Which US/UK University?

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superdelta
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Which US/UK University?

Postby superdelta » Sun Mar 15, 2009 3:11 pm UTC

Hi guys, I'm a Singaporean student currently at the end of high school (in the American context, I believe) and the next stage of my life (after mandatory National Service in the country) is university. I've read a couple of posts on the fora and I decided to find you guys for advice (:

The National University of Singapore is good, but I had always wanted to venture out for the experience. Furthermore, overseas universities generally offer better education than local ones.

My destinations are the United States and United Kingdom, and I've set my sights on these few:

US: MIT (!), Stanford, CalTech, UCBerkeley, Cornell. I don't mind not being in the Ivy League, but feedback on Ivies like Brown and UPenn will help.

Across the Atlantic: Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial. Again, I need recommendations and advice since I'm pretty lost.

FYI, I'm a good science student, scoring As in my subjects (A Level curriculum here), and I'm currently taking advanced Modern Physics as well as a Linear Algebra module at National University of Singapore. I'm basically a science guy, but I have targets on majoring in Computer Science/Engineering, maybe dabble in some Physics or Math.

And I know it's really really expensive, so I'm thinking of a scholarship to pay for my tuition.

So any recommendations, e.g. do or don'ts, or maybe some info on the culture at these universities? I'm have a hard time deciding, and although applications are at the end of the year, it's always good to start early.

I appreciate any help, and I think this can also be very useful to other students as well (: Thanks xkcd forums!

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Dobblesworth » Sun Mar 15, 2009 3:49 pm UTC

Some info on Oxbridge from a current Cambridge Engineering undergraduate:

- Go for it. If you feel up to the challenge of Oxbridge, I recommend you apply. The interview process may be daunting, but they don't do it to catch you out with snide tricks, they just endeavour to get the most out of you and see what they can teach you in the 3-4 year course. If teachers and staff say you're good enough, and you're getting A's in the Maths & Physics, Oxbridge is worth a shot. If you're not doing the A-Level in Further Mathematics, tacking on extra modules or the STEP papers are worthwhile.
- Don't be dismayed if you do apply and don't get in. Many people I knew who were able candidates on the same level as me in terms of grades and commitment, didn't get in. Interviews & getting the offer is heavily luck-based, and it's something like 4-10 applicants per place.
- Durham/Imperial, in terms of sciences and just the level of learning in general, are fairly comparable to Oxbridge, and still worth doing as a first choice.
- I wouldn't entirely recommend Imperial, living in London is expensive as hell
- Can't give any info on overseas loan support, but most credible uni's are generally inclusive enough to make it affordable for foreigners from another system.
- Oxbridge applicants, at least in the UK, have to send off their forms at the start of October, whereas in other universities the definitive deadline is around January or later when they'll start giving out offers.
- Universities have something for everyone. Wide range of clubs/socities. You will meet plenty of others similar to you. I'm a fairly (UK) conservative reclusive nerd from private school, not-so-inclined towards clubbing, alcohol & all-night socialising, but there are plenty of like-minded people and I Am Having A Blast!
- Cambridge & Oxford is hard to choose between. Both rank about the same in all courses, both follow the same academic system. There are individual quirks between the two, like The Other Place doing exams in full formal academic gowns. Possibly more tourists in Cambridge. Oxford is possibly a case of 'major university within a city', while Cambridge is perhaps 'smaller claustrophobic traffic-congested cycle-ridden city tacked on to a (better) major university'

Hope this gives you some advice. Excuse any slight Cambridge bias :wink:

Good luck with applications, wherever you choose.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby superdelta » Mon Mar 16, 2009 4:32 am UTC

Hey thanks for the tip. I've checked out Cambridge on the Internet and discovered the Tripos and College system. Is there a possibility of something like a "double degree" in Cambridge? And out of curiosity, which College are you in?

And Engineering looks really rigorous..

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Dobblesworth » Mon Mar 16, 2009 5:40 pm UTC

Double degrees, or the major/minor system of the States, pretty much don't exist in the UK. You can do merged courses like 'Engineering Mathematics', but they exist as separate single entities to individually studying both, say, Quantum Physics and then English Literature. In Oxbridge, the only forms of such combi- courses would be Natural Sciences, where you go down the paths of Bio/Phys, Bio/Chem or Chem/Phys; Education Studies (i.e. Teaching) I think is taken with the specialist subject you want to teach; MML (medieval modern languages) is a choice of 2 out of about 20 languages. But yeh, you'll put your application down as you want to study just engineering, or just mathematics.

Engineering is a lot of work, all Oxbridge courses are, except maybe Land Economy, yet to figure out what they do specifically.

If you want to know my college, then my location identifier is a candid reference to it.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Mon Mar 16, 2009 6:26 pm UTC

Dobblesworth wrote:If you want to know my college, then my location identifier is a candid reference to it.


Gonville and Caius?

I was a Baliol (Oxford) student, but pulled out to move to Bangor. (My hobbys are my life, so being seperated from the mountains to study at the best chem dept in the UK, rather than the 5th best was silly for me.)
However, Just the application and interview process is a worthwhile endevour in learning, and the atmosphere is much much nicer than a "normal" university, It's probably good enough to warrant traveling halfway round the world for.
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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Delass » Mon Mar 16, 2009 6:32 pm UTC

This website should help, its much more informative than I can be: http://www.mitadmissions.org/topics/app ... quirements

All the colleges vary slightly, but most have about the same requirements.

I would recomend taking the SAT ASAP, so you can take it atleast twice. Most people do much better their second time. Also, many colleges will allow you to combine scores from different testing dates, to get your highest composite score.

It may be a good idea to take the two SAT subject tests on different dates, so you dont have to take them right after eachother. They are quite long.

Good luck!

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby superdelta » Tue Mar 17, 2009 11:36 am UTC

For anyone at Oxbridge, say I apply for erm Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and I don't get in. Am I tossed over to another college or I'm totally booted from Cambridge? :shock: The website wasn't very helpful.

And how do I choose a college, if I decide to go Oxbridge?

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Dobblesworth » Tue Mar 17, 2009 12:32 pm UTC

Oxbridge colleges operate on the 'pool' system.
Here's how it works...

- Interviews take place around early December, you spend a day, or more, at the college you chose being interviewed by college fellows in your course area
- All candidates are then thoroughly considered by the college, and the best applicants get the conditional offers to read X at college Y, sent out in January
- If you're not Oxbridge-material, you get rejected
- Very able candidates, but those who through the luck of the draw applied to college Y for course X along with a large group of marginally better applicants, get pooled.
- The pool is a large database of all these 'half-successful' candidates, that other colleges, who for course X may have less than they want, will pull names out of.
- College Z may then either a) ask you for another interview for course X, whereupon they'd give you the offer or send you back into the pool, or b) give you an offer straightaway.
- At an arbitrary time the university will declare all its spaces are filled and those left in the pool are officially rejected. That happened to several of the Oxbridge applicants in my year, they got pooled and eventually said "sorry, but no room at the inn"


Choosing a college is rather difficult, but there are plenty of factors...
a) location, whether you want to be in the city, a bit out-of-town, or 2 mins walk from lectures
b) age, maybe you want to study at one with a longer history
c) academia - on a relative scale, see Tompkins Table, some colleges perform better than others
d) size, both in terms of student population and size of the grounds
e) availability of certain societies/facilities in the college, such as good performing arts groups

I chose mine from a final shortlist of about 5, after reckoning in my heart that it felt best for me. You're free to put down 'Open Application' and you will be taken up first by a random college whose initial applicants for the course are low.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Adacore » Tue Mar 17, 2009 3:16 pm UTC

I applied for Queens (Cambridge) and was pooled and rejected for NatSci. The interviews for Oxbridge are a lot tougher than those for any of the other UK universities I applied to. That's a pretty good overview of the pool system, although it's worth noting that far more people get pooled than there are places for, in general, so if you get pooled then you don't have a great chance of getting a place at another college.

I'm an Imperial graduate (Chem Eng), the teaching and facilities there are second to none in science and engineering, but it's definitely not a cheap place to live. It's right in the centre of the most expensive area of one of the most expensive cities in the world. I do like being in London though - Imperial is not the best of London unis for the nightlife, being out of the west end (UCL, LSE and Kings are all right in the heart of the west end and near all the good student clubs/bars), but London public transport's great, so it's easy enough to get anywhere you want anyway.

There are considerably more overseas students at Imperial than at Oxbridge (~33% as compared to ~13%) and I know that the Singaporean Society (and Malaysian Society, for that matter) was very active and put on loads of events back when I was there. The flip side of this is that it does make things a touch cliquey - I don't know if it's true at other UK universities, but at Imperial there were groups of people from each nationality that really didn't mix much with the rest of the university at all, socially.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Tue Mar 17, 2009 3:49 pm UTC

Can people stop saying oxbridge, whilst they do have many similarities, Oxford and Cambridge are decidedly different,

For oxford, You're invited for an interview period at your chosen college that will last several days, the college will interview you, if you seem suitable they'll pass you to another collage to be interviewed, then the main collage and the ones that you were passed on to will decide if they want you. If no one wanted you, but you're still considered good enough for oxford you might be offered a place at a collage you weren't interviewed for. You only go to interviews once, and the process is residential at the college of your choosing for 3 or 4 days in the colleges christmas holiday period.
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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby tkb » Tue Mar 17, 2009 4:09 pm UTC

Dobblesworth wrote:Oxbridge colleges operate on the 'pool' system.
Here's how it works...

- Interviews take place around early December, you spend a day, or more, at the college you chose being interviewed by college fellows in your course area
- All candidates are then thoroughly considered by the college, and the best applicants get the conditional offers to read X at college Y, sent out in January
- If you're not Oxbridge-material, you get rejected
- Very able candidates, but those who through the luck of the draw applied to college Y for course X along with a large group of marginally better applicants, get pooled.
- The pool is a large database of all these 'half-successful' candidates, that other colleges, who for course X may have less than they want, will pull names out of.
- College Z may then either a) ask you for another interview for course X, whereupon they'd give you the offer or send you back into the pool, or b) give you an offer straightaway.
- At an arbitrary time the university will declare all its spaces are filled and those left in the pool are officially rejected. That happened to several of the Oxbridge applicants in my year, they got pooled and eventually said "sorry, but no room at the inn"


It's worth commenting that the "pool" seems to be more a Cambridge than an Oxford thing. At Oxford, interviews happen in December, but candidates typically stay for 2-3 days (normally at their first-choice/allocated college unless they've been reallocated) and can be called for interview at other colleges during that time; as Dobblesworth explains, Cambridge colleges might recall people in January instead.

(Some subjects apparently guarantee that you'll get an interview at another college. When I was applying for maths back in 1993, you could specify three colleges in order of preference in your application, and it was normal to be interviewed at your second choice - so, as well as my first interview at Univ, I had a pure and an applied interview at Somerville.)

http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergra ... index.html has more information

Dobblesworth wrote:Choosing a college is rather difficult, but there are plenty of factors...
a) location, whether you want to be in the city, a bit out-of-town, or 2 mins walk from lectures
b) age, maybe you want to study at one with a longer history
c) academia - on a relative scale, see Tompkins Table, some colleges perform better than others
d) size, both in terms of student population and size of the grounds
e) availability of certain societies/facilities in the college, such as good performing arts groups


I'd agree with those, and would also suggest considering what accommodation the college offers. (At Oxford, unless things have changed, some colleges can only offer 2 years of accommodation so you have to spend at least a year living out in private accommodation.) Oh, and the equivalent of Cambridge's Tompkins Table at Oxford is the Norrington Table.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Adacore » Tue Mar 17, 2009 10:16 pm UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:Can people stop saying oxbridge, whilst they do have many similarities, Oxford and Cambridge are decidedly different.


Most people refer to Oxbridge because you can only apply to one of them and thus people only have experience of one or the other. A lot of the generalisations are also true of both. Both the generalisations I made (tougher interviews and 13% overseas students) are very much true for both.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby cathrl » Wed Mar 18, 2009 2:46 pm UTC

superdelta wrote:For anyone at Oxbridge, say I apply for erm Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and I don't get in. Am I tossed over to another college or I'm totally booted from Cambridge? :shock: The website wasn't very helpful.

And how do I choose a college, if I decide to go Oxbridge?


Oxford has a pool system pretty much identical to Cambridge's, unless it's changed very recently, except for the being called back thing - you may be interviewed by multiple colleges while you are there for interview. But you need to be aware that if you get booted from your first choice, you still have to be better than the other applicants at the other colleges to get in there. Most people who don't get in to their first choice don't get in, period.

How do you choose a college? Sense of smell :) Some colleges don't do some subjects, so forget those. Then, do you have any particular hobbies? At Oxford, if you are a superb male singer you'd probably want to try New, Christ Church or Magdalen for the chapel choirs. If you are a superb rower you'd go for one of the colleges with a top crew. And so on. Or you can just make an "open application".

Some colleges offer more accommodation than others. That's significant. Oxford rents are frighteningly high.

Note that Oxford doesn't do natural sciences the same way Cambridge does. You read Physics or Chemistry or Biology etc. right from the start. Little or no dabbling.

You also don't have exams in the second year. Some people consider this a major advantage :)

And yes, the interviews are something else. Other universities they ask questions to find out what you know. At Oxbridge they ask questions to find out how you react when faced with questions you can't answer. They don't care what you know; they care whether you can think. I was told "never say 'I don't know'" and it worked for me.

I don't know how scholarships work for foreign students. I do know they are basically nonexistent for UK students, and only worth a few hundred pounds anyway.

Culture? Wonderful. You can be yourself. I had friends who were members of the Pooh Sticks society, friends who roleplayed, friends who rowed, friends who dissected poetry, friends who sang in choirs... you name it, there's a society for it, and if there isn't you can start one and nobody will turn a hair. There's absolutely no expectation that you will conform to any stereotype at all.

I'm an Oxford physics graduate, Pembroke College, and still live just outside the city. And yes, you do your exams in full academic dress. Mortarboards make very good pencil holders when put on the floor, given the minute desks you have to use :)

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Reynardthefox » Sun Mar 29, 2009 4:41 am UTC

I'll respond as a token "old man" with advice that to me, perhaps, is obvious, but which no one else has offered.

1. Apply to the most selective schools to which you have a chance at acceptance. It's a crap shoot. Don't take acceptance or rejection personally.
2. Do not assume anything,including that the admissions committees will appreciate fully the attractiveness of your application.
3. Work extremely hard on your applications, but if you ever wonder where you should apply more effort and time, apply them to your essays.
4. Don't worry about the differences between elite universities. It will come down to what you put into your studies, not what resources are there or not. All really good schools will provide you with more opportunities to learn and opportunities to grow than you can ever pursue. It's truly up to you what happens with your education.
5. Don't assume that you will get accepted at an elite. Have a "safety" school and don't worry if you end going there. Undergraduate work is not so import in the long run.

FWIW, I've served on Yale's ASC (alumni schools committee) for more than 20 years, have seen many high school "stars" not make it, and watch others go on to achieve tremendous results. The best advice I can offer is what my grandmother told me when I was trying to figure out where to go to school. "Don't worry what you do until you're 28. Just get good experience and push yourself. No one expects you to know what you want to do with your life until you're 28 anyway."

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby superdelta » Sun Mar 29, 2009 10:05 am UTC

Wow, lots of great advice here, thanks everyone who contributed!

Does anybody know how Cambridge's Computer Science department fares against those of other colleges, including those in the States?

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby cathrl » Wed Apr 08, 2009 12:18 pm UTC

Does anybody know how Cambridge's Computer Science department fares against those of other colleges, including those in the States?


This would be where you look at reynardthefox's point number 4. Cambridge is one of the top very few universities in the world. Whether its CS department is fractionally better or fractionally worse than Harvard's or MIT's, on some arbitrary scale, is not worth worrying about. Look at whether the course covers things you want to do.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Angua » Sat Apr 18, 2009 9:51 pm UTC

Come to the UK, we have free healthcare :D From what I remember from my friends, Oxford and Cambridge do things slightly differently when it comes to engineering, I think Cambridge has you do a more general course in your first year while Oxford lets your focus more on your chosen field. It doesn't really matter which college you apply for for either (I'm going to Oxford, so come there :D) as they will make sure that the best are chosen, even if the college is full (the pool system does work). Apparently you'll end up saying that your college is the best anyway. Goodluck :D
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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby the tree » Mon Apr 20, 2009 4:28 pm UTC

If you're looking at that level of university, you should definitely give Bath a look. It's tiny but a great university, comes high on the league tables and the cost of living isn't as high as a lot of the Russell Group places.

On cost of living - if you live in London it will be bloody expensive but you get to live in London. Mull that over.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Jianaran » Tue Apr 21, 2009 12:13 am UTC

Hmm, a lot of nice info in this thread. I've got one question, though:
I am currently an Australian living in Australia, but due to my parents (Who went to Cambridge and Wie (?) collegs), I have access to a UK passport if I wish. With this in mind, would it be better for me to attempt to get in to Oxbridge (or any other UK university) as an international student, or to spend a year working in the UK before hand, then try to get in as a UK residential? I've currently got a year and a half of high school to go, so I'm not in a major rush, but I'd be interested to hear your opinions. For example, here in Aus the unis charge much, much higher fees for international students. Is there a similar situation in the UK right now?

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Cassi » Tue Apr 21, 2009 11:07 am UTC

You would have to live in the UK for 3 years before starting uni to qualify for home fees. International fees are about three times as much as home fees, so yea, if you can get home fees, it's worth it. You'll need to prove you've been living in the UK for at least 3 years before starting your course, and it needs to be for reasons other than education. So this is not exactly an easy option.
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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby pemcat » Tue May 12, 2009 4:45 pm UTC

A few things I picked up on which I don't think have been adressed (all Cambridge specific):

In first year maths (at least four years ago when I started, and I've not heard anything about it changing) it is possible to do maths with physics or maths with computer sciences. A very small percentage of people do this, and it's supposed to be hard. At the end of first year I think you have to choose where your loyalties lie.

Open applications are all well and good if you really don't care where you go. If you don't care where you go as long as it's not all girls/Girton or Homerton, then you're safer just sticking a pin in the list and applying there, which avoids the possibility of being sent to the one college you don't want to go to.

Emmanuel has ducks. Also a really nice bar. Locally it's often refered to as 'Emma' and it took me most of my first year to realise that the 'Emma boat club' people kept refering to was Emmanuel college and not some college I'd never heard of. :oops:

My background: I'm a fourth year mathematician at Pembroke. Which has a cat.

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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Angua » Tue May 12, 2009 6:54 pm UTC

Jianaran wrote:Hmm, a lot of nice info in this thread. I've got one question, though:
I am currently an Australian living in Australia, but due to my parents (Who went to Cambridge and Wie (?) collegs), I have access to a UK passport if I wish. With this in mind, would it be better for me to attempt to get in to Oxbridge (or any other UK university) as an international student, or to spend a year working in the UK before hand, then try to get in as a UK residential? I've currently got a year and a half of high school to go, so I'm not in a major rush, but I'd be interested to hear your opinions. For example, here in Aus the unis charge much, much higher fees for international students. Is there a similar situation in the UK right now?
Yeah, just to reiterate Cassi, just having a UK passport is not going to do it. I managed to get in as UK as I did my A levels there at a state school (and as I was under 18 got that free :) ) while living with relatives, and so I was "excersing my right as a UK citizen to live in the UK", and going to school is a natural part of life in the UK. You also need to have been living there 3 years before the September you start uni (so I had an enforced gap year and had got there the last week in August before I started college). I nearly had a heart attack at Oxford interviews as they mentioned I was down as international (but they have changed it since) and you would have to apply for a non means tested loan, or you end up being smacked with college joining fees. It's all good for me now (I hope, but won't feel completely secure until I'm actually at uni with my fees paid). If you have any questions on this process, feel free to PM me.

(Btw, the fees for pre-clinical medicine at Oxford are four times more expensive for international students than home students)
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Re: Which US/UK University?

Postby Mmmm, Pi » Wed May 13, 2009 6:02 am UTC

Don't forget for Oxbridge that although the unis themselves are reasonably similar (although certainly not the same), the cities they are in are completely different. Oxford is much bigger, and a busier city. You get the impression that it's not just there for the university. Cambridge is smaller, quieter, and students are everywhere. Cambridge students tend to forget that locals actually exist. Both are good, but there is a big difference.

Yeah, I'm biased, I actually live in Cambridge when I'm at home. I've got a friend doing natural sciences at Emma and she really likes the college.
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