Going to the U.S. for college was something Oshini Ekanayake always planned for. As a student in Sri Lanka, she took her Cambridge International AS and A Levels and says the advanced curriculum more than prepared her for studying in the U.S. Ekanayake was admitted to Clark University in Massachusetts.
“Most of what was covered in Cambridge examinations overlapped with introductory-level classes of those subjects,” says Ekanayake, who graduated from Clark in 2015 with a bachelor’s in biochemistry and molecular biology.
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AS and A Levels are subject-based qualifications – followed by assessments – that students typically take in their last two years of high school. Students can choose from more than 50 subjects to study. Results are reported on a grade scale of A*, the highest, to E, the minimum required performance.
Cambridge Assessment International Education, a nonprofit organization that the University of Cambridge runs, offers different qualifications for students in primary through secondary grades. Students can take courses in individual subjects or complete a diploma program similar to the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.
Cambridge works with more than 10,000 schools in 160 countries. These qualifications include upper-secondary and advanced programs and qualifications, such as the GCSE or IGCSE for 14- to 16-year-olds; AS and A Levels; the Advanced International Certificate of Education Diploma; and Pre-U, a post-16 qualification that prepares students for higher education.
More than 500 U.S. universities, including all the Ivy League schools, recognize Cambridge qualifications. Prospective international students should confirm with U.S. institutions that they will accept their qualifications.
Here are three benefits – including acceptance at U.S. universities – for prospective international applicants who hold Cambridge qualifications to consider as they plan to study in the U.S.
1. U.S. university recognition: Many U.S. institutions recognize that the Cambridge AS and A Levels prepare students well for their undergraduate studies.
“There are a number of students enrolling at MIT each year with Cambridge qualifications. Our admissions process recognizes the Cambridge curriculum as excellent preparation for MIT,” says Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions and student financial services at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University, says the rigorous curriculum allows students “to learn topics in considerable depth and importantly also gives them the opportunity to see how they relate to each other in a broader, global point of view.”
Thai national Sirin Charasyosvuthichai earned high scores and awards on her Cambridge qualifications across more than nine subjects. “Key thing here is the depth of the curriculum that set me up really well for more advanced classes in college,” says Charasyosvuthichai, who graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 2016.
2. College credits: Good grades in AS or A Level subjects can also earn international students up to a full year of university course credit. Depending on the university, credit is awarded based on the individual subject and the examination grade earned.
At Florida State University, students who pass Cambridge examinations with a grade of E or higher may receive up to 45 hours of college credit, says Hege Ferguson, director of admissions. Ferguson says this gives students opportunities to pursue double majors and graduate early or in four years.
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Marie Bernardo Sousa, senior vice president for administration and enrollment management at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, says the school accepts A Level for eight semester hours and AS Level for four semester hours for college credits. She also notes that the school accepts other Cambridge qualifications, depending on the subjects and grades earned.
Students typically receive their Cambridge results in August or January of their senior year in high school. Ekanayake says she received hers later in the year and didn’t use any credits for her qualifications until her junior year at Clark University.
“I did get a chance to place into a higher level of foreign language and only take one semester of physics as opposed to two,” says Ekanayake.
3. Meets English proficiency requirements: Some U.S. universities will accept the Cambridge GCSE or IGCSE to meet English language proficiency requirements. Experts say prospective students should check university requirements.
For English proficiency, Ekanayake says she received some credits but had to take a prep course before fulfilling her English requirement to earn a bachelor’s at Clark University – and that even some of her classmates who were from the U.S. had to take the English prep course.
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At Pennsylvania State University—University Park, IGCSE or GCSE “passes in English language graded A, B or C satisfies our English language proficiency requirement,” says Clark Brigger, executive director of undergraduate admissions.
Brian R. Mylrea, director of international education at Indiana University—Purdue University—Fort Wayne, says English proficiency requirements may be waived in lieu of the TOEFL or IELTS if the student passes the GCSE or IGCSE English first language examination with a minimum grade of C or above.
Mylrea says international student applicants with Cambridge qualifications are better academically prepared to begin their university studies. He also says they are “more likely to qualify for academic scholarships, which add an extra level of esteem and economic security throughout their academic careers.”
Ekanayake says she received a scholarship that paid 50 percent of her tuition at Clark. Now pursuing a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Delaware, she credits Cambridge International’s rigorous curriculum for giving her a good foundation.