It has been a good few weeks since A Level Results Day which has given me enough time to dwell on all that has happened. My experience on the 16th August was overwhelmingly good but undeniably bittersweet.
From about 7am I began frantically refreshing UCAS Track. I already had everything sorted out for clearing – with Loughborough & Nottingham’s admissions numbers on speed dial in my phone. In fact, I’d resigned myself almost excitedly to the possibility of studying English with Business Studies if I got BBB, or American and English studies if I found myself coming out with a C. I told myself that this would be an exciting change, but I knew that deep-down I would be devastated if I’d missed my chance at Oxford in the final hurdle.
I think it was about 7:40ish when my constant clicking was finally fruitful. My hands were literally shaking as I typed out my UCAS password and hovered over the submit button.
“Congratulations! Your place at University of Oxford O33 for English Language and Literature Q300 has been confirmed.”
I screamed. I read back over it, checking I hadn’t missed something or made some awful error, and screamed again. I called for mum and then we both screamed, and we cried a little bit, and we kept reading and re-reading the screen convinced that it couldn’t be real. My whole Oxford admissions process had been a bit of a pipe dream. I’m not the most intelligent girl in my school. I’m not even the most intelligent in my friend group. In fact, I applied to Oxford more on a whim, not expecting anything from it, and it never became serious until I had the interview and found out how much I loved it there. To find out that after so much effort and so much waiting, I had really made it was completely surreal.
With this glow of happiness, I arrived at school feeling entirely carefree. I assumed that I must have achieved the AAA I needed; maybe I should have been more aware of some of the looks on teachers’ faces as I approached the results desk.
There were a few people around me as I opened the brown envelope, although I can’t remember quite who now.
“English Literature A*
I was momentarily overjoyed. I had achieved the A* in English, completely validating my choice of university subject (when I had often had doubts about whether I was really clever enough to pursue it, or whether I just liked reading a lot and didn’t know what else to do). The A* in History was just this insane, unexpected bonus – I really thought, after a horrific exam on The Tudors, that I would be scraping the A.
I unfolded the paper, and then I saw the B. Looking back, this was probably an incredibly melodramatic reaction but I completely stopped caring about my A*s. I stopped thinking about what I achieved and just saw this stamp of failure. A*A*B meant I had missed my grades to get into Oxford, and that I was no longer a straight A student. It sounds silly to recount this, and to remember how distraught I was but it really wrecked me.
Drama was meant to be my ‘doss’ subject. It was the stress reliever after the intensity of English & History lessons, it was the one I could run around in and laugh with my friends, and the subject where being academic wasn’t a prerequisite but a quietly smug bonus. I’d gotten into Oxford, but I felt as though I’d let them down in some way.
As I reluctantly spoke to the interviewers for the local newspapers, I felt insecure and selfish. I didn’t want to talk to them because I wanted to cry. I did cry. A ‘B’ isn’t a failure, but I felt like I had failed. When they took a photo of me, they had to ask me to smile more. When I answered questions, I spoke honestly about how I felt about my results and I felt myself coming off ungrateful and brattish. How dare I speak so glumly when I had just achieved so much!
Scrolling through my Oxford Offer Holder group chats, messages began to pour in about other students getting 3 A*s or 4 A*s, and I suddenly felt like I didn’t belong anymore and that I really was going to be the stupid one at Oxford. I thought my imposter syndrome would lessen after I got my place but I felt like more of a fraud.
I shouldn’t have put so much value on one letter on a piece of paper, whilst ignoring the rest and forgetting what I had achieved. A few days later I came to terms with my results and began to think how special it was that they could have so easily chosen to reject me, but they wanted me regardless. I guess it still did sting a little bit when I opened up my Freshers Pack to read “Even though you missed your offer…”
Fast forward a few weeks and one Edexcel re-mark later, I actually achieved the A in Drama. I much prefer being able to say I got A*A*A now, although getting a B has taught me a valuable lesson.
In a little over a month I will be a matriculated undergraduate at The University of Oxford and my A Levels won’t matter anymore. I will be studying the subject that I am passionate about in an environment I will be able to thrive in. As I am sure to deal with much more academic stress and failure in the next few years, I think this is what I need to remember: achievements vastly outweigh failures, and there is always something to be proud of.
I am proud of what I have achieved, and I hope I don’t forget that.