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One does not simply apply to Oxford – it’s a process, and for me, it was a journey, one that taught me an awful lot – the hard way.

A Levels

I finished my A levels in 2004 – it feels like a ridiculously long time ago!

For those who may not know, in the U.K., A levels are completed when you’re 18 years old – though you begin applying to universities at age 17.  

As for myself, I was predicted 4 A grades during 2003 which I then went on to achieve. It was, by far, one of the biggest accomplishments of my younger years. As a student, it’s a pretty big deal to reach this point in your academic career. It opens the door to the best universities in the U.K. 

After the door opened for me, I decided to apply to:

  • Oxford
  • U.C.L.
  • King’s College
  • Queen Mary’s College
  • Warrick

Oxford and the Songs of Blake

I remember I was in the midst of reading William Blake’s The Songs of Innocence and Experience when I got invited to attend an interview at Oxford. It was my top university choice, and the one interview I was most hopeful for.

The interview meant I had a chance – a real chance of attending the University of my dreams.

Interviewing at Oxford

It’s hard to deny the prestige that Oxford carries with it being a world-renown university. Even when you go over there for your initial interview, it’s a bit of a fanfare.

In actuality, it consists of more than just visiting the grounds to answer a few questions. If you’re accepted to interview:

  • You’re invited to spend a couple of days on the campus.
  • You stay in one of the colleges.
  • You’re allowed to explore the school at your leisure during your stay.

This is all is meant to give the prospective student a feel of what Oxford life is like. It’s an entire process that extends beyond simply interviewing with the college.

Meeting John Paul

On the day I got to sit down with one of the Oxford members, a man by the name of John Paul conducted my interview.

John Paul had been on the BBC as a subject matter expert a couple of times and it was well known that he was a big deal in the Oxford community.

I showed up for the interview feeling rather excited.

And rather confident.

Then, like a bursting bubble, gone was the excitement and confidence as I was quickly reminded of how much I didn’t know.

Songs of Inexperience

You see, when filling out the paperwork upon arrival at Oxford, I mentioned that I was very interested in William Blake and the Songs of Innocence and Experience.

The thing is, I’d only gotten part way through the actual poetry of the book.

At the time, I was very enthused and enamored by Blake -I thought he was a superb poet and this put me a bit too ahead of myself.

Now, I had lots of things to say about the Songs of Innocence since I had read through that part of his work.

However, quite stupidly, I had nothing to say about the Songs of Experience.

On Being Totally Unprepared

At this point in my life, I hadn’t been taught anything in school about this particular work by Blake.

I also hadn’t been told that it would be a wise idea to research the parts of Blake’s work that I had missed.

To add insult to injury, I didn’t really appreciate that the chaps at Oxford might have some oversight on the subject matter that I, myself, only read halfway through.

The Result of Not Listening to the Song

I knew right away that I had messed up – BIG TIME.

Due to getting ahead of myself and total unpreparedness, I ultimately wasn’t successful during the interview process. I found myself stuttering and stumbling through the entire thing. I had no idea what to do with the situation because I had no idea what to do with these texts I’d never seen before – I had no idea what to say.

It was a crushing moment for me.

Taking a Gift for Granted

Looking back on it, I now realise just how naive I was going into the situation.

When I was younger, I was considered gifted during school; especially with English studies – I’d finished my SATs at 14.

Being that I was considered gifted during my younger years I became accustomed to not having to try that hard. I was used to being the best at any education I undertook.

Years later, when it came time to interview at Oxford, I found that I was far from being the best or the most gifted.

Ultimately, I was put up against the best of the best in my age group at Oxford and I didn’t make it through.

A Lesson on Paying attention to the Lyrics

Even though I didn’t make it through the interview, in hindsight, it set me on a completely different trajectory that I wouldn’t change if given the chance.

Had I got a place in Oxford I would have immediately gone off to the university instead of taking the course I did after failing the interview process.

The journeys I experienced, later on, were a direct result of failing to make it into the school of my dreams.

Learning from a Chip on the Shoulder

The truth is, I ended up with a bit of a chip on my shoulder after the interview. I remember thinking that Oxford didn’t reject meI rejected Oxford.

The chip I carried around for a while resulted in a decision to take a year off before reapplying to Oxford again. I figured I would have a better shot after I learned more about the application process. I wanted to do it right the second time around.

Getting Knocked Down

One of the beautiful things about getting a knockback like failing to get a place in Oxford is that I really did learn to take it on the chin.

I resolved not to settle for 2nd best and to try again.

I didn’t want to go to a school that I believed to be 2nd rate.

A Year Well Spent

Taking the year off after being rejected by Oxford really was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

I used the year to get some experience under my belt and learn more about applying properly to the university.

I knew from the beginning that the year would be dedicated to figuring out what I needed to do, say, and hear in order to ensure that I could make it through on the next try.

Understanding Innocence and Experience

Looking back at that time of my life I can say that I was definitely quite shellshocked after all the events and aftermath unfolded. The important thing is that I now understand why things happened the way they did. This is the beauty of hindsight being a part of human nature.

As human beings, we are built to look back on life and rationalise everything that’s happened to us. We take it upon ourselves to contextualise everything as being for the greater good because it’s just part of our survival-

It’s how we keep going.

It’s the only way that we can continue and go on and succeed.

Songs of the Forward Step

Some of the best-written books on success stress the importance of being able to look back on life with a rational mind and acquiring the ability to learning from it. Why? Because-

This is how humanity moves forward.

It’s how we:

  • Aim higher
  • Grow bigger
  • Do better
  • Become greater

Looking Back on Oxford

In relation to my experience with not making it into Oxford, the process of moving away from the situation and looking back allowed me to see things in a new light.

I look back on it and I realise that I didn’t blame the world like I thought I did.  Yes, I was frustrated with the world around me during the letdown of not being accepted into the university. I felt I didn’t have, perhaps, the appropriate support that I wanted and needed at the time in order to meet my goals.

However,  in the end, I knew that everything was on me.

It was my responsibility to control my future and that’s what ultimately sent me on a gap year.

A gap year that led to lots of amazing things:

  • Traveling around the world for six months.  
  • Getting two jobs – Natwest Bank by day, Odeon cinemas by night.

In the end, I now know that this amazing journey I’ve been on is due to the fabulous lessons I learned by not getting accepted into Oxford.

I wouldn’t change a thing about the outcome.

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