This weekend I went to my (Cambridge) college reunion and took the opportunity to speak with the admissions tutor after his presentation about how successful the college was being in securing more and higher quality applications from the UK, Eastern Europe, Singapore and China. I noted that he hadn’t mentioned the US and that the Cambridge application process is less favorable to Americans than at Oxford, because Oxford do testing before interviews (vs STEP in Cambridge) and also offer the option of video rather than in person interviews.
I was surprised to learn that the admissions tutor doesn’t see any point in encouraging more applications from Americans, especially as we’d just heard from the head of fundraising about how they were very pleased to have raised (a record of) nearly $10M last year, which he contrasted unfavorably with the $1B apparently raised by Pomona (which is of course unknown in the UK). But his view is that unless their parents are British, most of the Americans they make offers to decide to stay in the US. He mentioned by way of example a top US math student who they had bent over backwards to accommodate who decided not to come this year (I won’t embarrass that student by linking to his thread on CC). And in contrast only 1 student out of their ~200 offers to UK students this year decided not to come (though of course ~20% missed their offers so couldn’t attend). He said that they instead preferred Americans to come as graduate students, but they weren’t going to try and encourage more undergraduate applications.
Clearly there’s a difference in how American colleges approach yield, but this highlights that American undergraduates are likely to have to stand out more when applying to Cambridge in order to be taken seriously, because the admissions tutors really hate losing anyone they make an offer to. I suspect Oxford may be slightly more understanding of the situation, because they are better known and perhaps more applied to by Americans, and certainly most lower tier UK universities would really want the fees from overseas students and wouldn’t be in this situation because many more applicants turn them down or using them as a safety. However, I would caution American applicants to not get your hopes up too far about Cambridge at least and to some extent I expect the same will apply at Oxford, LSE and UCL.