About 75% of students who go through the British schooling system in Cayman (Cayman Prep and St. Ignatius) go on to UK universities. The remainder go to US or Canadian universities and a diminutive percentage go to a local Cayman university. The main reason these students go to the UK is the cost: a Caymanian is eligible for ‘home fees’, which means that the tuition fees are a fixed £9,250 per year. With board and lodging, flights, books and extras on top, the all-inclusive cost of going to a UK university is in the region of £20,000/US$28,000 per year. The US equivalent is US$12,000-$80,000 per year for tuition alone.
In contrast to US universities, where courses run for four years and start with a liberal programme covering many subjects, UK degree courses specialise right from the beginning and run for only three years, unless you are doing Medicine, Veterinary Science, Dentistry or studying a foreign language. Though note that standard degree courses in Scotland are four years, not three.
There is also a lot of movement between countries now as many North American universities have partnerships with UK universities and offer a ‘Study Abroad’ term or year. This is a nice compromise for those students who really don’t know which country they want to study in!
There is only one way to apply to a UK university and that is through UCAS. This centralised provider gathers all the student’s information and university choices, and then disseminates it to the universities your child has chosen. The cost of the UCAS application is £23.
Students register with UCAS in June of Lower 6th Form (Year 12). Over the summer holidays students and their families research what courses are available at which universities.
For most courses you can apply to up to five universities. If you want to read Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Science, however, you can only apply to four. You cannot apply to five universities for two or three different subjects though. Incidentally, if you want to apply to Oxbridge, you have to choose to apply for either Oxford or Cambridge – you cannot choose both.
The UCAS application should include:
The personal statement is a crucial part of the application and can take between 10 and 12 hours to complete. Cayman schools will check your statement, offer advice on what it should contain and edit it so that it is grammatically correct.
For those students that have done SATs, APs or the IB, UK NARIC is the UK’s national agency for the recognition and comparison of international qualifications. The deadline for UCAS applications is October 15th for Oxbridge and January 15th for all other universities. It is very important that Cayman students do not leave their application until the deadline of January 15. The reason being that many universities come back with the ‘you have been assessed as an overseas student for fees purposes’, which will then trigger a fee appeal.
If this happens, Cayman schools will speak on the student’s behalf and explain to the university that under this guideline and this law the student does qualify for home fees. Although there have been a few close calls, schools in Cayman have never lost a fee appeal. However, if you leave the application until January and there is a problem, then places may have already been offered and accepted by other students.
In an ideal world, students get their UCAS applications in early, and by Christmas they know what their offers are and what grades they need to get in their exams that summer. It also helps when you are applying for a government scholarship – which is unbelievably hard in terms of paperwork and what you need to gather – to know what courses and universities you are aiming for.
Once applications have been assessed, universities either offer an unconditional place, a conditional place based on grades they want you to get, or they turn you down. Offers are always based on three A Level subjects; it will never be offered on four A Levels. A high-achieving student might take four A Levels though, as it will give them more UCAS Tariff Points, which, if applied by the university, will give the student greater flexibility over the grade combination needed to meet the university’s requirements.
Once the student has received their offers, they have to confirm which one they will firmly accept, but are allowed to choose a second offer as an ‘insurance’ policy in case they do not get the grades required for their first choice. They then contact both the universities and discuss everything, including accommodation. At this point the only thing you don’t do is book your flight. Results then come out around August 20th and university begins a few weeks later.
Schools in Cayman are very clear on the fact that UK universities do not give students coming from overseas any advantage over UK resident students. The universities all know the qualification options (IB, APs, SATs) and there is a level that they want students to be at. Yes, there are overseas quotas that they have to fill, but they will not take the student if they don’t think they can get through the course. There is a general misconception on this fact amongst Cayman’s parents.
Students taking a gap year apply a year later, so already have their results. This is an advantage, as universities can tell the students right away “yes” or “no” based on their results. Cayman schools keep all the students’ references on file along with their grades and welcome past students back so they can work on their application.
THE ‘GAP’ YEAR
According to the Gap Year Association, taking a break before or after university has numerous benefits for the student. There are reams of anecdotal and qualitative data on the positive reasons for taking a Gap Year and these include such things as increased maturity, greater ownership of the student’s education, increased self-awareness, greater global awareness, fluency in a foreign language and, of course, the self-confidence earned from successfully completing a Gap Year.
Students have reported that their year away helped them socially and gave them something interesting to say in conversations, in essays and in job applications. They felt that their year away helped confirm their choice of career and academic major,
and it added to their employability. If you are planning on taking a Gap Year, make sure that you have a good Gap Year plan and that whatever you do is worthwhile, has value and will feed into your course. There are lots of fabulous Gap Year websites which can give you an idea of great things to do on your year off.
The British schools we spoke to in Cayman were all very much in favour of students taking a Gap Year. Gap years are also becoming increasingly popular in the US and colleges such as Harvard particularly encourage this practice.
However, it’s important to note that a 2018 study by UK-company The Leap reported that only 10% of Gap Years were fully self-funded.
As in the case of the UK, the US has a similar central portal called the ‘Common App’, which lists more than 800 colleges and universities. See www.commonapp.org for more information and how to apply. There is also the ‘Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success’, which is a group of US colleges and universities (about 140 in total) who have united in their mission to support lower-income, under-resourced, and/or first-generation university students. They make sure that these students have access to financial aid and that the access to higher education is made clearer and easier. See www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org for more information.
Students interested in going to an American university create a profile in these portals, input a personal statement and then their current school fills in their part, which includes their GPA, curriculum, a transcript of their grades and subjects from Years 7 to 13, and teacher recommendations/references.
American universities accept students from all over the world, so they have to understand the different grading systems between A Levels, Advanced Placements, the International Baccalaureate (IB) and of course their own SAT and ACT tests. Cambridge University in England has done a lot of work lobbying Ivy League universities so that they understand the A Level system and what the various grades are worth. To work out your own GPA, go to www.cambridgeinternational.org, click on the ‘Programmes and Qualifications’ link and then the ‘Recognition and Acceptance’ section.
Ontario has the vast majority of the universities in Canada, and similar to UCAS and Common App, Ontario has the ‘Ontario Universities Application Centre’ (OUAC) where you will input your application, list your chosen course and universities, and upload your grades, personal statement and references amongst other things. For all other universities, including McGill in Quebec, you will have to apply to the schools directly. All-in, the fees plus living expenses are about CA$27,000 (US$20,000) per year, so Canada is a good option for Cayman students.
Canadian universities understand the British GCSE and A Level system, as well as the IB. It is worth looking at the admissions requirements for each Canadian university which you are interested in. For example, the University of Toronto requires a minimum predicted IB score of 27, and higher for more competitive subjects. If you have gone through the British system they require at least five IGCSE/GCSE subjects and four AS Levels or three A Levels. They do not generally accept people who have taken BTEC courses unless the BTEC includes sufficient academic content. For those that have gone through the US system in high school, a Canadian university will want to know your GPA and will look at your results in Grade 11 and 12. They do not require SAT or ACT test scores although they may request them if your GPA is lower than they want.
TOP TIP: Caymanian students with the right grades can apply for a Cayman Islands Government and/or private scholarship to pay for some (and sometimes all) of the costs associated with going to university. Refer to A Successful Approach to Scholarship Strategy Part I, Part II & Part III for more.
For a list of the various entry exams to university please see Part I.
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