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Grammar and Writing Style Tips

Even the most talented writers make grammatical mistakes! Whether writing is a favorite pastime or a dreaded task, if you are a college applicant then you will have to compose essays. As such, we’ve compiled a list of grammar and writing style tips to keep in mind when you are creating your personal essay or supplemental essays.

Grammar Tips

Check for run-on sentences.

A run-on sentence occurs when two independent clauses (or complete sentences) are improperly joined. For example:

 “Sheila wants to go to college she is working hard to attain her goal.”

You can correct a run-on sentence with a period or a semicolon:

“Sheila wants to go to college. She is working hard to attain her goal.”

“Sheila wants to go to college; she is working hard to attain her goal.”

You can also correct a run-on sentence with a comma and coordinating conjunction:

“Sheila wants to go to college, and she is working hard to attain her goal.”

On that note, avoid comma splices.

Put simply, a comma splice is essentially a run-on sentence that uses a comma as an accomplice (in its crime against grammar). Building on the example above, one might write:

“Sheila wants to go to college, she’s working hard to attain her goal.”

Or, to add a subtler example:

“Tomatoes aren’t actually a vegetable, they’re a fruit.”

Both can be fixed using the methods above.

Make sure it’s a sentence!

Sentence fragments occur when a piece of a sentence is missing (noun or verb) or if a complete idea is not expressed. Let’s use the following example:

 “Writing is hard work. Which is why you have to keep practicing it.”

The second sentence is a fragment and can be easily fixed by joining it to the main clause:

 “Writing is hard work, which is why you have to keep practicing it.”

Use serial commas consistently.

When listing items in a serial sequence, a comma before “and” is optional in the English language. However, omitting it can cause confusion. As a result, one may choose to include a comma after the penultimate item in a series, known as the Oxford comma, which we recommend. For example, the following sentence is grammatically correct:

 “During the speech, she thanked her friends, the president and God.”

However, without the last comma, this sentence reads that the speaker’s friends are the president and God. The Oxford comma does not allow for this misperception:

“During the speech, she thanked her friends, the president, and God.”

Whichever approach you use, make sure to be consistent.

Get rid of dangling participles!

A participle is a word or phrase that looks like a verb, but acts as an adjective and modifies a noun.

A dangling participle occurs when the participle is not tied to a subject. First, let’s take a look at correct usage:

“A speeding train entered the tunnel.”

In this sentence, “speeding” is the participle and “train” is the subject. Another example:

“Speeding faster than a locomotive, the train entered the tunnel.”

Here, the phrase, “Speeding faster than a locomotive,” is a participle describing the noun, “train.”

Here’s an example of incorrect usage:

“Walking along the road, a tree blocked our way to school.”

The participle “walking along the road” is meant to describe the narrator. But instead, this dangling participle modifies the “tree” instead. To fix a dangling participle, make sure that the participle comes right before or after the noun that it is describing:

“Walking along the road, we noticed the huge tree had fallen and blocked our way to school.”

Watch for consistency of verb tenses.

Do not switch between verbs in the past, present, or future within a clause. For example:

“On Monday, the children walk to school, but rode the trolley home.”

The fix:

“On Monday, the children walked to school, but rode the trolley home.”

Writing Style Tips:

Your writing should have a cohesive flow.

Each essay should have a main theme that you should build on throughout the essay. Try not to jump from idea to idea in an unrelated way, or you will lose your audience. A good exercise to do after you have written an essay draft is to see if you can summarize your main theme in one sentence.

Each paragraph should have its own idea.

There should be a main idea with supporting points in each paragraph.

Vary your word choice.

Make sure that you are not using the same word more than twice in a grouping of sentences. Varying your word choice is more interesting and allows you to choose words that convey more clearly what you want to express. Don’t be vague or choose large words out of the dictionary. Simple is better.

Vary your sentence length 

There’s no firm rule governing the length of a sentence and in theory a great sentence could go on forever. However, take a pass through your writing and make sure that all your sentences are crisp, clear, and easy for your reader to digest. Going on too long often results in confusion.

Similarly, keep your reader engaged by varying the length of your sentences. Too many short sentences in a row make your writing feel choppy. It gets repetitive. It feels unsophisticated. People start to get annoyed. Do you see what I mean yet? On the other hand, too many long sentences can become soporific and difficult to follow, so for the sake of keeping you awake, I’ll spare you a demonstration and just ask you to imagine four sentences in row as long as this one. So, switch things up. And, while you’re at it, use sentence length to your advantage. Longer, flowing sentences like the one that I’m writing right now allows you to add details, probe your ideas thoroughly, and create interesting descriptions. Short ones make a point.

Always read what you have written aloud.

When you are editing, reading aloud often helps you to hear your syntax errors and grammatical mistakes in addition to seeing them. Most importantly, make sure that your writing sounds like you! It should be in your own voice.

Each college applicant has his or her own voice and ideas to convey in the personal statement and supplemental essays. Writing your truth and expressing a piece of who you are as a person and student may seem like a complicated and intimidating process. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help!

College Board Offers SAT in August, ACT has July Test Date

The College Board began offering the SAT and Subject Tests in August 2017 for the first time, and eliminated their January test date in 2018. Fewer test centers were available in August 2017, since schools had a lighter staff during the summer.

The ACT also changed its test schedule, adding a July test date, effective July 2018. July test dates are not available in NY test centers, but students can travel to another state if these particular test dates suit them.

Finally, the College Board has instituted a faster score release policy, in which scores for multiple-choice questions will be available 13-19 days after each test date; with essay scores available 24 days later. For example, for the March 9 test date, multiple choice scores will be available March 22; and essay scores will be available March 25-27.

Why did the College Board Add an August Test Date?

The August College Board test date is likely a response to the increase in seniors applying through early admissions and the consequent growth in SAT testers in the fall (see chart below). Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift towards early applications, in which seniors apply in November, and receive notification in December.

In large part, students are taking advantage of the strategic boost of applying early. The admit rates are typically much higher, and colleges are filling an increasing percentage of their freshman class through early admissions, leaving fewer spots to fill during regular admissions. As a result, the entire standardized testing schedule has shifted to earlier test dates. For early admissions, students need to complete their testing (SAT, ACT and Subject Tests) by October.

In addition to the recently added July 2018 date, the ACT also offers a test in September, an ideal time for seniors because they can prepare over the summer, and are just starting to deal with the academic requirements of senior year. The SAT has been steadily losing ground to the ACT over the past few years, and a strategic modification of the testing schedule may be an effort by the College Board to recover ground.

Who Should Take the August Test?

The August test date is ideal for seniors who would like an additional chance to improve their SAT or Subject Test score after their junior year testing, or would like to take additional Subject Tests. The summer typically provides a less intense environment in which to prepare, without the pressures of schoolwork.

For rising juniors, we do not advise taking the SAT until November or December, because students typically experience meaningful growth and maturity over junior year, and continue to learn content that can boost their scores.

One exception, however, would be rising juniors who are pursuing athletic recruitment, and need early testing scores for coaches to make a determination about whether they are viable candidates.

For each student, deciding when and how often to take the SAT or ACT depends on a variety of factors, including whether you are applying to colleges through early or rolling admissions, the selectivity of your colleges, how much time you can devote to test preparation, and your competing time commitments. 

The college testing environment is constantly undergoing changes. To help you sort through testing options and plan for successful college admissions, contact us at As always, we’re happy to help!

2018-19 SAT and Subject Tests Test Dates

Note that Subject Tests are not offered in March. Also, while Literature, US History, Math 1, Math 2, Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered every testing date (but March), World History and Language tests vary by month. In addition, although you can choose to add more Subject Tests on the day of testing (with a maximum of three), the one test that you cannot add on the spot is Language with Listening, because that requires special equipment.

SAT Date SAT Subject Tests Available Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline
March 9, 2019 *SAT Subject Tests not offered on this date February 8, 2019

February 19, 2019 (for mailed registrations)

February 27, 2019 (for registrations made online or by phone)

May 4, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
April 5, 2019

April 16, 2019 (for mailed registrations)

April 24, 2019 (for registrations made online or by phone)

June 1, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
World History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Modern Hebrew
May 3, 2019

May 14, 2019 (for mailed registrations)

May 22, 2019 (for registrations made online or by phone)

August 24, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
World History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Not yet announced  Not yet announced
October 5, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Not yet announced Not yet announced
November 2, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
French with Listening
German with Listening
Spanish with Listening
Chinese with Listening
Japanese with Listening
Korean with Listening
Not yet announced Not yet announced
December 7, 2019 Literature
U.S. History
World History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Biology E/M
Not yet announced Not yet announced

*Test Dates and Subject Test offerings for August 2019 through December 2019 are anticipated, but not yet confirmed by the College Board.

Recent College Acceptances

College Acceptances for the Classes of 2015 to the Present

We are proud of our collaboration with our students to help them achieve their dreams!

Here’s a list of recent admissions outcomes.

Private Universities

American University Northwestern University
Berklee College of Music Princeton University
Boston College Purdue University
Boston University Quinnipiac University
Brandeis University Rochester Institute of Technology
Brown University Roger Williams University
Case Western Reserve University Santa Clara University
Chapman University Stanford University
Clemson University Syracuse University
Columbia University The Catholic University of America
Cornell University Tufts University
Dartmouth University Tulane University
Drexel University University of Chicago
Duke University University of Hartford
Emory University University of Miami
Fordham University University of Pennsylvania
George Washington University University of Rochester
Georgetown University University of San Diego
Harvard University University of Scranton
Hofstra University University of Southern California
Johns Hopkins University Vanderbilt University
Loyola University Maryland Villanova University
Lynn University Wake Forest University
New York University Washington University in St. Louis
Northeastern University Yale University


Liberal Arts Colleges

Amherst College Lafayette College
Babson College Lehigh University
Barnard College Marist College
Bates College Muhlenberg College
Bucknell University Occidental College
Colgate University Providence College
Colorado College Rice University
Connecticut College Siena College
Curry College St. Joseph’s University
Denison University Swarthmore College
Elon University Trinity College
Fairfield University Union College
Franklin & Marshall College University of Richmond
Gettysburg College Vassar College
Goucher College Wellesley College
Hamilton College Wesleyan University
Iona College Williams College
Ithaca College


Public Universities

Binghamton University (SUNY) University of Delaware
Indiana University—Bloomington University of Florida
Louisiana State University University of Maryland
Miami University of Ohio University of Massachusetts—Amherst
Michigan State University University of Michigan
Ohio State University University of Pittsburgh
Penn State University University of Rhode Island
Stony Brook University (SUNY) University of Texas—Austin
University of California—Irvine University of Vermont
University of California—Los Angeles University of Virginia
University of California—Santa Barbara University of Wisconsin—Madison
University of Connecticut West Point (USMA)


International Universities

Queen’s University, Canada University of St Andrews, Scotland
University of Edinburgh, Scotland  

Making the Most of Your Summer Break


Spring is fast approaching…which means it’s time to think ahead to summer!  For high school students, summer represents a break from an intense academic schedule, and the opportunity to engage in a new world. You have an array of options –whether it’s immersing yourself in the culture of another country, taking courses on topics not available at your school, conducting research in a lab, participating in internships, or performing community service.  Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a great fit for your interests and future goals.  Here are a variety of objectives you can fulfill through your summer activities.

Do Your Summer Experiences Really Matter?

From the perspective of college admissions, your choice of summer activity – and what you gain from the experience – can communicate volumes about your potential to enhance the college campus.  But keep in mind that there does not exist one “right” choice of summer activity; the “best” choice for you depends on a variety of factors, based on your interests, needs and goals.

Goals for Your Summer Activities

In planning your summer, it’s best to begin by identifying what you want to accomplish. Would you like to use your time to further develop an existing passion, find a new one, or take time to recharge? Here’s an overview of several different ways to approach these decisions.

Deepen an existing interest

As you make your summer plans, consider the activities you have pursued during your high school academic years and summers.  Have you enjoyed these activities? Would you like to further your involvement? Many students find that the summer enables them to continue to explore an existing interest, deepen their knowledge, and confirm their dedication to this activity.


Natalie conducted science research in organic chemistry at Columbia University, and won a variety of awards at regional science competitions.   Carrying out this extensive research, taking summer science courses at Columbia, and shadowing doctors confirmed her interest in pursuing medicine as a career.  She became a pre-med major at Cornell University, and currently attends New York University School of Medicine.

Students can also use the summer to test out academic interests as possible career paths.


Michael loved the business courses he took in sophomore and junior year, especially those in accounting.  During the following summer, he worked at a men’s retail business in London, arranged through the Summer Discovery Program.  His budgeting work confirmed his desire to pursue business, and he is now at Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics.

It may also be possible to combine a few goals during the summer.


Amanda was passionate about her art.  Her goal was to attend a top art program at a university.  She also wanted to earn spending money for college.  During the summer, she worked at an ice cream shop, took art classes, and created art in a variety of genres to submit as an Art Portfolio with her college applications.  She is now attending the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan.

Explore a new interest

Other students, however, use the summer in the opposite, though equally valid, way: they pursue a new interest in order to explore this field as a potential major, minor, or even career.


Adam especially enjoyed his classes in math and drawing, and wondered if architecture could be a way to combine these passions.  He decided to test this out by taking an intensive six-week “Introduction to Architecture” course at Cornell University.  He found that both the subject matter and the intensity of the all-night work sessions appealed to him. He enrolled in the Architecture School at Washington University in St. Louis and won awards for sustainability projects that incorporated his architectural knowledge.

Some students use the summer to plunge into a totally new area.


Steven had excelled in a traditional academic curriculum in high school dominated by the five core subjects. He decided to use the summer to branch out and take courses in entirely new areas. At Oxbridge Academic Programs, he took an interdisciplinary course on Philosophy: Of Mind and Morals that changed his life.  He was exposed to behavioral economics and began to read voraciously about this relatively new field that combined psychology and economics. He is now committed to studying interdisciplinary areas, and is particularly interested in pursuing the Biological Basis of Behavior, and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics programs at Penn.

At the same time, a summer experience in which you realize that a particular field is not for you can be just as valuable.


Kristen worked in a local retail store during the summer after junior year because she thought she would like to major in business.  While her responsibilities working with customers and helping with purchasing did not appeal to her, she loved writing blogs.  She is now a Psychology major at University of Southern California, and seeks a career in social media analytics.

Take a break: re-connect and refresh

For other students, the best use of summer is to reconnect with friends socially and enjoy the continuity of deepening ongoing relationships.


Stacey spent the ten months of every school year in anticipation of attending her summer sleep-away camp. Although her parents felt it might be useful for her to vary her summer activities, Stacey’s strong preference to cap off her eight years at summer camp by serving as a counselor after sophomore year prevailed.  That summer was an enormous growth opportunity for her, as she learned how to be responsible for younger campers and serve as a role model. As a result of her experiences, she decided that she wanted to work with children as a career, and is majoring in Psychology and Early Childhood Education at Tulane.

Some students use the summer to refresh themselves by exploring a totally novel environment.


Li Na grew up in a suburb of Shanghai China, and was eager to attend college in the United States.  She had always been adventurous, and wanted a refreshing break after her intense junior year.  After evaluating many options of summer programs, she decided to spend a month in Montana as part of Visions Service Adventures, which combined outdoor activities such as white water rafting with community service work helping the elderly.  She was delighted to discover that she had much in common with the other international students. Her travel experience helped her decide to attend a college with a strong commitment to a diverse student body and extensive study abroad programs, and is now a sophomore at New York University.

Fulfill academic or financial responsibilities

For some students, summer is a time to fulfill obligations. These can include taking additional coursework to lighten your load during the year or qualify for higher-level courses, being responsible for the care of younger siblings, or earning money.

Rewards of Summer Activities

Summer activities offer many potential rewards, and will help develop your self-awareness in terms of your personality, preferences, strengths, and interests. As you function independently in an environment outside your home, you may have the chance to solve problems, make decisions, develop resilience and responsibility, and learn how to manage your time.  If you work with others, you can also strengthen your skills in collaboration and teamwork. In addition, stimulating activities help your brain develop, especially through the teen years!  According to Dr. Jay Giedd, researcher at NIH:

“Use it or lose it! If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

Finally, your summer activities may also provide you with some powerful admissions essay topics!  Deciding on the best summer activities for you involves juggling many factors.  As always, we’re here to help!


National Essay Contests

If you’re a high school student who enjoys writing, there are plenty of national essay contests you can participate in – many of which include large rewards for the winners and finalists!

Awards range from monetary scholarships, cash amounts, all-expenses paid trips, and even donations to school libraries. For example, the JFK Profile in Courage Essay Contest combines scholarships, cash awards and travel: the winner receives a $5,000 cash award, $5,000 to invest in a college savings plan, and travel and lodging expenses to attend the ceremony in Boston.

Each contest has its own requirements, including the deadline, and the topic and length of the essay.. There are a variety of categories for these essay contests, including Literary Analysis, Politics & History, Personal Reflection, and those geared to specific career fields such as science or journalism.

Literary Analysis

Literary analysis essay contests are based on a specific piece of literature, and they are judged on both writing style and content. Judges look for writing that is clear, articulate and logically organized. Student should demonstrate a solid grasp of the themes and messages in the novel or play about which they’re writing. For example, the Ayn Rand Institute hosts yearly essay contests for students from 8th grade through graduate school. Currently, topics center on three of Rand’s popular novels, Anthem (8th, 9th, 10th), Atlas Shrugged (12th grade, college and graduate), and The Fountainhead (11th, 12th).

Penguin’s national essay contest, The 19th Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest is offered to students in 11th or 12th grade. This contest focuses on the plays Pygmalion and My Fair Lady and requires students to choose one of six topics. The topics include questions about character relationships, alternate endings, and the role of song and expanded scenes.

Politics & History

Common themes of national essay contests include modern-day politics, past figures, and historical ideals or philosophies. These essays are analytical in nature and tend to be an opportunity for students to develop and enhance research, writing and critical thinking skills.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation invites high school students to “consider the concept of political courage by writing an essay on a US elected official who has chosen to do what is right, rather than what is expedient” through  The Profile in Courage Essay Contest. Students ar required to write an essay of 700 to 1,000 words, and to use at least five varied sources.

Open to all high school students, the Sons of the American Revolution offers the George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest. The topic should deal with an event, person, philosophy, or ideal associated with the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta or the framing of the United States Constitution. Sources must include published book sources, and the essays are judged on historical accuracy, clarity of thought, organization, grammar, and documentation.

Personal Reflection

A plethora of essay contests allow students to submit reflections of a more personal – rather than historical or literary – nature. Many offer opportunities to reflect on a personal hero, such as the essay required for the National World War II Museum’s Annual Essay Contest. This competition  asks the question, “How do you define a hero?” and requires students to use World War II as a starting point. Though based in a historical context, essays should be written using examples from students’ own lives and experiences.

The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) hosts an essay contest for students in 7th through 12th grade. The essay only 350 words, and has the theme “Why I am proud to be an American.” Similarly, the Joe Foss Institute’s Hayes C Kirby Essay Scholarship Contest asks students to respond to “I love my country because…” with a minimum of 1500 words. It encourages entrants to be creative, while developing a clearly defined theme.

Specific Career Fields

Some essay contests focus on a specific field of study or career path. For example, The DuPont Challenge is a science essay contest for 6th through 12th graders. It offers four focus areas, with topics including economics growth, nutritious food sources, a secure energy future, protecting people and the environment, and research-oriented STEM innovations.

For those interested in writing and journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists offers a high school essay contest in order to “increase high school students’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of independent media.” In a 300-500 word essay, students respond to the topic, “Why is it important for journalists to seek the news and report it?”

Students with an interest and talent in writing should explore the many opportunities that lie within national essay contests. With such a wide range of topics, there’s something for everyone, and you may even start to build up some funds for college!

Of course, there are many more essay competitions and scholarship opportunities than are mention here. If you’d like to learn more, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

LIVE BLOG: UK Universities



Central Saint Martins is one of the six constituent colleges of the University of the Arts London.  UAL is Europe’s largest specialist university for art, design, fashion, communication and the performing arts, and currently educates 14,000 undergraduates (about two-thirds of the total), 2,700 postgraduate and research students, and 2,250 further education students.  About 53% of the students are international.

Central St Martins, with its 4000 students and 1000 staff, moved to a glorious new landmark location in 2011, designed by architects Stanton Williams as part of a 67-acre redevelopment of King’s Cross.


I had the honor of spending three hours with Dr. Jo Wheeler, Head of International Development, responsible for exchange programs with universities throughout the world. CSM places a strong value on international partnerships.  CSM strives to develop formal 1:1 exchange programs. Prime examples are SVA (School of Visual Arts) and Pratt in NYC for art, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh for Drama. In addition, CSM students do Student Abroad and international students come to CSM.  Parsons has a strong history of sending students to spend a term at CSM.

The features of the four-level open design can best be captured through photos.

Openness and transparency:


CSM ground floor


CSM 3rd floor view into Architecture class


Glass-walled classroom


Grad School of Advertising Design

Workshops: Emphasis on “Making”

CSM does not offer Art History, because it is concerned with the development of new approaches.  Architecture, for example, is intertwined with social issues such as the public use of space.  Teddy Cruz, an architect and academic from UC Santa Cruz, is doing a “Practitioner Residence” at CSM; he studies the impact of border crossings on architectural innovation.


Fabric design workshop


Digital media design


Photography workshop


Wood workshop

Group Work


CSM Library



Highly visible installation and performance art, seen from multiple perspectives:




From ground floor


View from 3rd floor


CSM has 3-year BA programs in:

  • Acting
  • Architecture
  • Ceramic Design
  • Criticism, Communication and Curation (CCC)
  • Directing
  • Fashion
  • Fine Art
  • Graphic Design
  • Jewellery Design
  • Product Design
  • Textile Design

2-year MA programs are available in:

  • Communication Design
  • Creative Practice for Narrative Environments
  • Ceramics, Furniture or Jewellery
  • Textile Futures
  • Fashion
  • Fine Art (1-year)
  • Industrial Design
  • Innovation Management
  • Acting, Directing, Writing

Foundation Program

Many UK institutions offer a pre-University “foundation” program, in which students can satisfy the entrance requirements. For example, students may not have had access to rigorously sufficient art programs in which to learn basic approaches and develop a portfolio.  Or, for academic courses of study, US students may be attending a high school that does not have offer AP or IB programs, and would therefore not be able to provide required entrance exam scores.  In such situations, students can take a 1-year foundation program, and then apply.  At CSM, there is an admissions advantage to taking the foundation program here, because professors become familiar with your approach and quality of work.

Interdisciplinary approach

CSM puts enormous stock in the benefits of interdisciplinary proximity in the open-ly constructed environment.  As Jo says, “Fashion here is within an art context; it has to bounce off fine art and architecture.” Similarly, the Graphics Program is broad and not commercial: typography, advertising and the moving image are all together.

Fashion Program

CSM is renowned for its focus on fashion. Top designers have emerged from the program, including Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and many others.  CSM is the only fashion school that exhibits at London Fashion Week, on the same stage as top international designers.

Fashion is the only program that prohibits visitors from taking photography because of the keen competition for new approaches. But I was permitted to walk through the long high-ceilinged, light-filled design rooms filled with bustling students and hundreds of mannequins being outfitted.


CSM Library, highly sought-after Vogue magazines


CSM Fabric library


In Jo’s words, “Here the benchmark is your portfolio, except for writing-based courses (such as Communications), where scores and writing samples are taken into account.”  A key difference between what CSM seeks in a student’s portfolio versus a US school is that CSM is extremely interested in the development work that leads to the outcome, whereas the US art schools want portfolios to include finished work.  At CSM, a portfolio could include 30 pieces, of many of which are the sketches and stages of one particular project. The work should show the ability to edit your work, and a clear visual aesthetic.

The Personal Statement plays a large role as well, and should have a rigorous focus. Students should discuss why they want to come to UAL, and CSM in particular, what they want to study, and how CSM will benefit them. In addition, discuss your work and who you’ve studying in developing your own artistic vision.

The SAT and AP scores, as well as references, play a secondary role.  For each program, the minimum requirements are listed on the website.

National Gallery of Art


Manet Diptych

I visited the National Gallery the day after CSM. I had the pleasure of seeing the new Impressionism exhibit, providing a befitting contrast with the modern, cutting-edge approaches of CSM! The exhibit focused on the role of Paul Durand-Ruel, a nineteen century Parisian art dealer, in relentless supporting and promoting the works of a broad group of Impressionists, including Manet, Monet, Renoit, Sisley and Degas.  While there was enormous critique and resistance in Europe, he finally found a receptive market in America.

Tuesday, March 3rd

Delighted to return to London yesterday. At night, I saw a gripping, profound drama at the storied Haymarket Theater called Taken At Midnight, set in Germany in the 1930s.  Penelope Wilton (Lady Crawley in Downton Abbey) was spectacular and riveting.


Today I’m off to the University of Cambridge to meet with professors and further explore campus life. I spent a day last July visiting several of the constituent colleges, as well as summer programs.  Stay tuned for further exploration of this historic university town.


Tuesday, March 3

I had the pleasure of returning to St Andrews last Thursday and Friday for an organized College Counselor tour.


University Hall

As you may recall, last summer, I visited St Andrews on my own, and spent a lovely day becoming acquainted with this ancient university.  For those of you who think I may be tossing around the world “ancient” arbitrarily, allow me to explain…

Classifications of UK Universities

The United Kingdom groups its universities into categories based on when they were founded.  The most revered group is considered the “ancient universities,” consisting of the seven universities founded before 1800.  I have now visited five, including Oxford and Cambridge in England; and St Andrews, University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow in Scotland.  The remaining two are Aberdeen (Scotland) and Dublin (Ireland).  This group has been compared to the Ivy Leagues in the US because they are the most historic and perceived to have the strongest academics.

The remaining universities are divided into the following categories:

  • London universities, including the vast University of London system, as well as Durham and the former University of Wales system
  • Red brick universities, founded in the first few decades of the 20th century
  • Plate glass universities, also known as the “new” universities, chartered after 1966

In addition, there is a self-selected association of 24 public research universities known as the Russell Group, which cuts across all the categories discussed above, and is made up of very large research-intensive universities. As a collective, the group receives most of the public research funding, and awards most of the Ph.Ds.  The Russell Group consists of Queens University in Ireland, Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, and 21 British universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Imperial, Kings, LSE, University College and others.

2014 Visit to St Andrews

When I last visited St Andrews, I met with members of the international admissions team, had a delightful and informative lunch with Ivar Moller at A Doll’s House in town, enjoyed a comprehensive student tour, met with career services, and chatted with a Physics Professor.  This visit provided an excellent introduction to the unique Scottish approach towards undergraduate education, as well as a comprehensive look at what makes St Andrews unique.


St Andrews street The Scores looking out to the sea

2015 Visit to St Andrews

In contrast to my 2014 visit, this trip to St Andrews was organized by the university, and allowed me to deepen my knowledge of academics, campus life, and institutional priorities.  I was joined by about 40 high school guidance counselors and five other independent educational consultants.

Principal Louise Richardson

We were honored to be addressed by Louise Richardson, the first female Principal and Vice Chancellor of a Scottish university.  Ms. Richardson also serves as Professor of International Relations with globally recognized expertise in terrorism. She formerly taught at Harvard and served as Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies.  Currently Professor Richardson teaches an undergraduate seminar on terrorism to a small class of 12 students from different countries.


Principal Richardson’s descriptions of the unique identity of St Andrews was very similar to how you might hear Princeton and Yale described: “we combine the ethos of a small liberal arts college with the reality of a major research institution… We are the ideal size: big enough to be interesting, and small enough to have an influence on every life.”

Her institutional priorities are decidedly academic: “focus on good-quality research and personalized high-quality teaching.” Principal Richardson said she has an old-fashioned approach towards interdisciplinary study, in that “scholars need a strong grounding in separate disciplines first,” and then can explore interdisciplinary collaborations. Some of the new fields for St Andrews include International Legal Studies and War and Security, a combination of history, philosophy and international relations.


The admissions team at St Andrews is exceptional.  In addition to being warm and welcoming, whether on American or Scottish soil, they are extremely knowledgeable and articulate about the nuances of both admissions and academics.  The team is headed by Julie Ramsey, Director of Admissions; Beth Shotton, Director of International Admissions, and Ivar Moller, Director of North American Admissions.


Ivar Moller, Director of North American Admissions. Starting with the basics!


Beth Shotton, Director of International Admissions, biking through the Scottish highlands (in a Kansas t-shirt!).


The admissions process at St Andrews is holistic, and all components are reviewed.  The most important factors are the transcript, AP exams, Subject Tests and SAT/ACT. The transcript is reviewed heavily, with more emphasis on 11th and 12th grade, and on courses that relate to your intended subject(s). The GPA is becoming less important, since the scales differ widely by secondary school.  A competitive applicant would typically have an A- average in a high-quality college preparatory program, AP scores of 4s and 5s, and Subject Test scores over 600. 

Admission requirements for individual subjects are clearly stated on the St Andrews website.

Unique Features of St Andrews

In addition to St Andrews’ top-quality research and teaching, here are a few unique features of the University:

  • University and town are fully integrated
  • 600 years of history and tradition
  • Ocean and beaches are close at hand
  • International exposure to a global student body, with 160 countries represented

US students in particular feel at home amidst the strong US presence. Americans are the #1 international group, followed by China, Canada and Hong Kong.

Although the university is relatively small, with 6,400 undergraduates, the philosophy is for students to develop their independence.  Students do not receive session-by-session assignments, but instead know what is due for the entire course and must pace their work on their own. Dr. Chris Lusk, Director of Student Services, wants St Andrews’ students to develop “agency”: the qualities of being resilient and solution-focused.


The 4-year academic model of St Andrews includes:

  • Years 1 and 2: “subhonours” work in which students take three subjects each year;
  • Years 3 and 4:  focus on either one subject, graduating with a single Honours degree, or two subjects, leading to a Joint Honours degree.

Ivar Mollar illustrates a 4-year academic sequence


The United States approach towards higher education had its foundation in the Scottish philosophy of combining broad liberal arts exposure with focused work.  But the founders of the earliest universities in the US wanted students to have an even broader exposure to the full range of liberal arts disciplines throughout all four years.

The education at St Andrews is characterized by deep intellectual exploration, small classes with a premium on discussion, and a senior dissertation.  We were fortunate to hear several talks by academics about their fields and departments.

Philosophy Professor Patrick Greenhough’s talk clearly demonstrated the engaged approach of the faculty at St Andrews.  The Professor asked a series of probing questions, such as:

  • What is philosophy?
  • What is beauty?
  • What is consciousness?
  • What is a language?
  • What is a person?
  • Can war be just?
  • Can you predict the stock market?

St Andrews’ Philosophy Department is considered one of the top in the UK, not only in research rankings, but Student Satisfaction Survey.  (Watch for our upcoming blog on how universities are ranked in the UK!)In fact, the Philosophy Society at St Andrews is the largest society (extracurricular activity).  What are some fields that philosophy grads can enter?

  • Become a comic – Ricky Gervais
  • Found a leading social media company, like Linked In or Wikipedia – George Soros
  • Do groundbreaking linguistics research – Noam Chomsky

Philosophy Professor Patrick Greenhough

St Andrews has a popular joint program with the College of William and Mary, the second oldest college in the United States, in which you spend two years at each school.  You can choose to apply to either St Andrews or W&M as your host college, and if accepted, you spend your first year at the host college, your second year at the other college, and then choose how to sequence your final two years.  Four degree programs are offered as part of this joint degree: English Literature, Economics, History (which includes a large language component) and International Relations (the most popular subject for US students).

The sciences are housed in a separate modern complex, a 10-minute walk from the main campus.


Your Academic Family

St Andrews has a unique approach to providing peer support!   During your first year, you will likely be approached by at least one “academic mother” and/or “academic father” who offer to “adopt” you. You will then de facto acquire a number of brothers and sisters, and possibly cousins. While I am using quotes in describing this system, the students involved do not in any way use air quotes, but instead earnestly share such personal details as “my mother and father are not married, in fact are married to other people, and I have eight brothers and sisters, some of whom have other parents”!  The students derive an enormous sense of support from this long-standing tradition, especially since so many are international and a long way from home.


St Andrews Student Panel

Residential Life

Freshmen are required to live in a hall of residence. There are ten halls, ranging from Victorian to modern style.  Some are “catered” (providing food) and some are not.  There are no specific floors or wings for segments of the population, such as international or LGBT, but there are plans to institute no-alcohol accommodations next year. Remember that the drinking age is 18!

One of the most popular halls is St. Salvatore’s, which has a very Hogwarts-ian feel and is centrally located.


Sally’s has 260 undergraduates, two-thirds of which are first year and one-third “returners.”  Most students share a room, and first year students are carefully matched.  This contrasts with University of Glasgow, which has all singles.  The halls are run by a “Warden” and Assistant Warden, charged with providing social, emotional and academic support. The hall has a Committee of about 18 elected students, who run all the social activities and events.


Sam, the Warden of St. Sally’s Hall, with student leaders 


But St Andrews is by means an exclusively academic experience. Students gain an enormous amount from their participation in “societies,” or extracurricular organizations.  During our final evening, an a capella group serenaded us with their creative vocal artistry – singing a combination of moving ballads and quite humorous songs about romance.  Later on, we were treated to Scottish Highlands dancing.


And then, it was time to say good-bye to the castle on the hill.

Monday, March 2

I have now completed my tours of the “ancient” Scottish universities of St Andrews and University of Glasgow, having also visited the University of Edinburgh last summer. Tomorrow I head back to London by train, with plans to spend Wednesday at Cambridge, and tour Royal Veterinary College and Central St Martins (University of the Arts) before I head back to the States.

My trip has been intense and comprehensive, stimulating and mind-expanding.  The ratio of experience to reflection has been high! As a result, I have not yet blogged on all that I have observed and absorbed, and plan to use the lovely train ride tomorrow to catch up!

A few hints of blogs to come:


SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies)



Kings College



Chelsea College of the Arts (University of the Arts)


University of Durham


St Andrews


University of Glasgow

Sunday, March 1 – Dining in the UK!

Yes, I came all the way to Scotland to have a bagel and lox!  Or, as they call it here…


Breakfast at Blythswood Square, Glasgow

Smoked salmon.  You can have salmon morning (with scrambled eggs), noon (baked with aubergine) and night (raw with flowers).  And I have.

But lest you think, gentle reader, that I am not a food explorer, here are some classic British dishes and where I had them.

“Dressed Crab” in London.  Brits are so proper that even their appetizers need to be dressed. This classic dish is typically served with a dressing of dark crabmeat in the center, and chopped egg whites.


Herring and cream sauce at a French bistro near the Victoria & Albert Museum.  As an island, Britain cannot be outdone for its variety of seafood.


Cullen Skink Soup in Glasgow. This native fish chowder was served at a popular restaurant in Glasgow called Two Fat Ladies!


“Fish ‘n chips” in St Andrews. You would lose all respect for me as a seasoned traveller, so to speak, if I did not include this classic dish.  This is a half-portion of haddock (in England this dish would be made with cod), and a combination of “mushy peas” and small peas.


Dover Sole in London. At the other end of the seafood spectrum, while Daisy is eating fish ‘n chips, Lady Mary would dine on Dover Sole. This well-known seafood dish in England (and considered haute cuisine in the US) comes from Dover, a seaside town in Southeast England that faces France.


Sea Bream at The Vine Leaf in St Andrews.  An amiable husband-wife team runs this small inventive restaurant on South Street, a few blocks from campus.


Toffee pudding.  And if you’ve saved room for dessert, you will be offered toffee pudding nearly everywhere!



Wednesday, February 25

University College London was founded in 1826,  making it the first university to be founded in the city of London, and the third in the UK, after Oxford and Cambridge.


In contrast with Oxbridge, UCL was founded on principles of inclusion by Jeremy Bentham, British philosopher, jurist and social reformer. Heads-up for a gruesome fact: Jeremy’s body is actually embalmed within his likeness in the central building of UCL (see below), and I myself stood but a foot away from a man who lived nearly two centuries ago!


Bentham did not subscribe to the status quo. UCL welcomed students of all backgrounds, and was the first to admit women.  While the founders of Oxbridge were monks, who placed the study of theology at its core, UCL is a secular institution and its library is physically located at its center. See the library dome below.


Most universities in London are affiliated with the umbrella organization of the University of London, which performs centralized functions such as finances and appointing professors.  Over time, UCL has merged with several constituent colleges of University of London, such as the Institute of Education and the School of Pharmacy, and is now the largest college within the University of London system.  U of L does not play a large role at present in UCL’s functioning, but provides a few convenient shared resources, such as libraries and intercollegiate housing.


Bentham’s unconventional and creative approach fostered a spirit of intellectual exploration that continues to this day.  UCL has many notable alumni, from Mahatma Ghandi to Alexander Graham Bell to Francis Crick (co-discover of DNA).  But perhaps the most famous are the band members of Coldplay!

UCL prides itself on collaborative, interdisciplinary programs, including the new “Arts and Sciences” series of majors, which emphasize communication, problem-solving and global cultural skills. Within “Arts and Sciences” are four pathways: two humanities (Cultures and Societies) and two sciences (Health and Environment, and Sciences and Engineering).  If you major in a humanities pathway, you must minor in a sciences pathway, and vice versa; these requirements are somewhat reminiscent of US distribution requirements, and are quite similar to MIT’s requirement that STEM majors must minor in an arts or humanities subject.

Some of the most popular and highly-regarded programs are law, medicine, economics, psychology, neuroscience and the biological sciences.  Studying medicine effectively requires access to hospitals for clinic work, as well as strong research facilities.  UCL recently built a new medical complex, including a hospital and the Wellcome building for research.

The former hospital, located in a magnificent historic building (below) is now used for biological research.



In the UK, there are a variety of higher ed ranking systems, in contrast with the monolithic US News & World Reports for US universities. One of the most respected rankings is the REF (Research Excellence Framework).  REF ranks overall institutions as well as individual subject areas. REF calculates a “GPA” from 1.0-4.0 that combines assessments of the institution’s research in terms of “output” and “impact.” “Output” is the quantitative assessment of the number of research publications at various levels of prestige, with 4.0 reflecting international stature; “Impact” is the qualitative measurement of the influence of the research on individuals, societies and policies.

UCL ranked #8 overall in the 2014 REF (with Institute of Cancer Research #1, Imperial College London #2, LSE #3, followed by Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff and King’s College.)  In the REF subject rankings, UCL ranked #1 in Computer Science, and Economics and Econometrics. A leading measurement in the UK is inclusion in the “Top 10” rankings for particular subjects, and of 36 subjects measured, UCL has a top-ten ranking in over half, ranging from Clinical Medicine to Law to Aeronautical Engineering to Politics.

Other organizations respected for their rankings of universities include Times Higher Education and the Guardian, two leading newspapers. The Times ranks UCL as #5 in Europe, and #22 in the world. The Guardian ranks it #11 in the UK.


UCL has about 26,000 students, with a bit over half in the graduate programs.  40% are international (outside of the UK). China represents the largest country of origin, with 3,000 students; the US is second, with a combination of exchange, study abroad and full-time undergraduate degree students. 



US students can study at UCL for a semester or full year through either a “study abroad” or “exchange” program. The Partners for Exchange program is based on reciprocity, in which equal numbers of students swap universities.  Since US students typically study abroad for one semester, and UK students for one year, the US sends two students for every one UK student.  Formal US partners include a range of institutions such as Columbia, Georgetown, Hopkins, Penn, UNC Chapel Hill, and the University of California system.

In contrast, the Study Abroad program does not require an equal exchange of students.  Currently, there are 550 Study Abroad students from the US, including 80 for a full year, and the remainder for a semester. Princeton has a unique partnership with the UCL English department, in which US students take three UCL courses and one Princeton-led course on the London campus.  A similar partnership exists with Tufts, and others may follow. The University of Chicago just changed from a study abroad to exchange partner.

By the way, NYU has adopted a different model, in which it invested heavily in numerous global centers around the world, with its own teaching staff; one of its most prominent programs is NYU-in-London.

UCL wants to encourage its own students to participate in study abroad as part of an institutional strategy of encouraging global citizenship. Currently 21% of undergraduates do study abroad, and the goal is to increase this involvement to 35%.


UCL is one of the most prestigious and selective institutions in the UK, indeed in the world.  Keep your eyes open for a future blog on rankings of UK institutions!  UCL receives about 30,000 applications each year for 3,000 places.

By now, you are aware of the UK policy of requiring a specific number of APs with required minimum scores.  At UCL, 5 APs are required, and individual programs range from 54444 (5 in one AP and 4 in 4 APs) to 55555 (5s in 5 APs).  SAT Subject Test scores are not considered, and the SAT General Reasoning Test can be submitted as additional information, but offers will not be made conditional on the SAT.  Of course, IBs or A-levels are acceptable as alternatives to APs.  In addition the BMAT (UK version of MCAT) is required.

UCL offers a “foundational courses” for students who do not have the entrance qualifications. Its UPC (Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate) course includes two options, one for the humanities, and one for science and engineering. Students who wish to apply to any UK institution can take these courses at UCL.

So if your heart is set on attending a UK university, there’s always a way!

Tuesday, February 24

Imperial College

Just like in the US, each university in the UK has its own story.  No two universities are the same, and each school’s story has its own central players.

For Imperial College, the catalyst was Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, who lived during the mid-nineteenth century. Albert was a pioneer in his devotion to STEM – science, technology, engineering and medicine. By royal charter, he established Imperial College, with the goal of pursuing these disciplines to the fullest extent possible.  Albert would be very proud, since Imperial is now considered a world leader in the research and teaching of STEM.



To fully appreciate the scope of Albert’s reach, it’s helpful to grasp the concept of “Albertropolis” (an amalgam of Albert and metropolis), which refers to the swath of London created and inspired by Albert.  The photo below was taken from the terrace of a business school classmate of mine. You can see the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park at the left, the domed Albert Hall (a major performance venue) in the center, and the Victoria & Albert Museum on the far right.  Such is the scope of Albert’s influence!


In fact, the royal ties to Imperial run deep – Baby George (referring, of course, to William and Kate’s firstborn) was born in Imperial College Hospital, and most likely his sibling will be born there as well.

So if you come to live in London, you will no doubt end up becoming a touch more knowledgeable about England’s political players. You may honor her highness or you may mock the monarchy, but either way you’re not likely to respond to the question “So who’s the Queen now?” with a blank stare. (It’s Elizabeth, and she’s been Queen for so long that 12 Prime Ministers have come and gone.)

But we digress!  On to the unique characteristics of Imperial…


There are three “streams” of study at Imperial, and each has about one-third of the students: Engineering, Medicine and Natural Sciences.

Engineering is the largest of the three, in both number of courses and faculty.  A new program, the Dyson School of Design Engineering, is funded by Jim Dyson and run in collaboration with the Royal College of Art. The mission is to design innovative products, and make them aesthetically pleasing as well. This is the only engineering course at Imperial that does not require physics. There is a lot of overlap with Imperial’s Bio-Engineering department, which recently created, designed and brought to market a Para-Olympic sporting equipment : the “ghost arm,” a glove that trains disabled athletes to initiate effective swimming movements.


Dynamic fracture & forming lab

Medicine is available as an undergraduate subject in UK universities – one of the many significant differences between UK and US undergraduate academia. At other UK universities, medicine is typically a five-year program. At Imperial, however, medicine is six years because of the addition of an “intercalated” 4th year, in which the student researches a specific medical field, such as immunity, infection, global health, or management, and receives a BSc.  Students go into hospitals immediately in their first year, and receive a mixture of problem-based learning and lecturing during their first three years.  Their final two years are purely clinical.

If an American student wanted to practice medicine back in the US after receiving a medicine degree from Imperial, he or she would need to pass the US medical boards.


Cutting-edge medical research is conducted at Imperial such as studies on effects and reconstruction for blast injuries.


Imperial is a member of Athena Swan (Scientific Women’s Academic Network), a national UK initiative to strengthen the participation of women in STEMM, which encompasses the fields of science, technology, engineering, medicine and maths (the UK word for mathematics).  The UK established the Athena Swan Charter in 1999 to advance STEMM, achieve gender equality, eliminate bias, increase management diversity and address challenges in doing so. Universities are eligible to receive a silver or bronze award, and individual departments are eligible for gold, silver or bronze awards, based on efforts to achieve these goals.

Imperial has a Silver institutional award, as well as thirteen departmental awards ranging from Bronze to Gold; Chemistry holds a Gold, and Chemical Engineering, Earth Science and Engineering, Materials, Physics, National Hearta and Lung Institute and Public Health hold a Silver.

You can search the websites of all UK universities for information on their commitment to the aims of Athena SWAN.



The US represents the 12th largest student representation out of 26 countries, and most  US students are in post-graduate study (Masters or PhD) as opposed to undergraduate study. Students can do a 1-year Study Abroad program from October-June as Visiting Students, and are fully integrated with the full-time student body. Most US students who participate in Study Abroad at Imperial do so in Engineering.  An excellent way to experience Imperial is through The Global Summer School, a variety of pre-university programs.


Let’s illustrate UCL’s approach to admissions by focusing on medicine.

Personal Statement.  As you already know from our blog on UK admissions, the Personal Statement should focus on academics. The Imperial international recruitment staff suggests that 90% of the content involve academia, including topics such as influences on your desire to practice medicine, science research papers, related work and volunteer experience.  Try to capture your observations –  don’t just summarize the facts of your experience.  For instance, if you shadowed a doctor examining patients, how did the injured person react? If you watched a surgery first-hand, what was the atmosphere like? What did you see and hear? The other 10% of the essay should focus on extracurriculars. You would benefit from focusing on qualities related to a medical career, such as leadership or ethical values.

Academic Performance. UK admissions typically does not consider a student’s high school GPA!  I know this is shocking news!  Instead, testing is evaluated as follows:

  • Required:
    • A minimum performance level on AP exams, IB courses or A-levels, depending on your school’s curricular system.  For example, acceptance to Imperial’s Medicine program requires 3 AP exams with a score of 5, including Biology and Chemistry, and either Calculus BC or another science. For an IB curriculum, a minimum of 38 points is required, with 3 HL courses (High Level), 3 SL (Standard Level), and minimum scores of 6 in Biology and Chemistry and 5 in SL English
    • BMAT exam (similar in function to the US MCAT for medical school).
    • Interview.  Interestingly, medicine is the only subject for which Imperial requires an interview, in order to assess interpersonal qualities of empathy and communication.
    • Possibly considered but not required: SAT Subject Tests; these scores can be included either in the Personal Statement or through one of your references.
    • Not considered at all:  SAT General Reasoning Test.

Specific requirements for each academic program at each UK university are specified on the website. Some universities have not developed equivalence requirements for AP exams, since they are a uniquely American form of secondary school education; if you do not find such info on the website, contact the international admissions office.

Keep in mind that in the UK system, students can apply to a maximum of five university programs (one maximum in Oxford and Cambridge combined); and receive either a conditional or unconditional letter of acceptance. The conditional letter would specify the required AP, IB or A-level scores.

The UK university system offers unique features and benefits.  Assess whether the UK approach and the specific features and culture of individual institutions are a good fit for you!

Blogs will be posted in the next few days on our recent visits to:

  • Chelsea College of the Arts
  • Kings College
  • University College London
  • SOAS (School of Oriental and Asian Studies)
  • University of Roehampton

Next up:  University of Durham and St Andrews!

Monday, February 23

What’s on today in London:

Imperial college, Victoria & Albert museum, Kings college London! (More coming soon!)

Saturday, February 21

What’s on today in London: Palaces, Parks, Plays and Pubs!

Weekends will be spent exploring the culture of the cities, and reporting on how US students might enjoy leisure time if they choose to study in the UK.  You’ll hear all about parks, pubs and plays!

Friday, February 20

Today, I visited three very different universities: an arts college, a mid-sized university with four constituent colleges, and a private liberal arts university with dual degrees from the US and UK.

Richmond, The American International University in London

Richmond was founded in 1972 as a private institution, with the unique goal of offering a US-style four-year liberal arts curriculum. With 1035 undergraduates, the school has a cozy, personal feel. Academic programs are divided into the School of Communications, Arts & Social Science; and the School of Business & Economics.


Whenever I visit a college, I try to answer these questions:  What is unique about this college? How does it differ from comparable colleges?  What kind of student would thrive and succeed here?  I speak with admissions officers, faculty and students to get all different perspectives.  I recommend this approach for prospective applicants as well, in order to assess your fit with each college.

Why Do Students Choose Richmond?

I approached various students and asked them why they chose to attend Richmond.  Here are their responses:

  • I wanted to study a variety of subjects in a liberal arts environment – I wasn’t ready to choose a major yet!  At Richmond, you can take a variety of courses in 1st and 2nd years, and then must focus on your major for your 3rd and 4th years.
  • I like having degrees from both the US and UK, which gives me more flexibility for grad school or work.  Richmond is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education in the US, and is validated by the Open University Validation Services in the UK.  Richmond is in the process of acquiring its own degree-awarding powers.
  • I wanted to be in London.  Richmond has two campuses in greater London; one in Richmond, about 30 minutes from the center of London; and one in Kensington, in the heart of London.  Students spend their first two years in Richmond and their 3rd and 4th years in Kensington. Adjacent to the university is Richmond Park, inhabited by deer.
  • I liked the international flavor.  40% of the students are from the US, and the rest from all over the world.  Students can spend a semester in Florence or Rome, and Shanghai will soon be an option as well. About six co-curricular trips to the UK and international venues are arranged each semester – next stop will be Iceland!
  • I wanted to study International Relations. IR is Richmond’s most popular major, and is housed in the Politics and International Relations department. IR students often minor in Politics, and vice versa, because of the overlap in content. But while Politics has more emphasis on political science and the workings of the government, IR has a strong focus on diplomacy, global governance, human rights law and international law. IR grads go on to study at top colleges such as Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Harvard, Cornell, MIT-Sloan and Penn-Wharton. 
  • Richmond is less expensive than US colleges.  Tuition for international students is L14,500 (about $23,000), and room and board are L8100 (about $13,000).
  • I wanted a small school, with close relationships with faculty.  Richmond has an average class size of 17 students.  Its facilities are small-scale and accessible as well.

fitrecThe Provost of Richmond points to additional strengths of the university.

  • Career Emphasis.  There is a focus on careers from Day 1.  Internships are strongly encouraged, and available to students with a 3.5 GPA. Richmond has established internship programs in London, Dublin, Barcelona, Beijing, Shanghai, Argentina, Cape Town and India.
  • Service Learning.  Richmond provides opportunities for academically accredited learning through volunteering.
  • Global Citizenship. Richmond participates in a variety of study abroad and exchange programs.


Students can apply to Richmond through UCAS (UK’s Universal College Application Service), the Common App, or Richmond’s direct online application.  The Personal Statement should address questions of why you’ve chosen a particular subject area, why you want a liberal arts environment, and why you are specifically drawn to Richmond.  In this way, the Personal Statement is a blend of the UK Personal Statement, which is very academically focused; and the US supplemental “match” essay that asks why you want to attend the particular college.  Admissions decisions receive a 1-3 week turnaround.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s discussion of my visits to Chelsea College of the Arts and the University of Roehampton!



Friday, February 20th

What’s On Today in London:

  • Chelsea College of the Arts, University of the Arts London
  • Richmond The American International University in London
  • University of Roehampton
  • Theater: The Nether

Day 2 promises to be action-packed with a full itinerary!  Three very different universities, followed by theater in the evening.  Stay tuned!

DAY ONE: Thursday, February 19

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is one of the most important graduate institutions in the world for public health research and advocacy.  The motto is “improving health worldwide,” and faculty are particularly known for playing critical roles in identifying and treating infectious diseases such as Ebola and HIV.


LSH includes faculties in three areas:

  • Epidemiology and Population Health
  • Infectious and Tropical Diseases
  • Public Health and Policy

The Masters of Science (MSc) program admits about 650 students each year, and the most popular program is public health, with about 200 students. The university also offers a variety of specialized, interdisciplinary programs, such as Health Policy, Planning and Financing, a very popular and very competitive joint program with the London School of Economics.  The Tropical Medicine and International Health program is the only one that requires a medical degree to enter.

Students take two semesters of courses, the first with required coursework and the second with electives. In addition, all students are required to do a summer project that can take the form of a systematic literature review, policy analysis report, short primary research project or secondary data analysis.

Each student has a “tutor” who supervises the summer project and acts as a mentor and support.  A distinguishing characteristic of LSH is the importance of the close relationships between faculty and students. LSH runs weekly exhibits in which students can share academic work, such as this poster board of the potential effects of mosquitoes.


The fact that the program is only 1-year long is a draw for many US students, who comprise almost 10% of the student body. The program is also notable for its diversity, drawing students from 80 countries.  Most students have several years of prior work experience, and share their perspectives. In fact, the MPIH program requires at least two years of experience working in a lower income country.

LSH has its own application, and does not accept UCAS. An important component is the 500 word Motivational Statement, in which students should describe how they have spent the last few years, why they are interested in their particular academic program at LSH, and how they will use the education at LSH to advance their goals.

LSH was created in an art deco style, and has magnificent interior courtyards. At the same time, it’s clearly an urban campus, and shares quads with other constituent colleges of the University of London system.



First evening in London?  I head over to Ronnie Scott’s, the best jazz place in London.  Like Jazz Standard in Manhattan, it’s an intimate space in the basement. Arturo Sandoval delights with an electric keyboard, drums and mostly trumpet (for which he won 10 Grammys), and plays a thrilling set with his band of a pianist, two guitarists and two drummers.



Thursday, February 19



Arriving at the Stafford hotel – with my one bag!

What’s On Today in London:

  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s

I have arrived at The Stafford Hotel, a cozy hotel just steps away from Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James Park!  Prince Charles lives a few blocks away, on The Mall, near Buckingham Place.  Regent’s Park is due North, and the Thames River winds around to the south.  Most importantly, I am centrally located for my rounds of university visits.

As I ease into the time zone (5 hours ahead of New York), I’ve planned a relatively low-key day, with a visit to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in the afternoon, and a return trip in the evening to Ronnie Scott’s, the top jazz venue in London.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 18 – Departure!


On the plane, about to take off!

I’m off! And with only my one carry-on for an 18 day-trip!  I’ve learned from wise travelers and that there are two types of luggage – carry-on and lost!

My plan is to visit universities in London from tomorrow through Tuesday. After that, I’ll travel by train to Scotland and visit University of Durham on the way north, spending two days at St Andrews and two days at University of Glasgow. I’ll then train it back to London (with a stop-over at University of Manchester), and conclude with visits to additional London schools and a return trip to Cambridge! 

That’s 15 universities in all, ranging from ancient to modern, from the art schools to vet schools, to public health and large multidisciplinary research universities.


Applying to Med School: the Rise of the Multiple Mini Interview

The interview is an essential component of the medical school admission process. It enables the admissions committee to evaluate applicants based on qualities that cannot be conveyed through a paper application. An analysis by the AAMC reports that medical schools typically use the interview to assess applicants’ non-academic characteristics and skills, including compassion and empathy, personal maturity, and professionalism.

The Traditional Interview (And Its Drawbacks)

The majority of US medical schools continue to utilize a traditional interview format: students are interviewed one-on-one by a member of the school’s faculty, admissions committee, or student body. These traditional interviews can vary considerably in terms of length, structure, content, and scoring. Some schools conduct just one interview, while others conduct two or three. At certain schools, the interviewer has limited to no information about the applicant, while others allow the interviewer to have complete access to the interviewee’s application.

The reliability and validity of the traditional medical school interview has long been in question. The results of a 1996 study demonstrated significant variability among interviewers’ ratings and only moderate validity in interviewers’ ratings of an applicant’s true level of performance. The study also discussed the potential for error due to the fact that certain interviewers are more strict or lenient than others.

The Multiple Mini-Interview (And Its Advantages)

Recently, several US schools have transitioned to a novel type of interview: the Multiple Mini-Interview (MMI), which originated in Canada and Australia. The rationale behind the MMI is twofold: to address some of the weaknesses of the traditional interview format and to better assess an applicant’s potential for success in medical school and beyond.

An MMI typically consists of 6 to 10 stations through which applicants rotate, each with a different scenario, question, or topic. At each station, the student has a few minutes to read the question and prepare, and then spends 6-8 minutes discussing the issue with the interviewer and answering questions.

The stations comprising the MMI are intended to assess various applicant characteristics including communication and problem solving skills, as well as ethics and judgment. There are many different types of MMI scenarios, which may involve a patient actor, a writing task, an ethical dilemma, a healthcare policy question, or a standard interview question. Some schools that have recently switched to using MMI are Albany Medical College, Duke School of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, and SUNY Upstate.

During an MMI, the same interviewer is assigned to evaluate all prospective students at a particular individual station, which reduces some of the inherent variability in traditional interviews. As all interviewees are asked to respond to the same set of prompts, the overall process achieves a greater level of standardization.

A post by the AAMC cites the following reason for more schools moving toward an MMI format: “Because students interact with multiple interviewers in multiple assessments over the course of the MMI, opinions of a single interviewer are not over-emphasized.” According to NYU Admissions MMI FAQ, the overall process is fairer considering “applicants who do poorly on one station have the opportunity to perform better on another.”

Preparing for an MMI

With such a wide array of potential topics, applicants often find MMI preparation quite daunting.  As a student does not know the questions in advance, an AAMC post states “the best way to prepare is to practice expressing yourself articulately and logically in a timed environment.” It may also be valuable to familiarize yourself with some broad, yet relevant topics such as bioethics, current events, and healthcare policy issues.


Both the MMI and traditional interview enable medical schools to assess certain applicant qualities. Yet the MMI differs from the traditional interview in significant ways and in doing so, aims to address several concerns surrounding the traditional interview structure. By interacting with several different interviewers over a variety of scenarios, applicants are judged more holistically and consistently in MMI interviews.

If you have any questions about the medical school application process, contact Collegiate Gateway—we’re always happy to help!




Choosing the right colleges for your intended major

Let’s say you have an idea of a few majors you would like to explore in college.  How do you go about evaluating the academic programs that different colleges offer?

In this blog, we’ll provide a general overview, with tips and advice for researching colleges’ specific academic programs, followed by subsequent blogs on the majors themselves!

Liberal Arts vs. Pre-Professional

If you’re considering a traditional liberal arts major, you’ll be happy to learn that you have plenty of options when choosing a college; these majors are universally available at liberal arts colleges and larger universities alike. Traditional liberal arts subjects include the natural sciences (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy), the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology) and the humanities (e.g. religion, philosophy, history and English).

On the other hand, pre-professional majors typically only exist within specialized colleges or schools within a University.  For example, engineering majors, such as biomedical engineering, chemical engineering and electrical engineering usually reside within a School of Engineering, such as at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.  Business majors, such as marketing, accounting and finance, typically reside within a School of Business, such as at Tulane’s Freeman School of Business.

Some universities contain a variety of specialized schools.  Northwestern includes schools of arts and sciences, communication, education and social policy, engineering, and journalism.  Cornell consists of colleges of arts and sciences, agriculture and life sciences, architecture and art, engineering, hotel administration, human ecology, and industrial and labor relations.

But not all universities offer such a range of pre-professional majors. Both Princeton and Dartmouth have a School of Engineering, but no undergraduate major in business (or any other pre-professional area).

Why does this matter?  If you have specific academic or career interests, make sure the colleges that you are considering, visiting, and ultimately applying to, have appropriate programs for you.

 How is the Major Organized?

Certain majors vary in structure, depending on the college.  Computer science might be found among the liberal arts majors, such as at Brown; within the School of Engineering, such as at University of Pennsylvania; or even at its own School of Computer Science, such as at Carnegie Mellon.

 Check out the culture, values, and distribution requirements of the different schools within a university to determine which best match your preferences. 

Is the subject offered as a major or minor?  Oberlin is one of the few colleges to offer an undergraduate Major in Creative Writing. The program has five full-time professors and five affiliate and visiting professors; and provides depth in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, playwriting and screenwriting. In contrast, Dartmouth offers a Creative Writing Program within the English department, with about 10 courses on poetry, fiction and memoir.

 Compare the depth and commitment at different colleges towards your specific fields of interest.

Are concentrations within the major available or required? Study the home page for the major to find out.  At Washington University in St. Louis, biology majors can either acquire broad training in the field of biology, or choose to focus on a subfield, such as Ecology and Evolution, Genomics and Computational Biology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry or Neuroscience. In contrast, Swarthmore offers biology majors the option to pursue Interdisciplinary Special Majors, including Biochemistry, Biology and Educational Studies, Environmental Science, Neuroscience or Psychobiology.

How Strong is the Major?

The strength of a major is often very difficult to assess. Small departments with a low student-faculty ratio can offer more personalized guidance and mentorship.  But larger departments often have the resources to provide more specialization and depth.

For instance, if you are interested in Artificial Intelligence (a field within Computer Science), you will no doubt be delighted to discover that the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL), in existence for over 50 years, has 15 full-time faculty from related departments of logic, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Robotics, and more. In contrast, Amherst College has one course on artificial intelligence, offered every other year.  So if you wish to study a specialized area, make sure that the colleges you are considering have depth in that area.

If you would like to dig deeper, investigate the research strength of the professors.  Look on their bios to see the papers that they have published, how often they have published, and what the topics are. See how often professors’ research is cited internationally in the work of others.  Call the department office to find out if undergraduates have an opportunity to conduct research with professors.

→Understanding the strength of a department and its research resources is particularly important if you have high-level aspirations for graduate school or employment opportunities.

How Do Alumni Fare after Graduation?

The Career Services Office typically maintains data about the post-graduation plans of the college’s alumni.  You can find out what percentage of alumni go on to attend graduate school, what percentage find employment, and what fields the graduates entered. Not only do these statistics give you a good idea of the practical use you’ll be getting out of your degree, they also allow you to see how well-respected the college’s degrees are in the “real world.”

For example, the post-graduate activity of Cornell alums varies widely by the undergraduate school.  The highest percentage employed was experienced by grads of Hotel Administration, at 91%; whereas grads of the Engineering School showed the highest percentage that went on to graduate school, at 34%.

Contrary to popular conception, the colleges whose graduates go on to earn the highest percentage of Ph.D.s tend to be liberal arts colleges, not specialized colleges.  The top ten list includes Reed and Swarthmore, ranked # 3 and #4 after Cal-Tec and Harvey Mudd, as well as Carleton, Grinnell, Bryn Mawr and Oberlin. In fact, for the technical areas of math, physical sciences and physics, Reed is ranked in the top four.

→Check out colleges’ Career Services information to find out about the paths alums take after graduation.

For further guidance, contact us at As always, we’re happy to help!

Job Prospects for Law School Grads

Students decide to attend law school because:

A)  The LSAT entrance test is more fun than a video game

B)  Law school itself consists mostly of parties with few academic demands

C)  They want to become lawyers

Yes, our research conclusively supports Option C!

So, how is the job market for entry-level hiring of JDs? Of the 46,800 law school grads in the class of 2013, 45,600 reported their job status to NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, which advises law students and lawyers, and gathers and reports law school data: 37,700 are employed. Let’s take a look at those who joined private practice, representing over 50% of the total (19,300).

The Jobs Outlook

There are some indications that entry-level hiring of law school graduates is on the rise.  NALP reported that new grads from the Class of 2013 found more jobs for the second consecutive year.  Still, hiring has not recovered to the level of pre-recession hires; the sheer number of recent graduates hired at firms with over 500 lawyers is at a 4-year high (at 3,980), but is still well below 2009’s totals exceeding 5,000.

Keep in mind, however, that the graduating class of 2013 was the largest to date. According to James Leipold, Executive Director of NALP, “Even though there were more jobs and more of those jobs were higher-quality jobs, the overall unemployment rate continued to grow, just because the size of the pool was so big.” So while the employment rate has dropped from a 25-year high of 91.9% in 2007 to 84.5% for the Class of 2013, these figures must be viewed within the context of the recent bulge in the size of the law school classes.

The good news though, is that the next four classes have dropped from 52,000 students entering law school in 2010 to 37,000 students matriculating in the fall of 2014, a trend that is expected to improve job prospects.

Shift from Large to Small Firms

Since the 2008 recession. there has been a sizeable shift in hiring, from large firms to small firms. Three-quarters of law school grads have chosen to work at very small firms (2-10 lawyers) or large firms (over 100 lawyers) from 2008 to the present, but there has been a 10% shift over this period.  In 2008, 43% entered large firms and 33% entered the very small firms; whereas in 2013, these numbers reversed.

One reason is that given economic considerations, some larger firms would prefer that graduating JDs acquire experience at a smaller firm before training them at a high entry-level salary rate.  James Shearin, Chairman of Pullman and Comley, one of Connecticut’s largest law firms, said that this is partially informed by the demands of clients. “There are certainly clients who say we won’t pay for first-year associates,” he said.

Salary is also a significant reason for this trend. Salaries tend to rise with the size of the firm, and firms with over 500 employees typically offer $160,000 at the entry level, compared with a mid-50% range of $42,000-$60,000 for the smallest size firm of 2-10 employees. Given the higher salary rates, large firms have been tightening their staff, and then hiring later if they needed. Smaller firms, because they pay less for entry-level grads, can afford to invest in more of them.

In response to the weaker economy, there’s a movement towards more efficient, cost-effective approaches. “The big law business model is stumbling,” according to Basha Rubin, who graduated from Yale Law in 2010 and is the co-founder and CEO of Priori, a company that brokers entrepreneurial lawyers and business owners.   Her company seeks to enlist a growing group of entrepreneurial lawyers who want to perform legal work independently, without the resources and constraints of working for a law firm.  Rubin states, “Previously disaggregated and fragmented, they can use technology to improve their efficiency with new tools that automate document production and assembly, workflow management research, and contract review.”

Influence of Summer Programs

Entry-level lawyers at large law firms are typically hired after participating in summer programs.  In 2013, the average size of summer programs was 11, a decline from the peak of 14 in 2000.

There are, however, exceptions.  WilmerHale, one of the top law firms in the US, hired 39 summer associates in 2013, slightly up from previous years.  According to Boston Business Journal, Mark Fleming, chair of the firm’s hiring committee, felt that “this class size allows associates to rotate through many of the firm’s practice areas.”

Another piece of good news is that the percentage of 3Ls in the Class of 2013 who received job offers after participating in summer programs hit 91.6%, the highest of any year in the last two decades except for 92.8% in 2007.

So, if you love the idea of practicing law, there’s plenty of encouragement to do so!  If you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – as always, we’re happy to help!

Applying to UK Universities: A How-to Guide

Have you ever pictured yourself attending university in England or Scotland?  You may be surprised to learn that it’s a more attainable goal than you think.

The United Kingdom includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  This is especially true now, since Scotland recently voted to remain within the jurisdiction of the UK!  All the universities in the UK use the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service).

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Are there different categories of UK Universities?

Funny you should ask!  Universities in the United Kingdom (including England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) are typically grouped in six categories, based on their date of origin.  In the UK, age matters!  The most well-known and distinguished UK universities are considered “Ancient Universities,” founded before 1800.  These include the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge (collectively known as “Oxbridge”) and the University of St. Andrews.

Another category consists of Colleges Founded in the 19th Century, including those within the University of London and the former University of Wales.  Most of the universities in London are part of the public University of London system, founded in 1836 by Royal Charter.  London University consists of 18 constituent colleges, which operate fairly independently. Several award their own degrees, including King’s College London, London Business School, University College London and LSE. Imperial College London left the University system in 2007.

The remaining categories include colleges founded in the 20th century, such as the “Red Brick Universities,” large public universities founded in the early decades of the 20th century; and “Plate Glass Universities,” chartered after 1966.

Step 1: Become More Familiar with UK Universities

A unique and highly beneficial feature of the application process in the UK is that universities hold several Open Visit Days each year.  For example, Oxford has Open Visit Days in early July and mid-September.  For American students, you may not be considering college visits in the summer, so take note that the best time to go is during July when you are not in academic session. While typically you do not need to register for open days, advance booking may be required for some events.

Students, parents, and counselors can register in advance for a full day of scheduled presentations on admissions, financial aid, student life, and housing, as well as attend talks by professors in different “faculties,” or academic areas. It is advisable to visit at least one college, as well as a faculty talk in  your academic area of choice.  Staff are available to answer questions throughout the day.




Step 2: Choose an Academic Faculty

Attending college in the UK is fundamentally different than in the United States in terms of the high degree of academic directedness.  There is no such thing as “undecided!”  Students apply to specific “faculties,” or academic departments.  English universities have a three-year, highly focused academic program in which students apply for a specific subject or interdisciplinary grouping of subjects; and, if accepted, pursue this course of study throughout the three years.  Scottish universities have four-year degrees and a hybrid system in which students study three to five subjects during the first two years, confirm their preferred concentration(s) and study only those one or two subjects throughout their final two years.

Step 3:  Learn More About the Application Process

 Students apply to all UK universities through a common application called UCAS. Students may only apply to five applications to all UK universities, including only one to Oxbridge (Oxford or Cambridge).

The UCAS application opens September 1.  The application deadlines are as follows:

  • October 15: Oxbridge, and the faculties of medicine, dentistry and veterinary science
  • January 15: Most other UK institutions
  • March 24: Art and Design programs.

Admissions decisions are provided by March 31.  Your acceptance is often contingent on achieving certain academic outcomes at the end of senior year, such as attaining certain IB and AP scores.  For students taking AP courses, final decisions are not rendered until after mid-July, when AP scores are received.


Step 4: Write Your Personal Statement

The personal statement for UK universities plays a vital role in the process.  Since students are considered for particular faculties, the purpose of the personal statement is to establish that you are a good fit for your designated academic area.  The essay should demonstrate why you are drawn to a particular academic area, and what you will contribute to academic life at the university.

Unlike personal statements for US universities, the focus should be exclusively academic, not personal.  As such, the essay is more similar to the US graduate school personal statement.  The UK personal statement has a maximum of 4000 characters (about the same length as the US 650 word maximum).  UK admissions officers suggest that you spend 70-75% of your Personal Statement on academic aspects, such as courses and research. The remainder could discuss outside activities, but only if they are relevant to your intended courses of study.  For example, if you wish to pursue Politics, you could discuss the evolution of your interest in politics, relevant coursework such as AP Government, as well as your involvement in Model UN or Debate Club. Regardless, make sure you always tie your experience directly to your academic and career goals.

Topics that could be relevant to include are:

  • What are your primary areas of academic interest?
  • Why do you have these interests?
  • How would study of these areas relate to your future goals?
  • What are your relevant skills and perspectives?
  • What are your relevant extra experiences, such as outside reading, activities, work and internships?

UK Admissions Officers cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do your research about the universities and the subjects offered, and proofread carefully!  Keep in mind that the same Personal Statement will be read by all the UK universities you are applying to (up to five maximum), so only include information that applies to all the colleges. For example, only discuss courses of subjects that are available at all the universities you are applying to.

To learn more about the UK’s many fine universities, check out our blogs on Oxford, St. Andrews and Cambridge. And of course, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.