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Why missing your first choice uni isn’t such a big deal.


21-year-old English literature graduate, Mirren Gidda explains why not getting your first uni choice is certainly not the end of the world.

When something bad happens, one of the worst pieces of advice has to be, “everything happens for a reason”. Though I often find myself mindlessly repeating it as consolation to friends, when on the receiving end, I find it utterly useless.

It’s a phrase that many university applicants are going to hear with nauseating frequency between now and the various results days: 5 July for IB, 5 August for SQA and 14 August for A-Levels.

Though it’s hard to hear, applying for university, and sitting final school exams, can result in many students’ first taste of failure. Those who applied for university by the 15 January UCAS deadline may already received rejections from their chosen universities.


Despite being a twenty one year old finalist, and school firmly in the past, writing this article vividly brings back the stress and pressure I felt in my final year of secondary school.

I went to a fairly high-pressure, academic school that took a lot of pride in sending a large number of its students to Oxbridge. My teachers encouraged me to apply to Cambridge, and assured me that I was a shoe-in. When the rejection letter came, I felt crushed.

I had invested everything in going to Cambridge and in my head, had built it into this perfect place that my second choice university couldn’t possibly compare to. Also, and my school is partly to blame for this, I genuinely believed that without a BA from Oxbridge, my future wouldn’t be as bright.

Looking back on this, I wish I could have realised how ridiculous I was being. My three years at University College London (UCL) have been tumultuous and chaotic but ultimately wonderful. I wouldn’t trade them in for three years anywhere else, not even Cambridge.

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I also know that had all five of my universities rejected me, and I’d been picked up by an unfamiliar university through clearing, I would have loved it there too. Of course, this has only become obvious in hindsight, but I wish I could have realised it at the time.

Many of my friends were rejected by Oxbridge or by their preferred universities. An unlucky few were rejected by all five, a particularly difficult pill to swallow given tuition fees were due to rise next year, making a gap year undesirable.

Catherine Thomas, who wasn’t selected by any of her chosen universities explained: “It’s tough at first, you don’t think to prepare yourself for such complete rejection. When it happens you just have to deal with it and work out the next step.

“I chose to take a year out and reapply. I gained a gap year, time to really think about what I wanted to study, and a break from academia. How could I ever regret that?”

Perhaps harder still is finding out that you’ve missed your grades for university. It’s disappointing but it does happen. Last year, UCAS reported that 153,000 students were eligible for clearing. Many of these will have been students who missed their offers.

Commenting on the futility of A-levels – glorified memory tests are hardly fit preparation for university – would require a separate article. But, let’s face it, A-levels don’t suit everyone. Even those who can jump through the requisite hoops, and have dazzling mock results, can find themselves tripping up at the final hurdle.

Tom Parker, who almost missed out on a place at Oxford commented: “As you can imagine, it was a pretty gut wrenching feeling. Frustration with the marking of humanities subjects fought anger with myself for being lazy. I missed all of my predicted grades because I stopped working.”

After sending off one of the papers to be remarked, Tom was lucky and his grade went up. Rosie Jeffreys was less fortunate and her grades remained the same, meaning she went to her back up university.

For her, it was: “Appalling at the time. I had got so excited about going to my first-choice university, I’d applied for accommodation and dreamed about my new life. All of a sudden I found I was going to a university I hadn’t given a second thought too.

“I didn’t love it at first. But once I stopped hankering after my first choice university, and absorbed myself in student life, I had a brilliant time. Now I wonder why I even considered the other university.”

At the time, rejection from university, for whatever reason, is tough. Few people have the resilience to immediately bounce back from a decision that will impact their future.


I still don’t think there was some pre-destined reason for being rejected from Cambridge. I simply had a bad interview there, and a good one at UCL. I do think, however, that everything works out in the end.

If you’re not lucky enough to get into your first choice university, don’t worry. Wherever you go you’ll have a great time. You’ll meet new people, experience independent living, and embark on a whole new direction in life.

At the end of the day, university, like everything else, is what you make of it. Don’t waste time on what could have been but just plunge into it and see what happens. And honestly, after a year at university, A-levels and UCAS will seem like dim, distant, and wholly unimportant memories.

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