The Biggest Difference Between Applying To College In The US Vs. The UK

Elite schools around the world are more selective than ever before. The University of Pennsylvania accepted 47 percent of applicants in 1991, compared to only 12.3 percent of applicants in 2012. Harvard University made news this year with a record low acceptance rate of 5.9 percent for the class of 2016.

With such slim chances, what are the keys to getting in?

To get some perspective on the admissions process, we spoke with experts from the US, UK and Asia. Together they revealed one key difference between applying to school in the US vs. anywhere else.

Bev Taylor, founder of the New York-based college consulting firm Ivy Coach told us that in order to gain admission to the most selective colleges in the US, “students need to have standardized test scores that are at least comparable to the college’s mean scores, as well as exceptional grades in the most rigorous courses. But to differentiate themselves from the tens of thousands of other candidates applying to the same college, they have to have a real hook — a singular, unique talent or expertise. They have to be able to ’tell their story’ and articulate who they are in powerful college essays.”

That’s not so in the rest of the world.

Dr. Lewis Owens, founder and managing director of EdmissionUK, an international higher education and cultural consultancy, says that “UK universities have a strict quota on the number of students they can take, particularly from outside the European Union, so they can, and must, be extremely selective about who they accept.” Applications, he says, “have to be focused very much on the academic motivation and interest in the subject for which the student is applying. The priority for admissions tutors is first and foremost the student’s academic ability and potential. Extracurricular activities, while they may show admirable qualities such as teamwork and leadership, play little role in the overall assessment of the application.”

Duc Luu, CEO of The Edge Learning Center in Hong Kong, agrees: “Students must demonstrate clearly why they want to study a particular course. Their personal statements must show academic achievement and motivations, evidence of leadership skills, and articulate situations where the students has overcome difficulties to achieve their goals. Every mention of extracurricular activities should have relevance to their intended field of study.”

“In these respects,” Luu says, “UK university applications mirror U.S. graduate school applications.”    


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