Elly Nowell, the applicant who sent a “rejection” letter to Magdalen, has said Oxford students “tend to take themselves far too seriously” and that they are “no more special than anyone else”.
Nowell, 19, who now wishes to study Law at UCL, has been at the centre of a national media frenzy after she told Magdalen: “I am afraid you do not quite meet the standard of the universities I will be considering.”
She told The Oxford Student: “My closest friend studies at Oxford, and it is, of course, impossible to stereotype all students – I’ve met some truly lovely, down-to-earth people on my visits there. However, I do think many students struggle to handle the response from society you inevitably get from being an Oxbridge student. From the moment a student gets an offer, they are repeatedly told that they are special. By their teachers, by their peers and especially by Oxford itself.
“In my email, I criticised the traditions of Oxford. The Oxford students that I’ve met do not tend to see the same problems with it – some have said wearing a gown to examinations helps to entrench this feeling of being part of a higher elite. I think this is very damaging. Oxford students tend to take themselves far too seriously – this may seem like an obvious statement to many, but readers would do well to remember: Oxford students are no more special than anyone else.”
She was given a column in The Guardian where she said she “felt like the only atheist in a gigantic monastery” during her interviews at Magdalen.
Nowell expressed surprise at the extent of coverage that the letter has generated: “One of my friends subsequently shared it on Facebook because he found it funny. I certainly did not expect the email to spread as far as it has.”
Echoing the thoughts of many opinion-formers, Philip Hensher wrote an article titled “Rejecting Oxbridge isn’t clever – it’s a mistake” in The Independent.
However, Daily Mail columnist Tom Utley offered support for her intellectual capabilities: “If I were in charge of admissions at Magdalen College, Oxford, I’d plead with her to change her mind.” He asked: “Which of us hasn’t, at some time or other, felt the urge to cock a snook at authority?”
Telegraph columnist Matthew Norman wrote: “Were I the admissions officer of Magdalen […] I would drive to Elly’s home in Hampshire, and beg her to reconsider. I’d schmooze the parents, do the washing-up, and spend the night unbidden on the sofa, in the style of Brian Clough’s victorious quest to sign Roy McFarland for Derby County. I would do anything within the law to recruit this girl, in fact, because any 19-year-old with this much wit, brains and chutzpah is a guaranteed star alumna of tomorrow.”
However, in response to Nowell’s claim that Magdalen’s architecture was too intimidating, Norman admitted: “It is asking too much of the dons to relocate to a cheap conference hotel on the outskirts of Staines for interview week.”