Elly Nowell’s 15 Minutes of Fame

by Chikashi

19-year old Elly Nowell has been in the media lately for applying for a place at Magdalen College, Oxford and after being interviewed, withdrawing her application by email.

These interviews cut both ways.  

I am a volunteer for my alma mater‘s admissions office and interview several applicants in my area each year.  I find that about half the applicants have not given much thought to why he or she wants to have a place at my alma mater other than their impression that it is ‘a good school’.  Miss Lowell’s letter seems to suggest that her reasons for applying to Magdalen were not particularly thoughtful; it is evident that she hardly did any research on the target schools, Magdalen College in particular.

I understand that approximately half of Magdalen’s current students come from state schools.  I wonder if they would have preferred to be interviewed a few paces away at Mc Donald’s on Cornmarket Street over a milkshake instead of at the normal, ‘intimidating’ college premises.  What should a school do to accommodate applicants with a sensitive constitution like Miss Lowell?  If she ever ends up actually practising law, I hope she never gets anywhere near the Old Bailey for her own emotional welfare.

That said, we do not know what actually transpired during the interview.  I was an applicant many moons ago and was interviewed by representatives of several schools in the US.  One university official that interviewed me was a director of international admissions, a tall, about 6’2″, 40-something Swedish blonde with robust bones and a fondness for fake smiles, brightly coloured clothes and mini skirts.  During the interview, she frequently crossed and re-crossed her bare, elephantine legs, flashing her knickers every time.  It was very distracting, and it still surprises me that I remained a heterosexual after that brief encounter.  Mind you, I was at an impressionable and vulnerable age.  Let’s just say that the scene had no resemblance to that of Sharon Stone crossing her legs in Basic Instincts.

The visual effect aside, she took pains to explain that the university is no longer the Ugly Duckling amongst its peers because they compete at the same or higher level in many academic fields.  She and her colleagues in the administration all made a point of delivering the same message:  they are no longer the Ugly Duckling / Armpit / Safety School / School of Last Resort of their peer group.  Instead of presenting the positive achievements for their own sake, they actually reinforced the negative stereotype by using them for the express purpose of invalidating the stereotype.  She delivered, quite unintentionally, the message that if I went to this school, then I will be conditioned to carry that inferiority complex for the rest of my life, which, of course, was not a burden that I was keen to carry.  In the end, I enrolled at one of their peers whose notable qualities include, amongst others, being comfortable in their own skin.

Miss Lowell’s email does not actually provide any details of what actually unfolded in the interview, so it is difficult to reach an informed conclusion based solely on her email.  What is clear is that whoever interviewed her had managed to hit every raw nerve in the insecure 19-year old. 

Apparently, she concluded that University College London is where she would like to read law.  I do not know whether UCL have a reciprocate vision but would imagine that they had offered Miss Lowell a glass of water to make the 20 minutes more bearable.

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