Chance Me - Oxford (American International)

Hi, I am an American currently in my senior year of high school. I was wondering if I would even be considered at Oxford. I am an Asian male. Applying for PPE.

SAT: 1500 (Math:770 EBRW: 730)

AP English Language and Composition: 5
AP US History: 5
AP World History: 4
AP Physics 1: 3
AP Macroeconomics: Pending
AP Comparative Government: Pending
AP Calc AB: Pending
AP Statistics: Pending
AP Chemistry: Pending
AP Biology: Pending
AP Chinese: Pending

Things that won’t matter in whether you are invited to interview: gender, race.

Have you looked at the TSA? (and are you registered?!) Your score will be a key part of any invitation to interview.

APs: You have taken 4 APs so far, with mixed results (from an Oxford pov), and are planning to take 8 over the coming year- but your course selection for next year doesn’t scream ‘PPEist’.

More Americans apply to PPE than any other course at Oxford, so the tutors are well familiar with what strong US applications look like.

Finally, although technically you don’t have to have advanced math, in practice 90%+ of successful applicants will have A-level math, which is closer to BC than AB.

Put all those bits together and from here it’s not an obviously compelling application- but with a strong TSA score it’s not impossible. So, if your dream is truly PPE (is it really?), go for it. Make your case in your PS as to why it is the right course for you and you for it.

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Yes you could, providing that you get a few more 5s on core APs.

Here are the qualifications that Oxford accepts (“Course” is more or less equivalent of “Major” in the USA). It’s from Applying as an international student | University of Oxford. There is also a GPA requirement, which, I understand is at least 3.7, however, I may be wrong.

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The 3 in AP Physics 1 is going to be tough to overcome. AP Calc BC is the gold standard for American students to establish their math bona fides for Oxford. And math is highly valued for PPE applicants. A predicted grade for Calc AB and a 3 in an algebra based AP Physics class won’t inspire confidence in the admissions tutors on your math ability. Your best hope to get shortlisted for interview (the next hurdle for you to focus on) is a strong TSA score. Have you sorted that yet?


Originally I was undecided between biomedical engineering and ppe but after viewing the requirements for biomed I decided to focus more on ppe. Will not taking calc bc be a deal breaker?

Yeah I have found a test center that has spots but they charge 500 dollars just to sit for the test so I just wanted to see if it was even worth it to pay that fee.

Have you taken any practice tests?

Assume you get an interview. What are you reading in your own time? The fact that you were contemplating biomedical engineering or PPE until recently makes me think that you would probably not have the depth of knowledge to successfully interview for Oxford; think depth not breadth. I agree with @Htas that you should take a look at some practice tests. What draws you to the Oxford style of education?


Have you asked your school to proctor the test for you? That process is pretty easy (they just need to register before the relevant deadline).

More broadly, without Calc BC you have a significant problem for any Oxford course that expects a high level of numeracy. Yes an outstanding TSA score might get you an interview, but you will be looked at with a good deal of skepticism, especially as your SAT score is on the low side (I hope that’s from a single sitting, as if it took two or more attempts that’s another red flag). What are you scoring on practice tests? And although your GPA doesn’t matter that much, any Bs in key courses like math will be a problem.

As a benchmark, my S18 had 4.0UW, 1540 SAT (single sitting), five 5s (Calc AB, CS A, English Lang, Spanish Lang and USH) and a 3 (from sophomore year) and was predicted four more 5s (Calc BC, Eng Lit, Spanish Lit and APES). He got an interview for PPE but not an offer.


So your core interest is getting into Oxford, not really the subject? I know students who have done that- successfully- but not many, and not many of those have done it painlessly.

Oxford is very proud of the ‘flexibility’ of PPE, and by UK standards it is. By US standards? not so much. In Year 1 you have no choice of subjects; in Year 2 you get to decide whether you are staying with all 3 of P, P, & E or dropping one, and within each subject you have at least one choice; finally in Year 3 you get options- anything you want (from a defined list that is).

Each of those subjects is taught by their own department; they each see theirs as the most important; and you will be held to the same standard as the full-time philosophers, politicists and economists.

It is hard to overstate the intensity of Oxford: if you don’t actually really enjoy your subject for it’s own sake, it can be a very hard slog.

Take an in-depth look at what you would actually be doing, and make sure that your reaction is “oh, cool!” for most of it. Here is a look at one class from each of P,P&E to help you get started:

Intro Political Theory:

Intro Macro: Introductory Macroeconomics

Moral Phil (I couldn’t find an equivalent, so this is the prep work a student did for their Mill essay in Week 2 of Hilary Term (January), which gives a pretty good idea of the process & kind of reading/writing involved:

This. Because:

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I agree with other posters. Having depth in the subject area is important. For PPE, one would have to be familiar with a good understanding of economics, politics and philosophy ( topics not usually addressed in US classrooms). One of my kids had read lots of Mill, Locke, Kant, Nietzsche, and some more obscure political philosophers. Had a pretty good handle on economics and math two years beyond Calc ( and not stats) Linear Alg and MV.

I also think being articulate and flexible in your thinking is important for Oxbridge admissions. It’s not spitting back the info but what did you learn and how can it be applied. Can you, join in the conversation and add depth and understanding? I also think it helps if you come from a high school where discussion is large part of the curriculum.

I believe the BME track ( which one of mine was interested in) doesn’t have a suggested reading list but an expectation that you have depth of knowledge in biology and a fairly good grasp of engineering and advanced math ( they call it maths).

The level of math in the US usually ends with Calc. In Europe the math levels are higher and I believe can have some more depth. So having additional courses beyond Calc can be helpful IMO.

I also think it’s helpful if you’ve built something. BME is about engineering. So kids who are tinkerers and have built something (even if it failed) have learned particular lessons. I think Oxbridge ( and many other European schools) are all looking for deep thinkers who have depth and passion in that area of application.

The interview process is also going to unveil a candidates speaking ability which can be instrumental, IMO. Again, all IMO but I think if someone asked me to chance for Oxbridge, I’d say all 5’s for APs in strong subjects( no 3/4) , 1500+ (1550 is better) and depth and good speaking/thinking abilities to get an offer. I’d also say you need to have the grades to back the scores. YMMV. Maybe there are kids getting in with 1480 or whatever the baseline was, or not having read the underlying material but they limit the interviews and you have to get through interviews to get an offer.

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Yes this is very important. S18 had a lot of sense for politics (and decent maths) but hadn’t done enough deep reading in philosophy and economics. For reference after not getting into Oxford he stayed in the US and was the top student in his major (~120 in the class) at a T20 college.

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Yes, I think there is an assumption by some Europeans that Americans aren’t up to it ( certainly not me). Having looked at many programs for my kids, I’ve come to the conclusion that the systems are different. And they prep for different things.

The UK ( and other European nations) have kids go deeper in their last years. They chose a course of study and the focus on that while Americans are still taking all subjects. American students often don’t know what they want to major in and even if they do, they spend Junior year working hard in all subjects and don’t have the extra time to do the work that prepares them for Oxbridge and other strong European programs.

And most US kids have zero access to the courses they’d need to get prepared. They would have had to already be several years ahead in Math and be reading all the time. That’s tough too since there isn’t enough time in the day. Many US kids are also doing lots of EC’s/sports etc. So how do they find the time?

So to gain entrance one has to develop a plan early or be ahead of the curve and be a reader. And a good speaker. And ahead in math/other. And a good standardized test taker. That’s a lot of buckets. IMO.

I’m not surprised your kid turned out top of his class. It has nothing IMO to do with intellect but everything to do with timing and preparation.

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I’d like to echo this. To give OP a sense of what this entails, the day my D22 received a congratulatory message from her Oxford college confirming her offer, she also received a reading list consisting of a problem sheet in “basic math” (which is anything but basic) and an online course she’s expected to complete prior to the start of the term. Her Cambridge-bound classmate received a 700-question assignment and an online course that she’s expected to work through prior to starting there.

And although Oxbridge terms are only 8 weeks long, the students are expected to work through the vacation periods.

That said, some really enjoy this experience, although nearly all are exhausted.


I agree that the two systems suit very different students - we have had collegekids go both ways. The UK in general, and Oxbridge in particular, suits specialists > generalists. You will hear tutors [profs] say ‘we want students who love our subject as much as we do’. Students with an early and strong attraction to a subject will find ways to spend time with it, no matter what system they are in. One of the challenges of joint subjects is that you have to convince each subject of your genuine interest in it, and that comes out in interviews.


I do think some subjects, like PPE, have natural students who are wired for all three. IMO, these are the kids who get an offer.

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The fact you hesitated between a science course and PPE would indicate Oxford is not a good fit. The AP Math you’re in is almost certainly impossible to overcome (you’d be expected to be beyond BC for PPE).
Look into BESS at Trinity Dublin: pluridisciplinary, American-friendly, and less math-intensive (CalcAB would be OK to below expectations but it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker depending on other factors, such as lots of AP 5’s senior year.)


Sorry, I’m afraid I agree with other posters. The 3 in Physics is likely to be a major blow against you (and the 4 in a history AP is also a negative). Your senior course selection is not optimal - why only one of the Econ APs? as well as no Calc BC.

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