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UK vs US: What University Admissions Officers are Looking for

The experience of living and studying overseas is a truly formative experience—you learn to be independent, to navigate different cultures, and to explore an environment different from the one you grew up in. With the US and UK being home to many of the world’s top universities, it’s no surprise that hundreds of thousands of students flock to these two destinations every year.


If you’re deciding between the two countries or are looking to apply to both, there are some fundamental differences that you should be aware of.

Navigating the Different Application Systems

One important thing to note about the application process is that in the UK you can only apply to a maximum of five schools, whereas in the US, you can apply to an unlimited number of schools. However, keep in mind that with each school you apply to in the US, you’ll have to complete supplemental essays and pay individual application fees. 


More than 900 schools use the Common Application, which streamlines the application by allowing students to apply to multiple colleges at once. The Common App allows you to upload standardized test scores and recommendation letters and also includes essay and supplemental questions from different schools so that you don’t need to use other platforms. The Common Application is accepted by over 900 schools, including some outside of the US. The new edition of the Common Application opens every year on August 1st, so if you haven’t already created your account, you should do so as soon as you can. 


Another application platform that many schools are beginning to adopt is the Coalition Application. This platform was designed to cater to lower-resourced applicants and only accepts colleges that provide adequate financial support to those who need it. Another popular application platform is the University of California Application, which is the application used to apply to all nine UC campuses. If you’re thinking of applying to UC Berkeley or UCLA, this will be the platform you will be using to submit your application.


In contrast to the US system, all university applications in the UK are made through UCAS. It is similar to the Common Application but allows you to submit all of your applications in one go, making it a much quicker and less stressful process in the US. Additionally, you are only required to submit one personal statement that relates to the course you are applying for, whereas in the US, essays are particular to the school. 


The personal statement you submit through UCAS will be drastically different from the Common App essay. The primary purpose is to prove that you would thrive in your intended subject, rather than to understand on a deeper level your values and what has influenced you to be the person that you are. This application process reflects the culture of admissions at each destination—in the US, admissions officers are evaluating you holistically. They want to understand what you contribute to the wider campus community, not just how well you perform in your classes. 


Understanding what admissions officers are looking for is crucial in crafting the best application for different admissions cultures. With Gateway+, you’ll be able to enroll in both our US and UK admissions pathways, where you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what admissions officers are looking for as well as how to tackle the different components of the application. Deciding on where to spend the formative years of your life is not an easy decision by any means, but with time, research, and the right information, you can find a programme that will best serve your needs.


Stay tuned for another article where we’ll dive a little bit deeper into standardised tests, specifically English proficiency tests, for your application as an international student.

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