Understanding the Different Application Systems
In order to apply to university in the UK or US, students will need to submit applications along with their secondary school transcripts and teacher recommendations. In some instances, students will need to also take standardised tests to go along with their applications.
To apply to the UK, a student need only submit a single UCAS application. Depending on the subject that the student is applying for, s/he may need to take a standardised test like the BMAT, LNAT or TSA.
To apply to the US, a student must submit an application for each university and (in virtually all instances) either an SAT or an ACT score. Hundreds of US universities accept the Common Application, but dozens of them do not (in particular, large state universities like the Universities of California). And even among schools that accept the Common Application, each individual university has its own unique set of questions for prospective students.
Below are a few of the key differences between applying to university in the US and in the UK.
To apply to the UK, a student has to write a single essay for his/her UCAS application. This essay is a formal, structured essay, in which students need to talk about their academic accomplishments and personal reasons for specialising in a particular subject. Much of this essay resembles the highlights of the student’s CV in prose form.
Applying to the US requires students to write a variety of different essays, many pushing students to come up with creative and unconventional answers. While students applying to only Common App schools can use their major essay for each of these schools, students will also be asked to write unique supplemental essays for each university. Some universities do not have supplemental essay questions, but most of them do and students applying to top tier schools will write several additional responses (between 50-500 words each) for each school.
In the UK system, once a student has passed the first round of the application process, interviews are mandatory. Interviews are conducted in the UK and also remotely via Skype. The interview is of utmost importance in the UK application process, as it determines if a student will receive an offer (usually conditional) from that university.
However in the US system, interviews are rarely mandatory and often they are not even offered. For top tier schools, it is good to have an interview, because it helps the student learn more about the school. But the interview has very little impact on a university’s decision to admit or reject, as less than 5% of student offers are determined by the interview.
In the UK, a student applying for Medicine will need to take the BMAT or UKCAT and a student applying for Law needs to take the LNAT. Some schools are now requiring students to take the TSA, so students should research if their desired universities require them to take this test.
In the US, students must take the SAT or ACT to apply to the majority of US universities. Students applying to top tier schools may also need to take two or three SAT II Subject Tests. Students should research their desired universities to see what requirements those particular schools have regarding SAT II Subject Tests.
Overall, students just need to be aware of how time-consuming the application processes are and they should not wait to the last minute to start applications. Because of the variety of essays required for students applying to the US, it is strongly recommended that students identify target universities and begin applications in the summer before the year they graduate.