What should I do to make my application for Cambridge Natural Sciences better?

I’m an American high school junior and I’m very interested in the biology course of Natural Sciences. Since I’m a junior I’ve only taken one AP test but I intend to take more:
US History (5)
English Language
Human Geography
Economics Macro
Economics Micro
European History
US Government
English Literature
Environmental Sciences
and maybe World History and Spanish Language

I consistently score well on SAT practice tests and did well on the PSAT (pretty much all across the 1500s). I have great extracurriculars, though I know those don’t factor in much. I have some minor research experience and had a pharmaceutical, but not very many other academically related extracurriculars.

What else could I do to improve my application or make myself stand out? What would be my chances of getting in based on my scores and AP tests? Would I need to take AP Calc to make it in? Or any other advice, thank you so much!

You don’t have enough math. You’ll need a 5 in Calc BC as a minimum and many students will have gone beyond that (to MVC). You have an excessively long list of irrelevant APs for junior and senior year which can only harm you - failures to get 5s will be noted (UK universities consider APs as easy) so it is better to have 8 5s than 8 5s and four more 3s and 4s.

If you aren’t taking critical APs until senior year (Chem and Calc BC) then any offer would likely be conditional. Taking AP Stats junior year will hurt your application since it’s a sign of avoiding difficult math. Can you change to Calc now?

Do you realize that NatSci requires a broad course selection (unlike single subject sciences at Oxford) so you’ll need to take Chemistry as well in the first year?

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Agreeing with @Twoin18 and adding that

  1. the key to UK universities is depth, not breadth. How sure are you that you want to live / sleep / breath science for 3 three years? Note that in Year 1 you take 4 classes for the year: Math + 3 choices from what they call “a wide range”: Biology of Cells, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Evolution and Behaviour, Materials Science, Physics and Physiology. You take the 4 classes for the entire year, and then sit final exams on all the material covered (usually 2 per subject, but it varies).


  1. getting in is one (very hard) thing- being able to cope with the level of work is another. It is hard to exaggerate just how intense the work load is at Cambridge, how prepared they expect you to be, and how little room for maneuver there is. You are expected to just get on with it. The most wildly qualified, confident students I know- who live and breath their subject- have faced self-doubt for the first time as they struggle to adapt to the firehose that is the Oxbridge learning environment.

All of this is not meant to discourage you! just to inform you. If you already have some background on Cambridge (via a sibling/parent/relative/teacher/etc) it would be an unusual American HS student who would understand what you would be choosing.

The system really is built for people who want to marinate in one subject, and there aren’t a lot of signs in your post that you have a strong STEM streak. It doesn’t mean you can’t love other things! I know a student starting in NatSci in a couple of weeks, and until last year none of us were sure which way he would go. On the one hand he had a very strong humanities side (loved politics, was on a national level student panel, loved languages & can debate in 3) and on the other he had a very strong science side (won a big-deal national science fair prize, was on the national chemistry olympiad team). He was about where you are now when he finally plumped down on the STEM side (he still loves politics and debating, and will do those as ECs at Cambridge). Be sure you are ready to commit.

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What PPs have said.

You need five AP scores at grade 5, related to your subject.
Four of which should be biology, chemistry, the two physics C (counts as one) and calc (BC if possible). For a fifth, you could offer psychology, CS or geography, at a pinch history or a foreign language. Stats don’t count.

Ideally, you’ll have them all in the bag by the end of junior year, so you know that you can offer the minimum requirements and have a chance at the entrance examinations.

This needs to be your focus for junior year, period. Any other APs, take them senior year. A 5 in them won’t help, anything else will hurt.

You don’t like the focus? UK universities are not a good fit. That’s okay!

You think it sounds like heaven? Go for it!

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