The Final Leg

It has been a fair while since my last post, and a huge deal has happened. These past few months have been a true roller-coaster on all levels of my life, be that personal, academic, social or familial. The faithful among you here would have read time and time and time again about my university considerations and the various factors that have plagued my thoughts with doubts about each institution I thought about and ended up applying to. In April the last batch of US university acceptances were released, and with them was the end of the waiting game for my decision. I shall not offload the reasons for and against each institution here but instead just give a quick overview of the process and my rough decision.

In the United Kingdom, I got a very tough conditional offer from the University of Cambridge, which I have selected as my “firm” UK choice, and a standard one from Imperial College London, who are my “insurance” choice. Applying to the UK universities isn’t too draining. One finely crafted personal statement and a few informal interviews (apart from Cambridge and to a certain extent Imperial) are quite doable in the framework of the year-13 lifestyle. Cambridge was a different story. I needed to prepare properly for my interview there. I had two interviews. In the first one I was asked to sketch several modulus curves, following intensive questioning on an essay I had submitted to the college for a competition previously. The second interview involved preparing a few questions in advance, followed by a discussion of my solutions and extending them further. Overall it was quite an enjoyable day just from the experience aspect of things and I am glad to have had the experience of an Oxbridge interview!

In Switzerland, I applied to ETH Zurich, who give all undergraduate applicants a surprisingly easy conditional offer, regardless of grades as long as they meet the minimum requirements. However, the Swiss university application was a bit more challenging. As an international, I had to sit the Goethe Institut C1 German language exam to prove my German skills were up to scratch for the university, which required a bit of studying. I also had to improve my CV and get a copy of the official grade transcripts from exam boards and the school. I applied here because I thought I wanted to get out of the UK and experience something new in a new language, and ETH is listed as one of the top 15 undergraduate universities in the world, so it is not a bad place to end up at – even if it is not as well known as Cambridge. Additionally, I wanted to get a foothold in Europe, seeing as I think I want to end up living there when I am older.

In the United States, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was accepted by Harvard, who were my first choice next to Stanford. The US process was by far the hardest of them all. I needed to sit the SAT exam, two SAT2 exams and write a host of essays that required careful thought and self-reflection. All this took quite a while and if you are about to sit GCSEs, consider starting the entire process now so that your sixth-form time is less stressful, which is what ended up happening to me. Admittedly however, the US process probably did teach me some skills and helped me formulate my thoughts as to how I want to come across on paper in real life. The interviews themselves were all fascinating, just due to the type of people I got the chance to meet.

So, this left me in the very fortunate decision to decide between four world-famous institutions, which is on the one hand a lovely problem to have and, at the same time, a hard one to reconcile. In which country do I want to study? What are the relative benefits of each institution? (How much does the entire thing cost?). All these questions, combined with the fact that I still don’t know whether I will make the ridiculous Cambridge offer (effectively A*A*A* and a 1 in STEP1 – a very tough additional maths exam) lead me to the decision to defer my Harvard offer for a year, allowing me to see whether I get the Cambridge offer. If I were to go to Harvard after results day, I would have to pack up and leave within 5 days, or if I decide to stick with Cambridge, take away a spot from someone on the Harvard waiting list: not exactly a moral or justified thing to do. The gap-year was thus the most sensible solution.

So, for one last time, it’s A-Level exam season, which means doing silly numbers of past OCR papers to learn their stupid mark scheme particulars, bashing my head in with STEP questions and training my exam autopilot mode once again. Not to be too melodramatic about this entire thing, but it all does come down to the next three weeks of exams, and its in some way thrilling, yet absolutely daunting. Best of luck to those taking exams, and especially to the year 13 students who have offers to make. It’s the final push of our long school careers thus far.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!


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