Oxbridge admissions for Americans

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.

That is really interesting, @Twoin18. I have long felt that Cambridge was not as welcoming to US applicants as Oxford, but had supposed it was related to an expectation that the preparation of US students would inherently be inferior.

The yield issue didn’t occur to me, particularly as Cambridge consistently has a higher % of students who miss their offers than Oxford does (in no small part b/c of the STEP paper). I gather they just don’t take rejection well!

Every year there are students on CC who are desperate for an Oxbridge offer yet end up turning it down (there was an excruciatingly long thread this year by somebody who also had a Harvard offer , and was afraid that Oxford was so much ‘less’ that it might limit his future career). Some probably get cold feet when the reality of going away arrives.

It’s not just Oxbridge. I spoke to the international admissions guy at St Andrews and they really have to grapple with the fact that a student who gets an offer there likely was admitted to 5 or even 10 equally acceptable schools in the United States. That’s just not the case with their domestic offer holders. And those offers may have come with significant merit or other aide.

Good point, @VickiSoCal. US students are used to the idea that you have to apply widely, and see no downside to having many choices. A US student ‘firming’ a UK uni does not have the same security for the uni as a UK students ‘firm’.