UK universities seek US applicants

Four senior girls decided to take an alternate route in their college application process and apply to universities in the United Kingdom.

This number has not gone up from years past, but now more schools from across the pond are looking for applicants from the United States.

Dr. Ian Hunter, an admissions representative for the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the schools look for international students to diversify their student body.

Dean Mike Bird said that approximately eight to 10 schools from the United Kingdom came to Harvard-Westlake to talk with students and deans about the advantages of studying in the United Kingdom.

This group of universities did not include Oxford University or the University of Cambridge, two of the oldest and most renowned universities in the United Kingdom.

Oxford spokeswoman Barbara Hott said that over a quarter of Oxford’s 18,000 students are international. At St. Andrews, 30 percent of the students are international and 10 percent are from North America.

All applications for universities in the United Kingdom must first go through UCAS, the United Kingdom’s version of the common application. After this, universities such as Oxford and Cambridge require a more detailed application for their three-year undergraduate program.

Once accepted to Oxford or Cambridge, a student may only receive a conditional place and is required to perform well on his or her AP tests to attend the following year.

Out of the four students applying this year, three are applying to Oxford.

“I wanted to go to a school that had a totally different teaching style,” said Allison House ’07, who considered applying to Cambridge but felt it was less inviting to international students.

“Among the things that make Oxford special is the tutorial teaching system, where professors and tutors teach their students individually or in very small groups,” Hott said.

Elizabeth Sparks ’07 and Keily Miller ’07 also chose Oxford over Cambridge. Sparks is also applying to University College London, where she already has received an unconditional place, and Imperial College London.

Since Oxford and Cambridge are divided into colleges, students must also choose the specific college they wish to attend. At Oxford one can submit an open application, something that House chose to do. At Cambridge this is not an option.

At some U.K. schools, students declare their major before starting and are required to study that for their time at university. There is none of what Bird describes as “dabbling” in different fields of study like in U.S. universities.

“Either you want to go so badly that you will be that directed, or you are so directed that it’s natural for you to look at those schools,” Bird said.

Choosing a major early on didn’t inhibit David Cohen ’05, now at Merton College at Oxford. Cohen considered archeology, anthropology and Politics before settling on a straight history major.

“I won’t deny that I felt some qualms about and still somewhat regret giving up the breadth of a liberal arts degree, but I have no doubt that I am suited for the tutorial system,” he said.

Unlike the English schools, Scottish schools, such as the University of St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh, where Michelle Kim ’07 is applying, do not require students to declare their major in their first year. They also do not require interviews.

Many students are attracted to these universities that are more well-known in the United States, but cannot apply to both.

Oxford and Cambridge both require aptitude tests in most subjects and an interview that requires students to read a piece of material in their subject and subsequently discuss that with their interviewer.

While Kim wishes that her schools did offer interviews, the Oxford interview was slightly off-putting for House, who traveled to Vancouver for it.

“It seemed like a way to test people more than an interview,” she said. “It’s not meant to get to know the student, it’s meant to see how a student would react to a certain teaching style.”

Hunter also mentioned that students from the United States pay a higher tuition than students from the United Kingdom to attend U.K. universities. Bird noted that all universities in the United Kingdom, including Oxford and Cambridge, are public and therefore tuition is cheaper for United States students to attend.

“Education is cheaper in the rest of the world,” Bird said.

“Students who go are independent, adventurous, risk-takers, all of those things,” she said. “It’s far away. You aren’t doing what is the quote unquote ‘normal’ thing to do.”