How many are being told four A*s are not enough?
Until very recently, I had never been dissatisfied academically.
My school is about as content as any place inhabited by a thousand adolescent academic females can be, where I achieved nine A*s and two As at GCSE. A year later I received five As, the highest grade available at AS level. I somewhat naively presumed that the rest of my Alevels and university would follow suit.
I am not a martyr to my education simply for turning up at school: I listened in every lesson and adored my teachers; I read every book on every subject and watched every documentary and like a girly swot, wrote three times as many flashcards as my friends.
No one was exempt from being forcibly involved in my education. The children at my youth group learned of the social hypocrisies that killed Tess of the D'Urbervilles. My eight-year-old sister wondered why she had red hair and was delivered a lecture on recessive heredity. A drunk at the pub became passionately involved in a debate over the existence of God.
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So I formulated my UCAS application, and dreamed of the universities, anticipating a future of lectures and libraries, debate and deadlines, cafés at 3am and young men with poetry, artful stubble, and curls.
I wrote my personal statement, ardently describing my love of literature and listing all my good works – the extra-curriculars that qualify you to be termed 'well-rounded'.
I described how I am involved with various volunteering schemes, student voice projects, and have been a committed member of Amnesty International for several years. Personal statement completed, my reference was written by teachers who knew me well. They predicted me an A* in each of my four subjects and in my extended project qualification. I balked slightly, but was proud of myself and of their belief in me.
So I applied with all my earnestness – and As – to Oxford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Royal Holloway. The highest grade expectation was A*AA, from Bristol, and the lowest AAB, from Cardiff, and while I knew this to be far from their true expectations, I felt my predictions of four A*s would hold me in decent stead.
A few weeks later and I was very excited to be invited to interview at Wadham College, Oxford, where I met an array of people and felt at home among the vibrantly liberal politics and self-conscious grandeur. Disappointingly, I received the very polite rejection letter in the post a month later. I was not to be defeated. I knew that all you had to do was work hard and everything would be OK. A month of telling myself that and I received my rejection from Bristol.
This wasn't in a letter but in the singular word 'Unsuccessful' on my UCAS page. It didn't provoke the disappointment of my Oxford rejection, more of an indignant curiosity. I pored over the wording of my Personal Statement in my head, but could come to no conclusion to justify rejection. My plea to Bristol's admissions officer for feedback was returned with a courteous automated response, telling me that they would be able to get back to me by April, it then being the beginning of February.
I thought that my rejection was seemingly without cause, simply a matter of bad luck. Two weeks later I received yet another generic e-mail, telling me "Something has changed on your UCAS application". This was my rejection from Edinburgh, and this one hurt. It had been my hope when the others failed, and I had begun to daydream of JM Barrie and electric blankets, Hogmanay and the Fringe festival.
Was the rejection because of the fact I was deferring my place for a year? Who knows? But sympathetic friends, parents and teachers have all had their own theories: gap years show lack of dedication; universities can detect from early application that you're applying to Oxbridge, and refuse to be second best; being conventionally white, British and middle class is a diversity death sentence; deferred entry shows lack of dedication – they all seem more like conspiracy theories than valid reasons. The fact that any one of those explanations could be true, without any university simply coming out and telling me, gives me lack of confidence in the system and in my own future and it seems so arbitrary.
How many people are there out there, just like me, trying not to cry as they are told that four A*s are not enough? For all of us, we can only hope that it will all work out in the end.