When searching for UK universities to apply to, I didn’t give Oxford or Cambridge a second glance. In my mind, I had the notion that there must be some absolute whizz kids out there who stood any chance of getting in, and that I was not one of them. Then I came across a website which listed universities for a particular course in order of rank, and for my course, Cambridge was number 1.
“I can’t apply there,” I told my mum. “Why not?” was her reply?
Encouraged by my parents and friends, I saved the application forms from the Cambridge website (www.cam.ac.uk), filled them in and sent them off. There was a lot of pressure to complete my UCAS form and post the forms to the university by the very early deadline (15th October 2006), but we managed to finalise everything on time, and I received a letter about a month and a half later calling me for an interview at New Hall College, Cambridge. I wrote to them to say that I would be unable to travel – tickets, visas etc being difficult to get at such short notice – and they emailed me back offering me a half-hour telephone interview. I accepted, but inwardly I felt that a telephone interview, though shorter, would be more difficult to get through as I wouldn’t be able to see the face of the person I was talking to!
However, the gentleman at the other end – Patrick Barrie – was very friendly and quickly put me at ease. He asked me to explain why I had chosen Chemical Engineering as my course, and then proceeded to ask me a series of academic questions – two on Chemistry, one on Physics and one on Maths. The questions, contrary to what several friends and teachers had told me, were not unanswerable or designed to trick me, but were based on topics I had already learnt, and simply required application of known facts to unfamiliar situations. I didn’t have to volunteer all the information myself; when I was having difficulties, I was prompted and consequently was able to think of new ideas. I hung up the phone feeling very confident about my performance, but still sure that I wouldn’t be accepted to the university because I clearly wasn’t a “prodigy”.
Then a month later, I received an offer letter and that was when I finally realised that the notion that Oxford and Cambridge only look for geniuses is entirely misguided. They simply look for people with good grades and a genuine interest in their chosen course who are able to effectively apply their knowledge to situations.
So there is no reason why anyone reading this who has IGCSE grades that are a combination of A*s, As (and maybe a few Bs) and an inquiring mind, is prepared to work hard, should not apply to Oxbridge. They are also very helpful with regard to finance and will help people with financial difficulties as much as they can.
I would love to see more youth from Mombasa – particularly Ismailis – applying to top-ranking universities in the future. I would also like to thank the Ismaili community for all the help and support they have given me with funding.