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Acceptance Day

By Josita Kavitha Thirumalai

11th January 2022. 9:09 AM. The much anticipated Oxford Application Outcome email had landed in my inbox and I was already feeling like a human Jenga tower, pulled apart and ready to come crumbling down.

Of course, it’s very difficult to pick myself up if I fall apart in a deathly quiet sixth form library- dramatic as I am - so I ran to a nice, empty, clinical lab room to call my mum. I had already inched down the screen of my phone ready for the words “I’m sorry to inform you…” or “we were unable to offer you a place…” or “due to an overwhelming number of applications…”. I certainly was not ready for “I am pleased to offer you a place.”

See, the electric spiky nerves had started doing their thing from midnight as I had propped open my laptop with the ELAT results page open for me to see in the morning and ended up seeing my result. It was not great. I definitely didn’t feel great looking at the grade curve to see how I scored on average, and I felt like the hopes of an acceptance dwindled dramatically. I was up all night doomscrolling every Oxford rejection video YouTube had to offer until the phrase “rejection is redirection” was emblazoned as deeply into my psyche as possible.

Acceptance day doesn’t feel like an acceptance day when you haven’t accepted yourself. I was crippled with anxiety as I was the only one in my school and out of my friends to get into Oxbridge. I’m positively squeamish under the spotlight. I also had an offer conditional to me completing the ‘Opportunity Oxford’ programme and I had absolutely no idea what that had meant at the time - drawing to conclusions that I had a lesser offer because it was subject to more ‘hurdles’. I’ve now worked on the programme as a student on the other side-it’s definitely more of a springboard than another hoop to jump through.

I had 5 months left before I sat the exams that would secure my place and I knew what the space of 5 months could do to someone’s mental wellbeing with all my eggs sitting in this very fancy looking basket. Imposter syndrome reared its ugly head pretty early for me and still slithers back in 2 years into my degree at Oxford. I stood there in the biology room after calling to tell my mum the 3 magical words the first-gen immigrant in her had been dreaming of hearing: “I got in!”.

It started sinking in that there was a paradox in trying to forget about the stakes when they were now at their highest if I wanted to do well by ignoring the pressure. If I didn’t take the medicine/STEM route, I felt that I had to compensate by getting into the best uni for the degree I wanted to pursue. When it comes to aiming high, some people forget that you can fall very hard from heights too. I had to steer back the pressure and just take the tiny stepping stones forward. I didn’t need to go high up-I just needed to go forwards. I just wanted to go to uni and do a subject I enjoyed to get me to the next place I wanted to be. I wanted to keep moving.

Acceptance is not confined to a day-and likewise, neither is rejection. Acceptance is about movement-in a direction away from self-deprecation and self-sabotage. Acceptance isn’t acceptance when you reject yourself beforehand to soften the blow when you ‘prove yourself right’ if you are turned away. Acceptance day is very triggering for all of these reasons so the people who don’t acknowledge what happens outside of an email notification pinging on your phone, don’t see the mental resilience these moments require. Your life doesn’t start or stop whether you get an offer from Oxford or not. Success is not restricted to one path. Getting in is- yes- difficult, but accepting yourself is a more mammoth task, that is the work of a lifetime.  


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