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Pathways to UK Universities

Aspiring applicants and parents who have just started considering studying in the UK for undergraduate study might find the academic or entry requirement listed by universities confusing or complicated.Thus we have prepared the following graph, hoping to offer everyone a better grasp of the two most popular pathways: the A-levels and International Baccalaureate (IB).

GCSE, General Certificate of Secondary Education, is an academic qualification awarded in a specified subject, generally taken in a minimum of 6 subjects, for students aged 14 to 16. It is typically available in the UK. IGCSE, as suggested by its name, is the international counterpart of GCSE. In addition to the compulsory subjects (English, Maths and Science in GCSE, and in most cases English, Chinese, Maths, and Global Perspectives in IGCSE in Hong Kong), students are advised to take additional subjects in various areas such as arts, humanities, social sciences, etc, making up a total of min. of 6 and a possible maximum of 14/15 subjects. Universities will also take GCSE scores into consideration during the admission process. For example, medical schools would often mention having no GCSE grade lower than a 7 or B.

After successfully completing the GCSE or IGCSE, students begin their study at the GCE A- Level or IAL (International A-level), which takes two years to complete. Subjects are graded on a scale of A-E with A* being the highest. The admission requirement at Oxbridge is usually A*A*A or AAA.

Alternatively, students can choose the IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) upon the completion of GCSE/ IGCSE. To receive the full award of the IB Diploma, students need to complete 6 subjects, 3 at Higher Level (HL) and 3 at Standard Level. IB also offers a Middle Years Programme (MYP) for students aged 11 to 16 which can also prepare them for the study of IBDP. Subjects are graded with a 1-7 scale with 7 being the highest. Admission requirement of IB scores at Oxford is usually a total score of above 38 while Cambridge requires 40+, with 6s and 7s taken in Higher Level.


We encourage parents and members to plan early and do thorough research before deciding which schools to attend and which education system is more suitable for them (e.g. essay/project based for IB vs test drills for A-Levels), as the course framework at school might affect the application for university. They also need to carefully consider which subjects to choose under each curriculum, with the university subject prerequisites in mind.

In the past decade, Norton House has been helping many members plan their admission to universities. If you need help with academic study or professional advice on choosing schools and subjects, please feel free to contact us.

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