A Guide to US and UK University Applications

Applying to university can seem like a mystery to the modern parent with comments overheard recently including: “Did you hear about Alice? Such a shame! Rejected from the pool… We’re sending Johnny to build homes in Kenya to boost his CV… Susie is applying to ASNAC in Murray Edwards; it’s niche and her teachers say it boosts her odds from 45% to 83%… We’ve had an Oxbridge tutor since Isabelle was 14.” We have teamed up with Dr Katherine Wiles from Wentworth Tutors to help demystify the process of applying to US and UK universities.

Applying to university can seem like a foreign language to even the most modern parent. “Did you hear about Alice? Such a shame! Rejected from the pool.” “We’re sending Johnny to build homes in Kenya. HYPS love that these days.” “Susie is applying to ASNAC in Murray Edwards; it’s niche and so will boost her odds.” have teamed up with Wentworth Tutors to demystify the process of applying to US and UK universities and address 5 commonly held beliefs:

1. SATs are the main exam focus of US admissions

False. SATs are the foot in the door to US universities and are largely used as an equivalent standard by which to compare students from very different backgrounds and curricula. SATs are not taught in schools, and most students prepare for them outside the classroom (much like the 11+). There are two types of SATs. The first, the SAT I, is a long exam testing Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing required by most universities. An alternative exam, the ACT, can be taken instead, with the ACT having an extra section on Science. The second, SAT IIs or Subject Tests are meant to test a subject when taken in its “second year” i.e. post GCSE. In America, there are actually exams called Advanced Placements (or APs) that are the equivalent of A levels and are used in much the same way A level results are used.

For more information on the SAT I or SAT II, go to www.collegeboard.org. For more information on the ACT go to www.act.org or for more information on choosing between them please click here.

2. US and UK admissions processes are the same

False. UCAS, the delightfully straightforward UK application portal, allows you to enter your personal information, post your exam results, write one personal statement, enter your references, and hit submit to your 6 choices. In the US, you can apply to as many schools as you wish through the “Common Application” which, like UCAS, streamlines most of the personal information entry. In addition to your grades, you will be expected to enter details of your extracurricular activities and volunteering. Even then, many schools require supplements – essays, music recordings, supplementary reference letters – that can leave even the most diligent student dizzy. The interview for US universities is conducted by an aluni and based around you and your interests – no essays or math equations in sight! In summary, the US process is a holistic view of your candidacy in and out of school rather than purely your academic profile.

3. My child doesn’t have 10 A*s at GCSE. S/he doesn’t have a shot at an Ivy League school

False. The standard at American Ivy League schools is notoriously high, but it takes into consideration your other accomplishments outside the classroom. Are you a national champion field hockey player? Are you a virtuoso pianist? Have you started a successful company? Has your volunteer work spoken volumes about your discipline and drive to make your community a better place? Do you have a unique perspective or have you overcome significant diversity to be where you are today? American universities take all of this into account and more!

4. You can’t prepare for an Oxbridge interview

False. Oxbridge interviews are the great unknown in UK admissions. However, that does not mean that you can’t prepare for them. Interview practice will give you the confidence to address questions and the skills to articulate your reasoning. Reviewing your school material will ensure that you feel as prepared as possible before setting foot in the door. Expect to be pushed to your intellectual limit. Your interviewer will be testing you further than the boundaries of what you know and assessing not only how you learn but also whether they enjoy teaching you. Click here for more information.

5. US universities give unconditional offers

True and False. The offers are not conditional upon your exam results, but US universities do require that you finish the school year and that your performance in school does not drop below a certain standard. This depends on your chosen university so do read the fine print! Finally, any criminal activity or anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated, and there are many examples of successful candidates having their offers rescinded prior to starting.

About the author

Dr Katherine Wiles is the Founder of Wentworth Tutors. She holds both a medical degree and a first class Cambridge degree in Natural Sciences. Raised in both Princeton, New Jersey and Cambridge, England, Katherine is an expert in the American and English educational systems and helps families every year apply to schools and universities across the world. She has been tutoring since 2005 as both a private tutor and in the non-profit sector. Katherine recently spoke in the American School of London’s TedX talk about college interview questions. Wentworth Tutors is one of London’s most prestigious tutoring agencies, partnering with some of London’s and the world’s leading and international families. Wentworth helps countless families in UK and US schools from the under 10s to 18 year olds preparing for university.
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