Egor, A-Level graduate

After studying in England for a number of years, Egor returned to Moscow with a wish to continue his British education. Last year, Egor graduated from Algorithm with the outstanding results of A*AA in Mathematics, Chemistry and Further Mathematics, narrowly missing his conditional offer from Oxford University. He is now studying Chemistry at Manchester University, a top-rated Russell Group university in the United Kingdom.


Throughout my entire life I had very good Chemistry teachers. Since I started to study Chemistry, most of my teachers, were not just good, but excellent and usually my favorite. I realized that maybe that was a sign that I am wired towards Chemistry. I dropped Physics after Year 12, and started to concentrate on Mathematics and Chemistry. Last year, I had not considered the possibility of going to Oxford. I thought I would go to a good British or European university but didn’t think it’d be as good as Oxford, so to receive an offer from them was very exciting. I was very close to actually fulfilling the conditional offer from Oxford; they asked for A*A*A, while I received A*AA, and those As were very close to A*s. It would almost be less upsetting if I got three average As, something that wasn’t close to the required grades. However, because I was so close, and because the head of the international department, Ekaterina, and I made so many appeals to the exam board, and didn’t succeed, I was quite upset about it. Now, I have decided that Manchester is a very decent university, and I am excited to go there.

Egor chose to apply to a mix of universities in the United Kingdom , Sweden and the Netherlands, including the best universities in his field.

Last summer, we went on a trip around Europe and visited lots of universities, choosing where I should apply. With British universities, it was a little more difficult. We looked at university ratings by subject. In the UK, I applied to 5 universities: Oxford, Manchester, Edinburgh, UCL and Durham. I received conditional offers from all, except Edinburgh. At first, I wanted to apply to Cambridge, but it doesn’t have a pure Chemistry Faculty and only offers Chemical Engineering, which I didn’t particularly like. Therefore, I applied to Oxford instead, as you can’t apply to both in the same year. I also received an offer from UCL, which is better in overall ratings, but I chose Manchester instead for several reasons. Firstly, Manchester has a very good Chemistry department. Secondly, I was worried that something might go wrong, and I wouldn’t get the required grades, which were higher for UCL than for Manchester. Finally, it’s much cheaper to live in Manchester than in London. Also, I have some strong feelings about Manchester. I studied in the UK for four years, and the closest city to my school was Manchester. A lot of our teachers lived there. My Chemistry teacher, who I became buddies with, lives nearby. I wrote to him after I received my offer from Manchester and he said that he would come to visit. One of my good friends is also going to Manchester – for Film Studies. I had a very clear idea that if I didn’t get into Oxford, I want to be in Manchester. I thought about going to UCL for its reputation, but another part of me understood that Manchester was a better university for me.

I also applied to Groningen, Amsterdam and Lund universities, in Sweden and the Netherlands. I chose Oxford as my firm choice and Manchester as my safety. My third option was Lund university, which is also not bad. I had an unconditional offer from Lund, so I could get lower grades and still get in. I realized, that for the amount of effort I had put into those exams, I didn’t want to end up at Lund. In terms of ratings it’s not too bad; it’s around the same as Moscow State University. However, I’m happy with Manchester, because my grades are very impressive for them, and I will probably be at the top of the class, as they only required AAB for their Bachelors and AAA for their combined Bachelors and Masters four-year course.

The application process for Oxford is a particularly difficult ordeal and, in Egor’s case, one filled with adventures.

First you have to sit TSA – Thinking Skills Assessment. It’s 50 multiple choice questions, and they determine whether you will get shortlisted for an interview. The questions are not about general knowledge but based on your logical thinking. However, I think that it’s not very representative. I had to wait for their decision for about a month. As far as I know, around 80% of candidates are shortlisted for an interview in my subject, so I wasn’t too surprised that I was shortlisted.

On my way to the interview, several unlikely events happened. That always happens – when you have something important to do, terrible things happen. Firstly, there was terrible weather in London. I arrived from Moscow to Zurich fine, I was told my flight to London was cancelled. I had to wait in a huge queue, like in pictures of soviet Russia, to change my ticket. I called Oxford and explained the situation, so they knew when to expect me.

Once I arrived in England, I discovered that I had missed the last train from London to Oxford and had to wait until 5am for the morning trains. There was no internet, all the facilities were in a separate building, which was closed. I wanted to do some homework, but it was too cold, I couldn’t even hold my pen. I almost fell asleep, but I kept myself awake, so as to not miss the train. I asked for my interview to be moved, but I ended up having to attend one at 2 o’clock that day, with just a few hours of sleep.

The first interview went terribly; I made stupid mistakes, I forgot the names of simple chemicals. First of all they asked me to write a simple ionic equation, but I messed it up completely. The second question was about maths, it should have been obvious, but I made a silly mistake. The second interview was much better. I assumed that it would be similar to the first, so having seen what was on the first, I was more prepared for it. They gave me six substances and asked me to find the way to chemically separate them. I think I did well on it. I didn’t instantly know the answers to all of them; I had to imagine how to solve them using my general knowledge. I answered almost all of the questions, and even the questions I couldn’t answer correctly, I gave reasonable guesses. I could see that I had impressed them. However, in my head I was calculating that I had one good interview and one bad interview, which is a 50% rate. I asked the interviewee whether it was possible to retake my first interview, and explained what had happened. They said they would take into consideration my circumstances. I didn’t expect that they would accept me, and I expected to receive an email saying: “Sorry, you’re a great candidate, but we are not considering you”. Somehow, they said they would be happy to have me if I receive A*A*A.

I knew no matter how hard I work I couldn’t guarantee the grades Oxford asked for. I don’t want to blame it on luck, because I scribbled a lot in the exam and my handwriting was terrible, but sometimes you do just happen to be unlucky. Sometimes, you have an examiner who is happy to check your badly written answer, which is correct, just messy, and sometimes they just mark it wrong.

I can always go onto a Masters at Oxford if I do well at Bacherlor level. A Bachelor degree is just the beginning, and as long as it’s at a good university, that’s all that matters. I don’t think I’ve lost much in terms of knowledge – maybe just in prestige. A PhD from Oxford is much better than a PhD from Manchester, but your Bachelor degree from Oxford isn’t significantly better than one from Manchester. I think the UK is the best place for me, as I only speak English. I wouldn’t want to go to a Russian university. I think, perhaps for my PhD, I’d work a little in Russia. Now I see that everything can change in a year, so now I’m not so certain about the future.

I’m excited about the education, the laboratory work, the research and the new fields of study – like polymer chemistry, which I am currently interested in. I looking forward to discussing ideas. I believe that apart from education in your respective field, university should also give you the opportunity to speak your mind without fear that you will be silenced or judged. I’m sure there will be something like a debate society – I was part of one at my old UK school.

Overall, this last was much harder than AS; preparing to achieve A*A*A was obviously very difficult. For AS, I only took one module of Further Mathematics – FP1. Last year, however, I had to take 5 modules of Further Mathematics. Chemistry was also much more difficult and relied on you remembering much more. I’m a lot better at understanding things than memorizing them, but you can’t understand the colours of the different compounds, you have to remember them. Aside from the academics, writing a personal statement was very difficult. It’s probably much easier for someone who does humanities to write a personal statement. I had to sell myself, but at the same time not show off. It was very difficult to write a text, in English, that would impress universities. For those planning to take their A-levels, I’d also say that you need to make sure that you speak fluently, or that you can understand a native speaker. I don’t think most Russian schools can give you the necessary level of English. It’s not just understanding the teachers, it’s the books, exams. For those studying AS, I’d say that it’s not over. AS is much easier than A2.

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