Reflections On Oxbridge

The Bubble in all its shining glory.

This article is a sort of response to Pegah Moradi’s excellent article on a return to Cambridge, where many a Durham student’s hopes were dashed. I wanted to give my own take on the ever-present Oxbridge “reject” debate.

I have not, unlike Pegah, returned to that hallowed place of learning since my rejection over a year ago, and frankly, I’m not sure when I will return. However, I really do feel that I would very much enjoy a return to Cambridge, for the same reasons as I enjoyed visiting it before my (rather harsh) rejection from Christ’s College in January 2013. The architecture of the colleges is beautiful, the banks of the Cam glorious in the sun and the academic buzz is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It is most certainly a bubble here in Durham, yet I don’t feel the need to pop it to go to Cambridge. I would much rather take inspiration from the palpable sheer academic determination of Cambridge, and allow it to push me to be that bit better here in Durham.

Many Durham students experience feelings of bitterness whenever Oxbridge is mentioned, and some even get visibly upset. For me, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It shows passion, guts and the need to be even better, if not to prove Oxbridge wrong, then to prove you right. Many people were just unlucky, or you may (like me) have been under-prepared or not have had the requisite AS Level grades or predictions, or you simply messed up your interview. There are so many things that could have gone wrong during the application process; instead I prefer to focus on the positives of the experience rather than the negatives.

Firstly, it’s not every day you get to display your skills, to the best of your ability, to arguably the best in the world in their field. Will I ever get to discuss that text, in Spanish, in a formal and supportive environment such as was my interview, with that precise professor who is there simply to listen to me being the best I can be ever again? No. The interview process was an once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I will never regret it. Furthermore, even the sheer fact that these people took the time to consider my personal statement is mind boggling. They read my personal statement. Little old me…

Christ’s College, Cambridge

Secondly, did a rejection stop me from achieving my goals? No, absolutely not. Here I am, in Durham, studying a subject I love at the university which (at the time of applying) is the best in the country for my subject. I spend every day interacting with specialist researchers who get to hear my views on their topics, and may even use my opinions and observations in their work. I get to live in a beautiful city, with great people and a fierce reputation for academic excellence. My rejection did nothing but push me even harder to get the best grades I could, to work to prove Cambridge wrong, and get to Durham where I belong.

Many people say “I am so glad I didn’t get in to Oxbridge!”, but in my eyes this is often false. Many are not glad: they are frustrated, upset, angry, bitter and confused. I know. I’ve been there. Most people that apply to Oxbridge do so knowing full well that it is incredibly competitive internationally and that there is a slim chance you will get in, but you must have had the desire to go there, otherwise you would never have applied in the first place. So yes, be glad you are here in Durham; in many ways, Durham is better than Oxbridge. The recently threatened college system here is in my opinion far superior to what I would have experienced had I gone to Cambridge, and Durham is mostly world-class standard. However, you should never forget that sinking feeling you got when you read the words “Unfortunately…” they will always sting, and there will always be the “I could have done better”s and the “I should have tried harder”s floating around your mind.

What I’m really trying to say is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being jealous of those people at Oxbridge. But bitterness is another thing entirely. Being bitter shows you have not learnt from the only lesson Oxbridge would teach you. Rejection is not negative. Use it, embrace it, learn from it, and grow from it. The rejection should merely have fueled your passion even further, made you work harder, dream bigger and strive for more. By becoming the Oxbridge student incarnate outside of Oxbridge, you get all the benefits of Durham with the fierce determination that characterises most Oxbridge students, and in my view, this makes you a better student than they will ever be. Not everything will go your way; it’s how you deal with that fact that will determine your success, not the fact itself.

So when I do go back to Cambridge, it will be in the knowledge that by not being a student there, I have only made myself stronger. I would have been overjoyed to be studying there, and I can be envious of those that do, but I know that I need to make the best possible out of this incredible university before my time in Durham runs out.

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