Applying internationally in a pandemic

Nina Simon , Page Editor

It’s a move often taken in films, the main character flying the American nest and becoming an ex-patriot. American universities are irrefutably more expensive than most other universities in the world, and they lay claim to less history and culture than their European counterparts. Having traveled to

Graphic credit: Alice Scott

Europe extensively, I’ve known since I was young that I could see myself going to a university that’s across the world.

So this was finally the year I had to make it happen. And what a year to do it. Although travel bans and other measures to counteract the COVID-19 pandemic have complicated an already complicated process, I started my applications to British universities in June. The admissions system for British schools is focused on academics and in-depth knowledge of one particular subject. When applying for admission, one must choose a course to follow for the duration of their University studies. It’s rare to change, and in order for one’s application to be successful, one must illustrate a genuine interest, knowledge, and commitment to their subject.

For me, that course was Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, a degree established long ago at The University of Oxford. This degree is exceedingly popular throughout the world and creates a very competitive applicant pool at British universities. But for others, it could be anything from Ancient Scottish History to Molecular Biology- it entirely depends, for Americans, on what IB or AP exams they took and how they performed.

British schools can actually admit or deny applicants based on their predicted grades- scores on exams that they haven’t yet taken and won’t take for many months after they submit their applications. This was one particular aspect of this process which caused me intense anxiety. How could I say what I am going to get on my AP Stats exam in May? I’ve only been in the class for a few weeks!

Nevertheless, I communicated with my referee (the teacher who wrote my recommendation letters) and decided to hope for the best, giving my best bets of how I’ll do. Even the recommendation letter is different when applying for admission to British schools. They only want to know about your academic aptitude and capabilities, they don’t value extracurriculars or personal qualities unless they are directly related to your chosen course of study.

The application format of schools in Great Britain is somewhat similar to that which we have in the United States. They have a system called UCAS, which is comparable to The Common Application. There, you apply to each course and input information about yourself. You submit only one essay, your personal statement, which must be about your course of study. On the UCAS application, you can choose to apply to up to five universities. Only five, not one more. This was a bit of a shock when I first learned it, especially given I’m applying to over 15 colleges and universities in the United States alone. That said, I painstakingly chose my five, and submitted my applications on Oct. 15.

I began receiving my decisions just two weeks later and will continue to do so into the winter. My experience applying to schools in England and Scotland has been extremely educational and interesting, and I encourage any student with a love for alternate cultures to apply. After all, once on the European continent, it is very simple and low-cost to travel all throughout it.