Why I Nearly Rejected Cambridge

Rosie Gough 7 November 2019
Image Credit: Flickr

When I got my acceptance from Cambridge, in a bout of proud nostalgia, one of my friends reminded me of when I told her during primary school that I was going to go to Oxbridge.

Although my only real perception of these universities was drawn from the grandeur of Harry Potter, from around the age of six, Oxbridge was the dream. When my parents asked why I had already set my heart on Oxbridge, the answer was simple: why wouldn’t I want the best education I could get?

As I got older, I started to think practically about applying. Year Seven musical? A natural step in the application process. Sports Leaders Level 2? An essential to bolster my personal statement. My determination to apply to Cambridge (before I knew how small a part extra-curricular activities played in the selection process) saw me doing Gold DofE, fail at multiple instruments, volunteer in a cafe, poorly attempt multiple sports and lead our school’s debating team.

I had spent the most part of eleven years dreaming about Oxbridge. Yet when I got accepted and made that little girl’s life-long dream come true, I was beginning to doubt whether Cambridge really was the place for me. Having attended state schools, Cambridge’s deep-seated traditions – the formal meals, the gowns, the punting – and the seemingly cult-like customs of college families seemed so far removed from my experiences.

Image Credit: Flickr

I had been so focused on getting into Cambridge that I hadn’t taken a step back to consider the social side of things. As the deadline to accept my UCAS offers loomed over me, I became more and more disenchanted with the reality of getting “the best education I could get”. I was worried about not ever meeting ‘my kind of people’, I was worried about not fitting in. In fact, rather than inspiring me, the whole concept of Cambridge began to make me doubt whether it was truly the place for me.

Indeed, this doubt saw me stuck between two very different universities: the University of Cambridge, which for the last five years had ranked number one in The Complete University Guide, and Sussex University, which had fluctuated between 38th and 18th place.

People didn’t understand my torment. It was clear to them that having put so much work into the application process, I shouldn’t even be considering Sussex. After all, it wasn’t even a member of the Russell Group.

Despite this, Cambridge and Sussex represented two very divided aspects of my personality. Although the opportunities Cambridge had to offer was everything I had been striving for, Sussex had everything else I had wanted. I loved that Sussex was almost infamously known for student activism and I loved the idea of living in Brighton, supposedly the sunniest and happiest city in the country. Part of me also warmed to the idea of simply subverting everyone’s expectations. However, after much inner turmoil, the six-year-old me won and I ultimately decided that I could not turn down such a life-changing offer.

It was only on results day, when, at 7am, I refreshed UCAS Track and saw that my Cambridge offer had changed from conditional to unconditional, that I realised how much I actually wanted it.

That realisation is finally cementing itself now I have started life at Cambridge. During Fresher’s week I was thrown together with a hotpot of wildly different people, all whom were such friendly individuals. Never once have I felt like I am socially other or out of place and the college family tradition I snubbed as cult-like has actually helped create a very welcoming and sociable atmosphere that couldn’t have been achieved elsewhere. Although there is no disputing that the traditions are archaic, there is also no arguing against how incredibly fun they are. As it turns out, Cambridge, despite all my doubts, is the place where both sides of my personality are best represented.

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