On Not Getting What You Want

As I’m getting towards the final year of my undergraduate degree, I’ve thought a lot about how I ended up here. The place, the university, the degree – none of this was what I had planned. It was also possibly the best decision I ever made.

Since I was 13, I knew that I wanted to study English Literature at university. I read constantly, it was easily my best subject, and getting to read as part of my studies (rather than getting told to put the book down and ‘be sociable’ by teachers) seemed like a dream. I started going to university open days at 14, and I completely fell in love with this romantic ideal of swanning around campus, probably wearing a cardigan, book under my arm and hours spent in wood panelled library that I, for some reason, assumed would exist wherever I studied. I got top marks in every assessment, from GCSE through to college, and I consistently defended myself against the slew of sarcastic comments about how useless literature would be in the ‘real world’. I didn’t care. It was all I wanted to do.

I even ended up being invited for a stay at Cambridge in the English department, and had sample lectures with world experts and spent a week dissecting Viking poetry with a group of privately educated Oxbridge hopefuls. If anything this week cemented the idea that this was what I was supposed to do, and hugely increased my confidence in my abilities.

Later on that year, everything started to fall apart. After a bout of illness during exams, I finished my first year with a B in Literature, only one mark away from an A. I was bitterly disappointed, but was reassured by my teachers that I could easily make it up the following year in coursework.

The next year came around, and I began to drop and change my subjects. I stopped being able to cope with work and lost all motivation for everything I was doing at college. I was diagnosed with depression in the November, and took weeks off to recover and deal with medical side effects. After a struggle to catch up, I felt like I was on track once again. I was accepted to four Russell Group universities, and I was obsessively rereading my Literature texts. Although I still wasn’t healthy during my exams, I poured my heart into that paper and came out feeling confident. My first choice university only wanted ABB, and with targets of AAA, I was certain I could get in with no issues.

Fast forward to results day, and I got an e-mail at 7am. It was from my first choice university. I didn’t get in.

I decided to hold out for my results – I convinced myself that it was just Literature I got a B in, the subject they required an A for – hoping I could still swing a Literature course somewhere else. It was worse than I thought; BBB. Although not bad grades overall, it marked the end of my dream to study English Literature at a Russell Group.

After many emails, phone calls, and a £300 housing deposit later, I wound up with a place on History of Art at the University of York. Although I was happy I didn’t have to defer, I spent most of the summer (and most of my first year) bitterly angry with myself, desperately trying to change course, hating a whole year of what was ultimately and invaluable introduction to a fantastic subject. All because I didn’t get exactly what I wanted.

Now, as I’ve begun researching my third year dissertation, I’ve been able to take a step back and appreciate the position I’m in. I’m living in the centre of one of my favourite cities, with an atmosphere I adore and the most beautiful buildings; I’ve met some of the most incredible, like-minded people; I’m now living with my boyfriend who I never would have met if I’d been even one city away; and I’ve ended up studying a subject I love at one of the best institutions in the country whilst keeping my love of literature alive through blogging and consistent reading.

Things are far from perfect, and there have still been problems over the last few years, but this is the happiest and most settled I can ever remember feeling. The place that I didn’t even want to go to is home.