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Cambridge University as an American?

riacchiriacchi 7 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
I’m applying to Cambridge this October and I believe that I have a very good chance up to the interview stage. But after that, I am completely left in the dark. Anyone (student or parent) have any advice?

Degree: Human, Social, and Political Sciences

Advanced Placement Tests
AP Spanish Language 5
AP World History 5
AP Human Geography 5
AP Comparative Government 5
AP English Language 5
AP Environmental Science 5
AP Psychology 5
AP US History 5
AP European History (Not Taken)
AP English Literature (NT)
AP Statistics (NT)
AP Spanish Literature (NT)

ACT
Composite 32
English 33
Mathematics 27
Reading 35
Science 31
(will be retaking, aiming for a 34)

SAT Subject Tests
Literature 720
Spanish 770
World History 730

I will most likely have an excellent reference letter from my High School counsellor, and my Personal Statement is probably fine.

Does anyone (student or parent) have any experience with Cambridge interviews? What are some pitfalls for American students? What are the biggest discrepancies between UK and USA students, and how can I remedy these?

More general: What is Cambridge like for an American student?
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Replies to: Cambridge University as an American?

  • Twoin18Twoin18 1596 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited July 2018
    This would be better in the United Kingdom section. There are plenty of similar questions there. But note in particular my comments about Cambridge not being enthused about admitting Americans due to the low yield: https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/united-kingdom/2091170-oxbridge-admissions-for-americans.html#latest

    That being said, the biggest challenge with the interview will be having enough depth in the subjects since APs are far less advanced than A levels. You need to read obsessively around the relevant topics (see the reading list: https://www.hsps.cam.ac.uk/prospective-students/subjects/HSPSSuggestedReadingfor2019Entry.pdf) and be able to think on your feet and answer tough academic questions. Not remotely like a US interview. You'd have a decent shot st an unconditional offer, but you'd have to convince them you are actually going to come. If you are also applying to top US schools then why do you prefer Cambridge? Most US students choose to stay in the US if they get a good offer here (though if you are full pay it's half the price of a top US private college, given it's 3 years not 4).

    In terms of what it's like. First I'd say the accommodation is amazing by US standards: all single rooms with a desk, bed, a couple of chairs and coffee table and sink. The food not so much (though it has improved in the last 30 years). Second, there are quite big differences between colleges: old vs new, central vs out of town (picking one not too far from the HSPS department and with half a dozen HSPS students per year would make sense since your closest bond will be with the people doing your subject at your college and you need the critical mass to have college fellows in your subject), but also consider the admissions stats by college and subject which are available online (some colleges are much harder to get into). Thirdly, it is an alcohol centric culture, since you can drink at 18: many events are in or start/finish at the college bar, which is the social hub of college. And finally, it's a high stakes exam based culture, it's all about the end of year exams, and how you do during the year is irrelevant (though if you don't do the huge amount of reading and get the style of essays correct quickly you will really struggle in supervisions, and tutors will be pretty direct about what you are doing badly). So self studying for revision prep (over multiple weeks) is a big thing.
    edited July 2018
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  • riacchiriacchi 7 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    edited July 2018
    @Twoin18
    Thank you so much for the extensive reply! I posted it in “Study Abroad”, so not sure if it’s the appropriate place. I’m a lot more active on TSR, and pretty new to actually using CC! I’ve emailed a couple of Admissions Tutors and they’ve mostly said that Americans make the biggest mistakes of not understanding their subject area and not going in-depth enough.

    I’ve been doing a couple of things extra to 1. build my PS, and 2. get ready for interview. Since I’m planning on getting my degree in either Sociology and/or Politics (if I get into HSPS, I’ll be choosing the Sociology and Politics Track), and the rest of my UCAS choices are BA Social Sciences, except for LSE, where I applied for two different degrees. 1. I’ve taken an American undergraduate course in Sociology, so I have many of the basic theories down, and 2. I have also taken a more extensive Comparative Government course (also for undergrad credit). 3. I have 3 books planned out to put in my PS. 4. I have also been listening to various Podcasts on politics and sociology (I was already doing this, but a Medwards Admissions Tutor recommended it so I’ll be doubling down on that). I’ll definitely be reading more around my subject though! Since HSPS doesn’t expect previous knowledge, I really hope the preparation I have done is sufficient. (Do you have any insight on this?)

    As for UK vs. USA, I’m actually an international student, but studying at an American school. Since my experience is pretty much identical to an American’s (or more similar compared to a local), I figured I would ask here. Cambridge is a hell of a lot cheaper than any school in the US, and I am completely in love with the course itself (my decision to even apply to the UK was primarily HSPS). I’m giving up ED-ing to Columbia for this! (Do you have any suggestions as to how I can convince them of my interest? Maybe in the SAQ or COPA? Or should I write a couple of sentences in my PS talking about my interest in the focused approach that UK unis take?)

    I’m applying to Downing, so I’ve heard many great things about accommodation. King’s and Catz sounded great but the insane applicant to acceptance ratio is super intimidating, and Pembroke has no ensuites, so Downing it was. Additionally, Downing seems to put a lot of emphasis on written work in the interview stage (2 submissions, at least discussed in 1 interview), which is something that I am (I think) stronger in. Plus, it allegedly has an average of 8 HSPS students a year, so that’s great. As for alcohol-centric culture, I’m from South America, where laws are urban legends, so I’m not too worried. In terms of exam culture, I much prefer exams to projects (due to less than satisfactory teaching, I had to study for about half of my APs on my own in addition to the ones I actually self-studied).
    edited July 2018
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  • Twoin18Twoin18 1596 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Downing is a good choice. Being close to the department is really beneficial in your first year. I would probably add something in the PS about the focused approach and your long held aspirations to focus on this subject (with backup like summer courses, internships, competitions, etc). And being in touch with the admissions tutor at your college to ask questions and (in a subtle way) convey your interest would help convince them too.

    For the interview, most U.K. students have a number of practice interviews from their school. That's not possible here, but I believe some private companies will offer those online. Though it's not particularly necessary if you interview well.

    It's probably harder to convince LSE since there isn't a formal interview so I would be cautious about placing too many hopes there, especially as it's a totally different environment to Cambridge. What other U.K. universities did you pick?
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  • riacchiriacchi 7 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    edited July 2018
    @Twoin18
    Hmm... I've taken 2 summer courses (for undergrad credit) so far, as well as a brief introductory course (2 weeks) Freshman year. I am currently doing an internship at a law firm (dealing more with economics and business in my country). My country is in the middle of nowhere so there aren't exactly many opportunities. I might be able to spin the internship in a way that it relates to local politics (since I will be talking about that in my PS). Nevertheless, it's good background information to have anyway. The angle I could take to demonstrate focus is through my self-study of APs (COGO, Human Geo, Euro, etc.), which I tailored to get the most background information (and qualifications) possible for HSPS. Again, I'm a bit short on opportunities. Cambridge allegedly takes circumstances/resources into consideration (flag system) but do they really?

    Sorry about the extensive questioning but what do you mean by subtle? Do I ask questions about admissions? Book/media suggestions?

    I'm thinking about getting a consultancy service to help with interviews and polishing my PS, but Cambridge seems to really not recommend it. I'm a bit on the fence here.

    Other choices: UCL Social Sciences, LSE Sociology, LSE Politics, King's College London Social Science. I was considering Durham and Edinburgh but the London colleges seemed more appealing. I'll be applying to US schools anyway (after the October insanity is done) so I'll have somewhere to go at least.
    edited July 2018
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  • Twoin18Twoin18 1596 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited July 2018
    The flag system is really for disadvantaged U.K. students in poor schools, not for full pay internationals. By subtle I mean asking real questions when you have them (like you did about the interview preparation required) and they aren't on the website, and conveying your enthusiasm about the course/college as part of that. You'll probably be in touch again about interview arrangements. But don't go overboard.

    I don't think using consultants to polish the PS is really worthwhile. And for interview prep you could ask one of the lawyers you are working for to grill you (since it really is a cross examination). Do make sure your teacher reference really understands what is needed, since that's very different to the US reference style.

    London colleges are very different to Oxbridge. My S18 had almost the same list as you (but for PPE) and similar stats. In the end he got an offer from KCL but none of the others (Oxford, UCL, LSE), though he did get to the interview stage at Oxford (where his lack of background in economics was his downfall). He had better results in the US (got into 9 of 10) and decided to stay here (he's going to UCLA) - he would have gone to Oxford but in the end the other UK options didn't appeal. But getting the KCL unconditional offer in early Nov was very helpful as a safety in limiting his US applications.
    edited July 2018
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  • VickiSoCalVickiSoCal 3383 replies33 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    By Not Taken do you mean you are taking it senior year or not taking it at all?
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  • riacchiriacchi 7 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    @VickiSoCal
    Taking senior year!
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  • riacchiriacchi 7 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    @Twoin18
    If you don't mind me asking, how were your son's stats? And by lack of background, do you mean Micro+Macro or no economics at all? AFAIK, Micro+Macro doesn't cut it, so would this be where most US applicants go wrong?
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  • Twoin18Twoin18 1596 replies17 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    His school doesn't offer any AP economics, just a basic government and economics class that everyone does senior year. If we'd planned better he should have done a summer course in that. Many PPE applicants do Further Math A level so have a very strong quantitative background.

    He had five 5s (USH, Lang, Spanish Lang, Calc AB and CS) plus one 3 (Euro) when applying, and was predicted four more 5s (Calc BC, APES, Lit and Spanish Lit), actually got three 5s and one 4. SAT 2s: Math 2 800, USH 770, Spanish 710. 1540 SAT (790 Math/750 CR) all single sitting. 4.0 UW, top 1-2% in his class, NM Commended. Also senior class president, plus internship and other fairly decent ECs (more relevant to US applications). His teacher reference had a masters from Oxford, which may have helped marginally.
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