Current U.S. Undergraduate -- Would a Bad AP Score Hinder Oxbridge Admission?

Hello all. I completed my first year at a college in the States. I am on temporary leave this semester due to the coronavirus. I am a student at a T10 LAC.

As a rough way to approximate/describe my credentials, I was accepted into Chicago, Columbia, Penn, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Washington & Lee, Pomona, and my current LAC.

ACT: 34. If taking the composite of the two times I took it, then 35.

AP Scores: U.S. History 5, Psych 5, English Language 5, World History 4, Biology 4, US Gov 4, Physics C Mech 5, English Lit 3, Computer Science A 4, Calculus BC 4, AB Subscore 5

I presently have a 3.7 GPA in college. I had a 4.63 weighted in high school and graduated at the top of my class.

Poems of mine have been published. I’m currently working on writing a manuscript of short stories, not that this has any real bearing on my application.

I am leaning toward pursuing English Language and Literature at Oxford. The alternative courses that would be of interest, if this is not feasible, are History (Ancient), Philosophy (Cambridge), and Religion and Oriental Studies. However, I’m certainly tilted toward English Lit. I’m a writer.

I took a course last semester in Medieval Literature and could likely acquire a strong recommendation from the professor of that course.

I’m worried about the effect of the 3 in AP English Lit. I have the requisite three 5s, but English Lit is pertinent for the course. I have the 5 in Lang, maybe that offsets? Would I still have a shot at English Lit course? The reasoning for the 3 was a combination of senioritis setting in, and a slight effect of it being the teacher’s first year teaching AP English Lit— syllabus didn’t really prepare for the exam at all, none of the intended reading lists were followed.

Thanks for any input!!

Just as an addendum, through research I’ve realized that reading Lit, or one of the alternatives, at Oxford is an environment I would thrive in. I am a generally curious individual and have a wide range of knowledge regarding those courses I listed above. I would like to pursue one of them deeply via the tutorial system. If English Lit is quite unlikely, would the others better suit me? Lit, History, Philosophy, and Religion are my passions. I’ve considered pursuing an Intellectual History masters after my bachelors.

Sorry, but it really doesn’t look good for you. Oxford would expect you to have all 5s in your humanities APs tbh, for all your subject areas, so the WH 4 is an issue as well, but the 3 in Lit would be a deal breaker imo unless your college prof’s rec is really strong.

You’re a potential transfer student from a top lac. They will probably be aware of your school. Your grades are strong and you think the prof would give you a strong recommendation. I would perhaps contact Oxbridge admissions and ask them this question.

It’s all opinions here, so I will add mine :slight_smile:

  1. The ELAT matters a lot, and you need to scramble if you are going to get registered in time. If you decide History is a better / truer fit, then it's the HAT. Philosophy only comes a joint subject: + Physics, + Politics & Economics, + Modern Languages, + Theology, and there is a Philosophy test. There is also Theology + Religion, which has no entry exam.
  2. Did you take English Lit at your current college? would that prof write you a glowing LoR? If not, why not?
  3. You say "Lit, History, Philosophy, and Religion are my passions.", but in UK terms they are more like interests. At Oxbridge, the people who make the final admissions decisions are the tutors who will be teaching you (not an AdComm) and they are very specific that they "want students who love our subject as much as we love do". That's one of the reasons that getting into a. joint subject (such as English + History) is harder than getting into one or the other: both sets of tutors have to want you enough to take you, and believe that you love their subject at least as much as you do the other subject. I get that the fields you talk about overlap- but the multidisciplinary approach is in straight conflict with "pursuing one of them deeply via the tutorial system" in the UK. Have you read the year-by-yeat detail on each of these courses? Pretty sure that you will find lots of interesting parts in each of them, but that taken as a whole some will appeal more than others. You study your subject with such intensity that it if you don't truly love it university becomes a long, hard slog.

Here is what Balliol sends to students about to come up to Oxford for English:

If you think that looks like a lot of prep work for the summer after high school, before you start university, just wait until you see the pace once you get there!

PS: “The reasoning for the 3 was a combination of senioritis setting in, and a slight effect of it being the teacher’s first year teaching AP English Lit— syllabus didn’t really prepare for the exam at all, none of the intended reading lists were followed”

Yeahhh…no to blaming the teacher, especially for a student operating at the level you claim, in a subject you say that you are “passionate” about. A proto-Oxbridge EngLit kid would have read enough of the book options on their own to do well, just b/c they love the subject and those books are on many lists of ‘great books’. In 2 of the 4 HS’s the Collegekids attended there was no “AP LIT” class- the school felt that their regular English class was adequate foundation for the AP- and it was.

@collegemom3717 , wow. Such an interesting link. Gives added perspective to the OP’s dilemma.


I have taken Victorian Lit and Medieval Lit. Both of those professors would likely provide strong recommendations. The AP test was taken a year prior to those classes (in high school). I received an A in one of the classes and a Credit in the other; our school went Credit/Fail because of COVID.

For my own enjoyment I’ve read the “Beowulf” translation, and tons of Heaney’s poetry. Of the Victorian readings, I’ve read all of those. “Middlemarch” and “Great Expectations” outside of school and the others in my Victorian Lit class. I’ve also read approx. 60% of what is listed as “which you might best try next.” And everything from 20th-21st suggested except “Seize the Day” and “Howards End.” I have read the year-by-year details and the “slog” sounds fantastic; that’s the main reason for my application. I love the subject, and there doesn’t seem a better place for me to dive deeply.

As I wrote, the primary reason was senioritis. I had been accepted into two ivies, waitlisted at Harvard and didn’t apply to the rest, Chicago, and given significant scholarships at the rest. For further context of my abilities in poetry and so forth, my poems were published in an anthology alongside two state poet laureates, so English is definitely a passion of mine. When I mention the teacher not following the lists, I mean that we discussed no literature in a class setting; classes were mainly watching movies. She was an atrocious teacher, and her job with the school was not renewed. I had no current aspirations for Oxford, so the test truly seemed silly. I’ve been passionate about English for nearly a decade now. Having been accepted into great colleges and finally about to escape a terrible English class, I didn’t feel much need to demonstrate my love for English to the College Board.

Would it perhaps make more sense to complete my degree in the states? My major is presently undeclared, but I have a smattering of English, Philosophy, History, and Religion courses. Perhaps I would double in Philosophy and History, then pursue an English degree with senior status? I’m a dual citizen of America and an EU country if that matters.

Or a masters at Oxford instead?

significant scholarships

Can you afford full international fees at Oxford? There will be no FA.

@Conformist1688 Yes, I suppose that might be a good idea.

I ran the numbers awhile back and if I decide to pursue graduate work based on where family is and tuition costs, it would likely be more economically viable for me to pursue a masters in the U.K. than in many American schools.

@Jodec, your post #6 makes me think that your 3 in an AP -even though relevant- can be overcome by your 2 college classes (note that Oxford will take Y! of a US uni instead of APs). That’s as much b/c of the range of material you have covered on your own and the other indicators you give of a personwho really has spent a lot of time in their subject- and that matters a lot. Oxford is exhilarating (and exhausting) if you love your subject; it is only a slog (and exhausting!) if you do not.

The money part is relevant: you have to work out with your family whether you can afford it. If you can, and you found Balliol’s welcome letter fun (as my source did), I would recommend going for it.

Btw, your EU citizenship won’t help in the UK- in the past b/c you have to have been tax-resident to get the tuition break, and going forward b/c the UK won’t be in the EU…

@collegemom3717 That’s at least good to hear. I hope they might.

It is. I’ve run the numbers and should be able to afford it, without any financial aid or tuition breaks.

I suppose one question for anyone is in regard to testing centers. I’ve reached out to a few and found that some of the centers nearest to me are restricting testing to their students only, COVID-19 and all. I haven’t seen any news from Oxbridge, but is there any chance testing could be proctored electronically or is there any plan in the works to accommodate during the pandemic? Otherwise, I’m not certain I’ll be able to sit the ELAT.

That’s a question best addressed by contacting the admissions office direct.

They have already said interviews this year will be online, so they are aware it’s a difficult year.

Several US students have had trouble finding test centers this year. You may need to find an ally- would your old CC reach out to other schools where s/he has connections?

Since you are attending a T-10 LAC, I would definitely recommend that you finish your undergraduate here. In all honesty, I do not think that you can get a better undergraduate education at Oxbridge than you re getting a top-notch LAC in the USA. The way that you describe your interests also indicates that a LAC is likely a better place for you. LACs are really the best place to explore multiple interests, while Oxbridge really put emphasis on specialization. I also think that a LAC is by far the better place to expand creative writing skills

In general, based on your posts, I do not really see why you are looking to Oxbridge - everything you have written tells me “this person is a great fit for a LAC”.

BTW, I also think that you would do well in academia, either in English or creative writing, and I usually recommend that students avoid going to grad school in the Humanities.

So finish your undergraduate, and look to do grad school at Oxbridge, or likely anywhere you want - LACs are the best place for students who want to go on to do grad school.

@MWolf Thanks for the insight :slight_smile: