The Problem of the “Underqualified” American

It is my understanding that the very top schools do not give merit aid, only need-based. That was certainly our experience with the above-mentioned schools.

For my daughter, the best “price/performance” ratio was Oxford, and this included the in-state UC options. It is correct that we wanted her to go to a top school (given her choices). We did not “chase merit money” as we figured she will get into some good UC.

That’s not a helpful statistic. It’s more relevant that 45% of Harvard students received no aid per the CDS ( shows 3745 out of 6809 received aid), so for almost half of Harvard students it would be cheaper to attend Oxford.

Why would you assume that the income of families with college-bound students, and particularly those students bound for T20 colleges, is equal to the distribution of income for the US as a whole? Given the Harvard aid statistics above (and that Harvard is more generous than many other colleges), it is plausible that up to half of T20 bound students could save money by attending Oxford instead.

I love reading these threads.

For kids who are qualified for Oxbridge, whose families can afford it, and for whom the decision of what to major in/what do I want to study is an obvious one- FANTASTIC.

But in the same way that we all bemoan “credential creep”, these threads encourage “prestige creep”, whereby kids who are NOT qualified for Oxbridge, and do NOT know what they want to major in, and where affordability is a question mark- those kids start to seek out third tier u’s in the UK assuming that “X is to Oxford as my state flagship is to Harvard”. And that is generally NOT accurate, especially if the kid plans to work and settle in the US.

I know families in the real world who are paying an arm and a leg (mostly HELOC/second mortgage type of deals) to send a kid to a U in the UK that really- other than the accents and the wonky calendar, could be a state directional in the US where they would NOT go in to debt to attend. And then they bemoan how hard it is for their kid to get internships in the US during the summer (ya think?) or that the kids academic calendar doesn’t align with their US college attending sibling (ya think?) or that the exchange rate went from “hey, this is affordable” to “OMG, how can we pay THAT?” (exchange rates float- duh, and airfares are sometimes reasonable and sometimes sky high).

So Oxbridge and the problem of the underqualified American- have at it. I will wait to see the “but why can’t MY kid study in the UK?” threads.


Unfortunately the bottom 96% from America will have very little chance of getting admitted into Oxbridge.

The UK is very aristocratic, so it is those who come from the Top 5% - 10% income range in the USA that have a good chance of getting into Oxbridge.

About 42% of people admitted into Oxbridge attend private school. To be able to comfortably afford to pay the private school fees for 2 children in the UK will require an annual household income of at least £150k (that is over $200K). That will put the family into the Top 10% of household income in the UK.

So those are the calibre of income earners that enter Oxbridge.

Of the remaining 58% that get into Oxbridge but did not attend a private school, less than 10% will be from families that the annual household income is less than £120K (i.e. over $160K) because majority of these 58% would have attended top government-funded schools. Houses in the catchment areas of these state schools will be very high to buy, pay the mortgage or rent, hence mainly affluent people will leave in the area.

Even as high as 7% of Oxbridge intakes come from just 8 secondary schools. So I would not say it would be a place the bottom 96% by income of Americans can have a great chance of getting in to even be in a position to pay the fees. They would have better chances in the rest of the Golden Triangle and the next tier of top universities like Edinburgh, St Andrews, Durham, Bristol and Warwick.

This thread makes me wish that we had schools in the US similar to Oxbridge in the way how they admit students, how they set their priorities, and how they’re financed. They would offer another great option, without all the negatives mentioned upthread, for many US students, wouldn’t they?


So it is a “holistic” admissions (meaning not just stats based), just subbing in pedigree for ECs?

This is obvious nonsense. It’s not even possible that fewer than 6% of Oxbridge students come from families earning less than £120K (10% of 58% with the remaining 42% allegedly having even higher incomes). This represents 4 times the median household income and nearly double the income cutoff for the top decile (see Average household income, UK - Office for National Statistics).

There are roughly 1M 18 year olds each year in the UK. You are suggesting that 94% of the ~6K Oxbridge admissions each year come from about 2-3% of households, ie the wealthiest households have a 20-25% admission rate. That’s simply not credible and is of course completely contradicted by the figures Oxford puts out showing that 27% of students have a family income of less than £43K (Household income | University of Oxford)

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Agreed, though they might just as easily have chosen a third tier private in the US for prestige instead and ended up with just as much debt.

I definitely worry about the kids who go to the UK without a clear idea of what they are getting into (exam revision, self reliance) and how they will leverage their UK college degree for a career in the US. We often see students considering the UK but saying they are pre-med, or want to double major in unrelated subjects or want Scotland’s supposedly “broader” four year experience.

Most of those students will give up and not apply (or at least not attend), but there are certainly cases where a kid has a modest high school GPA but is good at test taking and sees the UK as a way to attend a higher prestige college (eg St Andrews) than they can get into in the US. That can end very badly.

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Agree 100% with your points- especially for the great test-taking kid who sort of floated through HS and thinks that St. Andrews is going to allow them to do the same- but with the shiny degree at the end.

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This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

Might I remind members of the forum rules: “Our forum is expected to be a friendly and welcoming place, and one in which members can post without their motives, intelligence, or other personal characteristics being questioned by others."


“College Confidential forums exist to discuss college admission and other topics of interest. It is not a place for contentious debate. If you find yourself repeating talking points, it might be time to step away and do something else… If a thread starts to get heated, it might be closed or heavily moderated.”

Oxford does not do social engineering in a way done in the US but they are very mindful of the allegations of elitism and are working to correct any biases. In their latest admission statistics (link provided upthread), the summary is as follows. They also have a new outreach program called Opportunity Oxford Program. This said I don’t think they want to sacrifice their lofty academic standards to let in unqualified candidates.

While the pandemic has, in many ways, changed the way we operate, it has not weakened
our commitment to diversifying the make-up of our student body. In this, our fourth
annual Admissions Report, we provide details of the success rate of British undergraduate
applications by educational, regional, racial and socio-economic background as well as by
subject and college. The highlights are as follows: over the past five years the proportion
of students from state schools rose from 58% to 68.6%. The proportion identifying as Black
and Minority Ethnic rose from 15.82% to 23.6%. The proportion from socio-economically
disadvantaged areas rose from 8.2% to 15.9%. The proportion from areas of low progression
to higher education rose from 11.4% to 15.6%. The proportion declaring a disability rose from
7.2% to 10.4%. The proportion of women rose from 48.6% to 54.2%. This reflects real progress
and is a testament to the dedication of our Admissions Teams, the support of school teachers
and, of course, the many talents of able and ambitious young people.

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No, I would not argue it is “holistic” admission.

It is “grade-based and subject-interview” admission.

Schools with better teachers, facilities, studious peers and parents with disposable incomes to higher Oxbridge interview coaches will have overwhelming advantage over schools where the students hope to get in based only on their intelligence.

It happens everywhere in the world but is far more planned, intense, intended, embedded and accepted in the UK in comparison to most other Western nations (bar US private universities).

Notably absent is the proportion of legacy or recruited athlete students, or kids of wealthy donors or faculty because there aren’t any admitted under such categories.

In fact, under the UK Freedom of Information Act, it is possible to obtain anonymized information about the test and interview scores of all admitted students in any college and any subject. There are no students admitted with low scores, and the cut-off is very clear (the scores on the interview are admittedly subjective).

Unlike the SAT where a score below 1500 is deemed not competitive for top places, the scores on the TSA for admitted students are centered on 65-68%. 70-75% is considered extremely good, 80-85% is a genius score, and 100% are unheard of. The exam truly separates the top students and does not bunch them in the upper band with many kids scoring near perfect, especially if they had enough practice with expensive test prep services.

This said, it is correct that studying in UK requires a self-starter mentality and superior resilience/mental health as there is little handholding. And the weather is depressing.


The other interesting data point for me is the number of high admissions test scorers who crash out at interview. My frame of reference is the MAT since my son was a mathmo. There are a number of students with MAT scores in the right hand tail of the bell curve (85-100) who don’t receive offers. Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25%. That extra step of the process doesn’t happen in the US.

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The interview is the best part of Oxbridge’s admission process. Test scores present an incomplete picture of an applicant, so it’s no surprise that some high scorers fail their interviews.

I am assuming this excludes arbitrarily calling someone’s post “absolute nonsense”?

If you see a post that doesn’t meet the forum rules or TOS, flag it.

But no, expressing disagreement in a civil way is not a ToS violation.

Based on the Admission Statistics report I cited, for the last 3 years, the average percentage of US students admitted to Oxford is 7.7%. Chinese students get in at a slightly higher 8.7% rate. The most competitive major (CS) admits only 6% of the applicants with international candidates getting in at a lower rate (did not find the number but can be found with more digging).

It has been flagged for 3 hours now but still remains there.

I even got a lovely badge of “First Flag” for the flagging but nothing happens, while my own posts were hidden in less than 2 mins of me putting them up. They did not even see 10 mins, talk less of 3 hours.

I am in strong hope that the ToS includes some standard of or reference to “equality” in the treatment of forum members.