How I Went to College for Free As a High School Dropout

Stella Guan
7 min readMar 13, 2019

I moved across the world with no money

“Can you tell me where my daughter is?”

The day I stormed out of home after an intense argument with my mother, she called my school. I was fifteen years old and for the first time, I did not return after dark. The disagreement between my mother and I was too much for my burning teenage hormone to handle, so I decided to hide out at my grandmother’s house. A week later, I decided to return home but refused to speak to my parents for the following month.

A Burning Desire to Leave

This dramatic fallout with my parents started from an unlikely place — I had been wanting to study abroad ever since I was eleven but I just found out that my parents couldn’t afford to support me financially. My irrational teenage self didn’t know how to make it work without their support and the possibility that my biggest dream will never come true crushed me hard.

I had been desperately wanting to leave the exam-oriented education system in China where students were ranked on a weekly (if not daily) basis. Even as an A-student, I felt that the pressure was suffocating. Growing up in a small town in Southern China, I have never felt fulfilled by the quiet lifestyle there. I knew I wanted to be in a much bigger place and experience different culture. From hindsight, my anger towards my parents was totally uncalled for (and I deeply regretted my behavior) but it did make my mother realize how badly I wanted to study abroad.

One day, my mother handed me the local newspaper where I saw the picture of a high school girl on the front page. Apparently, this high school senior from our town got accepted by more than a dozen universities in America and one of them offered her a full scholarship. “If you can be like her, you can go do whatever you want.” said my mother. I didn’t say anything, but I thought to myself, that’s exactly what I’m going to do!

Leading a Double-Life in High School

Soon after, I started senior high school. Instead of focusing on my school work, I started to work on strategies to get into universities in America.