Serena Kerrigan-Noble

Hi! I’m Serena Kerrigan-Noble and I’m a second-year English Language and Literature student at Lincoln College Oxford. I attended a comprehensive state school before coming to Oxford and ampassionate about promoting wider inclusion and access to Oxbridge

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

I come from a single-parent, lower-income household and from a state school background, and both my parents didn’t attend university. This made me initially hesitant to apply to Oxford, as I thought that I wouldn’t have the same chance as private school students who had access to workshops to aid in the application process. I experienced some discouragement from teachers who didn’t think I would have a chance but I determined to give myself a chance, even if they wouldn’t. My mother has a disability which means that she can no longer work and needs a lot of support.

I also took two gap years due to mental and physical health problems and this made me additionally anxious about applying, as I thought that I would be too old and wouldn’t fit in, or that I would be rusty academically compared to people who had started university immediately after completing their A-Levels. I also worried that I would be discriminated against because of my mental health and that the tutors would think I wasn’t able to keep up academically.

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

I was surprised to find that most of the concerns that I had didn’t actually impact on my application and that when I arrived at Oxford, they were not only supportive of my financial circumstances, but also of my mental and physical wellbeing. I am a Crankstart scholar, which means that I get financial support to help me with my living costs, making the experience of living and working at Oxford much less stressful. Additionally, my college awards me a bursary each term which also helps with paying my accommodation fees and makes me feel a lot less stressed about my finances. At Oxford, they refund the cost of a lot of the books I buy, and there are always opportunities to win book vouchers through your academic performance.

In terms of my health problems, I didn’t find any discrimination. In fact, my tutors were very accommodating during the pandemic about my concerns about not wanting to participate in any in-person teaching. Throughout my first and second year, I also had the support of our lovely college nurse.
However, I have found that the pandemic has disrupted my experience of university, by making it more difficult to connect with people and has limited my access to the library, which is crucial for me because I can’t afford to buy a lot of the books required for my course. The university has been making a great effort at digitizing a lot of resources for us online and my college library does scan and send books out, but it has still been more difficult. I find that the tutors are always very understanding and willing to help if they can and there are college welfare officers you can contact about any concerns too.

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

I think it’s important to believe in yourself and to apply regardless of your background or circumstances, as the only thing that will definitely ensure you don’t have a place is if you don’t apply. Oxford isn’t the exclusive institution I thought it was (at least not in my experience), and I found that tutors were more concerned with looking for passion for my subject, and how well I would respond to their teaching style, rather than what background I was from. Oxbridge is always looking for students from state comprehensive or from different backgrounds because they know that there is so much talent there. Any student wanting to apply to Oxford or Cambridge who has a passion for their subject should be encouraged to aim high and apply to Oxbridge.