Applying U.S. or U.K. University

It’s Fall and I am reminiscing about the times when choosing our pumpkins for carving was the biggest challenge of October.  Put out the newspaper on the floor and let the kids get messy doing their carving, pumpkin goo everywhere.  With a 12th Grader, Fall has a different meaning now: deadlines!  College application deadlines.  Many kids in international schools will be considering applying to both Universities in the U.K. and the U.S. right now.  Here is my short list of differences in the U.S./ U.K. systems just in case it’s helpful:


It is much more expensive to study in the U.S. than in the U.K.  There is a wide range but if you start looking at tuition costs at specific Universities, you will get a good idea.


Many U.K. programs offer a Bachelor’s Degree in 3 years as opposed to the typical 4 years in the U.S.


In the U.S., they care about SAT’s and subject SAT’s, and GPA from grades 9, 10, 11, first semester grade 12.  For the IB, they don’t give specific scores required to attend a University, but I have found many give college credit for Higher Level IB courses which have earned a 5, 6, or 7. 

The U.K. is only interested in your predicted IB score (or other national exams).  Based on this, a student gets a conditional offer and providing they meet the IB score ( exam score) after final exams, they get in.  They are rejected if they don’t meet the score.

 Common App/UCAS:  The Common Application is what all students must fill out for U.S. University entrance and UCAS for the U.K.  While U.S. Universities may require many more items (special essays, portfolios) than just the Common App essay, the U.K. is a streamlined system where one essay fits all.  No extras required.  The essence of the UCAS essay is different than the Common App, UCAS being directed at a specific major.

 Early Decision:  In the U.S. but not the U.K., many Universities offer something called Early Decision where you apply by November 1 and find out acceptance mid-December, acceptance being binding. In the normal application process, you apply in January and find out in late Spring if accepted.

 Timing: In the Regular Decision process, students are more likely to know if they are admitted into a U.S. University before a U.K. one.  U.S. offers are typically not conditional, if you’re in, you’re in providing you don’t totally mess up your senior year.  With the U.K. conditional offers, a student has to await their IB results in July to know if they met their score requirement on their conditional offer. 

 Extracurriculars: U.S. Universities want to see a long list of meaningful extracurriculars on the Common App while the U.K. offers just the opportunity to mention them in the UCAS essay.  Academics over extracurriculars in the U.K.

 Sports: In the U.S., stand-out high school athletes will get offers of sports scholarships to attend a certain University.  Example: An elite University may offer a “full ride” to an excellent swimmer or hockey player, meaning they cover their tuition costs for 4 years.  Considering tuition costs about $45,000 -$60,000 a year, that’s huge. Sports over SATs. 

 Flexibility: When you apply to the U.K., they want you to already declare your proposed major, whereas in the U.S., you don’t have to declare your major right away. Normally, you have a year or two before you have to decide your major.

 Clearly there are many other countries offering high quality English speaking University programs as well, one just has to start looking around.  My experience has been with these two systems. Wishing you happy deadline time and Good Luck to everyone applying this year!