Applying to Oxbridge in the UK; question on AP requirements

My son is considering applying to Oxbridge next year for Engineering. He has an unweighted GPA of 4.0, SAT 1580, math 2 800, and is taking AP calc BC, physics A, chem and comp sci in junior year. Should he take more physics AP’s in senior year to be more competitive or are 3 AP’s with a score of 5 sufficient. Does taking more physics better the odds of an offer?

I should think so, but not in isolation. I do not quite understand the timeline, is he just finishing up his junior year?

First off, he should aim for 5s in ALL his STEM AP tests, not just the minimum of 3, because he has to submit all of them, no choices.

Also, if he takes more STEM AP classes senior year, he will have to list them in his application and Oxford or Cambridge will want to see 5s in all of them, too, predicted by his teacher and confirmed by the actual exam. No dropping classes or choosing not to take an exam or submit results. Again, no choices.

On the one hand, that is a risk, because that way, his offer will be conditional on getting those 5s.

On the other, he will have to take a university administered aptitude test in November (I believe that for engineering, you take the physics aptitude test) and pass an interview (which is much more like an oral exam, having to convince actual engineering profs they want to teach you) in January. (This is for Oxford, I am not as familiar with the Cambridge timeline, but believe it is similar). The more physics he’s got under his belt for that, the better. That way, it’s another semester.

Personally, I’d recommend going all out, as much physics as he can, and trying to excel in all of it. No hedging bets. Oxford and Cambridge want to see the candidates who can’t stop themselves from taking physics!

1 Like

Oxbridge will be interested in AP scores relevant to his intended field of study. They are not going to be so impressed with a 5 in AP psych if his intended major is mathematics, for example. You have to look at their websites. They are very clear about what they require.

1 Like

OP says his son wants to study engineering and is taking APs in calc BC, Phys, chem and CS, and is contemplating taking more physics. Yes, they will want to see AP 5s in all of these. Not sure how AP psych came up.

Yes, I tell kids to read the very clear requirements stated on the UK websites all the time, but OP has hit on one issue that they are silent about, which is how they deal with the fact that one year AP classes and their final exams are only nominally equivalent to two year A level courses and their final exams, and whether it helps to try to recreate that by going deeper in AP classes in the relevant subjects.

I do believe that it does, if only because it helps with the aptitude tests and the interview, which is pretty objective, but I also believe that subjectively, it helps with making the US student more comparable to a UK student, thus making it easier for tutors to believe they can hack it at their university despite being educated and socialised in a system with very different priorities.

I think @collegemom3717 can help you out a lot here.

Also check out this thread for general information about Oxford engineering.

A couple of thoughts for you:

The Oxford admissions test for Engineering Science is the Physics Aptitude Test. This is an Oxford specific test that your son will have to take in early November. The Oxford aptitude tests are quite rigorous, so studying more physics during his senior year of HS will likely be helpful in preparing for that exam. According to the admissions tutor at my son’s college, in courses with an Oxford admissions test, performance on the admissions test has the highest weighting in decisions on who to short list for interview. The best place for your son to start is looking at past PAT papers (which are posted on the Oxford website) to see how familiar/comfortable he is with the topics they have tested on in the past.

According to the Oxford website, it is “essential” for UK Engineering Science applicants to have A levels in Maths and Physics with Further Maths recommended. Taking Calc BC this year covers the base math level for a US applicant. Would suggest more math like MVC if that is an option for him next year. I’m not familiar with AP Physics A. AP Physics 1&2 are algebra based. AP Physics C is calculus based. I would think that a calculus based physics class in senior year would be very important to support his application and getting shortlisted for interview. If he has AP 5s in hand in Calc BC, Chem, Physics 1&2 and CS-A by the time he applies in October, he will have met the minimum requirements. Getting an offer will then be up to PAT and interview performance.


I would recommend further math and physics indeed. Definitely Physics C or a local CC/college equivalent;
Multivariable calculus would be a must here.
For reference, this is the math that will be expected from British candidates, the “Mechanics” track:

This will help him with PAT and his oral examination.
For admission if he has 5 AP 5s, he’s met the basic requirements, but for actual success further math&physics will go a long way.
Other AP’s won’t really matter but could help him with US colleges.
This set of AP’s also works well with Canadian universities.

I meant it as an example. Oxbridge won’t be that impressed with AP scores for tests not at all related to the intended major.

Thank you all for the great information. I stumbled onto this website a few weeks ago and I’m so glad to find such a generous community. Based on what you said we will wait to see what he gets on his current AP’s and if gets 5’s I will suggest to him that he look into the more advanced physics AP’s in his senior year. He is a smart kid but his high school does not offer AP classes and he is self studying to fill in the gaps. We will have to wait and see how it goes over the next few weeks. Thanks so much!

UK students generally take a mechanics course as part of further maths, and electromagnetism in physics, so I think both Physics C AP papers would be strongly advisable.

I agree with doing MVC, you definitely need to have a math course senior year. But if it’s all going to be self-study then you might want to make sure you cover the further maths syllabus (which tends to be more about proofs than US calculus courses) since knowledge of that material would be assumed if and when you start.


I think learning that it’s all self study changes things somewhat.
Not that it’s a problem for admission as such, self study 5s are just as acceptable if not even more acceptable, because they show the independence you need for the UK system.

But it probably means exam grades aren’t predictable - not for him and not for his teachers.

Not having teacher predicted exam results is a problem for Cambridge, I think, because he is only taking 4 AP tests now. What would Cambridge base their conditional offer on if there is no teacher able to predict that 5th AP. You said the school doesn’t offer AP - what do they offer for their advanced students, if anything? Do they consider their junior and senior classes to be the equivalent, do they encourage dual enrolment? You need someone to be able to (credibly) predict that senior AP score.

Which leads us to Oxford, which is much more amenable to accepting US students anyway and wants to see a minimum of 3 APs only from them, which in your case is four because as already explained, they want to see a 5 in all STEM subjects attempted. So, it’s a good plan to see how that goes, because without having a regular class, it’s hard to predict for him as well.

If self studying for those 4 APs does work out, congratulations, Oxford is a great fit, prepare that app!

Next, get yourselves the last ten years of the PAT and study for that over the summer. It’s possible to sit this exam in the States, there are people here to tell you how to set it up.

Next, prepare for the interview. There’s mock interviews up on YouTube, and what content you’d need for an engineering interview is way out of my field, but again, focus on that next hurdle.

I posit that if he does receive an offer in January, he does have enough time to prepare the maths and physics he needs to not completely founder in first year (almost everyone thinks they are foundering in first year, it’s that hard).

It does depend a bit on what his school offers or doesn’t offer for seniors.


Thank you for your reply. Do you think Cambridge would consider a combination of AP and subject tests? He took the math 2 subject test last year and got an 800. If he gets the 5’s on the 4 AP this year, maybe that will be acceptable? I was going to wait for the results from the AP tests and then try and contact Cambridge admissions counselor and see if that would be acceptable in lieu of any predicted grades.
Sons school has Physics in junior year (which covers a good amount of AP physics 1) and advanced Physics in senior year(which covers material from AP physics 2). Since he is taking an Advanced Calculus course this year offered by school, he should be able to self study for AP Physics C in senior year.

1 Like

Tigerle, you mentioned Oxford being more amenable to American students. Is that an anecdotal observation? The lesser requirement of 3 APs? Or is Oxford generally easier to get into for engineering? Thanks!

I mentioned the difference in attitude at Cambridge a few years ago in this thread: Oxbridge admissions for Americans

In summary, Oxford is more prepared to make offers to Americans that are declined, whereas Cambridge hates that. You can look at the difference in criteria (and the way testing is done and offers are made - for example Oxford shortlists from tests before you go for interview, Cambridge makes offers that they know 20% of applicants will miss) at least partly as Cambridge being less accommodating to Americans.

In addition, Cambridge might well make any offer conditional on your Physics AP score (I doubt they would ignore this gap, especially without 5 APs in hand), whereas Oxford might be more accommodating and make an unconditional offer if you have a good PAT score and interview.

What @Twoin18 said.

They’re a bit waffly about it on the US requirements page, but no, Cambridge dirs not usually accept SAT subject tests as substitutes for APs, and in your sons case they almost certainly wouldn’t, because he would be submitting calc BC for maths and the maths II test wouldnt offer them any additional information.

Note that they aren’t waffly at all about wanting to see physics C. I am not familiar with AP physics sequence at all, but I understand that those are two papers, and you’d need a credible teacher prediction that he’ll get 5s in both.

Frankly, I’d cross Cambridge off the list. He has to pick one of the two anyway and I’d peg his chances much better at Oxford. Focus on that PAT.

1 Like

This issue really isn’t APs versus SAT 2 at Oxford. They take both and Oxford treats the Math 2 subject test as a different qualification than Calc BC since they cover different material. If your son gets 5s in the four APs for this year on top of his existing SAT/Math 2 scores, he’s fine in terms of meeting the minimum Oxford qualifications for American applicants.

The challenge is going to be preparation for the PAT. Self studying for Physics C E&M and Mechanics isn’t going to be easy. My son who is reading maths & CS at Oxford had to work hard in HS with an excellent classroom teacher to earn his 5s there. PAT performance is going to be critical in getting shortlisted for interview, so your son needs to develop a plan for preparing for that.

You are also going to have to give some thought on his LoR writer for the UCAS to make sure that someone can give a strong letter in the appropriate format that Oxford wants to see.

I wasn’t aware of that, but all the better. Another point in favour of Oxford. Nothing stopping you from enquiring about an exception at Cambridge, of course, but why go into the process with a question mark hanging over his qualifications if you can go into the process at Oxford with confidence that the minimum requirements will be met.

1 Like

BTW, I’m curious what the end goal is. If there is a desire to entering consulting/finance, going through all this for Oxbridge makes sense (as well as applying to Ivies/equivalents, etc.)

If he’s an American (citizen or PR) and the goal is to work as an engineer in the US, an American engineering degree makes a lot more sense (including a bunch of publics who would be far easier to get in to).

For academia, you could get there either way.

1 Like

Thank you for the insight!

I agree. Thanks for the input.