English University – advice for US home schoolers

There is a lot of interest in some sections of the US home school community about opportunities for learners to study at universities abroad, whether in the belief the degree will be cheaper, the education of a higher level, or that it will be a great opportunity for the student. Studying at an English University is a popular choice.


Where you need to be at the end of high school

The English university system is different in various ways, but one way that I have noticed a lot of US learners and parents need to get their head around is what is expected by the end of secondary school (high school) to get in to University in England compared to college in the US. In my experience this is one of the biggest mind-shifts parents need to make. Essentially, almost all universities are not looking for a high school diploma, and subjects that have been awarded grades by parents or grading authorities that don’t have international recognition will not count, beyond perhaps showing you are a well rounded person (though an interview and recommendation letter will be more important for that – more on that below) and even then not much. To quote an admissions officer at Oxford I have been in touch with:


We are interested in students’ performance in formal public exams, so the ‘full high school transcript’ is not required


It is also worth bearing in mind that degrees at an English university almost always start out more focussed – a Bachelor of Arts is a three year degree and you start with your main degree subject from the beginning rather than a broad liberal arts survey. Students in England can go straight in to a law degree from secondary school, unlike the US. So the English system is more set up for specialisation at the high school equivalent, and students are expected – usually – to have a higher level of knowledge in those specific subjects than many US colleges would expect of freshman students. If you are coming from the US there is the expectation that your student will have the required level of English, so there is no need to take English tests (though your student will be expected to take the SAT Subject test or Advanced Placement Test for English if it is a prerequisite subject for their degree).

What is required by almost all Universities is a minimum SAT or ACT score (the number will depend on the University and the course you are interested in) and that you have relevant SAT Subject test or Advanced Placement Test results.


A word on scoring for SATs, ACTs and Subject tests – English universities take a dim view of only submitting your ‘best’ score if you have taken a test multiple times. To quote the Oxford University website:

Candidates are asked to enter all their scores for any tests taken when they complete their UCAS application, showing the relevant dates for each. This gives tutors a complete picture of the candidates’ academic record, rather than just the ‘superscore’ of best results for the different sections of any test taken on multiple occasions.


Basically – if you take a test multiple times you are expected to put down all the scores, not just the best one. I know there are some families who get their students to take tests like the SAT many times so that they get practice, and I have no idea how a university would check if you have taken the test more than once. Just be aware that if you leave results and it is found out there could be negative consequences.


To get an idea of what you need, let’s look at a few Universities.



Oxford - English University

Photo credit: _Hadock_ via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Oxford University

Oxford requires a minimum of 1,470 out of 1,600 on the new SAT test, and doesn’t need the optional essay test. Along with that students are expected to have SAT Subject Tests in three appropriate subjects at 700 or better or Grade 5 in three or more Advanced Placement Tests in appropriate subjects or a combination of APTs and SAT Subject Tests (or other equivalent qualifications) is also acceptable, if they are in different subjects. This is the minimum to  apply for any undergraduate degree.

Each course will have it’s own specific requirements. If you are interested in a History degree it is recommend that you take the equivalent of A level history (so SAT World history) as one of your three subject tests. You will also have to take the  specific History Aptitude Test (HAT). For a Chemistry degree you will be expected to have an A level in both Maths and Science at A* plus A grade for one other subject, and you must include Chemistry in those three subjects.So this would be a combination of 3 AP or SAT Subject examinations at scores of 5 (AP) and/or 700+ or better (SAT) in different subjects, with one of those being Chemistry. You also have to take the Thinking Skills Assessment: Section 1 test and score well.


Of course there are many Universities other than ‘Oxbridge‘. Let’s look at two of these:


Durham University

Durham University is a well regarded university in the North East of England. The requirements differ depending on what course the learner is interested in applying for. For example, if a student wishes to apply to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in History the minimum requirements to apply are three A-Levels, two at an A grade and one at A* grade, and at least one of those has to be History. So this would be a combination of 3 AP or SAT Subject examinations at scores of 5 (AP) and/or 700+ or better (SAT) in different subjects, with one of those being World History. For a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science you would need a combination of 3 or 4 AP or SAT Subject examinations at scores of 5 (AP) and/or 700+ or better (SAT) in different subjects. If students apply with 4 APs they can have the score of 5,5,4,4, otherwise they need 5,5,5. And one of those has to be Maths.


The University of Kent

Not a member of the Russell Group, but still a University if not a top-tier one . The requirements for US students applying for a undergraduate place are:

  • A High School Graduation Diploma with a minimum final GPA of 3.2/4.0 (though there may be issues submitting a Diploma

PLUS one of the following:

  • SAT with a score of between 1290 – 1380 depending on the subject you are applying for OR
  • ACT with a score of between 27-29 depending on the subject you are applying for

OR one of the following, or a combination of:

  • 3 SAT Subject Tests with cores of between 600-700 depending on the subject you are applying for OR 2 Advanced Placement (AP) tests with scores of between 4-5 depending on the subject you are applying for.



English University student's studying

Photo via Visual Hunt

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While English degrees are cheaper for English students than US degrees are for US students, international fees can get pricey. A lot depends on the university as to what a degree will cost, so here are some examples, using two of the  universities I used as examples above (Durham fees are not currently available, I will update once they are). Please keep in mind that it is usual for fees to increase annually, and fees for medical degrees will almost always be much higher than standard fees. Some universities are eligible for US loans.

For Oxford, fees for international students studying at undergraduate level are between  £15,755 and £23,190 per year plus a college fee of £7,350 per year.

The University of Kent, fees for international students are between £13,810 and £16, 480 per year.


I have heard of a case where a learner assumed that due to the fact they could get UK citizenship due to ancestry that they would be eligible to be classed as a ‘Home’ student rather than an International student. This is not the case as Home students are classified by a period of residence in the United Kingdom (usually three years) rather than by citizenship. This is also the current case for European Union students (though this will most likely change with the fulfillment of the UK leaving the EU). Please don’t rely on having an English  or Italian grandmother to mean you get a cheaper degree!



Some English Universities have scholarship programs available to international  students, though they do not seem to be nearly as extensive as they are in the US, and at many merit based scholarships will only be available to home students. It is also worth noting that sport does not play nearly as big a part in universities in England as ‘college sport’ plays in the US so if you are planning on affording your studies in England on a sports scholarship, forget it.


Living costs


Many universities will also require the learner or parents to sign a financial declaration (and it may be a requirement for your visa) that you are willing and able to fund living expenses to a certain amount. The Oxford university page giving information about living costs is one of the best first ports of call to get an idea of what it is going to cost. Oxford is more expensive that somewhere like Durham when it comes to cost of living; London will be more expensive



I speak from experience when I say that UK Visas and Immigration are a nightmare to deal with. And now with the coming of Brexit and the UK leaving the EU, and talk in various political circles about changing the number of foreign students accepted in to the UK, the requirements and costs for US students coming to study in England is likely to change. I strongly suggest you get as much information as possible from the universities you are interested in studying with, and then if you are admitted to a university in England keep in close touch with the International office and make sure they help you with your visa!


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Okay, this sounds feasible, what’s our next step?

If your student is a highschooler, no matter what grade equivalent they are start contacting Universities you are interested in now. Due to the fact that as a home schooler you are outside the norm, even for International Students, there may be specifics about the application process you need to be walked through and things specific to the university course your learner wants to apply for that you need to deal with in advance. Universities such as Oxford may require an interview (or more than one) for admission to some courses, so you need to find out when they are held and how you can go about that if you are not in the UK. The UCAS system, which is what is used to apply for an English University, requires a written reference. There are guidelines on the UCAS website as to what is required, but this is something you should discuss with specific University International student office and get some guidance as British ideas as to what should be in a University reference letter can sometimes be very different that US expectations!



I’m not sure we are going to be able to achieve the admission requirements but my learner really wants to study in the UK. Are there any alternatives?

If your student has their heart set on attending an English university, there are various options. One option is to look at foundational years. Many universities offer these for students that do not meet the entry requirements, and many universities offer courses specifically for International students to bring them ‘up to speed’ for entry in to a regular Undergraduate degree. There is the disadvantage that this is an extra year of study on top of the standard degree timing, so the degree will take longer and cost more (I talk about fees below) however it can be a huge benefit for students who have no experience of the UK education system, and most offer a host of non-academic support to International students.


Another option is an exchange year (or more). With this option students enroll with a US institution and then participate in an exchange program with an English university. Pluses to this option is that students can enter University through the US system, have administration dealt with by a US institution and there should be no hassle with transferring credit if the student wants to move back to the US mid-degree.


Also consider completing the first year of a US degree and then applying for a place in the English course of your choice.




If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me either in the comments here on the blog, via my contact page or on the Facebook page. I am not a career advisor, Universities admissions officer or any other kind of thing like that but will be happy to point you in the right direction of where to start looking for information.



(Why England  and not the United Kingdom? Well the Scottish education system is a bit different so I am leaving that to a different post. Wales is pretty much the same but the fees can be different. And I don’t know anything about Welsh universities. So if you are interested in a university in Wales use this as a starting point but check with the specific university).

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