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.

 

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Hi
    You don’t know me but I was keenly following your application process and rooting for you. So was sad to hear about the rejection. While I can say the usual things people say on these situations, am going to skip it and ask you to take some time to process it and not get discouraged by the rejection. I, for one, believe that you have an interesting future ahead and will be very much interested in knowing where it takes you.
    All the best and give my regards to your Amma

    Muthuprakash R

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  2. We don’t know each other. But I have stumbled up on your blog a few times from your father’s tweets. The first time rejection in life hurts the most, be it in academia or love life or whatever. But there is always a better opportunity waiting most of the times that we are temporarily blind to see in dejection. Life always works out.

    Who knows, may be this rejection could lead you on a road to Tamil History or Tamil Literature, which could definitely use some passionate and young minds like yours. Cheers.

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  3. Dear Alagu,
    I can understand how painful it must be for you. But please do not think that you should not have applied. The journey from the point of wanting to get into Oxford to this must have taught you some invaluable lessons which you will take with you in life. You will probably be able to connect the dots later in life.

    As they say in Tamil, you should have “mahonnadhamaana tholvigal” to reach the pinnacle of success.

    It might be Oxford’s loss more than yours.

    Keep your chin up and try to find an alternate door.

    I am impressed that you chose to express your feelings here.

    All the best for your endeavours,

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  4. I am your Dad’s friend. I can understand your disappointment but in the long run, I am sure you end achieving what you want to achieve. Oxford is just one of the paths to that goal. Maybe it is a path that you would have loved to take. A scenic path which you always dreamt of. But in the end just a path to the final goal. So keep the goal in focus and who knows you may discover a path through which you enjoy travelling even more!! Or maybe you will create a new path yourself. (The Spanish poet Machodo once famously said, “Traveller, there are no paths. Paths are made by travelling”)

    While it is OK to be heartbroken for some time, get out of that feeling soon and start your march. You will do well.

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    1. Hey thanks! I am already feeling better though it’s going to take some more time to fully let go. I guess the problem was I started thinking of Oxford as a goal while the real goal is to learn and discover new things

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  5. Alagu,
    I know how hard hit you are. I’m gonna tell you a universal truth. Every under grad in his her final years feel they made a terrible choice of choosing the degree, domain, and college. If you have gotten into Oxford, the college of you’re choice, you’re disappointments can be a lot bigger in four years from now.. feel lucky that you faced this failure early..😁

    Moreover college is about friends you make and less about the institute faculty or pride. Best friends are made in unexpected circumstances.

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  6. This is an old blog of yours and I hope you are feeling better now. But I just wanted to say I completely relate to what you went through; word by word. Because the same thing happened to me when I applied for colleges. I so wanted to be a doctor; I dreamt of it from my ninth grade. I would spend time watching how my father treated his patients and assisting him. I had my whole life planned out with me as a doctor. And then, every medical college I applied to rejected me. It did not help that my twelfth Biology marks were below par (95% but yet below par) and that I did not fit into reservation quota. Took me a really long time to orient myself.
    But as Eckhart Tolle says, Say Yes to life. Whatever happens, allow it. Judging by your writings, you are probably already doing that.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story, it means a lot. I think I have come to the stage where I have started appreciating the learning and exposure applying gave me, regardless of the result 🙂

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