Another year, another day of fateful decisions to be received by prospective Oxford applicants. The tenth of January was designated this year to be destiny’s messenger – and it must be said, there was surprisingly little buzz surrounding what is, frankly, a monumental occasion for these students. One year on from my own results day, and I can still feel the butterflies flailing around in my stomach if I try hard enough.
I don’t doubt that candidates were awake at ungodly hours of the night, consumed by nerves. One needs only to scroll for a couple of minutes on The Student Roomto see records of panicked posts being fired off every thirty seconds, as announcements ticked ever closer. TikTok is also no exception – for the last week or so, my For You page has dutifully spoon-fed me dozens of videos from applicants all manifesting positive outcomes.
One year on from my own results day, and I can still feel the butterflies flailing around in my stomach if I try hard enough.
But from the university? Little has been said. Their social media pages have made no formal acknowledgment of results day, and all is quiet on their website, which would typically be brimming with admissions stats at this stage in the process. Perhaps this hush is in part due to the arrival of our new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Irene Tracey, whose inauguration ceremony was being conducted concurrently to offer letters being unleashed out into the world.
Yet this seems to speak to a wider issue of disillusionment, one which was certainly echoed in my own journey to Oxford. We hold a hundred different ideas as to how we’ll feel if all the hard work we’ve put in is rewarded, so when we do open that email, it may come as a surprise to feel, alongside all that excitement, pride, and relief… somewhat numb.
The exhausting application process is undoubtedly a contributing factor. Depending on your subject, you may have had to endure both an aptitude test and the trials of written work, alongside interviews. It’s easy to feel drained, especially with mock exams competing for attention. Additionally, by the time January rolls around, having had no correspondence from admissions for weeks on end, you’re in a constant state of anticipation. My entire life was reduced down to my application for those few taxing months. Friends and teachers were constantly asking if I’d heard back. The holidays felt like an eternity, with such a significant decision looming on the horizon.
My entire life was reduced down to my application for those few taxing months… The holidays felt like an eternity, with such a significant decision looming on the horizon.
Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic has something to do with the sense of detachment young people have been experiencing. An onslaught of lockdowns has not done wonders for our mental health more broadly, and the newly virtual aspect of interviews means we no longer have the thrill of an Oxford visit when applying. Or, perhaps the problem is overexposure. A decade ago, my expectations for university were built solely on American teen dramas – now, hopefuls can hop onto Facebook and see the collective sanity of the student body unravelling on Oxfess. Social media allows us to filter our lives to show only content focused on academia, Ivy Leagues, and 14-hour study routines. This 24/7 exposure can lead to burnout.
Perhaps, worst of all, it is the dreaded disease every Oxonian will come to know at some point or another – imposter syndrome. For me, this feeling of inadequacy crept in well before I’d even set foot in Oxford. The hugely competitive application process means that even some of the best candidates will still face rejection. I’d spent the whole of Christmas preparing myself for the worst, so that when I received an offer, I genuinely could not believe it was me they’d intended it for. Having been sat in my career advisor’s office a few years ago, told that it would be a waste of time to set my sights on somewhere as prestigious as Oxford, I can now say with confidence that applying was the best decision I’ve ever made. I awaited my fate that morning with the small comfort of knowing that irrespective of the outcome, I had grown a lot throughout the process. And once I had finally accepted the reality of my offer, I was able to push the lingering uncertainty aside.
One of my closest friends in high school received a rejection just as I was about to commence celebrations. Whilst I cannot pretend to know how devastated she felt in that moment, I do know that she, and many others, are now experiencing the best days of their lives at other institutions. It has been said countless times before, but must be said again: Oxford is not the be-all and end-all (evidenced quite plainly by some of our most recent scandals, if you can even call them that?). Every candidate has what it takes to be brilliant, to be successful, but most important of all, to be happy.
Perhaps, worst of all, it is the dreaded disease every Oxonian will come to know at some point or another – imposter syndrome.
To those wonderful applicants, I address you now. Whichever emotions you may be feeling, please know that they are valid. The herculean effort required to even apply for this institution merits commendation of the highest order. And so, if no one has told you yet, then let me be the first: I’m proud of you. Whether you received an offer or not, you should know that you have been a credit to yourselves, your families, and your communities. And that regardless of where you end up, you will look back on this experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly-crying-post-interview – as transformational.