I was rejected to Oxford, now I need advice.

Hi, first of all, thanks for reading, it means a lot to me at this time of my life.
I've finished A-Levels this summer, and applied to universities as a gap year student. I thought my grades were good, having 4A*s for context. I asked a teacher for my references, who I thought was experienced in writing references. But after I've sent off my application, I've heard him apologise, saying that he wrote something that could act as a complete deal-breaker, which he didn't know before sending the reference letter off (he hasn't told me what this was). I was nervous but all of the teachers/people/professors I've met said that I had the ideal application otherwise, and I'd be at least be invited for an interview (the interview offer rate is for chemistry at Oxford is 89%), and wouldn't be surprised if I got in.
Fast forward to now, I've just heard back that I was rejected without an interview. I feel foolish of feeling bad and worthless over admissions which don't define me, but I can't help but feel this way. 
My problem is that I can't help but think of reapplying to Oxford next year. I am an international applicant, and I have a better chance of receiving a private full-ride scholarship by being admitted to Oxbridge. During the excess time, I was thinking of enrolling in a computer programming school called 42. I ultimately want a job in consulting or IBD, as I want to be financially stable and support my single mother and younger siblings and provide them with a better life. So my questions are:
1. Would it be rational to choose of reapplying next year(I would be 20 at the time of enrolment if so) to Oxford?
2. If I were to reapply, would enrolling in 42 be a useful experience, not only for admissions but in the long run as well?
3. If not, is there any suggestions on programs/things I could do during my gap year that could be helpful?
4. After graduating, I would be of a higher age than most people in the job market of fresh graduates(I assume 23,4). How does this act on my chances, and does it have great significance?
5. Is there any preparation I could do starting now that could boost my CV, or overall self-improvement?

Thanks for reading through all of this, I already feel much better by jotting down my thoughts here :) 
I would be grateful for any words or opinions of my situation, thanks again! :)

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Comments (28)

Nov 24, 2021 - 6:14am

1. Idk how the scholarship thing works but are there not other targets that'll meet whatever criteria they set? LSE? ICL? UCL?

2. Coding would be fairly useless for IB, useful-ish for consulting (depends). Long-run, coding is always useful, gives you more optionality

3. No

4. It doesn't. 

5. Relevant internships.

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Nov 24, 2021 - 10:44am

Hi, I'm applying for a scholarship funded by a private firm, and they explicitly say that you have to have an offer from Oxbridge, Imperial, LSE and UCL for eligibility. I am waiting for Imperial and UCL yet :) They only fund 10% of non-STEM subjects as well. There are quite a few US universities listed on the scholarship page as well but I'm not sure if I'll get admitted as an international, and I don't have many resources on US admissions. I will apply, I just don't think I'll get in though.

Again thank you for your reply, I'll do the programming for self-development and wait on my other choices/apply to more :))

Most Helpful
  • Prospect in PE - Other
Nov 24, 2021 - 9:11am

Following is intended to be candid but hopefully helpful advice, speaking as someone who got rejected by Oxbridge for UG, went to LSE/Imperial/UCL instead, and is now doing an MSc at Oxbridge. 

Firstly, you sound like a classic overachiever who is hyperanxious about not always being recognised as the best. I was like that too. A lot of people on this board, and in finance more generally, are like that. But take a step back; your life is not going to be defined by an Oxbridge rejection; there's very little that you're not going to be able to accomplish by going to one of the big three London unis or Warwick rather than Oxbridge. That wasn't the case thirty years ago, but is very much the case today outside of a few very specific fields - the one I would particularly highlight is law, where Oxbridge confers a massive advantage to a candidate. On to your questions:

1. Would it be rational to choose of reapplying next year(I would be 20 at the time of enrolment if so) to Oxford?

Many students will enter top UK universities at 19-21 (gap years and military service). You won't be discriminated based on age, but you might not enjoy it as much socially depending on your level of maturity. If you have an offer for chemistry from Imperial or UCL I would take that and run. Both place very well into FO finance (bizarrely so for a relatively non quantitative STEM subject), and there's no guarantee you'd get into Oxford next year. Moreover, I'd argue that there's probably more interest in finance/consulting recruiting out of chemistry at Imperial and UCL than there is at Oxford - the recruitment cycle is harder to avoid, although there's also an unhealthy culture associated with that too.
2. If I were to reapply, would enrolling in 42 be a useful experience, not only for admissions but in the long run as well?

Long-run, coding is a nice skill to have on your resume. But it's only really used on a frequent basis in quant roles, for which chemistry is poor preparation. You're likely to also have to use Python, C++, or Matlab at some point during your degree and can just list proficiency from that - banks and consultancies won't care how much coding you've done (i.e. 42 is not necessary) but they'll appreciate that you have the skillset available even if you're unlikely to use it. Admissions wise, Oxford Chemistry is pretty light on coding and won't really care; Imperial might, but it's a small part of your overall application. 
3. If not, is there any suggestions on programs/things I could do during my gap year that could be helpful?

Most people do irrelevant jobs tbvh. Some people manage to secure apprenticeship-style placements (Big Four run some schemes, as do banks such as JPM), this will be very useful professionally although admissions might not look too kindly on this. You could try gaining some informal lab experience (probably unpaid) through cold emailing research groups; that's probably the best way to advantage yourself for admissions and display a passion for the subject. But again, Oxford will care more about pure academic results and your interview performance.
4. After graduating, I would be of a higher age than most people in the job market of fresh graduates(I assume 23,4). How does this act on my chances, and does it have great significance?

Not an issue. Tonnes of French kids come in after two master's at the same age. Would you do an MSci at Oxford or just the BSc?
5. Is there any preparation I could do starting now that could boost my CV, or overall self-improvement?

Read around - FT, Economist, etc. Become "commercially aware" professionally. Meanwhile, start looking at first year chemistry reading lists for uni admissions.

Personally, I would not take a gap year if you have other good offers. That said, your grades should have got you an interview, and with no test, it's hard to understand why you didn't - maybe your personal statement didn't show enough passion for the subject, but Oxford tend not to care about them (unlike Imperial). 

Nov 24, 2021 - 12:25pm

It almost hurts knowing that you already have a perfect scan of me, but maybe I'm that much of a cliche person. I hate saying this but I know I would have balled my eyes out even if I had one A out of those A*s.

But for my choice of Oxford and chemistry, I am actually very invested in the subject. You might have noticed but this is my second round in applications. In my first, I was able to secure a full-ride for HKU and a few others. I knew that I should have just gone, but deep down I knew I didn't want to spend the next 4 years of my life learning economics, business, finance(the mandatory Chinese especially). I always had the thought, but it hit me when it was time to decide.

Since I knew that I would pursue chemistry for undergraduates, I was much more happy and motivated. I knew I needed a lucrative job at some point in my life, but I at least wanted the undergraduate years to myself. I loved discussing with my chemistry teacher, and I have much more chem knowledge than my peers do. So Oxford looked ideal to me, knowing I could both have a good chance at finance and the tutorial system(I applied to St John's because it had 4 tutorials/week other than 2,3 from other colleges).

42 was the easiest option I had, as I would have quite a long time gap to fill in if I were to reapply. And where I live they give you $1000 each month for the duration. I knew of cold emailing, but I didn't have the courage to do so since it's rare in my country(I live in East Asia, not China or China-related though). But hearing it after rejection, I know I won't get anywhere without trying so I'll definitely start finding labs and get in touch. I'd be graduating with an MChem at 25 if I reapply(and get in). And on the side- can I have your opinion on getting a CFA with a STEM degree?

I'll be applying to US universities as well, but I'm not getting my hopes high with those. I hope I can update you with better news someday :) I thank you and appreciate your help, it's the best I've had since I've been on this site.

  • Prospect in PE - Other
Nov 24, 2021 - 12:35pm

Your profile is very recognisable, unfortunately. And sometimes it's hard for people like us to step back and look at the bigger picture. 

You said in a reply to another person that you're waiting on Imperial and UCL. If you get in, I would take them, especially given that you've already applied once to UCL which I think may look dimly on a third application. Imperial STEM will have just as good placement as Oxford STEM, although there is a marginal advantage conferred by Oxford in consulting. UCL Chemistry seems to be, anecdotally, far better at placing than you might expect and if the next entering cohort is anything like the current ones you'd be surrounded by people who are very successfully getting Spring Weeks at top firms. This might be a rare case where I'd take UCL over Imperial, just because of the chemistry cohort's bizarre recent success at placing into banks.  You'll also have a much better social life at UCL for only a marginal drop in prestige. However, while recruiting differences are minimal for non-quant finance, Imperial does have much better consulting recruiting than UCL and if you're torn between consulting and finance Imperial is a much safer option for the former. BCG and Bain don't (but McKinsey do) really recruit en-mass from UCL, for what it's worth.  

Re. CFA, the only people I know who've managed to do it during their degree are LSE folk or at continental business schools - both have much lower workloads than STEM. Not sure it'll offer you much of an advantage and it certainly would not be expected. 

On labs, honestly just cold email specific professors that interest you. Unless you have a spike on your resume, I would start by asking for a conversation about their research and then go from there during the call by asking if they're aware of any placements, paid or unpaid, at their university or elsewhere. Many UK and US universities also have 'access' summer research placements for high school students if you can claim some sort of diversity or disadvantage. 

  • Intern in IB - Restr
Nov 25, 2021 - 7:20pm

I'm going to level with you; Oxford is not the be-all and end-all for IB. Far from it, HR and bankers are not impressed by a university on a CV, its just the bare minimum to go to a target/semi-target. As a result, going to Oxbridge isn't going to afford you much better odds than say Imperial. UCL chemistry seems to be stupidly cracked for IB recruiting, more so than any other course I've seen in recent times. For reference, I go to Oxbridge for STEM and mentor a few kids as a part of a program to help them break-in. A girl at UCL doing chem got 16 spring weeks or something in her first year including Goldman; I'm currently mentoring another UCL chemist who's bagged a couple of EBs so far in this recruiting cycle for springs. Chemistry at UCL/ICL seriously punches above its weight for recruiting, probs because its so versatile when answering motivational questions in hirevues and interviews.

Just chill and go to either ICL or UCL, you will def get into one.

Nov 26, 2021 - 3:50am

Thank you, I didn't know chemistry was decent for breaking in to start with unlike engineering or maths. I thought the prestige of Oxbridge was making this more feasible despite subject choice.

I'm trying to think of my situation optimistically. If I get offers from ICL or UCL I'll most likely go, if I don't I'll have more time to spend with the healthy years of my dogs and help my family out for a bit longer.

I feel much less stressed knowing this, thanks again.

  • Intern in IB - Restr
Nov 26, 2021 - 6:45am

In the UK no one cares what you study. Just go to a target. 50% of Goldman's interns every year are non-finance/economics students. Study whatever you want but have a solid why IB story and a nonstandard background can help with that; all degree disciplines are equal from top universities when it comes to applications. Look at how many LSE/UCL econ students get rejected by banks, it's just seen as another degree and people need to start out. Chemistry at a UCL is, anecdotally, an outlier.  

Nov 27, 2021 - 1:08pm

Computer programming would be useless for your ultimate goals. You don't need more school. Get out of that mindset and go do an internship and network your way in.

If you're really set on the chemistry degree, I know plenty of people who reapplied to master's/phd programs and didn't get into their target until their 2nd/3rd/4th/5th try.

Nov 28, 2021 - 1:53pm

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