I’m sure by now many of us have at least heard of one Elly Nowell, the A-Level student who sent a ‘rejection’ letter to Magdalen College, Oxford.
If you haven’t yet read the letter, I have reproduced it in full here:
I have now considered your establishment as a place to read Law (Jurisprudence). I very much regret to inform you that I will be withdrawing my application. I realise you may be disappointed by this decision but you were in competition with many fantastic universities and following your interview I am afraid you do not quite meet the standard of the universities I will be considering.
I encourage you to try again for my LLM but re-applicants are at a disadvantage and you are unlikely to succeed unless you become a more progressive university. See below for guidelines for re-application.
I hope you will be successful in finding other capable candidates and I wish you every success in your future as a university.
Thank you for your interest in me
Guidelines for Re-application
1) Whilst you may believe your decision to hold interviews in grand formal settings is inspiring, it allows public school applicants to flourish in the environment they are accustomed to and intimidates state school applicants, distorting the true academic potential of both.
2) Whilst you may believe your traditions and rituals are impressive, they reflect badly on your university. As an institution that preaches academic excellence, teaching your students to blindly and illogically do whatever they are told reveals significant flaws in your education system. Frankly. I feel humiliated for both you and your students.
3) During my time at Magdalen College the obvious gap between minorities and white middle-class students was embarrassing. Whilst I realise you are trying to address these problems within your university, the gap between elitism and discrimination is a narrow one and one that you still do not appear to have adequately addressed.
4) Perhaps offer a glass of water in your interviews next time: it is rude to torture guests.
The first part is slightly amusing, if somewhat unusual approach, to rejecting a college to which you have applied to attend. I imagine that most would be students don’t even bother with a letter (I know I didn’t).
It is her ‘guidelines’ however where I feel she has shown herself up.
‘Grand formal settings’? We are talking about a college that has been around for 550 years, a college which is part of the oldest university in the English speaking world, in a city that received its chart in 1191, and boasts buildings built in times before concrete, glass and steel constructs become the norm. Described by Matthew Arnold as the ‘City of dreaming spires’, immortalised on television thanks to ‘Morse’ and ‘Lewis’ one has to ask what on earth she expected? Frankly, if she had wanted a 1960s monstrosity then she should have applied to the University of Essex.
With age cometh traditions and rituals and after 550 years I’d be shocked if Magdalen didn’t have any. As with all traditions though no doubt some will be good and some will be bad but when the college is one of the best at Oxford (according to the JCRs website) it doesn’t seem as though there are that many ‘flaws’ in their education system.
Bitching about skin colour and class? Why? If someone is good enough to be there then who cares what their background is or what colour they are.
Finally, might I suggest that if someone has forgotten to offer you a glass of water/tea/coffee, you might in future ask? It’ll be an odd place that says no!
Sadly through young Elly is not finished. On Thursday she was invited to write a piece for Comment is Free in order to explain why she sent her letter.
Most of the piece though is fluff with the meat coming towards the end.
So, why did I apply in the first place? If you’re achieving high grades at A-level (or equivalent) you can feel quite a lot of pressure to “prove yourself” by getting an Oxbridge offer. Coupled with the fact that I grew up on benefits in council estates throughout Bristol – not a type of heritage often associated with Oxbridge interview – I decided to give it a try.
Colleges, even Brockenhurst where Elly went (which is one of the best in the country), like the idea of sending some of their students to Oxford or Cambridge. It is a pat on the back for them as well so they will encourage their brightest to make an application. Perhaps it is not always the best choice but it doesn’t preclude prospective undergraduates from applying elsewhere.
It was only at interview that I started to question what exactly I was trying to prove. I was well aware that fantastic candidates are often turned down, and I did not believe that this was a true reflection of their academic potential. It no longer made any sense to me to subject myself to their judgment, and so I withdrew my application.
So you felt, after ‘giving it a try’, that it wasn’t for you. Big deal. You are hardly the first and I somewhat doubt you will be the last. I don’t recall anyone else writing a letter about it and getting themselves a column in CiF though.
As to my opinions on the future of Oxbridge, I share many of the views put forward by Owen Jones . Although I take issue with his concern that not going to Oxbridge gives you a “chip on your shoulder”, which seemingly makes your opinion less valid. I did not write to Oxford to avoid the risk of being labelled as an “Oxbridge reject”: I already am one. Last year I made an (admittedly weak) application to Cambridge and was inevitably rejected post-interview. I am proud of the so-called “chip on my shoulder” and I do not believe anyone’s opinion should be invalidated simply because they did not attend Oxbridge.
Sharing the views of Owen Jones? A 20 something, self-confessed fourth generation socialist who himself went to Oxford and whose media resume is so full of ‘right-on’ organisations I can’t read it without laughing?
I fully suspect that at some point after graduation Ms Nowell will, instead of sinking into obscurity, be working in the Westminster Village and shall eventually become a Labour MP, complete with that chip on her shoulder. I, for one, am not looking forward to that day.