Interested in UK colleges

My high school sophomore son wants to study in UK. I’d like to get some ideas on what he can to up his chance? He is particularly interested in University of Edinburgh.
Sadly, his school plans to cut IB program.
Here is his profile
high school varsity swimming and club swimming (has A time)
GPA so far 5.4 (he takes AP classes that can have full score of 6 instead of 4 for normal classes).
He plans to take SAT soon to get a good score.

what are things he can do to up his chance?
what other good colleges in addition to U of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge that get well recognized here in US?

It’s pretty simple: get as many 5s as possible in APs, particularly in your subject and related classes (ie science/math for STEM, social science/English/foreign language for arts). You’ll have to show all scores, so don’t take the SAT/ACT multiple times for “practice”. One and done is best (so taking in sophomore year isn’t a great idea, if possible use the unofficial PSAT to see where you stand). And don’t do AP exams if you aren’t going to get 4s and 5s.

And narrow in on your academic focus: you just study that subject, so ECs (in as much as they are relevant, which is much less than the US) should be related to the subject. Here’s some good advice, including the classic line that they are looking for excellent students, “not second-rate historians who happen to play the flute”:


Agree entirely with @Twoin18.

A couple of points:

*The UK is best for students who 1) know exactly what they want to study; 2) are very independent learners and 3) are good at sorting out their own problems.

*You can only apply to Oxford OR Cambridge, and it is best for 1) students who not only know exactly what they want to study, but love it so much they immerse themselves in it on their own time and 2) are able for extremely intense work loads.

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To supplement the contributions above, the interviews are academic interviews (very different from US college interviews with alum). My D will be applying next fall (we’re based in the UK) and she’s already starting to prepare for interviews by deepening her understanding of her planned “major” (by reading books/articles, watching lectures, etc.).

As for other well-known UK universities, LSE probably tops the list for Americans. Other possibilities are Imperial, UCL, King’s College London and St Andrews.

Varsity swimming and GPA will not do anything.
The only thing that matters is getting a 5 (4 in some cases) in subjects relevant for what you want to study at the university.
So, he has to decide whether he’s going for STEM or for Humanities/Social Science/Business, and tailor his AP’s toward that, then spend time to make sure he gets 5’s.
(He could also look at the AICE program or Cambridge PreU).
I agree with posters above; St Andrews, LSE, UCL, King’s, Imperial would be well-known and recognized in the US.
However LSE, UCL, King’s and Imperial are closer to US grad schools and are essentially what Americans would call “urban/commuter” (no “campus”, residences and students all over the city, etc.)
Durham, Queen’s Belfast are also worth looking into.
While not as well-known in the US, UGlasgow and Aberdeen (in general) and Herriot-Watt and Strathclyde (STEM, business) are solid and on the Scottish, 4-year system.

For something different, there’s also the ESSEC International BBA (business), Polytechnique’s Bachelor (Math&Physics), and Sciences po Reims (Econ, Poli Sci, History) - in English and in France, all offshoots from top-rated programs.

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In order to help your son to not only get admitted, but to thrive at a university in the UK, you need to completely reverse your thinking.

Don’t start out with swimming. Universities in the UK are not interested in hobbies. Oxford colleges don’t have pools, they have libraries. (A couple of Cambridge colleges do. You probably wouldn’t recognise them as such).

You have to start out with narrowing down the subject your son actually wants to study. Yes, the subject, because at UK universities, you study only one (a limited number of predetermined combinations are available, such as “maths and CS” or “politics, philosophy and economics”. You will have to check the websites).

And yes, he will have to do it now, as a sophomore. That’s what UK students do, then they tailor the subjects they study in their junior and senior years to their anticipated subject. In order to have a chance at an unconditional offer in early spring of senior year, he should tailor the APs he is taking, as much as possible, to the subject requirements, so that he can take all the AP tests required by the end of junior year, otherwise he will only get a conditional offer and may have to wait until summer and not know by May.

Once the subject(s) he wants to study has been narrowed down, you must check university websites to find out which AP exams they want to see. Most of them don’t even ask for your GPA, and they are not interested in classes that do not relate to the subject he is applying for.

If he feels he cannot commit to a subject in time to tailor his junior year APs to the requirements UK unis put on their websites, UK universities are not a good fit. That’s okay! US universities will be. It’s great you are starting the process now.

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Note that some subjects (e.g., law, history) are not so prescriptive in terms of required courses in high school (see Admission requirements for 2021 entry | University of Oxford as an example). STEM subjects are usually more prescriptive.

But the general point of narrowing is spot on. My D22 went from taking 12 GCSE subjects in Years 10-11 (freshman-sophomore) to 4 A-Levels in Years 12-13 (junior-senior).

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