I started a similar post to this back in early November. It read as follows:
As I write, I am waiting on a response from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, regarding whether they have decided to give me an interview for English Literature. It feels as though a lot has changed since day seventy-six, when I collected my AS Level results and questioned whether a study of English at university was the right decision, and yet nothing has changed at all.
Perhaps that’s it. Nothing has changed: I still know that literature is the subject I wish to commit at least three years of my life to; I still know that I will enjoy and be good at it; I still know that the grade I received in August was not one I deserved after the work I put in all of last year. And the fact that I have held on to this knowledge is the main reason that I decided to apply to Cambridge regardless.
It was a convenience, too. It’s no secret that UCAS applications are stressful, complicated and time-consuming, and applying for Cambridge ensured that mine would be completed by the early October 15th deadline (by which time all Oxbridge and Medicine applications must be submitted). Although the last fortnight – when I committed to the decision of a Cambridge application and suddenly found myself with an entire UCAS form to fill in online, as well as a concise and tricky personal statement to write – was a mad rush, for the last month I have been able to help my peers struggle through the process on top of the ever-growing pressures of A2 study knowing mine is already complete.
Furthermore, an early application often (though not always) means early offers. Within eight days of the submission of my UCAS form I received an offer from my top choice bar Cambridge, the University of York, followed over the next few weeks with offers from Sussex and Lancaster.
It is likely that I will hear back from Sidney this week, since interviews are held early in December. It is hugely unlikely that I will be successful, on account of my lower-than-anticipated grades.
At this point, I stopped typing. Instead, I contemplated on the almost inevitable outcome of the situation: rejection. I wondered how I would react when the thin envelope wafted through the letterbox – whether my stomach would drop as I read ‘We regret to inform you…’, or how my parents would respond. And I didn’t start writing again, because I hadn’t got my head around all of the potential situations: it all seemed too far away to be considering.
It took Sidney far longer to get back to me than I had expected – into the last days of November, when interviews for other subjects at other colleges were almost underway (I knew because friends were obtaining permission to miss school for theirs). Every morning when I got home from college I went to check the post. I told myself it didn’t matter, that the outcome was ultimately irrelevant. Wherever I end up, I will enjoy myself and be successful. Oxbridge isn’t the be-all-and-end-all (as it is for some of my friends).
My predicted rejection came in the post on a Saturday morning. The flimsy envelope that clearly carried just the one sheet of folded A4 told me all I needed to know as soon as I saw it on the tiled porch floor. My hands shook as I opened it, adrenaline coursing through me despite already knowing the result. “My rejection letter came,” I told my parents, and left it on the kitchen table (it has since disappeared). I was relieved at first, but now I wish I had been given the chance to interview. Instead, I received kind emails from staff members and commiserations from friends who now hold offers.
Or: instead, I received an A*AA offer from Exeter, and AAA offers from York, Sussex and Lancaster, and yet more difficult and life-changing decisions loomed. Of the four, York was my top choice, and as I have to pick a Firm (if I get the grades offered I am expected to attend this establishment) and an Insurance (where I will attend if I miss the grades for my Firm but get the grades offered for this university) choice, Exeter was put immediately on the ‘no’ pile. York would be my Firm choice; all that was left was to decide between Sussex and Lancaster which, if all went right, I would not be attending anyway.
Therefore, it felt necessary to make some visits, so Mum and I headed north. We felt we couldn’t just drive for five hours to look around a university for an hour before heading back home, so we took advantage of the October half term and spent a weekend in the Lake District before being toured around Lancaster and speaking to a member of the faculty. I liked it; I liked the collegiate system and the feel of the place. The course looked good, with the potential to take modules in other subjects alongside English (although my first choice here would be a Music module, and they, like many other universities, have recently axed their Music degree), and I loved the idea of being just down the road from my favourite area of the country which itself is steeped in literary heritage. What’s more, the faculty member I spoke with told me that it was more than likely that despite my AAA offer, they would accept me with AAB, or even ABB, so long as my A was in English. Fantastic, I thought. York would be choice one, with AAA as its offer, and I could take Lancaster as offering lower than they’d said – a perfect choice for my insurance. Sussex was off the table.
Of course, it couldn’t be so simple. A couple of weeks ago I received a letter containing an offer from Sussex that threw me back to square one: if I put them as my Firm choice on UCAS, they will make my offer Unconditional – I would have a place regardless of my grades at the end of this year. Furthermore, if I did manage to get three A grades, they would give me £3,000. Unconditional offers at this stage – when you don’t even have your A-level grades – are like gold dust, and I was so stunned on receiving this letter that I sank to the floor. I struggled – my self-confidence surrounding my predicted grades this year is shaky, so to go into my exams holding an unconditional offer would take off a significant amount of pressure, whilst the financial incentive to do as well as I hope to would just be something extra to spur me on. It seemed the obvious choice.
But I’d set my heart on York from early on – to the point at which when I received my Cambridge rejection my initial relief stemmed from an inherent knowledge that I would prefer the atmosphere and systems in place at a non-Oxbridge institution. English at York has always been The Plan, since – or perhaps before – I got my reply from Cambridge (even if I didn’t know it). And I should get three As; if all goes to plan I will do better. But what both my GCSE and AS Results Days have taught me is that I cannot put my faith in my examination performance, or the grading systems. I, like thousands of others, have been a victim of shifting goalposts and subjective marking, and there is nothing that I can do to change or prevent this from happening.
So, we took a trip to Sussex last week. We could not be taken on a tour so had to find our way around ourselves, which always leaves me feeling insecure and unhappy: my head screams I do not belong here and it is obvious and I want nothing but to leave. Their student elections were taking place, so the campus was full of posters and candidates calling for last-minute votes. I liked the political engagement. Our conversation with a faculty member was far more academically satisfying than at Lancaster, and as I was talked through the course I knew it was something I could be extremely enthused by. Again, there was the option to take modules in other subjects – and the English and Music faculties are housed in the same building. The woman we spoke with talked of renowned research-led teaching; of modules that excited me; of trips to London which is only an hour away by train. We drove past the accommodation, through the city, and by the seafront. I find it hard to imagine myself living anywhere other than home at the moment but I knew I preferred what I saw of the city to Lancaster itself.
And so, I find myself struggling. I set my heart on York a long time ago, but perhaps my conviction is beginning to waver and I’m running out of people to ask. Yet without the potential of an unconditional offer my choice would be simple – so should I simply let something which would, I know, feel like a cop-out sway my mind?
I’ve rambled on for over 1500 words now (this has been a slightly more unusual post) so I will leave it here and update when I reach my final decision, along with some tips for those applying in the next few years – but if anyone has any advice for me it would be greatly appreciated. I know that wherever I go I will be happy, and I will probably adore whichever establishment I end up at. But is it wise to accept Sussex’s offer, particularly now I can see I would fit in well there, or should I stick to my guns and hold out for York?