A scare…

I was cleaning up my electronic back-log of tiny-to-dos when I noticed a small note on my Oxford college offer which produced a wave of terror and nausea that I am unlikely to feel again unless faced with the tools of my inquisitor.

Buried on the third page — after some boilerplate about visas, financial conditions, student disability services, and residency requirements — nestled point 2 in the section ‘next steps.’ It read; “Please confirm your acceptance of this offer within 4 weeks of the date of this letter… If we have not heard from you within this period, the offer will lapse.”

I am allergic to even the most simple mathematics but I had little trouble making a rough sum of the important numbers. The letter was dated February 6 (received it in the post, Feb. 18). I read this time-sensitive direction on March 21.

My e-mail notification of the offer, sent Feb. 2, said nothing about the need for a prompt acceptance. The note contained electronic versions of the documents, and reminded me of the necessity of the financial guarantee forms, and that the paperwork was on the way, and that was that. What appeared to be the most vital deadline was Aug. 10, the last day you could submit your financial documents and the formal contract with the college.

I understand, that on a fundamental level, it is my responsibility to read all correspondence carefully and ensure I do all that is necessary to know these things, but… Between Feb. 2 and March 21, no-one from the college contacted me with a ‘hey, did you actually get the offer?’ or a ‘buddy, the clock is ticking, yea or nay?’ The e-mail did not come with a reply receipt, the mail arrived regular post. Both of these notifications could have easily gone astray and I would have been screwed. The letter of offer from the faculty of history begins with a short congratulatory paragraph and then, under the heading ‘academic conditions’ it advises, in the first sentence, that I need to accept this offer before a certain date, or the offer lapses. This is harder to miss, particularly as they save the standard boilerplate on financial requirements, residence, visa, etc, to the subsequent pages.

Again, if I had been more concerned about actually getting the place, and less concerned about sending unnecessary e-mails, I would have just responded to the first e-mail with a ‘helz yeah!’ Considering these sorts of requests for an informal acceptance are part of all the other offers at Cambridge, UCL, and elsewhere, I should have known better.

Reflection is useful, from a historical and cautionary perspective, but figuring out why I made this mistake does not fix it.

Once I calmed down enough to type coherently, and not in a string of anguished vowels, I shot off a series of ‘please don’t toss my offer’ e-mails to the responsible people and a short ‘just so you know…’ note to my potential supervisor. Since it was around 11:00 pm UK time when they were sent I did not expect to hear back until morning. The back-up plan, if I had not heard back by then, was to call the senior tutor office at the college and make my plea verbally.

I checked my e-mail around 5 am. For obvious reasons I was not sleeping well.

Apparently everything is fine. I had a reply from the secretary in admissions, who did not mention the lateness of the reply, and noted my acceptance.

If there is a hidden benefit to navigating the byzantine bureaucracy of the UK universities it is the certain knowledge that not all rules are actually rules. Many are guidelines, suggestions, courteous advice, frustrated pleas, and empty threats. Depending on circumstances even the most Biblical of administrative commandments can be bent or broken with surprising ease.

There remains the open question of funding. No auguries, however powerful, may penetrate the arcane workings of that administrative mystery. Answers may arrive sometime in early April.

I survive, for now, as a hopeful discipulus Oxonii

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