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Applying to Oxford or Cambridge as an American High School Student

Oxford and Cambridge offer very unique experiences that can be appealing to American students looking for international exposure during college. The universities are academically rigorous and will have professors who are academics at the top of their fields. Oxford and Cambridge are repeatedly ranked among the top research universities in the world, which would give students exposure to innovative ideas in their field.

Oxford and Cambridge have two distinguishing features from other universities: the College System and the Tutorial System.

College System

As a student, you will have the opportunity to be a part of several different communities. These include the broader university, your academic department, and your college. Oxford has 32 different undergraduate colleges while Cambridge has 29 colleges accepting undergraduate students.

Each college functions as an independent entity. The college provides both a residential and academic community that includes housing, a library, a dining hall, social life and entertainment (Junior Common Room and Middle Common Room), weekly tutorials as well as sports and friendly competition between the colleges.

Note that when applying to Oxford or Cambridge, you are required to select a college as part of your application or if not, you can select an open application that would be reviewed by the different colleges until a place is found for you. At Oriel Admissions, we advise against submitting an open application and given our personal expertise around the college system at both Oxford and Cambridge, we would work with you to determine which college to apply to.

Another important consideration is that not all colleges will offer your course (major) and it is necessary to review this information for Oxford and Cambridge before submitting an application.

Tutorial System

While learning at Oxford and Cambridge, a student would take traditional lectures and seminars; however, there is an additional method of studying, which is completed through tutorials. The tutorials are weekly meetings between 2 or 3 students and a tutor. The tutor is essentially a professor who is also a member of your college and who will have discussions with you about your academic interests. Through these tutorials, you will gain confidence in how to communicate your academic ideas and your tutor will provide guidance on exploring your interests.

Key Information about Applying:

  • Applications are made though the UCAS system (which serves all universities throughout the UK)

  • The application opens in May of each year.

  • The application deadline is on October 15th of each year at 6pm UK time unless the 15th falls on a weekend.

  • You can only apply to one university: either Oxford or Cambridge.

  • You can only apply to one course (major).

  • You need to take an exam related to your area of interest for most majors, which are offered through independent test centers in multiple locations in the US.

  • You would need to complete an interview, which is typically held in December of each year.

Steps for Applying to Oxford and Cambridge

Admissions Considerations

The UK admissions system is geared towards assessing academic rigor and is less of a holistic admissions process than what you find in the US. Oxford and Cambridge require either an ACT or SAT score as well a grade of 5 in at least 3 AP exams. Students will also need to show maturity in knowing what they want to study and an intellectual curiosity in their subject of interest that goes above and beyond their peers.

More information can be found here for Oxford and here for Cambridge.

Rona Aydin is a graduate of the University of Oxford, Said Business School and a member of Oriel College, Oxford. Rona has an expert understanding of the University of Oxford, following her time there as a student, and the University of Cambridge, having spent time living in Cambridge as a spouse to a Cambridge student.

Rona has successfully assisted American students in their applications to Oxford and Cambridge and knows the ins and outs of the application process, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She would be able to guide you as you prepare your application to one of these universities.

For more information, you can contact Rona at or at (732) 887-5893.

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