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Article contributed by: Dr Jon Tabbert, US university admissions educational consultant 

While it is difficult to generalise about the decision making process used by British and American universities – universities, regardless of location, give priority and weight to different factors- it is fair comment to say that there are significant differences between the two systems. At the end of the day, of course, both systems are trying to admit students who will be able to thrive and prosper in their particular educational setting. The American system, however, takes a broader, more holistic approach to the admission process.

US Admissions Officers often talk about “The Match”.  By this they mean that, while not seeking to accept “identi-kit” applicants or clones, they are seeking to accept students who will be able to take full advantage of the educational experience on offer and who will be in a position to make a contribution back to the institution. To accomplish this, American universities, again, endeavour to look at the “whole person”, not simply the “academic person”.  Though universities are, of course, clearly about academics, “learning” can be experienced in many areas, not just sitting in a classroom.

To obtain a sense of the “Whole Person” American universities will generally look at, review and factor-in the following items:

1.  School Grades/ Examination Results.

The starting point for any American university is “How have you done at school?” To ensure that a student is in a position to “make the match”, US universities want to know how well a student has performed in his/her own educational system over a significant period of time. US universities, thus, start the review process by examining GCSE results, if a student is in the British school system. These become the bedrock upon which an application will be based. Moving on, however, the universities will then look at the next, more advanced, stage: AS results, A Level predictions, IB predictions or Pre-U predictions. If, of course, the student is in the American secondary school system, they will then look at the Grade Point Average (GPA).

2.  Pre-entry Tests

To obtain a neutral piece of information about a student – given that grade inflation is not unheard of, certainly in the United States –  universities, in the main, require the results from a pre-entry test – either the SAT or the ACT. Though not really intended for international students, American universities nonetheless ask to see the results of these exams from all applicants. (There are, of course, some universities that will waive this requirement for international applicants. Generally speaking, however, the more selective a university is, the less likely it is to waive the SAT or ACT as the institution is trying to gather as much information about an applicant as possible.)

3.  References 

To learn more about an applicant – as a student, as an athlete, as an actor, as an artist, as a musician, as a boarder and so forth – universities will ask people at school to write references in support of an application. Unlike the British universities/UCAS application, which has one letter of reference, US universities will ask for up to three letters/documents of support. 

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4.  Extra-curricular activities

 Though seemingly the most unimportant and frivolous of these factors, American universities are interested in the extra-curricular/co-curricular/out-of school activities that a student engages in. Part of this, of course, is down to the belief that “extra-curricular type activities” are good and healthy for a student: running up and down the pitch, playing in the school orchestra, being on the debate team. However, what many universities are interested in is the interface/the link between academics and extra-curricular activities. It is the relationship between (a) playing football, having the lead role in the school play, or taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, and (b) getting great school grades, that universities are interested in – as it reveals important things about the student, such as time management skills. 

5.  Essays

  As interviews are not – (in the main), an admissions requirement, universities will set’application for admission’ essay questions to learn more about an applicant: how they think, what is important to them, and what has helped to shape their life. Unlike the British/UCAS Personal Statement – which is essentially “Why do you want to study, What you want to study and How have you prepared to study it?” – the US university essay questions are, again, an attempt to learn more about you as a person. They may or may not be about academic matters, but could be about a particular life experience, a person who has had an influence on you or your passion for a certain extra-curricular activity. In addition, of course, the essays give the institutions the opportunity to see exactly how well you handle the English language.  

The Gatekeeper – While American universities will review all facets of an applicant’s background, some universities – due to the sheer volume of applications – will use a pre-screening mechanism to weed out applications that are clearly going to be unsuccessful. Traditionally, universities use a combination of school grades/ exam results and the SAT/ACT as a “gatekeeper” mechanism.  If, in the eyes of the university, the school grade profile and SAT/ACT profile match up with the normal expectation levels of the institution, the gatekeeper lowers the drawbridge and the applicant moves forward; at that point the other factors kick in. If, however, the profiles are not an appropriate match for the university, the drawbridge is raised and the application basically comes to a halt. Having said this, most universities do accept the fact that these pre-entry tests were never intended for the international student and they will, therefore, factor this in when evaluating the results submitted by international students. 

The key to obtaining a place at an American university of one’s choosing is to ensure that your profile matches up with the profile of the particular university. Though there is never a guarantee that a “perfect match” will result in the offer of a place – some universities are just too heavily over-subscribed- it will ensure that you will be viewed as a viable candidate and certainly in with a shout.  

Dr Tabbert runs Jon Tabbert Associates, a US admissions consultancy which is part of Dukes Education, alongside Oxbridge Applications. For more information on Dr Tabbert and his US admissions services, visit the Jon Tabbert Associates website.

European Examinations: Grade Requirements

Country Examination Oxford Grade Requirements Cambridge Grade Requirements
Europe International Baccalaureate 38–40 points, including core points, with 7s and 6s in the higher level subjects. 40-42 points out of 45, with 776 in Higher Level subjects. For subject requirements, Standard Grades are broadly comparable to AS levels, and Higher Level subjects to A Levels.
Europe European Baccalaureate An average of 85% or above, with scores of between 8 and 9 in specified subjects. 85-90% overall, with 90% in the subjects most closely related to the subject applicants wish to study.
France French Baccalaureate French Baccalauréat or Option Internationale du Baccalauréat with an average score of at least 16. 16 or 17 (‘mention trés bien’) out of 20, with 16 or 17 usually required in specific subjects
Germany Abitur Abitur with a total mark between 1.0 and 1.5 with scores of between 14 and 15 in individual subjects. Typical offers vary from an overall score of 1.0 to 1.3 (1.0 being the top score). Scores of 14 to 15 (15 being the top mark) are usually requested in specific subjects.
Greece Apolytirion of Lykeio Apolytirion with an average of 19 / 20 points and normally 2 or more A-levels at grade A. Typical offers would be based on an overall average score of 19 and scores of 19 in individual subjects
Ireland Irish Leaving Certificate For courses with an A-level entrance requirement of AAA: H2H2H2H2H2H2 at Higher level.
For courses with an A-level entrance requirement of A*AA: H1H1H2H2H2H2 at Higher level.
For courses with an A-level entrance requirement of A*A*A: H1H1H1H1H2H2 at Higher level.
Leaving Certificate would be based on H1H1H1H2H2H2 for courses with an A*AA A Level entrance requirement and H1H1H1H1H2H2 for courses with an A*A*A A Level entrance requirement.
Scotland Highers and Advanced Highers AAAAB or AAAAA in Scottish Highers, supplemented by two or more Advanced Highers. Offers made to candidates on the basis of the Advanced Higher subjects are likely to be set at AA for two subjects, and AAB for three subjects.

AAA Usually required at Advanced Higher grade.

For subject requirements, Highers are broadly comparable to AS levels, and Advanced Highers to A Levels.

Wales Welsh Baccalaureate Advanced Diploma with A*A*A* to AAA at A-level. Offers are conditional on 3 A Levels studied within the qualification, rather than the overall Baccalaureate award. Students taking any modular A Levels are required to provide details of these and their UMS in their SAQ
Other countries and qualifications   Further information can be found here. Further information can be found here.


Rest of the world: grade requirements

Country Examination Oxford Grade Requirements Cambridge Grade Requirements
China Senior High School Diploma, University Entrance Examination (Gaokao) Senior High School Diploma, Chinese University Entrance Examination or ‘GaoKao’ would not be sufficient for candidates to make a competitive application. Senior High School Diploma is not sufficient, for ‘Gaokao’ offers are made on an individual basis but applicants generally need to achieve results within the top 1% – 2% of the gathered field. Contact individual colleges for advice.
India CBSE or ISC Class XII examinations Year XII qualification, studied with either the CBSE or ISC examination boards, with an achievement of 90% in each of the five subjects studied. Science subjects may also require that candidates take the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance examinations as a pre-condition for entry. Applicants from India must normally either be potential affiliated students (i.e. applying to study for a second Bachelors degree) or studying for the International Baccalaureate or A Levels. Applications from students taking CBSE or ISC Class XII examinations will be considered but only for the following courses: Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Mathematics, Natural Sciences. To be shortlisted for interview such applicants will need to have achieved a minimum CGPA of 9.8 and grade A1 in their Class X examinations in the relevant subjects. Any offers of admission made to such students will be conditional on performance in the IIT-JEE or, in the case of Economics or Mathematics, on performance in STEP Mathematics.
Hong Kong Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education HKDSE with grade 5s in three elective subjects. (The exception is for candidates taking Mathematics, who would need a 5* in the compulsory Mathematics course and then a 5 in the Mathematics extended paper). 5*, 5* and 5 in three specified elective subjects, related to their chosen course at Cambridge. Demanding conditions may set in core subjects of the Diploma, particularly Mathematics and English.
Hong Kong Associate degrees from Hong Kong 3.8 or better Not specified.
Hong Kong Hong Kong Advanced Level Certificate AAA Not specified.
Rest of the world Cambridge Pre-U Diploma Conditional offers are likely to vary between D2, D2, D3 and D3, D3, D3 depending on the subject. D2 is considered to be equivalent to an A* grade at A-level and D3 to an A grade. Conditional offers likely to require Distinction level grades (D2 and D3).
Other countries and qualifications   Further information can be found here. Further information can be found here.

Concept of freeze timeKeeping on top of the various deadlines and decisions when applying to Oxford and Cambridge can be a difficult task to manage. To help you, we’ve compiled all of the important dates to be aware of in this application timeline.

Take a look at our other Resources for more information on COPA deadlines, and read our International Handbook to get a comprehensive  view of the application process.



9th – Applications for Cambridge’s Sutton Trust Summer School open

15th – UCAS deadline for all non-Oxbridge courses

15th – ELAT and TSA results released

22nd and 29th – Cambridge Shadowing Scheme

31st – Applications for Oxford’s UNIQ summer school open




Mid-February – LNAT results released

15th – Deadline for choral scholarships

18th-20th/25th-27th – Cambridge Shadowing Scheme

28th – Deadline for organ scholarships




8th – Deadline for applications to Cambridge’s Sutton Trust Summer Schools

16th – Cambridge AMES and MML open days

18th – Oxford Classics open day

20th – Peterhouse Cambridge essay competition deadline 




1st – Visa information to be submitted to Oxford and Cambridge 

23rd – Cambridge Theology and Religious Studies Open Day

28th – Oxford Organ and Choral Scholarship Open Day

29th – Cambridge Mathematics Open Day




2nd – UKCAT registration opens

5th – Cambridge Choral Award Open Day

6th – UCAS deadline for insurance/firm offers if all offers received

11th – Deadline for STEP entries




12th – STEP paper I

18th – STEP paper 2

21st – STEP paper 3




1st – Cambridge Law open day

1st – UKCAT testing begins

2nd – Oxford Open Day, Cambridge Open Day

6th – Cambridge Open Day

1st/8th/15th/22nd/29th – UNIQ Summer School

23rd-28th – Cambridge Sutton Summer Trust school




1st – Deadline for sending IELTS certificates to Oxbridge

6th-11th – Cambridge Sutton Trust summer school

13th-18th – Cambridge Sutton Trust summer school

16th – STEP results day

17th – A Level results day

23rd – GCSE results day




1st – registration to take the LNAT opens

14th – Oxford Open Day

20th – COPA submission deadline to be interviewed in China, Malaysia, or Singapore

19th – UKCAT registration closes

20th – Submission deadline for your UCAS application if you are being interviewed in China, Malaysia, or Singapore




15th – UCAS deadline for Oxbridge applications

15th – COPA deadline if you are being interviewed in Hong Kong, Australia, or Canada

20th – Deadline for taking the LNAT

21st – Deadline for taking Cambridge’s Supplementary Application Questionnaire




9th – Oxford deadline for submitting written work

Late November – Oxbridge interviews begin




Early December – Oxbridge interviews continue


Interviewing abroad…


Cambridge travels every year to Canada, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. You can opt to be interviewed there if it’s more convenient and must specify as such on your COPA. Be aware you must submit both your UCAS and COPA forms by an earlier deadline though than if you travel to Cambridge to be interviewed. 

Cambridge University deadlines for overseas students

If you are living or studying in a country outside of the EU (including Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, regardless of your nationality or your fee paying status) or if you wish to be interviewed away from Cambridge you have to complete and submit the Cambridge Online Preliminary Application form (COPA).

To be interviewed in China, Malaysia or Singapore

  • Dates for when the COPA must be received by the University of Cambridge have not yet been announced for 2018.
  • Dates for when your UCAS application must be received by the University of Cambridge have not yet been announced for 2018.

To be interviewed in Hong Kong, Australia, Canada or at Cambridge University


  • Dates for when the COPA must be received by the University of Cambridge have not yet been announced for 2018.
  • Dates for when your UCAS application must be received by the University of Cambridge have not yet been announced for 2018.

For limitations on Hong Kong and Canadian interviews outside the UK click here.

Interviews in Australia are only available to applicants who are resident or currently at school in Australia, NZ or a Pacific Island.



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If you’re looking for resources and advice before making your application to Oxford or Cambridge, then you’ve come to the right place! We have been industry-leading experts in applying to Oxbridge since 1999, amassing quite a catalogue of info, tips, and tricks to help you get into the best position possible to get that elusive Oxbridge offer you’ve been dreaming of.

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Both Oxford and Cambridge have fearsome reputations. Deciding whether and how to encourage a student to apply can be a difficult decision. The Oxbridge system can appear opaque to many, and it is essential to appreciate what the system provides in order to understand how to support your students.

The teaching system

Traditional Chesterfield armchair

The world-famous one-to-one teaching systems – supervisions at Cambridge and tutorials at Oxford – are perhaps the most significant elements in explaining why alumni go on to become leaders in their fields, often on an international stage. The teaching system and academic environment promotes independent scholarship and the opportunities for students to develop self-motivation and intellectual curiosity are enormous.

All students are taught through tutorials at Oxford or supervisions at Cambridge. These are formed of a tutor, whether a senior fellow or a junior researcher, and anything from one to three students. Some papers may make use of supplementary seminars, which resemble A level classes more closely, and usually all courses have accompanying lectures. Generally, each student takes a paper or two over the course of a term. A typical humanities student would be expected to produce between six to sixteen circa 3000 word essays in each eight week term; whereas a science student would have problem sheets for each tutorial alongside sessions in “labs” for which they must produce “lab reports”. Tutorials or supervisions are focused on the work each student has produced: a humanities student may be expected to email their essay a day in advance then be prepared to discuss their arguments in depth with their tutor.

Although this may sound somewhat gruelling, the tutorial system offers a rewarding and personal teaching medium. Even the most shy academics are nurtured into communicating effectively, and the most headstrong are challenged to deconstruct their arguments. Furthermore, the abilities of students to balance extra-curricular activities with academic life develops individuals with strong time-management skills alongside outstanding sporting, dramatic or musical talent.

The competition, though gruelling, is a mark to any employer that the candidate is outstanding. Oxbridge not only denotes intelligence, but also crucially, drive, perseverance, stamina and the ability to thrive under pressure.

The teaching staff

vecchio libro con stilografica

The prestige of Oxbridge attracts many of the greatest thinkers in the world as tutors for the university, allowing passionate young students to speak face-to-face on a weekly basis, about a subject they love, with the best academics worldwide.

The flexibility of many Oxbridge courses allows students to choose from often dozens of different papers, all designed and run by a leading scholar on that topic. The collegiate system does not confine people to their college: although broad papers will frequently be taught in college, more specific papers may well be taught in another college. As such, there is no need for a student to make their college choice on the basis of a single tutor, and they may even find that the tutor is on research leave when they arrive!


Man wearing a suit is unsure

The competition, though gruelling, is a mark to any employer that the candidate is outstanding. Oxbridge not only denotes intelligence, but also crucially, drive, perseverance, stamina and the ability to thrive under pressure. Where most universities require around two essays to be completed per term, at Oxbridge, two essays are expected as standard per week. 

Scientists work in some of the most famous and best resourced laboratories in the country, and often under internationally famed tutors. Many courses use the combined undergraduate and master’s course structure that allows students the security to stay on and focus on a single topic, helping them to enter the job market ahead of other candidates.

The difficult admissions process actually treats a student as an individual better than any other more simple system – working to ensure that each student can represent their unique mind in an interactive conversation

The application system

Chapel tower of Merton College, OxfordThe difficult admissions process actually treats a student as an individual better than any other more simple system – working to ensure that each student can represent their unique mind in an interactive conversation, rather than in 4000 characters on a UCAS screen. As the teaching system revolves around tutorials, the interview system offers more than any other universities can, as it essentially constitutes a taster of the university experience.

Of course, there are many steps before the interview. The most demanding of these is the admissions test, which is as much a filter for the candidates with the requisite academic potential as it is a chance for the best students to achieve an outstanding score. If admissions tutors are forced to decide between two similar candidates, often their test score is a factor in making that all-important decision: the test is far more than a simple hurdle to clear.


This incredible resource will guide you through every stage of your application from choosing your course and college to English language requirements and the IELTS? Here you will find information on everything from Student Visas to Veterinary Medicine… check it out – it should be by your bed at night!

Download this handbook and read through carefully to ensure you don’t miss a trick.

Applying to Oxbridge as an international student can be very challenging. Consistently ranked amongst the world’s top 5 universities with degrees recognised worldwide, and having one of the highest graduate employment rates, Oxford and Cambridge are two of the best places to study, with high academic standards expected. Therefore the application process is correspondingly long, with many deadlines to meet.

We’ve put together this helpful handbook to guide you through the process, so you know what is expected of you and when.


Full Support Through Every Stage Of The Process…


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