Meet the students who turned down Oxbridge

‘I only met one other Northerner in my college during my interview week’


Can you IMAGINE turning down an offer from Oxbridge? It's essentially going "sike" to the world's top unis. Waving goodbye to the golden ticket.

But, shocking as it might be to your mum, students are turning them down.

The Tab spoke to five students who – whether for mental health pressures, the working class stigma, wanting a social life, or just wanting to be in a city with a nightlife – turned down the "chance of a lifetime".

'Out of the people I spoke to I was one of the only state school applicants':

Caitlin, from Richmond in Yorkshire, went to a pushy state school who coached people through the Oxbridge process. Along with York, Leeds, and Durham, Caitlin felt pressured to apply to Oxbridge.

During the "intimidating" interview week, Caitlin felt she didn't fit in. "I didn't really get on with anyone I met there. I only met one other Northerner in my college during my interview week, and out of the people I spoke to I was one of the only state school applicants," she says.

Caitlin smashed her interview and got an offer from Queen's College to study English and History. But with the acceptance letter came a leaflet explaining the costs of attending. Reading that, she realised the £200, five hour train journey home, and inability to get a part-time job, made the idea of Oxford seem unsustainable.

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Caitlin (second left)

"I literally would not have been able to afford a relaxed lifestyle, never mind travel, or visiting my family," she says.

"That's what my mother and I realised that made us decide that I would have to reject the offer, despite her and my family's excitement."

Instead, Caitlin chose Leeds. Since being at uni, she's been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. She says she's coping in a way she wouldn't have been able to with the pressures at Oxford. "From experience during my interview and from researching mental health support in Oxford I doubt I would have the time to seek it and take care of myself, let alone go through the counselling and countless doctors appointments I have had here," says Caitlin.

'Anyone who has received an offer from Oxbridge will be aware of the constant assumptions that are made'

With an offer on the table to study medicine at Oxford's Jesus College, Lasith decided to turn it down and go to Imperial College London.

Oxford's eight week terms put him off – they seemed too tight to soak everything up. Plus, being from Norwich, Lasith always wanted to live in London. At Imperial, in a big city, he's got an active social life, a rigorous course, and a diverse group of friends.

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Lasith (front left)

"I feel that this type of exposure is only really possible in big city unis and it has contributed hugely to my personal development and my becoming more aware and knowledgable about different cultures and creeds," he says.

Now in his final year of medicine at Imperial, Lasith calls it "the best decision I ever made."

For him, it's less about prestige, and more about how your uni fits you. "Anyone who has received an offer from Oxbridge will be aware of the constant assumptions that are made that it will automatically be your first choice," he explains.

"I personally believe that no specific institution defines anyone. Sure, you could do well at Oxford and become a great doctor, but I think that's more a comment on how compatible you are with your course than any inherent feature of the course or uni itself."

'Lots of people tried to tell me I was crazy for even considering turning it down'

Sophie went to a state grammar school in Buckhingamshire, which she says was "a bit obsessed with how many students they could get into Oxbridge."

The night before the UCAS deadline, Sophie stayed up all night weighing up the pros and cons.

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Sophie (the red Teletubby)

In the end, the lack of nightlife, theoretical nature of the course, and the "crazy academic competitive nature" meant Sophie turned down her offer to study Veterinary Medicine at Oxford in favour of Liverpool.

"Lots of people tried to tell me I was crazy for even considering turning it down and I had endless lectures from uncles and teachers that I was throwing away the best opportunity I would ever get," says Sophie.

Four years in, it's turned out alright though. "I got a buzz in Liverpool that nowhere else – especially Cambridge – gave me. I still get the buzz now."

'I wanted to enjoy uni by going out loads and joining sports teams'

Freya went to a private school in the north, and describes her background as "very middle class".

Despite seeming like the classic Oxbridge type, Freya turned down her Oxford PPE offer to go to Durham.

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"I wanted to enjoy uni by going out loads and joining sports teams. I didn’t think I’d be able to do this as Oxford is so intense," Freya says.

She's now in her third year of PPE at Durham, and says she way prefers the course.

'Most of them were getting A* in every GCSE. It made me feel a bit "inferior".'

Anna had an offer from Cambridge but was also thinking about Bristol, her local uni. The lack of social life and intense academic pressures put her off.

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But it wasn't until after the offer holders' day she made her choice. During the day, at Murray Edwards college, Anna didn't feel like other offer holders were her kind of people.

"They were all nice people, but I struggled to find many mutual interests while talking to them," she said.

"I've also never really been a straight A student until my a levels whereas most of them were getting A* in every GCSE, and stuff like that. It made me feel a bit 'inferior', I guess."

A few weeks later, Anna had to choose her firm and backup options, and put Bristol as her firm with no backup, as it was her lowest offer.

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