Is my intelligence defined by a number?

Warning: rant fast-approaching.

We are materialistic society. We need to see objects like our degree on paper, trophies and awards for achievements, cash to show how important our career is – the list goes on. All of this to see success. Our entire time at university is shown on one piece of paper. With a number to determine our level of achievement.

But surely what we achieve shouldn’t be defined by a number? Or a piece of paper?

Many successful and admired people in the world did not go to Oxford or Cambridge. For example, J.K. Rowling, who has received 4 impressive awards and 11 remarkable nominations, did not get into Oxbridge, and yet her writing and imagination concurs her talent and intelligence. Her virtues as a person, shown in the fact she is the founder of the international children’s non-profit organization Lumos (that cares for the wellbeing of children as they grow up), demonstrates how there is much more to a person’s character than their university degree. The same can be applied with another of society’s favourite celebrities: Benedict Cumberbatch. As an adolescent, he claims to have bombed his GCSE’s and A Levels, as he was faced with the struggle of being a teen, like so many of us, and yet his Grammy Award and Nominee Golden Globe award show that he has certainly been successful. After acting as Patrick Melrose, he was described as “outstanding” and a “finely cut gem”; his talent is unarguable.

Image by Jasmine Laws

From this, I feel I can make the point that, there is much more to success and talent than where you go to university and what degree you have.

Yet, many companies and organisations will spend an average of 8 seconds looking at your CV, and seeing a 1st degree at Oxbridge will be enough to tempt them into choosing you for an internship or a job. By no means am I trying to downplay the immense achievement it is to get into Oxbridge, or to even get an offer: spending your university life there would be an amazing experience. Any readers that have tried to get in, no matter what the end result was, the fact you applied in itself is a great achievement and shows a lot of strength in character and dedication in work ethic.

The single point I am making is that, companies and people reading your CVs should see your interests and what you have done to pursue them. So, in essence university should be so much more than getting a first in your degree. It should be about whether or not you choose to take on all these opportunities at your door step, and how you find your interests.

Image by Gordon Griffiths, Creative Commons, 2.0 License

Also, being in a university outside of Oxbridge, should not mean you are a failure, or any less successful as an individual. It should not mean you are not intelligent, and that you are not going to be as successful as someone doing their degree at Oxbridge.  

Albert Einstein claims, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

I think I can safely say he has this spot on. Knowledge is something we can learn along the way. But imagination, our individuality, is what shows our intelligence. It is how we use our knowledge, how we decide to explore our interests, and make the most of our opportunities that should surely count.


Is it fair to feel rejected or a rejection when you have not been rejected?

Is it fair to even be called a rejection when you have achieved something commendable?

Is it fair to feel that your degree is the only thing that defines you?

Should you not be seen as an individual and not a piece of paper?

Should intelligence not be defined by so much more than a number?


Your degree is not what makes you you. Your university does not define you. You are you for the person you are and the choices, achievements and experiences you have.

Embrace your university for its experiences and not its reputation.




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