Odds for an American at Oxbridge

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Discus: What Are My Chances?: April 2004 Archive: Odds for an American at Oxbridge
By Starchybean (Starchybean) on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 11:01 pm: Edit

Hello everyone,

I'm wondering if anyone familiar with the English university system could tell me a little about my chances of getting into either Cambridge or Oxford.

Here's a little about me:

>4.25 out of a 5.0 GPA
>Predicted high 1300s, low 1400s SAT (haven't gotten my score back quite yet)
>Probably a 32 or 33 on the ACT based on practice tests and such (Taking the test next week)
>Looking towards a 5 on the AP English Language and Composition test, a 5 on the AP 2D Art Studio portfolio, and a 4 or a 5 on the AP Spanish Language test.
>730 on the Math IC SAT2 test. I'm also taking the Writing and Spanish Reading tests as well this spring and I believe I'll place in the 700s as well.
>Spent last summer studying Spanish in Panama, last December in Argentina, and this summer I will spend the month of July in Madrid studying at a university there.

>Varsity sport for one year
>~100 hours of community service last two years
>Eagle Scout rank
>A strong art portfolio to submit alongside my application

Basically, I'm just wondering if I'm anywhere near the requirements these British universities would expect for me. I come from a small western private school and I'm taking a rigorous course chock full of APs and honors classes and will be taking more next year if all goes as planned. Any ideas on where I should work to improve myself in the eyes of the admissions offices? Personally, I think my GPA and my SAT scores are my weakest assets. Will extracurricular activies count for much with the admissions offices at these two universities? Thank you very much in advance.

By Starchybean (Starchybean) on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 11:08 pm: Edit

Err, rather that would be a 4.2 out of a 4.0 GPA scale. Everything else is the same though.

By Osnapjew (Osnapjew) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 02:32 am: Edit

you can't have a 4.2 out of a 4.0 scale, rofl...4.2 out of a 5.0 scale is correct, and quite excellent

By Foreignboy (Foreignboy) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 02:50 am: Edit

It seems to be hard for Americans to get into the Oxbridge. You need very strong academics. ECs aren't emphasized too much, unless they're related to what you want to study.
What matters also, is what course you apply for. For example, it's much harder to get in if you want to study medicine, than it is if you want to study.. er.. history or something like that.

By Foreignboy (Foreignboy) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 03:00 am: Edit

In fact, every UK university uses a standard application form. There is no section that asks for ECs other than work experience. Can you believe that? You have to cram everything into your personal statement, which you have to write in the 3/4 page space they give you. There isn't even a question for the personal statement. It just says 'Personal Statement.'
Oxbridge has supplements, though they're not anywhere as comprehensive as the US college application forms. The strategy to get in would be to highlight your obsession for your chosen field of study wherever you have the opportunity.

By Shelinda (Shelinda) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 03:27 am: Edit

"For example, it's much harder to get in if you want to study medicine, than it is if you want to study.. er.. history or something like that."

Umm, ok. History is a very popular degree choice at Oxbridge (well, Oxford anyway, as that is the only one I have any experience with). There are actually six different History courses available at Oxford, plus History of Art. There admission percentages range from 15% (Modern History and Economics; Modern History and English) to 33% for Single Honours Modern History. Admissions percentages for Medicine are 15-20% (but it's much MUCH harder to be accepted as a non-EU student for Medicine, because the Government caps the numbers).

It's true though that UK universities aren't too concerned with ECs. I think the rationale behind that is the following: "Oh, ok, so he played some tennis. Well, good for him, but how will that help him study elements of deductive logic?" I think the only real exception to this would be if, for example, you were fascinated with genetics, so spent an hour every day in a lab working on it, or you loved History so went to the library and researched the history of your local area, then wrote a project on it.

For Oxbridge, super enthusiasm is the name of the game. After all, your interviewers will probably be the ones tutoring you. They love their subjects. If you don't, and never volunteer ideas of you own, it's a waste of their time to teach you, and a waste of your time to study with them.

By Thuff30 (Thuff30) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 08:33 am: Edit

For a non-EU citizen to get into Oxbridge, it is extremely difficult. The 3-day long interview process along with your essay are very heavily weighed. As long as you have 1350+ on your SAT then its pretty much fair game. Expect to be very heavily quizzed over your essay. Be able to prove your points.

By Starchybean (Starchybean) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 09:48 am: Edit

Hello again,

By 4.2 out of 4.0 I meant it is weighted, so yes, I suppose I should have said out of 5.0...

Also, I plan on studying international relations and languages of some sort, so some of my extracurricular activities (as in my travels to central and south America) play well into that.

So you are mostly saying that if I can continue to improve my test scores, write a whopper of an essay (which I'm capable of doing), and perform well at the interview I stand a chance? This is reassuring at the least.

Also, does the type of school I go to and course load I'm taking effect my odds at getting in? And how about senior year activities/courses? I noticed that the admissions deadline for a foreigner at Oxbridge is late summer.

By Foreignboy (Foreignboy) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 10:13 am: Edit

Hmm, ok, sorry about the history thing. I just pulled something off the top of my brain.
Anyway, good luck Starchy. Have fun!

By Mini (Mini) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 12:14 pm: Edit

I'm an Oxford grad.

Plan on a minimum of 5 APs (and it is better to have more, with a minimum of 80% of them being 5s.) You'll also need around 1450 minimum on your SAT Is. Your grades will need to be top-notch - they are basically not going to look at them, as they assume anyone who is applying is already at the top of the heap. (ECs are irrelevant, unless related to your subject -- EVERYONE who goes to Oxford has ECs.)

This, however, if you are lucky, will only get your foot in the door. They won't compare these with those of other potential students -- it will just get you into the competition. 75% of admissions will be based on two things, and two things ONLY: 1) your written work, including the required essays; and 2) your interviews, where you will be raked over the coals, feel terrible, think you failed, just like everyone else who applies. Your interviews will be related to one subject, and one subject only - that for which you have applied for admission.

Advice: imagine the writing requirements at the most difficult high school in the U.S., and then triple them, and you have an idea of what they will expect of you. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams with Honors in English, and took a fellowship to do two more years at Oxford, and my writing wasn't at that point up to the standard of the average second year. (But, wow, did I learn fast!)

Good luck!

By Shelinda (Shelinda) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 09:43 pm: Edit

Starchybean, have you checked the Ox website for US applicants? I think it's pretty comprehensive about what they're looking for, although obviously it doesn't spell out exactly what you have to have in terms of stats etc.

Anyway, here it is: http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/int/usa/

Basically, you need: really good stats, a Personal Statement that makes you stand out (NOT easy when you only have about 600 words max!), very well-written essays (if required, it depends on the subject), decent test marks on the individual subject tests (again, not all subjects require them), and.... a good interview (I believe the essays and the interview are weighted very highly).

By Shelinda (Shelinda) on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 09:45 pm: Edit

I'm bored, so I'm going to ramble about my own experience of applying to Oxford.

I had decent stats (nowhere near top of the range, but not bottom of the pool either), a TERRIBLE Personal Statement (seriously, it was crap, so boring), one really good essay and one decent essay, and two interviews: one was AWFUL, I went away sure I was going to be rejected (other people were crying, although I didn't), and one fantastic interview that I actually really enjoyed - the second interviewer really challenged my ideas and made me defend my points, so it was really just like a heated debate. Fun ;).

Anyway, I got in, so I must have done something right :).

Oh yeah, I applied for Oriental Studies (Chinese).

By Starchybean (Starchybean) on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 02:09 am: Edit

Great, thanks for the responses everyone!

I did check out the Oxford site and I had a rather difficult time finding any information from them. I'll be sure to check that link you posted. I had an even harder time getting anything out of Cambridge, email- or website-wise. They're not too accomodating towards American students, are they? :)

Congrats on getting in, Shelinda. That's quite an accomplishment. I'm interested in pursuing Oriental Studies, especially at Cambridge as they do not have an undergraduate program for "International Studies".

What goes on in the interviews? Do they just grill you about your schooling experience or do they also try to get a picture of the applicant? Thanks again.

By Nci (Nci) on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 02:12 am: Edit

They'll ask question either on Calculus, Physics..stuff like that..unlike MIT Interview..Interview is sort of hard..and Moreover,It's not optional..

By Shelinda (Shelinda) on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 10:10 am: Edit

If you're into Oriental Studies, they'll probably ask you to read a passage beforehand, answer some questions about it, ask you to analyse some language questions, maybe ask you about any books you've read on the subject. They might ask you about stuff you've done at school as well (e.g. they asked me about the character of Iago from Othello).

Remember, they're not trying to catch you out. It's not an oral test. They don't want you to spout what you've been taught at school. I remember a teacher at my school telling me before my interview: "It doesn't matter what you already know. They'll teach you what they want you to know. All that matters is you show them how you think."

Incidentally - James Bond did Japanese at Cam, so you're in good company :).

By Wickedsmaht (Wickedsmaht) on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 10:21 am: Edit

A couple things:

1) Depends on what you study. Some colleges are easier to get into for some courses, others are much harder.

2) North Americans won't make it at Cambridge. Last year, they received 3,000 applications from North America, they only gave offers to 3 of them. I don't want to go through the hassle of finding the Cambridge link, so you'll have to take my word for it. Oxford is a bit easier, you'd probably have a 25% chance of admissions.

3) There's no financial aid for overseas students so the final bill could cost you upwards of $35k a year.

4) Lastly, pick a uni, you can't apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year.

By Foreignboy (Foreignboy) on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 10:41 am: Edit

I'm anti-UK universities because for them, international students are a source of income. International students have to pay more than UK residents. The other day, Tony Blair was talking about how he wanted to attract more foreign students to give money to England. Sigh...

By Starchybean (Starchybean) on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 03:01 pm: Edit

Yes, I'm aware that many British universities use American students as a sort of income, however, I'm still interested.

Why can't you apply to both Oxford and Cambridge? I was under the impression that if you proved good enough for them you could get an interview, but that they could reject you before you even got that far.

By Wickedsmaht (Wickedsmaht) on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 03:18 pm: Edit

Nope, it's because Oxford and Cambridge interview 90% of applicants. Each year, Oxford and Cambridge each draw 10,000 applications. Each December, you have 9,000 students descending on Oxford and Cambridge. If you add another 5,000 students who cross-apply, you'd face overload. Remember, the period between interview and decisions is only a matter of weeks. Interview in mid-December, Decision by late December.

By Shelinda (Shelinda) on Friday, April 02, 2004 - 03:01 am: Edit

Sadly it's true that UK unis do use foreign students as a source of income - I think you guys pay something like 7 times the fees us Brits pay. It's completely unfair, and comes down to the ridiculous way our universities are funded, which I won't go into here.

I think there are two main reasons you can't apply to both Ox and Cam - firstly, yes, having double the number of applicants to interview would overload the system, and possibly make interviewers shorter, more hectic and more stressful. Secondly, the people who get into Cam would probably also get into Ox, meaning that there would be fewer spaces left for the non-superstars like me! Basically, being only able to apply to one doubles the number of people who make it into both unis, and therefore doubles the number of people getting a top education.

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