“I’m going to go to Oxford and I’m going to take English, Mum.” You could almost see the determination as my eyes glistened with pure joy.
We’d had an Oxford grad-come-former-student give a talk at my school. My English teacher had picked out students who he thought were good at his subject to attend, and I was one of them. I was only 12 years old, in Year 8, and so full of hope. I knew where I wanted to be.
And yet, my rejection letter, so much later, firmly grounded those dreams. Reading English Literature at University of Oxford had been my first, real, attainable goal – for six years – and in one fell sweep, it had been utterly decimated.
Yet, somehow, I was fine.
Here’s how I applied, interviewed, and coped with rejection from the number one University in the world.
This was a rollercoaster.
For whatever reason, Oxford and Cambridge both have these bizarre policies that you need to have applied by October 15th, rather than the usual UCAS deadline of January. I was asked for a personalised written statement, which I had teachers tear apart to help me improve, and two essays, marked by teachers, to demonstrate my writing prowess. One had to be an English essay, and the other a History one, as I’d decided by this point to pursue a Joint Honours degree.
The statement was good-to-go, but the essays were persistently postponed – whether that was from my laziness or my teachers forgetting to mark them, I’m not sure, but I do know that it was the day of the deadline that I finally submitted the application.
That was that for a while, until I found that I’d passed the first stage. What followed was a History Aptitude Test – or HAT – that was designed to assess my Historical skill set, rather than any substantive Historical knowledge. I can’t lie: I quite enjoyed this.
I LOVED this part of the process, which followed on from a successful HAT. Applicants are invited to Oxford for a number of days and get to stay in the college that they’ve applied to. As a Joint Honours student, I had two interviews: one for the History side of my course, and one for the English Literature side. While the latter went well (we talked about the two books I’d written on for my essay: Lucky Jim and Gatsby), the former was horrific.
I’d been given a Historical gobbet – or a source – and had to interpret it in 20 minutes, but I was dreadful at this. The pressure was horrific, and I cracked at the first signs of resistance towards my opinions.
After those were over, I had two days to kill, waiting around to see if another college wanted to speak to me (in the case that my initial college may have already rejected me and another college had spaces to fill). I spent the days playing table tennis with a fellow applicant in the common room, and then headed into the City with a group I’d met while there.
The only downside to all of this was that my friends had planned to go and watch a marathon of The Hobbit trilogy, when the final instalment was initially released, which I was forced to skip. On the other hand, the Hall Reps in charge in Oxford let us watch Kill Bill in the evening (but depressingly kept the bar closed), so it wasn’t all bad.
It was after school one day that I got home and saw the letter. It was addressed to me, but I was eager to tear into it and share the news with my whole family. It had been one month since the interview, and three since sending off the application, so I was more than ready for a verdict.
‘We regret to inform you…we wish you all the best…’ were the words that I focused on, knowing that my dream was done. Over. Finished. But, you know what? I wasn’t phased. I don’t remember being even remotely upset. I just felt a sense of…completion. Finality. As if I knew that I’d tried my very best, and that there was nothing more I could have done to change their minds.
By this point, I’d already also applied to my other choices: Kent, Oxford Brookes and Cardiff, with University of Birmingham being my final, firm, choice. At that point, I’d have been happy with any of these Universities. I knew that it didn’t really matter which one I ended up at because, let’s be honest, University is what you make of it.
As long as you’re a hard worker who loves independence and your subject, I think you’ll do just fine.
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