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30 January 2023

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#HumansofStHughs: Kimberley Achebo-Awusu

The following article is the first in a series entitled #HumansofStHughs which feature stories written by St Hugh’s undergraduate students about their application to and life at Oxford.

Hi, I’m Kimberley and I’m a 3rd year law student from South London who did not meet the required grades for my degree! I bet that caught your attention so read on for more info ;). As former Access Rep of St Hugh’s JCR (Junior Common Room – the undergraduate student body), my role was to encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds to apply to Oxford and St Hugh’s more specifically, and I’m hoping that this profile will encourage more prospective students to apply here!

Imposter syndrome is a very common experience. Though I was very fortunate to go to a school which encouraged and helped us apply to institutions such as Oxford, I was still reluctant to apply because I felt that I was not good enough, for example, because I live in an area with very low participation in higher education and I did not have the most perfect GCSE grades. Don’t get me wrong, my GCSE grades were good, but when you’re faced with myths that Oxford only accepts people with all A* or conversely, you’re hit with the reality that they even reject people with all A*, it’s difficult not to be worried that your grades are not good enough. Despite this, I was able to get an interview and an offer! However, the imposter syndrome became even worse when it came to A level results day. I was in year 13 during the first year of COVID which meant that I didn’t sit my A-levels and received teacher-assessed grades. To some this was a blessing, but for me, this was a curse as my school predicted me A*BB when I needed AAA. Not only was I rejected from Oxford on results day, but I was rejected from my back-up uni. I was ready to take a gap year until a week later, St Hugh’s sent a message that they were honouring all offers given the COVID situation. I was thrilled but also felt a sense of unease since I felt like I didn’t deserve the offer and feared that the fact that I missed my grades would be reflective of how I would perform at Oxford. Just over two years later, whilst the work is hard (I can’t sugar-coat that!) I am doing well, in fact, a lot better than I thought! While this is a bit cliché, this anecdote is meant to demonstrate how your grades do not define you! The grades you received in secondary school, or sixth form/college will not necessarily reflect how you will perform at uni. The learning style and the work itself at university will be very different to what it is like at secondary school. University is a great way to start afresh academically and I’ve found that I generally have performed better at university than at secondary school. Furthermore, if you do feel like you’re struggling whether academically or emotionally, there is a lot of support available within college, for example, from your personal tutor, from welfare staff within college and from welfare representatives on the JCR committee. There is a lot of support also on a uni-wide level such as from welfare staff outside of college and student-led services such as Nightline.

One fear that prevents people from applying to Oxford is the fear that they will not be able to fit in with others because of an idea that Oxford only accepts a certain type of people, for example, people who may be richer. This is a huge myth. The student population at Oxford is enormous and so there are all types of people from different backgrounds with different lived experiences. You will definitely find your people at Oxford, but you will also be exposed to people who are different to you, which means you can learn so much from them. This is also one of the big advantages of St Hugh’s which is that our student body is very big and so you are bound to find people with whom you feel you fit in. Furthermore, there are so many societies to get involved in, college-wide as well as uni-wide. As a result, if you feel like you haven’t found your people within college (which is really rare!), there is ample opportunity to meet all types of people outside of college who have similar interests to you. No matter what your interest is you’re bound to find a society to join, for example St Hugh’s has a Pickling society?! And if unfortunately, there is no society which matches your interest, you can always make one! Within college, I am part of the  Women’s Football Club and Christian Union and on a uni-wide level I am a member of the Afro-Caribbean Society and the Dance Society and I also take Spanish lessons here and there! Studying is a big part of the Oxford lifestyle but getting involved in societies is a great way to get a break from all the work.

I guess I have to address the elephant in the room which is that I do an Oxford law degree. I am especially loving 3rd year because I have chosen the modules I want to study. It is a lot of reading but it’s worth it when you get to discuss the reading with some of the best academics in their field. I will provide you with a very optimistic day in my life. I promise you I do not follow this routine every day; there are some days where I am not as motivated and that is okay! You must ensure that you don’t burn yourself out and put your health, mental and physical, first!

AM- Breakfast. I usually have cooked English breakfast in the dining hall which is not too expensive and also yummy.

10AM- Two (2) lectures at the law faculty. Law does not have as many contact hours compared to other subjects. I do not really remember how many lectures I had a week in 1st and 2nd year because they were literally all online but this year I have around six (6) lectures a week

12:30PM- Return to college and have lunch in the dining hall! This is a good time to be re-energised but also to socialise with friends as many people eat in hall.

1:30PM- More studying! I will go to the library, whether it be my college library or exploring a new library (my goal is to visit as many Oxford Bodleian libraries as possible before I graduate) and read or prepare for an essay

6:00PM- Dinner time! I will have dinner in the dining hall which is, again, a nice time to socialise with my friends

7:00PM- Free time! I typically do not work after dinner, but everyone is different. I use evenings to spend time with friends or spend time in the JCR (the actual room itself where events are hosted and where we have pool tables, games consoles and a TV) or go to a society event! I am not really a clubbing girlie, but I still have a lot of fun partaking in other events in college or outside of college which do not revolve around drinking. This shows that you don’t need to go clubbing to have a good time and that there is something for everyone!

11:00PM- This is very generous but on a good day I will strive to go to bed at 11 (but let me be very, very honest I think the average time I go to bed is 1am). I try to get good sleep though because sleep is very important (please do not do all-nighters, your mental and physical health is more important than striving to meet a deadline).

That is all from me, but I would definitely encourage everyone to apply to St Hugh’s because I have loved being here. You may be hesitant to apply because you fear that you won’t get in, but you’ll never know until you try! Believe in yourself <3 Even though there have been difficult times, I will miss St Hugh’s and Oxford a lot when I graduate.


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