When it comes to book-to-film adaptations, changes are inevitable. Whether it’s because of screen time or other factors, fans usually expect some details to be different. This rule is no exception to Jenny Han’s trilogy, To All The Boys I Loved Before (TATBILB). But in this case, a simple change in colleges changes everything.


In the books, Peter gets into the University of Virginia (UVA) on a lacrosse scholarship whereas Lara Jean is rejected. Lara is instead accepted to the College of William and Mary (located in Virginia) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Peter suggests that she should attend the College of William and Mary for a year, and then transfer to UVA for their second year. However, Lara Jean decides that she wants to attend UNC, effectively making her relationship with Peter long-distance.

A rift follows as the couple try to figure out how to make this work. Peter even thinks about following Lara Jean to UNC, even though he can’t really afford it.

The film version takes everything up a notch. Neither Peter nor Lara Jean applies to UVA. Instead, Peter is accepted to Stanford University (no less) on that lacrosse scholarship while Lara Jean is accepted to New York University (NYU) and Berekely.

An expensive education

College tuition in the USA is incredibly expensive. Every year, students take out huge loans to gain an education. As a result, the overall student debt in the USA amounts to $1.6 trillion. Choosing colleges based on costs is the reality most American students face.

Amongst those choices is also the choice between a private college and a public one. Public colleges are cheaper because they are either partially owned by the government, or they receive public funds. Also, most US colleges are cheaper if a student attends a college that is in their home state — since residents pay taxes to fund their state’s public universities. The government’s ability to cover part of the tuition fee is a significant financial aid to many students.

For Lara Jean, who lives in Virginia in the books, the College of William and Mary costs $17,434 while an out-of-state student’s tuition is a whopping $40,089 per year. For UNC, out-of-state student tuition costs $18,079.56 a year. If Peter would have followed her, he would have given up his scholarship to pay at least 18,000 dollars a year.

Relating to the audience sacrifices authenticity

Although not the focus of the books, the fact that the main characters applied largely to state universities and public colleges made them more believable. Jenny Han’s trilogy wasn’t trying to critique the US college tuition system, she was just writing about the average American student experience. But, for me, this was a central backbone of the book. The film version fails to demonstrate this reality.

Some may wish to argue that the main conflict concerning the colleges concerns their respective distance and not their fees, as it’s primarily the former that poses the biggest threat to maintaining a relationship. That would be a fair point. Having said that, I still think that ignoring the economic factor, which can also weigh in heavily and affect a relationship, is lazy. The film dreamily turns a blind eye to an important issue facing thousands of American college students.

Most likely, the producers changed the colleges for a couple of reasons. They set the film in Portland, Oregon whilst Han sets her books in Virginia. Based on this, the characters would have applied to different public colleges. But another, more obvious reason, is that Stanford and NYU are instantly recognizable and more known to an international audience.

Here we see the main conflict when it comes to book-to-film adaptions: being faithful to the original material vs. pragmatic decisions. Though I understand why the change was made, it betrays the authenticity of the college application experience. Of course, romcoms are rarely realistic. But the books work precisely because readers can relate to or at least appreciate the difficulties facing young people on the brink of starting their lives. It’s just a shame that film audiences will miss out on that.