College vs. Boarding School YA

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Shante_

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One of the YA thrillers I'm writing is set during the MC's first year of college. I want this book to be firmly YA, but I've heard some authors say stay away from a college setting and I've been seeing a lot of boarding school books published lately. However, I've also seen more and more published and announced YA books are set at college (Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, American Panda by Gloria Chao, The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao, and I believe Legendborn by Tracy Deonn takes place on a college campus).

I know when I was a teen I desperately wanted YA books set in college so I could have some idea about what the experience would be like. What are your thoughts?
 

Kirkhammer

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I think you could make it work! I think it'd be a cool experience, especially as you're on the first year of college, as opposed to more 'adult' years like a third-year or graduate student. I think the theme of a boarding school (tight student proximity and conflict, restriction of student time) is drastically different than college (where professors don't really keep tabs on their students), so they're not swappable. As long as you stay true to that first year college student experience and the struggle of having more personal responsibility, I think you can really go a long way with it!
 
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Shante_

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Thank you so much for your encouragement! 😁 Totally agree that they're not swappable, which is why I wanted some opinions before I continue writing. 🤣
 
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frimble3

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Also, it would depend on your student. Maybe depending on when her birthday falls, she's a little younger than most.
Is she more or less sheltered than most of her fellow students? Has she been eagerly anticipating the freedom, or dreading the strangers, and the bigness of the campus and not knowing what to do? Or, is 'going to college' just what people do, in her worldview?
 
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Fuchsia Groan

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It seems totally workable, though high school books are still a lot more common than college books. You might see if any of the big YA agents address this issue on their blogs. Given that many YA readers are adults, and teens read up, it seems like college stories would appeal to both groups. But trends are always shifting, so an agent or editor or bookseller would know more.
 
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noodlequeen

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Hi! I'm a bit late to this, but my YA has a protagonist who's a freshman in college. This is critical for my story because I wanted to get her away from her parents and give her independence that she wouldn't get if she was just going to high school, but the voice is still very YA. My agent did suggest putting her in a boarding school but said that we could figure something out if I wanted to keep her college-age. Seems like there are some editors who just won't touch anything in college, but there will still be some editors out there who are open to it. Personally, I love college stories and wish there were more of them (without the steaminess that seems to accompany a lot of college "New Adult" stories).
 
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MaeZe

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My advice, for what it's worth, is to write the story you want to write. I know there are people who churn out books for the market. That's fine if that is what they want to write.

But I don't think we are all striving for market success. I am writing the story that I wanted to write. Other than some of the characters are 17 (eek, a trope!) a number of them are 19 and some are in college.

College dorms and boarding schools are not exchangeable in my mind. Just saying.
 
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Shante_

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Hi! I'm a bit late to this, but my YA has a protagonist who's a freshman in college. This is critical for my story because I wanted to get her away from her parents and give her independence that she wouldn't get if she was just going to high school, but the voice is still very YA. My agent did suggest putting her in a boarding school but said that we could figure something out if I wanted to keep her college-age. Seems like there are some editors who just won't touch anything in college, but there will still be some editors out there who are open to it. Personally, I love college stories and wish there were more of them (without the steaminess that seems to accompany a lot of college "New Adult" stories).
I love college stories too and I'm ACHING for more YA set in college! Luckily I keep seeing more and more announced books that take place in college, so my fingers are crossed that editors are becoming more open to it as a setting.

I'm glad your agent is on board with your decision! And now I'm really hoping you're able to get it pubbed with the college setting, so please keep me updated! 😅
 

frimble3

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Sadly, I suspect that most of the publishers' interest in college stories is away to get around the associations of 'New Adult'. This was the niche that NA was supposed to fill - the YA audience moving on to the next phase of adult life - taking on responsibilities, etc.
In practice, though, it seemed to be a dodge to get characters aged-up enough to have legal sex.

I hope college stories have a little more going for them.
 
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Shante_

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Yeah, it's unfortunate that New Adult didn't work out in trad pub! I think it had such potential to be a bridge between YA and adult.

College stories can really go either way. Ninth House is set at Yale, and it's adult fic. Fangirl is set at college, but it's YA. I think it really boils down to tone, voice, and themes.
 
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