they simply did.