Society idolises Oxbridge. An offer from either Oxford or Cambridge has become a synonym for success, with many high-achieving students feeling they need an Oxbridge offer to validate their intelligence. This is wrong. While Oxbridge might be the right decision for some, others allow prestige to blind their judgement. There are many things to consider when applying to university, and it’s important you choose the best university for you – not what society tells you is best.
If you’re the kind of person who looks at your A-Level work and thinks ‘ASDFGHJKL IDK HOW I’M GOING TO COPE HELP’then maybe Oxbridge isn’t the place for you. In 2012, 83.1% of Cambridge successful applicants and 74% of Oxford applicants achieved at least A*A*A at A Level. The statistics speak for themselves; Oxbridge is a place for the intellectual elite. If you’re used to being the top-dog of your sixth form, being in a place where you are no longer an exceptional but a typical student may be a stressful realisation that can have dire consequences for your self-esteem. For those suffering from anxiety or stress-related issues, Oxbridge is possibly a stress-head’s hell-hole.
Yet, the stress for Oxbridge doesn’t start when you get there, but before it. As in a solid year in advance – a year in which you will have to balance your A-Levels, extra curricular commitments, social life, work life, UCAS application… need I go on? What with the application date for Oxbridge being a whole three months earlier than the typical application deadline, you have to be organised in order to apply on time. As your application is sent off to all your chosen universities at the same time, if you rush your personal statement just to be able to apply for Oxford, you’re jeopardising your success at other universities too.
However, what society forgets to tell us when it idolises Oxbridge is university isn’t just about a degree!
But unlike other universities, the application process doesn’t end there. It is a long, drawn out process that is designed to distinguish those who are suited to Oxbridge and those who aren’t. It is simply not something everyone can cope with. There are entrance exams to stress about, interviews to prepare for, an offer to get. This is all time consuming. It is an intentionally difficult process that is designed to prove you have the ability to flourish in the debate-driven and essay-revolving tutorial systems that defines Oxbridge. And then comes the reading list. Are you really prepared to commit a large part of your summer to undertaking a reading list that amounts to a small novel in itself?
However, what society forgets to tell us when it idolises Oxbridge is: university isn’t just about a degree! Have you lived in a small town your whole life and wish to escape to the bright lights of a vibrant city? Are you shy and long to develop as much socially as academically? Are you tired of the monotonous messages sent out by the Tory government that success can be defined by a letter, a percentage, an institution? Have you spent years in the closet and are looking for an energetic LGBTQ scene to finally go wild in? Do you want to stick two fingers up at tradition? Do you want join the Quidditch, Baking and Sherlock societies without feeling guilty for not spending this time studying? Do you want to tailor your degree to your interests? Do you value other things apart from prestige?
This isn’t to say that other universities aren’t academically challenging – they are. What it means is that there isn’t quite the same pressure to do well. When going to Oxford, you are taking on the pressure of maintaining the standards that have sculpted some of the world’s greatest intellectuals. What with the shorter terms lengths compared to other universities, the time constraints mean naturally they are more intense.
Have you even considered: do you even like Oxford or Cambridge? Oxford and Cambridge are old. As in really old. If the first thing you think of when you see old buildings and thirteenth century paintings is ‘borringggg’ then why do you want to spend 3 years living in a place that reminds you of your gran’s dusty old bungalow?
If the idea of having to wear formal clothes to formal meals and ball gowns to college balls is something that makes you shudder at the conventionalism of it all, then stop right there and question why you are applying to*the* most traditional institutions in the world. With Oxbridge’s high expectations, regulations are needed to maintain these standards. While rules vary between colleges, as an undergraduate you can look forward to being handed a rule book which includes highlights of rules banning confetti throwing as ‘it is wasteful, unsightly and offensive to many’ as well as formally being ‘prohibited’ from excessive drinking and drinking games as ‘it is important to remember that the state of drunkenness often leads individuals to types of behaviour which are dangerous, and often degrading, of which the perpetrator will be thoroughly ashamed when (s)he sobers up’. Mad one in Oxford, lads!
It is a fault in our education system that we don’t push enjoyment and personal wellbeing as much as we do academic success. Ultimately, it is more important to be in a place where you feel at home over somewhere you feel as if you ought to go. Just because you don’t go to Oxbridge doesn’t mean you’re going to live on the streets for the rest of your life – it just means you didn’t go to Oxbridge. It really is that simple. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re a failure because you didn’t go to Oxbridge and don’t let anyone tell you to apply to university based on a name. When a place is so full of tradition, pressure and high standards, it can only ever be a place that is suited for some. Stay true to yourself and say no. If tradition isn’t for you, then say no. Say no to Oxford and Cambridge.
Words by Juliette Rowsell