Saleh Algannin

Sal is a first year PPE undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford. Originally from Manchester, Sal attended an Academy for secondary school, and sixth form – which, for the latter, was considered underachieving. Being a working-class person of colour who also identifies as part of the LGBT+ community, Sal is extremely passionate about demystifying the application process as well as diversifying Oxford.

1. How did your experiences shape your application to Cambridge?

I would say my experiences shaped my application a lot more than I anticipated them to. I found that a large motivation for my interest and desire to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford was founded in my heritage and lineage.

For example, my parents are originally from a country that was ravaged by an infamous dictatorship and, currently, where a war rages on. I did not realise the stress and pain it burdened onto my family until it came to writing my personal statement. In fact, a significant portion of my personal statement was dedicated to answering why the political and social climate in my country of heritage had become so toxic and vile. In search of the answer for the question which agonised me, I read books and watched lectures and followed podcasts. All of which I managed to talk about in my personal statement. Not only that, but I also brought these ideas forth in my politics interview!

The more obvious way my experiences shaped my application, however, is in their acting as a deterrence. When I was in Year 12, I went back-and-forth on whether I should apply to Oxford (I think I may have annoyed my teachers a bit!), and one of the main reasons is because I did not see myself as the ‘Oxbridge Type’. What made me decide to go for it at the end is that I had nothing to lose. My background, however, pushed me harder to prove that I could make it.

2. How has life been at university? Is it what you expected?

Fantastic! I have met so many great people and made friends who I adore ever so much. And I study at (arguably, and objectively!) the best university in the world, receiving a world-class degree which is quite a something! This is often intimidating, I will admit, but I feel like I have learnt so much and thoroughly enjoyed most of the course so far, which offsets the anxiety induced by the (occasionally) daunting realisation.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to experience the University life as thoroughly as others in older years, but I have enjoyed all the bizarre traditions and social events. A highlight is Matriculation, which is the ceremony where you formally enrol as a student. It is where you wear your fancy ‘sub-fusc’ (gown, shirt, bowtie and black trousers!). I have also been involved with extracurricular activities, such as raising over £7000 for a Free School Meals initiative, being a College Ambassador and taking part in Somerville’s JCR (Junior Common Room) Constitutional Review!

So, all in all, much better than I expected.

3. What would you say to someone like yourself applying for entry this year?

I implore you to apply if you have the grades. It is a big and terrifying leap, applying to Oxford, – but it is a possible leap that you are more than deserving of. You have nothing to lose. People will not ridicule or judge you, but rather, and most specifically if you are from a disadvantaged background, people will respect you. And, after all, it is our duty to make places like Oxbridge more diverse and accessible for future generations.