This week, Mark London, Marketing Manager at ACS International Schools provides insights from the school’s survey of admissions officers in the UK and the USA.


University in the UK or USA – mind the gap

“Students considering applying to university in the United States of America need to be aware from the start of the application process, university admissions officers from the States look for completely different qualities in their ideal candidates, compared to British university admissions officers.

At ACS International School we aim to fill the gap in people’s knowledge about what it’s really like studying for a degree in the US. For the past seven years we have surveyed university admissions officers on both sides of the Atlantic on the qualities and qualifications that they look for in applicants, which has consistently shown that American admissions officers look for a very different set of attributes in their students than their British counterparts, reflecting the much broader approach to study and campus life in the States.

In the States, university life is a ‘wrap around experience’ with an expectation of a much greater contribution from the student to college life. In the UK, there is a much more immediate and driven focus on career and subject specialisation. This difference is clearly reflected in the qualities admissions officers look for during the application process.  A reasonable grasp of maths, for example, is twice as important in the States, as is experience of responsibility or leadership, shown in the chart below.

Top Ten attributes University admission officers look for in addition to academic qualifications and grades: UK cf. USA

Source: ACS International Schools Admissions Officers Research 2013

Brought up on American TV shows, and feeling secure in the knowledge that for the majority of UK students, they will not need to learn a new language when they move to the USA, it is easy for students to think they understand the university scene in the States. Whilst both USA and UK university admissions officers rate ‘good written English’ as the most important attribute they look for, the wide gulf in the importance they place on other skills is something students should be aware of.

In the past it’s been roughly an 80:20 split amongst our high school graduates choosing university between the UK and the US.  This year we have an unprecedented 40:60 split. Now that costs have risen in the UK, there might be a sense of better value for money from the US as the American university experience tends to be much more immersive and all encompassing, but it is important for schools to adequately prepare students for a different university experience, academically and culturally.

As an international school for example, ACS offers students the International Baccalaureate (IB), as well as an American programme, including High School Diploma and Advanced Placement courses. We also have a full calendar of presentations by USA universities to High School students throughout the year, giving those unable to travel to the USA for open days an opportunity to meet and question admissions staff and current students before they apply.

With all applications, it is important for students to tailor them to individual universities, but with more and more students looking to study overseas, being aware of what different countries look for is vital.”

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