So you’ve decided that you’re ready to hop across the Pond for university. You’ve got your eye set on some universities, but you’re unsure of what exams to take, what GPA to get, or what clubs and extracurriculars are important or not. Fear not, Prospies! Here’s a comprehensive guide of what you’ll need to achieve the expectations set by the universities of your dreams.
If you’re not great with in-class tests, projects, or you’re always forgetting your homework, your GPA may not be as high as you want it to be. In the UK system, your GPA may not matter. Most UK universities won’t ask for your GPA at all (this even includes Oxbridge), with notable exception of the University of St. Andrews, which asks for a minimum of an A-/B+ GPA. Obviously, not being to achieve the asked-for GPA doesn’t mean you automatically won’t be accepted, but it’s likely most other applicants will have achieved that GPA standard. If your GPA isn’t great but you’re a fantastic test taker, you may find yourself slated at an advantage in the UK system.
For all of you bad test takers out there, I’ve got bad news: you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. UK universities take standardized testing very seriously, and, unlike US schools that will mostly consider candidates holistically, UK universities hone in on test scores. Few (if any) UK schools are test optional, and most universities will set an minimum SAT I/ACT score for applicants. For example, Oxbridge asks for a minimum of 700’s across the board, St Andrews asks for 650’s, and Edinburgh asks for 600’s. They set similar equivalent scores for ACT test takers.
Those of you who have taken the ACTs, you can disregard this section. All you SAT I takers, read on. Most UK universities will ask for two, if not three, SAT II scores. Oxbridge requires two, with a minimum of 700, recommended above 750 each. St Andrews requests three, minimum 650. Other universities will similarly ask for scores, so be prepared to show off your best subjects. Universities also particularly like if you take SAT II’s similar to the course you’re applying for, so, for example, if you’re a prospective history major, you would be best off taking US History, World History, and English Literature. Make sure to check your course’s department as some departments may have required SAT II’s for you to take (this goes especially for law and medical applicants).
AP classes are extremely important, but not for senior year. Your sophomore/junior year AP scores are of utmost importance. UK universities take AP scores extremely seriously, and actually, rather than look at your transcripts, they’ll look at these. The London School of Economics actually asks applicants to submit a minimum of five 5’s on AP tests for admissions, so take as many AP’s as you can handle, and study hard for the exams!
Unlike most US colleges who expect a slew of recommendations, UK universities usually only ask for one. You only need a teacher recommendation, and will not need a counselor/outside activities recommendation at all, so make sure you pick a teacher who you have great relations with. And, unlike US schools where the recommending teacher needs only to submit a short written statement, the UK recommendation process is tedious, so make sure that teacher is someone who properly understands your motivations, work ethic, and goals, so they can state to admissions just how great of a fit you’d be!
If you are in an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program, you will be able to bypass all of the other sections of this post with exception of the recommendations (lucky you!). If this applies to you, you’ll be solely judged by the universities based on a) your IB score, b) your recommendations, and c) your application material (what you’ll write on the UCAS). For example, University College London (UCL) asks IB applicants to “[achieve a] standard minimum requirement [of] 34 points overall, with a combined score of 16 achieved in three higher level subjects with no grade lower than 5.”
So, do your due diligence
If you believe you have the scores to apply for your dream university, go for it! Be aware that every university in the UK will put their required minimum entry scores on their sites, simply search for it under “international admissions” or “international requirements.” The universities generally stand by their requirements, so it is generally considered unwise to apply to a university that asks for qualifications that you don’t meet. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance, so if you want to apply, by all means, nobody is stopping you.