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U.K. universities: Cambridge? Edinburgh? etc? Please advise

U.K. universities: Cambridge? Edinburgh? etc? Please advise

Old Nov 11th, 2003, 04:02 AM
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U.K. universities: Cambridge? Edinburgh? etc? Please advise

My son is applying to a slew of U's in the U.K. (Edinburgh, Cambridge [King's], Sheffield, King's London, Durham, York). Wants to study philosophy. We live in New York. He's already been given an unconditional offer to Edinburgh. Still dreams of Cambridge, but we're having trouble affording the trip over just for an interview in early December. Are we making a big mistake?
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 04:18 AM
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Not sure what mistake you are making? Do you mean that you intend to skip the interview? Can't he go by himself?

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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 04:23 AM
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Yes, he could go by himself. But he's leery of missing key time in A.P. courses. Then there's the money. Quandary: People say there's such a slim chance of getting into Cambridge, is it worth taking this shot just for the interview? Could he get in without the interview?
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 04:25 AM
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Yes. If you think he's in with a serious chance.

The English-speaking world has lots of great universities (and Edinburgh's fine). It has only two great universities that are also beautiful and fully college-based (and of those, Oxford's philosophy course is a bit idiosyncratic). And none of the 60-odd colleges at either of them are really as beautiful as King's.

The Oxbridge college system offers an experience you really can't match, even if it no longer offers a pre-eminent academic experience. If you and he both think it would be right for him, try to find a way to get him to the interview.

Though the cost of that is likely to be small beer - especially if one of you has the resourcefulness to hit the websites properly - compared to the cost of keeping him there for the whole course.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 04:26 AM
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You can get RT from EWR to London for $350 at
ira is offline  
Old Nov 11th, 2003, 04:43 AM
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I'd cross Sheffield off your list, unless it is particularly good for Philosophy. It's just not a city in anywhere near the same league as the others you mention.

I'd send your son on his own for interview to Cambridge, especially if that's where he thinks he'd like to go at this stage. If he's planning on heading over the pond for a year's study on his own, a few days now won't hurt.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 06:31 AM
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He should definitely make the journey for the interview, not just for the chance of admission, but also for the opportunity to see these towns (and I would absolutely include Edinburgh in the itinerary) in the early winter - climate, daylight, the "feel" of the cities in December, all that. The university experience in Britain is quite different from that in the US, and he (and you) should have a clear visual sense of what it would be like. But clarify: is his intent to complete his studies in Britain, or is it only for a year?
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 07:05 AM
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Yes, it is important to do the interview. If he's bright enough to be considering Cambridge, he's bright enough to make up a few days of time from AP classes. As long as you're over there, visit Edinburgh so he'd know what he is getting into if he ends up there. I assume he's visited several colleges and Universities in the US already, for comparison purposes. Wow. Go for it, and good luck to you both.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 07:15 AM
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Had to smile at this as my situation is the reverse of yours - my son has just started University here (we are English) and dreams of a year's study in New York! He is studying at Royal Holloway, University of London - have you considered this place? Do look it up on a website just to see the main building itself - fabulous! And all within easy reach of London but in a beautiful part of Surrey.
I'd agree to skip Sheffield but would suggest Exeter in its place.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 07:52 AM
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I would like to add my 2 cents to this as we were in this situation several years ago with my son. The British school system is at one end of the spectrum and the American system is at the other in terms of flexibility of changing majors,etc. In other words,once he starts in his major-thats it.You do not have the options of taking a year or two and "trying" out different courses and then deciding a major as we do in the states. Quite a few of these courses (even) in the first year are for the entire year. My son ended up going to a Canadian school and although he loves it up there-there are alot of things that made his schooling not accept AP courses/tests;cannot take courses here in the states at any junior college during the summer.etc.He is in a major now that he wishes he could have changed but too much time and effort has been put in to start over so he is making a double major out of it. I may be totally wrong on this but I know when we checked into him going to Edinburgh and others in the UK that was the case.There were alot of the "internationals" at his school that had wanted to go to a British school but did not want to have to declare their major the first day so they ended up going to Canada for a little more flexibility. I would also point out that you should keep in the mind the cost of schooling in England for 4/5 years with the English pound killing the American dollar-my son is studying in Italy this year and even the Euro makes us spend WAY more money that we had thought for things.Good luck!
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 08:34 AM
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If your son plans to have a career in the US, a degree from a foreign university (even Cambridge) may complicate his chances of success.

Degree designations on his resume or vita may be unfamiliar to those processing applications for jobs or graduate school. If a screener cannot distinguish between the equivalents of a Ph.D. and a two-year degree, this will obviously not help your son's chances of success (unless he is the one with the two-year degree). For example, I had been working with a French colleague for nearly a year before I realized that his degree from the Ecole Polytechnique was equivalent to a Ph.D. Some positions may require specific degrees, such as a Ph.D. or MBA, and an "equivalent degree" may not be accepted, this is particularly true in heavily regulated professions (e.g., medicine, engineering, etc.).

By analogy, but on a different level, I find the hierarchy of British university positions confusing (e.g., is a lecturer equivalent to an American assistant professor?). Also, one frustrating personal experience left me with the impression that coursework transcript verification can be exceptionally difficult when British universities are involved.

There are fields in which a degree from a foreign university would be a distinct handicap (e.g., law, business, etc.). On the other hand, a degree from a British university might be highly valuable if your son is interested in a career in English literature (although the job market would be limited).

A more conventional (and less risky) path for American students that wish to spend some time overseas involves programs such as the Rhodes Scholarships, where one or two years is spent at a foreign university, but the degree is from an American school. Post-graduation options also exist. For example, after receiving my Ph.D., I spent a year as a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo.

Incidentally, my experience with Cambridge (I was a candidate for a postdoc there a decade ago) is that they are in no hurry. They have the luxury of time because they know that students will hold other universities at bay until they render a decision. In my case, I was forced to accept another offer because I did not have the luxury of waiting. Regardless of his university choices, I hope your son is not forced into this very stressful situation, which is (unfortunately) a fairly common occurrence when dealing with universities at any level.

Unless your son plans on pursuing a career in the UK, he should rigorously examine his reasons for wanting to attend a British university. If the only reason is that he would like to live overseas for a few years, it might be better to wait. If he is determined to go ahead, your job is to be sure that he has a realistic understanding of the potential complications.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 08:49 AM
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I am originally from NJ and came to Cambridge to do my PhD. Now I am working here at the university. It would most definately be an amazing opportunity for your son, and the tutorial system provides an excellent, personalized undergraduate experience. Having said that, it is also amazingly expensive. If he is a very competitive candidate, rather than Kings he may be better off applying to some of the richer colleges (St Johns, Trinity) where there are more funds for overseas student scholarships.

Regardless, his chances of admission will be seriously reduced if he doesn't attend the interview. You could ask the college if they have any suggestions regarding potential sources of funding.

Best of luck!
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 08:52 AM
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PS - Keep in mind that an undergraduate degree at Cambridge is actually 3yrs, not 4/5.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 10:11 AM
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If you want flexibility then a Scottish university would be a better bet.
The courses are usually 4 years because Scottish students usually enter a year earlier and take Highers rather than A-Levels which are taken by English students at 18 plus. This is beginning to change however and some Scottish students are beginning to stay at school for an extra year.
The Edinburgh prospectus states:

"Choosing a degree can be difficult, but our degree structure seeks to maintain flexibility where possible. Most programmes in the College, except for more vocationally orientated degrees such as Law and Education, offer an element of choice, with the opportunity to study "outside subjects". Your Director of Studies can offer help and advice with your selection.

Since the degree structure offers such flexibility, particularly in the first two years of study, successful applicants who are suitably qualified are often able to change programmes after entry. This flexibility is particularly valuable when so many of the subjects offered in the College are not taught at school and the first year University course will be the first opportunity to sample them"

Old Nov 11th, 2003, 10:39 AM
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Thanks much for the very valuable advice. A few responses:
1. Sheffield's on the list because it ranks high in philosophy, as does King's London. But I think with Edinburgh's offer, and your advice, Sheffield is now effectively scratched.
2. Morgana, if you'd like any help in return with NY or New England schools, please don't hesitate.
3. He's applying to a slew of U.S. schools too, with Yale topping the list. Yes, it's a mighty optimistic list, but what the hell.
4. I don't think law or big business are in the cards for my son. I don't know where philosophy/psych will take him, but get the feeling that a U.K. degree won't hurt his chances too much.
5. We looked closely at all the Cambridge colleges and did consider the richer ones, but settled on King's because, among other things, it seems strong on philosophy and maybe the most diverse of the colleges.
6. I'm now thinking we have to find a way to send him (Ben is his name) to the Cambridge interview. Maybe I'll sell his stereo. Thanks a million for all your help.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 12:01 PM
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I posted this this afternoon, but it's disappeared.

there was a similar debate here before. You might like to look at thisbr />

If I had a son in your son's poition I'd cut off my right hand for the chance to get him a Cambridge degree.

Edinburgh would be a good third choice. (I regret to say it but Oxford has more cachet).

If he is to be in Edinburgh early December as a tag on to the Cambridge trip, let me know if I can offer him any assistance.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 03:13 PM
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Sylvia, when I was in high school in Edinburgh in the 60s, we were strongly encouraged then to stay for 6th form because the universities preferred it. Most people did stay, and their degrees took three years. When did they start to take four years?
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 06:19 PM
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One other option to consider is having your son attend a US college, then do a semester abroad program in the UK.

My daughter will be attending Cambridge for two terms, beginning this January, on a semester abroad program from her US college.

Another advantage to this is that you're much more likely to get financial aid from a US college than from Cambridge. If a few hundred dollars for an in-person interview is a strain, why not take advantage of academic and need-based scholarships in the US?

Having recently been through the college application process with two kids, I wish you luck.


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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 08:59 PM
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It has been many years since I was up at Cambridge so please take what I have to say with a large grain of salt. My experiences there were of great influence to my personal and educational development and I would highly recommend it to your son. The weather is awful, the food is bad and the year end exams and tutorials may be stressful but your son will have a grand time. Lots of clubs for athletics, films etc. Lots of smart people. Close to london.
I do not necessarily agree that an international degree is a negative. I think it depends on what your son wants to do after Cambridge. I personally do not think that having Cambridge on your C.V. hurts at all.
I do agree that students at Cambridge are quite focused on their area of study. The US university sytem at the undergraduate level is mostly quite general. If your son is not absolutely sure of what he wants to study I would not recommend Cambridge.
The course of study is three years instead of four. He could do a second degree at Cambridge after his undergraduate degree from the US. This takes two years instead of three.
I cannot comment on cost because during my time Cambridge was less expensive than private universities in the US. The Brits had grants. When I was last in England two years ago I was told by one of the students that they now had to pay their way through Cambridge at a cost of about L 10,000 per year. If this cost were to be the same for foreign students it would be less than the cost of a private university in the US. On the other hand the food at Yale is better and so is the weather but New Haven is a pit and you will be there for four years. In any case good luck and do make the interview.
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Old Nov 11th, 2003, 09:43 PM
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Fees charged to foreign students are a major source of net revenues to most British universities. Cambridge will, depending on major and college, run something like £11-13,000 per year; Edinburgh slightly less. Lodging in student residences will cost somewhat less than comparables in the US. Other cost of living items will be roughly comparable, save that being in Europe will obviously offer travel temptations that might not exist in Connecticut. All in, and adding transatlantic travel costs, I would expect an undergraduate degree from Cambridge would cost about the same or a bit less than the likes of Yale or Harvard.

The level of focus will be more intense at Cambridge than at most US top-tier universities, but not shockingly so. In general I concur with the others who say that mobility within the university system (of majors, colleges, etc.) is much less in Britain than in the US. In this regard the Scottish universities, such as Edinburgh, will be somewhat more flexible - their curricula and patterns of studies are more compatible with US models than your son would encounter at Cambridge or Oxford.

I wouldn't worry overmuch about reciprocity between countries regarding degrees, academic standards, or any of that. Nowadays any major university on either side of the ocean is fully versed in UK/US nomenclature. If your son plans to do postgraduate work in either country, there will be few difficulties in establishing equivalencies later on.

Some consideration should also be given to the fun factor. Cambridge, Edinburgh, London - all will be wonderful places to study for a few years. Edinburgh (my ain alma mater) would get my vote but honestly they're all great cities. And at risk of having the Morningside ladies (with hats) pummel me with digestive biscuits, let me add one other place for your son to investigate: Glasgow. Wonderful university, wonderful town, and finished second to Cantab on the Guardian's ranking of Philosophy departments (you should copy and paste this link:,00.html for comprehensive rankings of UK universities by course).

But it's not Cambridge.
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