This is not a joke

Hmmmm. The weather outside is frightful. My plan to go for a nice walk around Roath Lake later is somewhat scuppered. As was mine to, pre-Lake, get involved with 20% off in Topshop, and return without a bird’s nest for hair.

Still, sometimes we have to make sacrifices for student discount…

Anyway. There’s been something on my mind this week, and I’m sure you may have seen it in the papers and online. Elly Nowell, the 19 year old from Winchester who wrote a rejection letter to Oxford Universityin a parody of the institution’s own “I very much regret to inform you” style.

Elly Nowell

When I first saw the title of the article, I was reasonably impressed. Let me make it clear first, that I’m not necessarily pro-Oxbridge. I didn’t apply there myself. I firmly believe that they are not the be all and end all. But it cannot be said that they are not well-recognised, and rightly so. Other good Universities exist, and mine was one of them – but they are good Universities.

So I was intruiged to see what it was Elly objected to. Yes, Oxford has its history, its traditions, and some say its prejudices. I for one am glad that my experience of it was postgraduate, rather than undergraduate, and even then vicariously (my boyfriend did his MA there last year). It let me observe, rather than follow, it’s atmosphere and traditions – it was almost anthropological. But I’m digressing.

I thought it was going to be another “Oxford rejected me because my dad isn’t rich / the Dean’s friend / an MP / a Duke”. Which I guess, in a way, her complaint is. But hers differs from previous anti-Oxbridge articles in that… she doesn’t really seem to have much in the way of proof.

If you haven’t read one of the many reports on this story, I recommend you do. There’s a couple of things I’d like to pick out.

“I have now considered your establishment as a place to read Law (Jurisprudence). I very much regret to inform you that I will be withdrawing my application. “I realise you may be disappointed by this decision, but you were in competition with many fantastic universities…”

She withdrew her application; fair enough. I remember my UCAS days – you apply before you’ve seen a lot of them, and sometimes, on sight, you realise you really don’t want to go there. I withdrew my own application to UCL. I also applaud the fact she recognises the fact that there are other “fantastic Universities” out there.

This is the bit that … well. Have a look.

“while you may believe your decision to hold interviews in grand formal settings is inspiring, it allows public school applicants to flourish… and intimidates state school applicants, distorting the academic potential of both.

[She said] “I was… subjecting myself to the judgement of an institution which I fundamentally disagreed with. I spent my entire time there laughing at how seriously everything was being taken.”

There, she picks up my point about how you apply to a Uni that looks or sounds like it’ll fit you, you go there, and find it’s not right. She “fundamentally disagreed” with Oxford, that’s fine. Some people do.

I don’t agree that holding interviews in “grand formal settings” is intimidating to non-public school applicants. They’re not Dickens-esque urchins, for goodness’ sake. They’re (at least) 18 years old, they’re intelligent enough to be there, they’re mature enough to be going to University. Just because they’ve never been in a wood-panelled dining room, an academic’s study – it won’t automatically send them to pieces. You’re going to be nervous going to a Uni interview – whether it’s in said study or in a clinical, run of the mill classroom. You’d be nervous if the interviewers came to you – in your own living room.

Reading that she “spent her entire time there laughing at how seriously everything was being taken”, I was… sad for her. What has she actually got against them? All they appear to have done was dared to show interest in her, enough to ask her up for an interview – albeit in a “scarily” posh room. How many applicants don’t even get that far? Applicants that teeth-grittingly, nail-bitingly, want to be there. Public and state school.

Like I said, I’m not necessarily pro-Oxford. I do think there is a certain overpopulation of privelege there, but like I said, you can’t doubt it’s a good University. Getting in is serious. Getting in to any University is serious. This girl just comes across as incredibly naive, to the point of downright rude, for sitting there laughing instead of realising this.

It’s not like, once you get in, you just sit there for three years, and the sheer standing of having got in in the first place carries you through. I’ve never seen my boyfriend work harder than when he was there last year. They push you, because they believe you have the potential to be the best. That’s why they took you in the first place, and it’s up to you to make that pay off.

If this girl wants to go somewhere “less serious”, that takes its students, its entry procedures and the education it offers “less seriously”, then please, by all means do. Interestingly, she says in the article she’s hoping to be accepted by UCL. I’m not sure they’ll agree with being defined like that.

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2 thoughts on “This is not a joke

  1. The trouble with articles with this, is that for every student who feels they’ve been unfairly hard-done by for being from an ordinary background, there are hundreds from the same sort of background who get a place every year (and probably some from public schools who think the system is against them too!). And for each one-off where a big fuss is made (Elly Nowell, Laura Spence) there are THOUSANDS of similar students who are happily attending Oxford and Cambridge, enjoying it, and diversifying both universities – something that Oxford, Cambridge and the student all benefit from. It’s sad that this is going to put off applicants who might otherwise have given Oxbridge a punt.

    • Thanks for your comments – I think you’ve hit on a really important point. There are so many “normal” students at Oxford and Cambridge that just get their heads down and get on with it; I have friends among them. In my personal opinion, Elly has come across quite immature and yes, could put off future normal-background applicants from trying, just to see.

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