Who needs Oxbridge?
There’s only two days left until my first year at university has finished, and it’s got me thinking a lot about how differently this year could have panned out if I’d been somewhere other than Warwick.
I know a few people who grew up dreaming of Cambridge and Oxford, but I was never one of them. I loved Cambridge as a city, but I never really thought about even trying to go there until I was seventeen and the whole university thing was fast approaching and people started telling me that I should apply.
I know this is going to sound incredibly arrogant, but I was always the know-it-all at high school, and the reputation followed me when I switched to a different school for sixth form. I was used to being the best, but this may have been something to do with the fact that I came from a high school without too much ambition for its students to say the least. It was a reputation I got used to having, and the idea of going to university terrified me because I knew that, wherever I ended up, that wouldn’t be the case anymore: I’d be surrounded by students who loved the same subject as me and had fought just as hard to earn that place. I knew that would be the case at any university, let alone Oxbridge.
But all of my teachers told me to apply, and so apply I did, and the whole nerve-wracking experience began. There were about fifteen to twenty of us from my sixth form who applied to both Oxford and Cambridge, including me. I didn’t ever consider Oxford, not because I had anything against it, but because I’d already been to the city of Cambridge a few times and really liked it, so that decision was made for me – you can’t apply for both, so Cambridge it was.
Everyone told me I would get it, and despite how scared I was, I slowly started to believe it. I chose Clare College and had an interview there in December 2014, not realising at the time that I’d unwittingly picked the college with the highest reputation for English, making my chances even slimmer. I had two separate interviews that day, plus an exam, and I came out not really knowing what to make of it: it could have gone better, but it hadn’t gone terribly, and I don’t imagine anyone ever comes out of a Cambridge interview thinking that they’ve aced it, because that’s kind of the point – it’s supposed to be daunting.
A few weeks later I heard back to say that I hadn’t got into Clare, but I’d been pooled. That meant that whilst I hadn’t quite made it into the list for the college I’d originally applied to, they believed that I had the potential to be at Cambridge. Not every college always fills up their places for each subject, and so if they have spare spaces, they then look at lists of any pooled candidates and fish out the ones they like the look of. Sometimes, if you’re lucky then you’re fished out and given an offer straight away (this happened to a girl from my sixth form), but this is rare and usually the second college want to interview you again. I was fished out by Murray Edwards College and invited for another interview day in January. This time, there were two separate interviews again, but no exam (every college has a different interview procedure) and I came out feeling a lot happier than I had the first time.
Obviously, because I’m here writing this, I didn’t get in, but I’m happy in the knowledge that I did my best and I’m proud of knowing how close I came. Oxbridge is always ridiculously competitive, and it’s not always as obvious as you think who will get in and who won’t. I was a bit upset at first, because I’d put so much time and energy into the application process, but I soon settled down into the realisation that maybe it was for the best, and I still stick by that.
Unfortunately, Oxford and Cambridge degrees are still held with such esteem compared to other universities, and it seems like nine times out of ten when you Google a British celebrity, they went to Oxbridge, but I’m actually glad that I didn’t get in. You might think I’m just saying that because I’m bitter, and maybe a tiny part of me still is, but on the whole I’m glad I’m at Warwick rather than Cambridge and I’m not just saying that.
I’m studying a joint degree in both English Literature and Creative Writing here at Warwick (my first choice out of all the other universities I applied to), which I woudn’t have been able to do at Cambridge, and at the end of the day, writing is what I want to spend my life doing so I’m happy to be studying something I love. I don’t necessarily believe that everyone at Oxbridge works harder than other universities because their degrees are harder – of course there’s differing levels between various universities, but please don’t try to undermine my degree just because it’s not at a university as established as Cambridge and Oxford. I think the reason that everyone seems to work so much ‘harder’ at Oxbridge is largely due to the pressure; if you got in then there’s a lot of pressure to continue doing well, and of course you’re up against some hefty competition in the form of the other students there, so things build and build. But I won’t have anyone tell me that my degree is so much ‘easier’ just because I’m not there. Of course, there’s the elitism as well. It is clear that Oxbridge are starting to accept a lot more people from alternative backgrounds, but it’s no secret that if you’ve gone to some high-end prep school where Mummy and Daddy paid a lot of money for you to be there, you’re more likely to get in than someone from a council estate purely because of the amount of preparation and support you would have received, fine-tuning you for that application. Oxbridge don’t necessarily favour those from those backgrounds, but unfortunately their backgrounds still favour them.
I know that if I’d got into Cambridge I would have driven myself crazy. My mental health isn’t always the perfect balance as it is, and I think I would have snapped under the pressure if I’d been there. I can’t imagine myself flouncing around in gowns for formal dinner, and I’d much rather be here writing poetry than there not.
Ironically, even if I had got an offer, I still wouldn’t have got in because I wouldn’t have made the grades. I would have needed A*AA with the A* in English, and in fact I left sixth form with A*s in everything else but English, which I got an A for. Weirdly, I found it hilarious that my degree subject ended up being my lowest grade.
I believe that some things in life are down to fate, and I think that this might have been one of them.
Like I said, maybe some people reading this will think that I’m just bitter that I didn’t get in, but here I am, very nearly done with my first year at Warwick, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.