The night before results day I was sitting in the kitchen in the small hours, wondering how a university I’d never even seen could consume a year of my academic and social life, but mostly worrying that exams I hadn’t even taken would keep me from it at the very last hurdle. I knew the year before was a larger intake than it should have been, so they wouldn’t want another bumper crop of freshers, and I remembered all too well the terms of lockdown lessons that I had spent less than laser focused. Though I’d survived my college interviews on Microsoft Teams (doing maths with a computer mouse and shaking when I’m nervous was always going to be an interesting combination), and my A-level assessment marks weren’t looking too bad, uncertainty was the word of the moment and that really wasn’t helping my apprehension. Once again my hands were shaky around my late-night mug of coffee.
Of course, looking back, I needn’t have worried. The next morning, I battled my rural WiFi and the overloaded UCAS servers and finally saw the confirmation of my offer. A wave of relief brought home how important this whole process had been for me, and how stressed I really had been these past months. After I received my offer, I was the most excited I’d been in a long while, but this moment was a mirror image: total calm at last. COVID-19, along with the ever-gruelling admissions process, had been grating on me more deeply than I’d realised. Knowing that I really would be going to Oxford was worth the sleepless nights.
I now know that this year’s grades were the highest ever, continuing the theme of teacher-led grade inflation, and that does make my results feel a little less valuable by themselves. However, my fear that a proliferation of A*s would cause some results day nightmare, and the last-minute revocation of my offer, never materialised. The general uproar the 2020 cohort faced didn’t repeat itself either – small mercies that were very welcome after a year of worst-case scenarios.
My whole route to Oxford has been characterised by this pandemic, from the reading room at school being converted into a virtual interview space, to the utter lack of in-person open days. It still feels a little like Oxford exists only as an academic concept, rather than a living, breathing, hopefully not coughing, city. I picked my college after trawling the internet for whatever information I could randomly prioritise, and I found other freshers through chance and college WhatsApp chats. I expect that once I finally hit the hallowed halls it may all feel a little bizarre, though I’m sure by then I’ll have enough work to keep me from getting too carried away with the weirdness of this year.