Though this response has been wonderful, instead of continuing to pour out my sorrows I thought it would be helpful to talk about how to cope. Though we do need to hear a vast majority of the advice already online, ‘your life isn’t over, there are plenty of other great universities…’ I think I can develop on it, a bit.
Deal with the criticism
1. If it helps – get feedback, to put your mind at ease.
If the reason is something you couldn’t have helped/not that personal you might feel less criticised, but you might just kick yourself if it’s something else…
2. Detatch ‘you’ from the rejection – don’t take it too personally.
This is harder for more personal subjects, such as Art, but often, a university rejection is not an attack on you or even your intelligence. Don’t believe it’s about you as a person, see it as about some grades on a form- which I’m sure do not capture your personality or identity.
3. Realise how much it comes down to luck (/inequality).
Don’t see it as a huge re-evaluation of how clever you are, because chances are, one of the people who got a place got in on luck. We all know of the imbalance of private, grammar, and comprehensive school student intakes at top universities (see this article): it’s not a fair system. So why should your self-esteem take a knock? Whether you were in the right place or the right time or not doesn’t say much about you.
4. Realise that it’s not necessarily that you’re “not good enough”, it might just be that you’re not suited.
This is really, really hard to believe, particularly about Oxbridge, when the general belief is that those who get in are cleverer than those who don’t. In reality, though, universities give places to people they think are right for the course, because they don’t want you to drop out. You may simply not be right for the style of teaching, have enough interest in the subject, or be prepared to undertake that amount of work, for example. (I sense that my Oxford interviewer got the gist my passion for Medieval literature was a little over the threshold of a white lie.)
Fall out of love with that university
So, maybe it’s not just the sense of rejection that’s getting you down, maybe you just really, really wanted to go there. (Or maybe it’s both… sad times.)
1. List all the reasons you wouldn’t want to go there.
E.g. My Oxford list would be: insane workload, restrictive/too specialised course, and study abroad is less common.
2. End the idealism. Now.
Unrequited love feeds off of unfulfilled, unrealistic impressions, and if, once rejected, you continue to believe in these impressions you will never move from the crevice you’ve made in the sofa, or lose your grip on the Ben&Jerrys coated tea spoon. Do what you’d do if someone dumped you for someone else, don’t cry to ‘you belong with me’, move on, play some Destiny’s Child, and show them what they’re missing. It can be hard to get over a place you’ve sensationalised, especially if it’s so culturally ingrained to romanticise and worship it (see: bazillions of films set in Oxford), but every university has a downside and it’s important to remind yourself of that.
Fall in love with a new university
1. List all the great things you can do now that you’re not going to the university you didn’t get into, at your new university.
E.g. I can now more feasibly do a year abroad and a joint honours degree with Philosophy and Psychology modules, too. I’ll also get to move to Scotland (a new country!) and live by the sea.
2. Focus on just generally everything great about the new university you’re going to, and get excited about going there!
Visit the university, absorb their website, join the Facebook Freshers group, and get involved in all the hype. University is exciting, don’t miss out because you’re not going where you initially wanted to!
3. Try not to compare it to the university you didn’t get into, because in some ways, it just won’t be able to compare.
Sometimes I try to reassure myself by searching up league tables and career prospects for St Andrews, but I think it’s better not to compare (St A isn’t as internationally famous as Oxford, it is smaller and will involve quite a bit more of a trek, and so on). See your new university in its own right.
Compensate for what you’ve lost in other areas of your life
I suppose what I feel I’ve lost most in not getting into Oxford is a sense of achievement, which I’ve been seeking in the form of academia for a few years now.
There are other ways to find this, though, in fact, there are healthier ways. I have regained a sense of much more fulfilling success through writing more. Oxford University is something I’ll never have on my CV, but I can seek self-esteem boosts and moments of personal pride elsewhere.
Don’t be bitter
I am being a class A hypocrite here, but I’ve learnt my lesson. Although my favourite condolence was, “Oxford can go f**k themselves”, which felt pretty good, this sort of response should only be taken in jest, because in reality, bitterness helps no one. It is as Guatama Buddha once said,
“Getting angry is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”
(v wise man, just as easy to quote as Ms Plath).
As fun as it is to curse in the face of rejection, and accurate as many of our complaints may be – you deserved it, it wasn’t fair, you didn’t have a hope against students of better schools – no one likes a soar loser – just look at this guy, no one wants to be like that: ‘Rejected by Cambridge’. Making a big political speech about the injustices of the education system is incredibly important but I’m feeling that that’s a separate endeavour for a separate time, and not one I personally should ground in my own disappointments (it has, for me, after all, immeasurably benefited me unfairly and I have little to complain about).
Furthermore, it’s unfair to students who did get places. I don’t know if you, too, have friends at the university you didn’t get into, but it’s important – though hard – not to knock their achievements and try to be proud of and happy for them.
Minimise the overall importance (which uni you go to really doesn’t matter that much, and any offer is a huge achievement you should be incredibly proud of)
At the end of the day, though I hate to be so late to the party to realise this, the university you go to really doesn’t matter that much.
Try not to think of it as part of your identity. It’s easy to get sucked into measuring yourself by the university name on your CV, but really, this is an extremely poor way of measuring people’s individual merits. What uni you went to doesn’t, in my opinion, say a whole lot about you.
Further still, university is just one part of your life, not your whole life, and for plenty of people it’s never part of their life at all! See yourself as a person as a whole, and the uni you go to as simply being the place you go to for education, just like school. The university you go to does not define you, so just go somewhere you’ll be happy, and focus on other things that are simply more important.