The United States Overview

Compared to the United Kingdom, the application process for international student for the United States is comparatively more decentralised and thus by extension far far messier. Depending on how many universities you choose to apply to as well, it could also cost more. Most US Universities and Colleges tend also to not recognise international qualifications like the ‘A’ levels and the International Baccalaureate, this means that you need to sit for either the SATs or the ACTs (the SATs being more common). The extra added expense and hassle of doing an additional scholastic examination also comes with another unanticipated problem: should you have the intention of studying in a US university you should start taking the SATs about a year in advance in order to give allowance for retakes.

The Nitty Gritty

Academic Qualifications Recognised: SATs and ACTs usually. Some schools do not require either. Course credits are given for certain international qualifications (ex. IB HL Biology for a Biology Major)

Total Number of Universities: 2363

Specialties (opinion based): Computer Based Sciences, Engineering, Journalism

Big Players in the Field: MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Williams, Columbia, University of Michigan, UPenn, (insert your favourite university name here)

Tuition Fees (international students): About US$35,000

Estimated Living Expenses: About US$1,000

Climate: Extreme variation between places like California and Massachusetts. You’ll need to figure this one out yourself.

Application Details: Exam qualifications (ex. SATs 1 and SATs 2), Admissions Essay

Total Number of Applications: Unlimited! Money, reason and time being the only limits.

Application Deadlines: 1st Jan of the year of intended enrollment for submission of Admissions Essays

Duration to obtain a basic bachelor’s degree: 4 years.

Special quirks: Medicine and Law are postgrad only degrees. Also there are 2 distinct types of colleges to attend for undergrad, Liberal Arts and Normal. I will go more into detail about this later.

Useful Websites: US New’s Best Colleges

Oxbridge Applications

Depending on what course you choose to apply for, there are 4 steps to the process of applying for Oxbridge. They are: 1) Aptitude Tests, 2) Submission of Written Work, 3) UCAS Applications and 4) Interviews. There is a difference however to the experience of the domestic candidate and the international applicant in applying for Oxbridge. Typically the domestic application process follows out exactly as above from 1 to 4, however in some cases (I think up to 75%) the applicants may not be contacted for the interview as they have been deemed to not meet the exacting mystery requirements of Oxbridge from the previous 3 stages.

For international applicants however the process is different because you are given the opportunity to have international interviews conducted in your home country (at least the less obscure ones). These international interviews are conducted usually around October, but this varies from country to country. Take note that in order to be interviewed internationally you need to submit a form (and £50 fees I think through credit card) in advance to apply for the interview – deadlines were 20th September for Cambridge and 15th October for Oxford (these dates may vary from year to year). Note this means your applications need to reach them by that date. Employing a courier service is highly recommended.

For the Oxford application form for international interviews for the 2009 entry a summarised version of the personal statement was required. This means that interested applicants must also have written and edited their personal statements far earlier than just the 15th October UCAS Oxbridge application deadline. Another thing requested by Oxbridge international interview applications is a testimonal from a tutor, and do remember it’s polite to give them a few days to sit on the testimonial and let them consider what to write.

During application you can choose to apply Open or choose a specific college. If you’re like me and have never visited either college/have no specific target college you’re better off applying Open rather than choosing a random college. In an open application you are randomly assigned by computer to colleges that have empty places. For those who prefer applying college specific the rankings of individual colleges might prove useful: Tompkins Table for Cambridge and Norrington Table for Oxford.

For most of the part Oxbridge applications are pretty straightforward and guided. Those who need to take aptituide tests will usually recieve prompting and information from the admission officers of the colleges you’ve been assigned to, same goes for requests for submission of written work. It’s also far easier to do if you’re applying with a group of friends so you can all help and remind each other about the application process and share courier fees (total approximiate cost per use of courier – S$60).

Links wise if you’re ambitious enough to apply for Oxbridge, I trust that you’ll be clever enough to do your own googling and research for links (because they’ve disappeared from the internet as I type this) when application season rolls about again. Here are 2 links that I found useful during my application, a blog by the Oxford director of undergraduate admissions and podoxford. There’s also podcasts by the Cambridge admissions office.

At the end of the day it’s important to remember that for every 5 people who apply, only 1 place is available. This stat get worse in the more popular courses too. Getting a rejection from them is not the end of the world, in fact it’s pretty common. In my opinion they have a rather dodgy way of selecting applicants too. They took in my school’s greatest EQ-less braggart and rejected 4 friends who scored better than that braggart in the IB exams with a 45, a 44 and two 43s respectively. On retrospect it’s far better to be rejected and far far away from the braggart then be stuck with him for the next 3 years of my life – so there! It was a blessing in disguise, oho.

The United Kingdom University Application Process

After you’ve logged into UCAS Apply, you’ll be greeted with a series of tabs at the side of the window:

As far as application processes go, UCAS is pretty idiot proof. Please note how there’s a key at the bottom which explains the changes in the boxes next to each option in the sidebar. At the end of every section you need to select the ‘completed’ box at the bottom of the webpage in order to submit your application. Personal Details involves the usual filling in of names, contact information and entry into UK rubbish, which is manageable unless you have a brain the size of a peanut – in which case you shouldn’t be applying for university anyway.

Choices is a bit more dodgy on the other hand. As explained in the overview, you get 5 choices if you choose either all non-medicine courses or a combination of medicine and non-medicine courses (example: Medicine in Cambridge, KCL and Imperial and Biology in KCL and Imperial) and 4 choices if they’re all medicine courses. In order to fill out this part you’d (obviously) need to have done some research beforehand. First you need to key in the university of your choice which is the easy bit. When it comes to keying in the course selection however, things get a bit dodgier. When doing your reseach you’ll notice how the UCAS code is usually included. Please take note of this, write it down somewhere or something. This is important because you might up signing up for the wrong course. For example for UCL the code for BSc in Chemistry is F100 while MSc for Chemistry is F101.

Education is again the usual jibjab of things. Enter in your current school name where you plan to/have obtained your latest qualifications from and your last school. In my case I entered in my Junior College and my Secondary School and the relevant qualifications obtained from there for each subject I sat for (IB and O Levels respectively). Singaporean students please note that you should use the qualification under ‘Singapore-Cambridge’ (or something similar) O levels when keying in qualifications and not the usual ‘O’ Levels. Also please put the examining body as SEAB (Singapore Examinations and Assessments Board). Please note that you can also enter in your SAT grades if you so wish. For applications that are sent before results have been obtained please do not enter in your predicted grade but instead leave it as ‘pending’ or some other synonym (I’m doing this from memory, from something submitted 4 months ago – excuse me).

Employment. This is the option that I wager will most likely go unfilled. It’s also pretty straightforward – Employer name and position and etc. However as most people will likely not have any experience, it is critical that you remember to select the box at the bottom of the page that says ‘completed’ even if you haven’t keyed in anything into the available boxes.

Statement – the bane of all students. The full name of this section is Personal Statement, yes it’s the dreaded oft complained about PS. Basically for this section you need to write about yourself, your interest and why you’re interested in that particular course – all in less than 4000 characters, not words. Take note that this is the same statement that every university sees, so if you’re applying to Medicine in one university and Film Studies in another it’s going to look pretty absurd to the admittance tutor unless you find some sort of a way to weave them in (“my interest is in filming human bodies…”). This is the most important section of the lot and I cannot stress this any more. A good idea would be to exchange personal statements with other applicants or force it on some unwitting relative to comment and criticise. Do remember that this is the only section where you can emphasise how utterly unique! amazing! and awesome! you are compared to the other candidates and why you should get the place instead of them.

Useful Personal Statement Links:

The Student Room Forum

References can also be quite annoying because they mean you need to ask your teacher to write a recommendation for you, which is good if you have a good relationship but horrifying if you and your teacher have had a dodgy past. It’s best to ask your subject teacher to write your reference for you (for example asking your Literature teacher to write for you if you’re applying for Literature) and not some other teacher that teaches a irrelevant subject that you happen to be chummy with. It may sometimes be advisable to print this for them in case they have no idea what they’re supposed to do and are too embarrassed to ask and instead come up with some rubbish (I’ve had experience with this).

Another really straightforward section, all that Payment entails is you running to get your parents credit card. Pretty simply really. Do take note that after payment your application is done and sent to UCAS/the universities you applied. Access your new information from UCAS Track.


Application deadline for UCAS applicants to Oxbridge is the 15th October. This means that you need to fill up all the others bits before that. I’m not sure whether other university options can be added at a later date but UCAS track appears to have an option available. The final submission for all other universities is 15th January of the following year. Take note that you can still apply if you’ve missed the 15th Jan deadline, but universities are not obliged to read your application.

Candidates who are applying for Law and Medicine need to sit for aptitude tests regardless the university you’re applying for. Law candidates need to sit for LNAT while Medicine candidates need to sit for either UKCAT or BMAT or both. The difference between UKCAT and BMAT is that while UKCAT is accepted by most universities, those universities who consider themselves more ‘elite’ often require students to sit for the far pricier BMAT in order to be considered for admittance. This lot includes Oxbridge, Imperial, Royal Veterinary College and UCL. More imformation about the tests can be obtained from googling your local British Council.

Interviews are more commonly conducted for UK students only unless you’re an international student who is applying for Medicine. You must be prepared to fly to the UK during the interview period (usually December to February the following year I think). This is different however for all International Oxbridge applicants who apply for international interviews. Again, if you’re interested in applying for Oxbridge, please read this next page.

The United Kingdom Overview

I’ll start with applications in the country I’m most familiar with – the United Kingdom. Applications here in my opinion are the most organised and well coordinated. First you need to sign up with the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) at UCAS apply for the appropriate year. UCAS will then send you an e-mail to the address you applied with, giving you a new username (usually something related to your real name). Then the fun starts.

The Nitty Gritty

Academic Qualifications Recognised: All – A levels, International Baccalaureate and SATs are recognised. Check the UCAS tariff tables to see if you are eligible for other additional tariff points from Music examinations and the like.

Total Number of Universities: 113

Specialties (opinion based): History, English, PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), Law and Medicine

Big Players in the Field: Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Imperial, Durham, UCL, KCL, Warwick, St. Andrew’s

Tuition Fees (international students): £10,000 per year to £15,000 per year for most courses, £24,000 to £35,500 for Medicine in Imperial (which is the most expensive of the lot).

Estimated Living Expenses: £10,000 (estimate more for London)

Climate: Minumum of 1°C in Winter to Maximum of 21°C in Summer, rainy and wet

Application Details: Education, Work Experience, Testimonials, Personal Statement (this is like your admissions essay)*

Total Number of Applications: 5 for non-medicine courses, 4 for medicine courses, 5 for a mix of medicine and non-medicine courses

Application Deadlines: 15 October (take note that this may vary from year to year) for Cambridge and Oxford applications**, 15 January the following year for all other applications

Duration to obtain a basic bachelor’s degree: 3 years.

Special quirks: In any given year you can only apply for Oxford OR Cambridge, not both.

Useful Websites: UCAS, The Student Room Forum, UK Universites Ranking

Further application information from onecogloose here.

*Those applying for Medicine will definitely get called for interviews which will take place in UK. Applicants to Oxford and Cambridge will also either be interviewed locally or in the UK itself. Please read the page on Oxford and Cambridge applications.

**When you apply you can select all the other universities you wish you apply for (example: Oxford, KCL, York, Warwick and Durham) or add them at a later date through UCAS track. Please also read the page on Oxford and Cambridge applications.

The Beginning

Probably one of the first biggest decisions you’ll ever have to make in life is that of finding and applying for universities. Odds are you might not get into your first choice of university, therefore it’s important to do research in other universities in order to ensure you get a place (or alternatively you can become a ronin, take multiple gap years and reapply every year). Another popular option is to just spam applications at every single school that you share the remotest inclination towards, but this results in more unnecessary work in the form of application essays and unnecessary costs in the form of application fees. Whatever works I suppose.

Things to consider when selecting a university:

1) Tuition fees/how you’re funding your education

For example do you need a scholarship or are your parents able to fund your entire education?

2) University location

This will be things like rural versus a university town versus a big city, or it could even be a certain preference for a country over another.

3) Course to be studied

For example it’s more advisable to study Economics in the University of Chicago and do Engineering somewhere else more reknown for their Engineering courses like Berkeley.

4) Name recognition/ranking tables

This is important when it comes to future employment prospects, for example London School of Economics (LSE) looks better than University of Warwick.

5) Type of University

This covers things like liberal arts colleges in the USA versus normal undergraduate universities, technical specialist schools like culinary schools versus normal undergraduate universities and the size of the student population (a few cozy thousands to whoppingly huge mass of tens of thousands)

6) Application requirements

Most USA applications require international students to sit for either the SATs or ACT for applications while Canadian universities accept most types of national/international qualifications

7) Recognition of qualifications

This applies mainly to more obscure countries like Germany and only if you’re interested in doing highly regulated/specialist degrees like Law and Medicine

Useful links:

International Ranking Tables
(note there are 3 different links here)

UK University Ranking Table (The Times of London) + search for rankings of individual subjects

US University Ranking Table (U.S. News)

US Liberal Arts Colleges Ranking Table (U.S. News)

Canadian University Ranking Table (MacLean’s)

Australian University Ranking Table