"I remember being worried about how people would react once they found out"Jemima Prior

“How would you describe a syringe?”.

The question came from my D.T. teacher, perched on an old bench in the woodwork room. In his hand was a piece of paper reassuringly titled: ‘50 Hardest Oxbridge Interview Questions Ever Asked’.

After attempting to describe a syringe (“Um… pointy?”), he asked whether I thought I was clever (“No, not particularly, not after that first question”), and finally what my favourite motorway was (“… the M4?”).

To top it off, after we’d finished the mock interview, he reminded me that I had, in fact, accidentally answered two out of the three questions in Welsh. As you can imagine, I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful for my Cambridge interview, scheduled later that week.

“I was about to spend my journey home[...]brushing up on the latest political news and Britain’s most popular motorways”

Later that day, I collapsed into my seat on the school bus. In my lap rested a pile of books and scribbled notes, ready for the long journey ahead of me. My interview was meant to be that Friday. I was about to spend my journey home, and the rest of the evening, brushing up on the latest political news and Britain’s most popular motorways.

Suddenly an email popped up. It held the subject ‘Application to Pembroke College Cambridge’. My heart skipped a beat.

I read the email again and again and again. Or at least I tried to. Individual words jumped out at me — ‘interview’, ‘application’, ‘reflection’, but I couldn’t string them together for the life of me. My hands were shaking. Letters were jumbled. Reading seemed completely impossible.

My friend, who was sitting next to me, kept asking: “What Gwenno? What is it?”

I could only manage an exasperated “It’s… it’s Cambridge”.

The only sentence my brain could process were the terrifying words: “You consequently do not need to attend the interview scheduled for you, which we are now cancelling”. My heart sunk. My eyes blurred. I knew it. My greatest fears had been confirmed. I was never meant to have an interview all along. It had all been a mistake.

As I let my head sink into my hands in despair, my friend took my phone and read the email for herself: “Gwenno, they’re not cancelling the interview. They’re offering you a place”. My face dropped.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who received an offer without an interview. Pembroke College released a statement announcing that ‘in a small number of cases… we were certain we should be making them an offer without needing the additional information that interviews can provide’.

According to a Freedom of Information request, 15 students received such offers. Some of them went public, with one even appearing in The Times. Others weren’t so lucky and were subject to hate on forums like the Student Room.

“I can’t escape the nagging voice at the back of my mind: I would never have gotten in had I done an interview”

After the mixed reaction to the news online, I remember being worried about how people would react once they found out. On my first day at Cambridge, a few people came up to me, asking “Are you Gwenno? Are you the one who got in without an interview?”. Each time, my jaw would clench as I braced myself for a snide comment, which never came. Luckily, the question was always followed by a genuine congratulations.

On my second day, I walked into the kitchen to find my two flatmates gripped in conversation, trying to work out who didn’t have an interview. I admitted to the two of them right there that I hadn’t. We all laughed it off thankfully. Ever since, it has become the subject of friendly ridicule whenever I fail at the simplest day-to-day task.

Yet, I find myself not always able to laugh it off.


Mountain View

The University’s ranking system is crushing me

I’m from a Welsh-medium state comprehensive school in Swansea. I’m one of only a handful of students who’ve ever got a place at Oxbridge from my school. I already have a voice in the back of my head that likes to tell me that I shouldn’t be here, that I didn’t deserve my place here. In my first week, a lecturer reminded us of the eight people who are all sitting at other universities because we took their place. It filled me with dread.

I’m the only one on my course who didn’t get an interview. I’ve never been able to let go of how my peers proved themselves, leaping over all the necessary hurdles for their place. Winning the race for which I was never entered. They should be here. They worked for it. They earned it. I haven’t as much as an interview or an admissions test to justify my place here .

I’m nearly at the end of my first year at Cambridge. Most of the time, I can get on with life and it barely crosses my mind.

But, on the days when I walk out of a supervision teary-eyed, or hand in a rushed essay, I can’t escape the nagging voice at the back of my mind: I would never have gotten in had I done an interview.

Most of the time, I try to reassure myself that I would have. Other days, I’m not so sure.

The most haunting part is that I have no way of ever knowing.