Oxford and Cambridge both provide amazing breakdowns of their admissions numbers. However, there’s one thing that sticks out - Americans get accepted at a considerably lower rate than the global average. While the numbers are still quite good (around 12% for Oxford, 15% for Cambridge), something is amiss; those are about two-thirds of global numbers. After all, Australians get accepted above the rates of 17.5% for Oxford and 22% for Cambridge, so I knew there was hope.
I’ve been in international admissions for more than a decade, so I decided to make some calls. My friends and colleagues on the other side of the pond were more than happy to spill the T. Here’s what you need to know in order to make sure that your Oxbridge (or any other UK application) gets a fair shake. In fact, with a few changes, chances are that any American who is competitive at a T20 could get into Oxbridge.
First, Americans tend not to apply with the UK mindset. Their personal statements focus on things like extracurriculars, rather than stating why they want to learn about what they are applying to study. While this is starting to shift, there are still plenty of people who think that they can use their Common App essay to go abroad. It never ends well for them.
Second, and quite similar, few Oxbridge applicants for the US really make the case in their personal statements that they would fit in at Oxford or Cambridge; after all, there’s a reason that you can apply to only one. There are ways to do this without offending other universities that you’re applying to (remember, there’s only one personal statement, and since you have to apply by October 15, everyone knows you’re applying to Oxbridge [or med/dental school]), but remember, Cambridge doesn’t just want smart people, it wants smart people who want to be at Cambridge.
Third, minimums are not enough. An ACT of 32 or 33 does not guarantee your application’s success. You don’t have to be perfect, and you can get in with a 32 or a 33, but you’ve got to back it up across the board. Speaking of tests, taking a bunch of UCAS Group B subjects isn’t going to come off as impressive.
Finally, they bomb the admissions test (required for most subjects) or the interview. Again, like the personal statement, no one cares about your extracurriculars in the interview; they want to see how your brain works on the field in question. This could mean walking through some problem sets or discussing the big ideas of the field. If you go into a political science interview with a “‘murica” understanding of Karl Marx, it won’t end well for you. You have to nail the interview; in competitive courses, there will be three applicant interviews for each spot, and you’ve got to outshine them.
Does doing this guarantee you a spot at Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, or Imperial? Of course not, and especially not in competitive courses like Computer Science (Cambridge acceptance rate: 8.1%) or PPE (Oxford acceptance rate: ~9%). However, it does make sure you’ve got the best shot possible.