Applying to Oxford

At 7 pm yesterday, I got a mail saying that I was rejected from Oxford University. The mail said that they were sorry they couldn’t invite me for an interview, that they knew ‘how disappointing it will be for you’ and that they were sure I will excel elsewhere.

This was the same automated email that thousands of students also would have got but that didn’t make me feel better as I thought it would when I was waiting anxiously for the university’s response.

The reality is that they can never actually know how disappointing and heart-breaking reading that mail is. How it destroys millions of dreams. I knew this was going to happen, but to see it actually unfold was unbearable. The subject line said: ‘Your application to Pembroke College, Oxford’. Something told me at that moment that it was surely going to be a rejection but there was still some wild sliver of hope. When my eyes chanced upon ‘unfortunately’, I knew this was it. What had kept me awake for close to a month, what had been by biggest nightmare, had come true.

You might think that I was foolish to have been obsessed with something that was frankly, an unrealistic dream. For the past three years, the same thought nagged me. But I also came to believe that dreams were supposed to be unrealistic, that dreams are not dreams if they are ‘realistic’, whatever that means. Moreover, for some time, studying at Oxford didn’t seem that unachievable. I came to see Oxford for what it was: a place that united brilliant people who were passionate about their subject. Oxford ceased to be a place of myth and legend, of gowns and elite rituals but an university with young people who were normal.

And Oxford still is that place. At least, I believe it to be. But I also underestimated the university. I fooled myself by thinking that it was not such a big deal, that it was just like any other university, while it is not. But imagining myself studying and living there gave me countless hours of happiness. I think the self-deception and denial was valuable to that end, though I also feel that I wasted so much time dreaming about something that clearly wasn’t going to happen. My dreams and plans have made it more difficult for me to bounce back.

Even thinking about it makes me cry. Writing this is hard, because I am going over everything I have gone over countless times yesterday. I binge-watched Madam Secretary till 1 am yesterday, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to sleep even if I tried to. All I wanted was something mindless that would help me doze off. Tragically, I had a dream about the college emailing me to say that something went wrong and that I was selected for the interview.

I feels like I have myself to blame because my application was admittedly weak for Oxford. I had a bad grade in history and my History Aptitude Test didn’t go well. Though there is no guarantee that even if these things were perfect that I would have gotten in (I know, I am just consoling myself). I had no delusions about getting an offer after the test but I really felt that I might have a shot at getting an interview where the tutors could actually see my passion for History and English. When I wrote the post titled really optimistically as ‘I am coming, Oxford’, this was what I feared the most. That I would start expecting and coveting this so much that a rejection would completely devastate me.

Maybe I didn’t work hard enough. Maybe I wasn’t intelligent enough. The latter conclusion is too hard to take because applying to Oxford was as much about building confidence in my abilities as anything else. I have struggled with this inferiority complex for so long and it will take all I can do to not fall back into that rut.

My parents think I did work hard because I wrote two literary essays and one historical essay that was unlike anything that we ever do at school. They believe that applying to Oxford is itself testament to my abilities. I came to agree with them, but after getting yesterday’s email, it is difficult to accept that argument. I thought I would put up these essays on the blog time, so that others can see for themselves.

The painful part is that I enjoyed every bit of the application process, from writing these essays to writing my personal statement. Though I couldn’t do well on the test, I found it interesting. Each one these things was extremely challenging but also greatly rewarding. They made me build a passion for History and English and explore them more deeply than I would have otherwise. I read about exciting research in the humanities, subscribed to History Today and the Conversation ,all for the application.

That might be the positive side of this experience. The fact that I pushed my academic and intellectual boundaries. Maybe I am better off just being convinced that I really want to do humanities and finding it a vibrant field, rather than the 14 year old girl from three years ago, who wanted to study English because she liked reading books and wanted to do humanities because she hated math and science.

But for now, I have this painful hollow in my heart that refuses to go away. Thinking about it, I have never really had a long-term goal or something like that- I was just a happy girl who read books. This is the first time I have ever wanted something this badly and it’s been shattered , brutally. Of course, people can say things like ‘you can go back for Masters’ but nothing will take away what happened yesterday. Plus I wanted to do my UG there because I just loved the idea of tutorials. That hollow is going to take a long time to go away.

Sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t have applied. I should have been like my classmates. They knew what they could and could not do, what they were getting into. But like everyone says, in the future, I might have regretted not taking the chance. At least, it’s one item crossed off the bucket list- how many people can say they applied to Oxford ?

I don’t really know why I wrote this. I almost gave up the idea because it was really hard to continue. But I can think of two reasons. One, to process what’s going on and two, this is a better way to let everyone who is aware that I am applying know that I have been rejected. Or as UCAS politely puts it, ‘unsuccessful’.

P.S: My essays were on: (1) Common dystopian themes in 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF DYSTOPIAN THEMES IN TWO NOVELS – THE HANDMAID’S TALE & NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (2) Class, gender and manners in Jane Austen’s Emma (3) Lenin and Stalin’s ideas and policies on female emancipation.