Applying to Oxford, London School of Economics

Had a few questions about applying to Oxford and London School of Economics. This is for my daughter who is very interested in studying history:

  1. What is the admissions process for Oxford and London School of Economics for a US student?
  2. Is it true that a student cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge?
  3. What are the main things these schools look for? I saw on another thread that they do not really look at GPA but do focus on test scores.
  4. Do they require that the results of all tests one has taken (SAT/ACT, SAT Subject Tests, AP) be submitted or can the student choose which test results to submit?
  5. How important are extracurriculars and summer internships/activities?
  6. What are the main things to be doing as a high school junior to best set oneself up for admission to these schools?

We are just starting to look into this - thanks in advance

I’m going to leave most of those to people more recently involved in undergrad admissions to these schools, but yes #2 is correct. Application to UK schools is via the UCAS application, which limits the number of schools you can apply to to 5, including only one of Oxford or Cambridge. (Also restrictions for medicine applicants but that’s not relevant to you.)

  1. You apply through the UK version of the common app. It’s called UCAS. You can list 5 universities or courses only. The same app goes to all unis. Each course will have entry requirements which are listed on their websites. You should not apply unless you are confident of having what they ask for. If you are taking classes as a senior, you will get a conditional offer, which means acceptance is conditional on making the grades they ask for. Oxford will require the HAT in addition - there are practice papers online. Deadline is October of senior year for Oxbridge and January for everywhere else.

  2. No, you cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge

  3. They will list out their entry requirements per course. e.g. 3 As at A Level including History. In US terms that would be 3 APs with 5s including history (I’d advise against US history for this: do Euro). After these entry requirements, UK universities are looking for students who are passionate about their subjects and who read widely around the topics. For Oxford, they will expect your Letter of Rec to say that your daughter is one of the best history students they have ever taught. Applications are reviewed by teaching faculty not admissions officers: they are deciding who they want to teach.

  4. Yes, you must submit all tests

  5. Not really interested unless directly related to the subject you’re studying. But it is NOT the same as at US schools. No need to ratchet up a ton of ECs. They really don’t care: they just want the brightest students who are passionate about history. Remember: the app is read by teaching faculty.

  6. Study, read widely, learn to write well and get 5s on the APs! For Oxford, practice for the History Admissions test (HAT). Understand what is expected for the Personal Statement (NOT the same as an American application essay!) and Letter of Rec.

Now answers to questions you didn’t ask, but would be good to know:-

ALL the info you need is on the uni websites, including entry requirements for US students.

Encourage your daughter to read through the detailed info on which classes she will be taking. There is very little wriggle room in an English uni course. Make sure she is happy with the classes, as courses can differ across unis.

Teaching/ contact hours will be minimal, and there is an expectation that most work is self study, done independently. There will be a LOT of reading and essay writing. Your D will be expected to read a variety of sources for each essay/tutorial - there is no one set textbook per class. At Oxford, she would have tutorials with 1-2 other students where essays are discussed and critiqued in the group.

Grades are based largely on a couple of submitted essays and end of term exams; there is minimal continuous assessment. Does your D thrive in a high stakes exam situation?

There is almost zero hand holding of students in the UK and a large degree of self advocacy and independence is needed. Especially in London. Your daughter will be treated like an adult.

Drinking age is 18 and lots of socializing, even official faculty events, will involve alcohol.

There is no financial aid available

Oxford terms (semesters) are 8 weeks. It is intense. Then there is catching up on all the work you didn’t do during the vacation!

Thank you for all this detailed information. Two questions:

  • So if the AP history test is AP US History, will the UK school not like/accept that?
  • If she picks history, will my daughter only be doing history courses as an undergraduate? That is the sense I got reading what was online
  • Are Oxford and London School of Economics very similar in terms of how they do their course/programs of study? What are the key differences between them?
  • Your D is trying to show herself as one of the best history students in her school. Is just taking AP-USH going to show this? For Ox especially, this is the MINIMUM hurdle.

Your D also wants to make sure she can cope when she gets there. Maybe look at A Level history syllabus and exam papers/ answers online to see what will be the assumed baseline of all first year students at any UK uni studying history.

What other APs is she taking? They are not all considered equal… Lit, World Hist, Calc BC, Chem, Physics = well regarded. Others like Psych and Econ are seen as easier.

I think there are posters on here with kids at Oxford studying history so I will defer to them on the details of what they took in HS.

  • Yes, only history. Scottish Us have a bit more leeway, so could take Econ or English in first/second year on top of History, then purely History 3rd/4th year.
    • Oxford and Cambridge are different from everywhere else because IMV
  • 8 week terms means all the work is crammed in, plus lots of work left over for holidays
    • Tutorials/ supervisions where essays will be 'critiqued' in front of others in the group by the professor (NB the interviews are where the profs figure out if your D is going to thrive in that environment)
    • College residential focus

LSE is in central London, much less centralised student life, your D could be a tube ride away in her dorm for first year, then even further away in shared housing for the rest. Often dorms are mixed LSE and other London colleges. LSE will have 12ish week terms, less intensive workload, but still rigourous. But comparing being a student in London to being at Oxford in terms of overall experience is like night and day.

If your D likes Oxford, similar places would be:

  • Durham for residential college experience
  • St Andrews for quads, ancient uni, traditions (also will have more Americans, is friendlier to Americans, and a wee bit flexibility in classes)

UK students applying here also like: Edinburgh, Exeter, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle

EDIT: eeeps I see @CollegeMamb0 hit most of these points already

  1. She needs 3 APs, ideally (esp for a US candidate) in relevant classes. US Hx is accepted- Euro just seems to have a better rep. As noted above, at both places- but especially Oxford- the tutors are explicitly looking for students who 'love their subject as much as they do'. They would assume that she has taken as much history as it is possible for her to take (and they will assume that that is still less than a UK History A-level)- and then spent her time reading widely outside of school. As an example, Collegekid1 applied to Oxford (Hx + Politics) and LSE & Edinburgh (IR) with World, US & Euro Hx, Lit & Lang, Comp & US Gov and Latin (and some less relevant others). Her offers specified various combinations from those, and ignored the less relevant ones altogether.
  2. Yes. You can read what you study every year of every course (including electives) for almost every course at every UK university. They are highly structured (that's part of why they are 3 years, not 4 years, in England- Scotland has a little more wiggle room b/c of the 4th year).
  3. Oxford & LSE

=Both LSE and Oxford have lectures that are ‘strongly recommended’ but not compulsory.
=LSE has classes (10-20 students typically) which are compulsory, where Oxford has tutorials (2-4 students typically in Hx).
=LSE classes will usually have 1-2 papers / term, while Oxford (Hx) has 1-2 ‘essays’ (aka short paper of 5-7 pages) / week.
=Your degree result is largely based on final exams at both places. LSE has them at the end of each year; Oxford has cumulative exams at the end of 1st & 3rd year. There are other graded elements (including “collections” (review exams) at the start of every term at Oxford), but they don’t count towards your final degree status
=As @CollegeMamb0 said, both universities expect you to do the vast majority of work on your own

@collegemom3717 thanks! I knew there were posters who had all the details on the courses!

One more thing, @Charcat56 - I just took a peek at your other threads, and it seems that your daughter is at PEA. If so, then she may be thin on APs. What APs (if any) does she have / is she planning to take? (remember that the UK will give conditional offers based on exams taken next May) Does she have / can she get any history SAT subject tests?

The collegekid I noted above did her 1st 2 years of secondary at a school with no APs and her options at the school she attended for the last 2 years were constrained by graduation requirements, so she self-studied quite a few of those APs. Like PEA, both schools felt that they taught at a level that was at least equal to AP as the norm.

Presumably your daughter has very strong history base, and the writing & analytical training at PEA will stand to her for the HAT, and a veteran of the Harkness method (which ours are as well) should be well able for the interview/tutorials (and should know whether that approach to learning is a happy one for them).

(fair warning: Oxford tutors can be more…assertive…in their critiques / questions that she might be used to :smile: )

Btw, I would add in UCL for history if she’s in that kind of league. Unless things have changed a lot it’s higher regarded than LSE for history, it’s also in London, and - while these things can be subjective - it’s a rather different college experience to LSE.
Outside of London, collegemamb0 has some good suggestions.

Yes, she is at PEA :smile: And so there is the issue of none of the classes being taught strictly to AP. She took the AP US History and AP English Composition Tests and did well. PEA does not offer any AP level equivalent history courses in world history. But she is going to be taking the highest level history courses that the school offers - it is just that these classes by term and are on very specific topics, like capitalism, post WWII Europe etc…

What other AP tests do you think she should plan to take? Should she try to self-study for AP European History?

The other big question to me, now that you are all giving some great info, is if any of these UK school programs are a good fit for my daughter. She loves history. But I don’t know about focusing solely on history and only taking courses related to history as an undergrad. You or one of the other posters may have answered this - but will a history undergrad at a UK school get to take classes in other subjects such as biology, economics, English, math etc.? Or is it just history, history and more history for 3 years?

No - just history, history and more history for 3 years

In Scotland, as I said, 1st/2nd year you can take a couple of related classes like Econ, English, Geography etc. But mainly history. 3rd /4th year - just history, and more history!

Someone once described UK undergrad as grad-school lite, and I could concur. Much greater depth at the expense of breadth. But the specialization begins in high school, so British history undergrads will be very well prepared and the uni course will assume this level of competence from everyone.

An alternative is to apply to a joint degree such as History and Politics, History and IR, History and Foreign Language.


Hmmm…so seems one is really specializing right off the bat as an undergrad. Having gone to a liberal arts school, this is a tough one for me!! So a history undergrad student wouldn’t even take English courses in the England schools, unless they are applying for a joint degree? Is there somewhere I can see an example of the full 3 year program classes for a history student at an English school?

For example Durham University classes for joint honors (double major) English and History

History major

LSE History

@vpa2019 Thanks. But seems there isn’t flexibility to take whatever subjects one wants - that one has to declare the joint degree up-front?

It definitely isn’t a US LAC. At the UK schools you stay within your major for all 3years. I don’t know how difficult it is to change your major but you’d have to start over bc you wouldn’t have the requisite classes for a different one…if that makes sense.

At the Scottish universities there’s a little bit of flexibility because you apply for one major (or 2 if you know you want to double major) so you take one class in each of those subjects and you can take either one or 2 other classes outside your major each semester your first year. The second year you continue in your major classes. If you applied for 2 but only want to continue with one then you have one or 2 open spaces for “other classes” but if you continue with 2 majors then you might not have any room for “other classes” because your required classes will take up your whole schedule.

Year 3&4 at the Scottish uni will be only major classes.

It’s going to be mostly history, with a little leeway. Without looking at any specific courses, it would be highly unusual (and in certain cases just not possible) for a history major to do stem subjects such as math or biology. For other humanities and social sciences you would usually be able to fit in a couple of courses. A UK bachelors just isn’t going to be as broad based as a typical US one.

There is a lot less flexibility than the US system, because it is more specialized /intense and shorter. Yes you declare your major upfront. Sometimes switching to a different major is possible if it’s related and you’ve done some of the courses in it but often it would mean an extra year depending when you decide you want to switch.

Yes. You declare upfront and it is almost impossible to change to anything outside it. You would need to start again from the beginning.

Hence the emphasis from all of us on how much your D must LOVE history, be as excited about it as the professors, and have demonstrated that love in her application by studying it as much as possible!

No, you are not taking any other classes other than History if you are studying for a BA in history.

@Charcat56 - here is the link to Exeter Uni BA in History. You can see all the classes laid out.

Exeter offers a 3rd year working either in the UK or overseas before returning to finish studying in the 4th year

I know this seems a strange system compared to the US, but the specialization begins in junior/senior year of UK high schools with A Levels. Students take 3-4 A Levels only.

My niece took History, Economics, Politics and French and is studying Politics at Leeds Uni.
My friend’s son took Philosophy, Math, Politics and Econ and is studying Phil at Newcastle.
Other kids we know:
Econ, Math, History - Econ/ Finance at Warwick.
History, Politics, French: Law at Manchester
Biology, Chemistry, Math: Medicine at University College Hospital, London
Art, English, Psychology: Psych at Oxford Brooks

These kids usually have idea of their degree course even when choosing their A Level subjects.

@Charcat56 some excellent insight and advice given. For clarity, there is no such thing as a major in UK degrees. The degree is the domain scope. If you chose History then that is all you will study in one variant or another and the curriculum covered is prescribed up front detailing exactly the areas that will be covered. For me as a native this makes sense since UK considers degrees as in the pursuit of higher education whereas the college experience in the USA is more like a deeper version of high school where continued polishing occurs across the broader base of core subjects. In the UK there is not a real need to do graduate studies unless you want to go even deeper into your chosen field whereas in the US it seems that grad school is often seen as a distinguishing requirement. Neither is a better approach but some people find one better than the other for them. It is a question of breadth vs depth and if you gravitate to the latter then the UK is definitely a good fit. If you are still trying to find yourself and what you want to do / focus on then I would suggest staying in the US where the system is geared up to support that approach better. HTH