As of writing (the 16th of December), I’ve just got back my MIT results - a deferral (which in this case means waiting until Pi Day for a more concrete result1). I’m now pretty confident in my thoughts on both systems of admissions, so to wait out the time I’ll be writing out my thoughts on their pros and cons. I might’ve briefly mentioned these in my other two blogs on University admissions, but this’ll be one place for what I wrote there in comparison & much more. If you haven’t read the other two and aren’t familiar with the admissions systems I’d recommend doing so - there’ll be things that I’ll be referencing without explaining.

As per usual, I’ll also mention that this post has my usual biases - I’ve been applying to a small number of highly selective universities from a position of relative privilege, so you’re experiences might have been different. I’ll try and vaguely organise it on the different stages of the admissions processes, but prepare for tangents 😉. I’ll also add that I probably didn’t perform as well on my admissions tests as I would’ve wanted to, which probably somewhat sours my opinion.


For MIT & Caltech, I’ve had to write a number of different essays that are all relatively short2 which have been from a variety of prompts ranging from how I feel about their values to how I’ve helped and been helped by my community to why I want to study Computer Science. The main result of this is that students end up having to write a lot of essays, which I’ve heard can be incredibly draining. I’ve been somewhat insulated from this by limiting my US Admissions to only 2 universities, but I don’t really want to imagine what it must be like for the people applying to 20+ universities3.

Whereas in the UK System, you only write 1 essay (known as the Personal Statement) about yourself. 4000 characters over 47 lines4 with no prompt. UCAS & The Universities expect you to write about why you want to go for the course you’ve applied for, why you’d be good at that, why you’d be good for them and anything else interesting about you.

So here I’m pretty split. The US Essays seemed to care more about me as a person (which fits as you seem to mostly apply for a University rather than a Course) whereas my Personal Statement ended up being full of academics and waffle about how the I enjoyed the subjects I’m doing and how well they would transfer. That having been said, I got across most of what I wanted in my Personal Statement, and more of the struggle was getting it inside the character limit, rather than trying to examine my life with a microscope. I’ll also say that I think my Personal Statement came out better, purely because I could invest more time into it - it went through 11 drafts if I recall correctly because it was going to all of my UK Universities, whereas my MIT essays got far fewer drafts and so will my Caltech essays because there are more of them that go to fewer places.

Admissions Tests & Grade Requirements

MIT & Caltech both take very different approaches here - MIT is test-mandatory, which means that as well as your recommendations, essays & general performance you need to complete either the ACT or the SAT. The idea here seems to be that they can get a standardised test performance metric for all students applying5. One interesting difference is that you can take more than one SAT or ACT and ‘superscore’ them which means to take your best scores from each portion of the tests you’ve completed (eg. I can take a 36 in Science from my September sitting and a 35 in Maths from my November sitting), which I guess allows for if students have bad days? There are two ways of discouraging students from taking endless tests - the fact that they’re insanely expensive (my last ACT test was $171.50)6 & the fact that the universities see all the tests that you submit, which makes it rather obvious. I ended up having the luxury to take two. Caltech is test-blind, which just means that they won’t even look at tests if you have submitted them.

Whereas, in the UK you get predicted grades from your teachers based on what they think your performance in your final exam will be. Those then go to all the universities, which makes it simple. Different schools work differently for how lenient they are with students requesting to go for higher grades. The way that schools are discouraged from giving everyone higher grades is that that tactic will only work for one year, as the universities supposedly keep records of how accurate the different schools are. You also must apply through your school so you can’t really get around it.

Similarly enough, there are parts I do like and don’t about both systems - here are the UK Advantages:

  • All courses at all universities post minimum grade requirements7, so there isn’t much faffing around with applying to universities you know you can’t get into. This is in opposition to the US system, where at best I have the middle 50% from MIT and have to guess if I’m good enough.
  • In my humble opinion there’s less possibility for rich people just taking more and more tests to get the grades they want (ignoring the possibility of bribery8).
  • Here, you’re also being evaluated on more long-term performance - it might just be a problem for me applying to both systems at the same time (and slightly prioritising the UK due to higher acceptance chances at my choices as well as the other advantages that come with going to university domestically9) I haven’t had as much time to revise for my ACTs but I feel that my Predicteds are more accurate.

And then the US:

  • The idea of evaluating student performance and potential for application to a pretty big university without any test scores (except for transcript related10) is pretty nice sounding to me.
  • A-Level & IB Exam Seasons are generally known to be a pretty hellish time of year for all involved - at my school the entire time between maybe mid-late February and July is all spent either revising, taking practice tests or taking actual papers. Its mixed as to whether it’s in school or out of school, but normally A-Level out-of-school revision & taking the exams is about a month and a half. As far as I can see, during this time at US High Schools you don’t do all that much?
  • Whilst I’m not 100% sure about the entrance tests, I can definitely see that they are standardised which I most definitely can’t say about teachers who might be deciding your grades.

Interesting systems across both sides of the pond there, and I’m really not sure which I prefer. Any preference I show for the UK is probably tinted by me just going with the devil I know over the devil I don’t.


I’ve spoken extensively about interviews on both sides, so my opinion will be far shorter and simpler.

US wins, flat-out. I get that the competitive UK Universities want an idea of aptitude rather than just accomplishment for their courses due to rampant grade inflation11, but I feel that the US one went better because it wasn’t as stressed. In the Cambridge interview I had, I could see that the interviewers had far more candidates than time and needed to get going. Part of that is also influenced by the setting - my US one was in a nice coffee shop (Gails12 vibes at a lower cost) and my UK one was over a zoom13 which stressed me out because of the eternally-present technical issues which even a Computer Science applicant can’t overcome.

Application Structure

Here, the UK wins although it is a smaller country which probably makes it easier.

All applications here are handled through UCAS - you can’t apply without using it. That only means one essay, one place to dump scores, one place to add admin details, one place to look for offers which reduces lots of the overhead from US14, and one place to pay a relatively small cost (£20 for one university, or £25 for multiple) for applications. This is less cognitive load, and only one email address to have a heart attack about when you see it ([email protected] if you’re interested, and as far as I can tell this is used exclusively for offers which is convenient).

As opposed to the US where there are lots of different systems which means inputting my personal details in lots of times which isn’t too bad for 2 universities but I could imagine this getting pretty annoying. The fees are also way higher - to apply to > 13 US Universities (which doesn’t seem too high as far as I can tell), you’re looking at $1000 (going off a cost of $75, which is the MIT cost).

Receiving Results

US Universities have specific timestamps for applications decisions (eg. MIT Early Action this year was the 16th of December at 12:16PM Boston time), and I think all the Oxford and Cambridge colleges follow this with their own timings. The rest of the UK Universities (for the most part), just release their results to you whenever they decide. There isn’t really even a proper deadline - if they don’t respond before the first of May then it just counts as a rejection 🤷.

There’s advantages and disadvantages either side, but I think the UK wins out. I was pretty stressed about my MIT decision from when I could become stressed about it although it turns out there is a limit to the number of things I can simultaneous stress out about15! This ended up being after my Cambridge Interview. I had a look at their history and made a little spreadsheet and managed to successfully predict the date16. That having been said, at least after that date I could theoretically know for final17? On the other hand, since you have no idea when your UK decisions are coming in, you can theoretically convince your brain to forget and focus on revision, but this does mean that you can’t plan for a nice place to possibly receive a rejection - you just have to politely excuse yourself and hope for the best.

Closing Thoughts

Since this whole post was just an extended set of closing thoughts for the other university posts, you aren’t going to get much more out of me here. Both systems seem to have their advantages and disadvantages but I’ve been talking about this wrong. I kinda don’t really get any choice in this matter and just have to go with whatever university I want to apply to says. Regardless, in the off chance that any admissions officers read this18 (in which case, thanks for getting to the end!), feel free to take anything or nothing. I think I’ve been speaking about this enough in person, and this was a lovely chance to get to just dump the contents of my brain and get focused on revision for my A-Level Mocks.

  1. The odds aren’t great though - I think last year it was 146 admitted out of 7892 deferred, which is < 2%. ↩︎

  2. Mostly maxing out at around 250 words, except for the Common App longer essay question. ↩︎

  3. This is one small benefit of UCAS imho - you are limited to 5 which somewhat reduces the admin work required to keep up with admissions. ↩︎

  4. Why 47? What is a line? idk ask UCAS it just happened to all work out for me. ↩︎

  5. How do they score ACT vs SAT? Not a clue, but I’d be interested to know. ↩︎

  6. University applications favouring the wealthy? Never! ↩︎

  7. As well as information on how those get reduced for Circumstantial Offers. ↩︎

  8. If we allow bribery, then both systems get messed up so I’m ignoring that possibility - this is my blog post I can do what I want ^_^. ↩︎

  9. And I’ll be honest, there are plenty of advantages ranging from being able to see my friends & family more often, not having to worry about visas as well as the fact that going to university in the US will probably be around 5-6x more expensive. ↩︎

  10. Which in my case, is just predicted grades + GCSE scores. ↩︎

  11. One of the few areas I disagree with the grade requirements - frankly for the top universities they aren’t realistic. Technically, I’ve applied to universities that are below by multiple grades what I had predicted, but realistically I’ll be lucky to get 3 or 4 offers including my insurance. Again though, I’m applying to highly competitive universities which might mean that my experience is different. ↩︎

  12. Relatively posh british bakery/coffee shop chain - the food is expensive but I’ve never had any other cinnamon rolls that come even close. ↩︎

  13. I 100% get the reason they do this (make it easier for people who can’t get to Cambridge), but I still would have loved to visit in person. ↩︎

  14. Yes, I’m aware of the Common App, and other such coalitions but they don’t cover every university. ↩︎

  15. at least consciously stress about, I fear for my heart. ↩︎

  16. The pattern for EA seems to be the saturday of the second full week (beginning Monday). ↩︎

  17. unless you get waitlisted, in which case it’s another three months yay!11!!!11!! (although I did bring this upon myself by applying earlier, and this is also definitely better than a straight rejection) ↩︎

  18. This is all going on my MIT FUN Form, so the chances are non-zero I guess? ↩︎