Undergraduate Admissions Handbook 2014-15

1.8 Qualifications and entrance requirements

1.8.1 Summary of offers made by qualification

GCE AS and A Levels
For 2015 entry, most conditional offers for Arts courses made by the Cambridge Colleges will require A*AA in three GCE A Level subjects whereas most conditional offers for Sciences courses (except PBS) will require A*A*A.

Cambridge Pre-U
Further information about the Cambridge Pre-U, including syllabus material, can be found on the CIE website: www.cie.org.uk/cambridgepreu/.

Conditional offers should be set on an individual basis but are likely to include achieving Distinction level grades (D2 or D3) in Principal Subjects.

Scottish Advanced Highers
Typical offers are AAA. Experience shows that AAA at Scottish Advanced Highers is harder to achieve than AAA at A Level. It is important to note that not all Scottish schools can offer full teaching support for three Advanced Highers and/or may offer only a very limited number of subjects. Some offers may therefore have to be adjusted in such circumstances.  

Irish Leaving Certificate
Typical offers are AAAAA at Higher Level. The grading system for the Irish Leaving Certificate is calculated as follows:

A1: 100-90% A2: 89-85%  
B1: 84-80% B2: 79-75% B3: 74-70%
C1: 69-65% C2: 64-60% C3: 59-55%
D1: 54-50% D2: 49-45% D3: 44-40%
E: 39-25%    
F: 24-11%    
No grade: 10-0%    

Access to HE Diploma
Applicants are expected to achieve the Access to HE Diploma with Distinctions in all relevant subject units. In most instances, an Access to HE Diploma alone is not sufficient preparation to study a Science subject or Economics at Cambridge. Applicants may be required to meet additional subject-specific requirements for particular courses at Cambridge.

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme
It is recommended that the full Diploma is obtained. Typical offers request an overall score between 40 and 41 out of 45 (including the bonus points from the Theory of Knowledge component and the Extended Essay) and 7,7,6 or 7,7,7 (7 being the highest) in the Higher Level (HL) subjects. It is sometimes appropriate to ask for a particular grade in a standard level (SL) specific subject.

Appendix N contains a helpful International Baccalaureate Diploma Curriculum Content Guide.

European Baccalaureate
Offers are usually made on the basis of 85% – 90% overall, with 90% being asked for in specific subjects.

French Baccalauréat
Offers are usually made on the basis of between 16 and 17 out of 20 overall, with 16–17 out of 20 also required in specific subjects. Please note that 16-20 is ‘mention très bien’ and 14-15 is ‘mention bien’. Appendix J contains information about the English International Option (OIB) of the ‘Bac’.

German Abitur
Typical offers vary from an overall score of 1.0 to 1.3 (1.0 being the top score). Scores of 14 to 15 (15 being the top mark) are usually requested in specific subjects.

Advanced Placement Tests (USA)
Offers are made on an individual basis with 5 usually being requested in five subjects. This is in addition to a high pass in the High School Diploma and the SAT.

Apolytirion of Lykeio (Greece)
A typical offer is an overall average score of 19 and scores of 19 in individual subjects. Some Colleges may include additional qualifications in offers.

Hong Kong Diploma
For advice about subject equivalencies in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, please see:

1.8.2 Further advice and support

Please note that advice on international qualifications, English language requirements and fee status is available from CAO. The following Admissions Tutors, College Fellows and University staff have particular expertise in the examinations systems of certain countries, which they are willing to share:

  • Dr Paul Wingfield (Trinity): Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland
  • Dr Kelvin Bowkett (Christ’s): Singapore and Malaysia
  • Dr James Hickson (Pembroke): Hong Kong
  • Professor David Cardwell (Fitzwilliam): The People’s Republic of China
  • Dr Shaila Fennell (Jesus): India and Pakistan
  • Mr Scott Mandlebrote (Peterhouse): Belgium (Flemish) and the Netherlands
  • Dr Paul Russell (Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic): European Baccalaureate
  • Dr Stuart Martin (Magdalene): Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.
  • Dr Caroline Burt (Pembroke): Canada, Hungary, Sweden and Switzerland

Dr Mike Sewell (SE) and Miss Helen Reed (CAO) also have a wide knowledge and expertise of a general nature.

1.8.3 Overseas qualification comparisons

UK NARIC (www.ecctis.co.uk/naric/default.aspx) gives information and advice on the comparability of international and UK qualifications.

Please note that the NARIC guidance is based on the situation at universities generally in the UK, and Cambridge Colleges may wish to ask for a higher level of attainment.

The University’s subscription to NARIC provides only a limited number of users, one of which is CAO. CAO can check qualification comparisons on behalf of Colleges. Queries should be directed to Helen Reed in the first instance.

Extensive research into overseas qualification comparisons, including details of grade distributions where available, has been undertaken by CAO. The overseas qualification guidance arising from this research was approved by the Admissions Forum in June 2010 and is available from Helen Reed on request. In addition, CAO circulates information on overseas offers made by Cambridge Colleges annually and maintains a comprehensive website on international qualifications here: www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/international-students/eu-international-qualifications.

1.8.4 English language qualifications

Undergraduate applicants whose first language is not English must achieve, as part of any conditional offer, an acceptable English language qualification listed below. In all cases, the guidance provided relating to the level of attainment required is advisory only and Colleges may ask for higher (or lower) attainment as they deem appropriate.

  • IELTS: Normally a minimum overall grade of 7.5, usually with 7.0 or above in each element
  • EU students - a high grade in English taken as part of a leaving examination (eg the European/French Baccalaureate, Abitur etc) may be acceptable
  • Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English - grade A or B

If the applicant has already achieved one of these qualifications, Colleges can still include a requirement for an English language qualification in an offer. This is most likely to be necessary if concerns about the applicant's English language competence arise at interview.

The Admissions Forum has agreed that the English language element within the Singapore Integrated Programme is generally acceptable for entry to Cambridge, but that Colleges would not be precluded from asking for an additional English language qualification if they felt it necessary to do so. It is essential that Colleges ensure that satisfactory evidence of English language competency is held on the applicant’s file when a Tier 4 Visa is required in order to comply with Home Office regulations.  Further advice and guidance is available from Cambridge Admissions Office or the International Students’ Team.

For EU students, a high grade in English taken as part of a leaving examination may be acceptable, and the Admissions Forum agreed the following list on 27 January 2006:

  • International Baccalaureate: Higher level English Language – 5 or higher if at A1 first language or A2 second language, or possibly B second language (some previous experience). Standard level English Language – if A1 first language or A2 second language at least at 6, and possibly B second language (some previous experience) if it’s at 7.
  • American SATs and AP: CEEB Entrance Test, the SAT, 650 in English – including the writing and critical reading elements, Advanced Placement, English, grade 4 or 5.
  • French Baccalaureate: Mention bien and a mark of 14-15 in English.
  • German Abitur: Sehr gut, which equates to a mark of 13 or more out of 15 in English in the Abitur.
  • European Baccalaureate: English as compulsory or option subject must have 8.5 or 85% minimum.

The Admissions Forum has agreed that the definition of an acceptable standard that a student who is not a native speaker of English must reach to be interviewed outside the UK will be that they must have achieved a score of 6 overall in IELTS for sciences subjects, and 6.5 for arts and social sciences. It was agreed that the threshold should also apply to those non-native speakers of English who apply from outside the UK/EU but who wish to be interviewed in Cambridge, wherever they are at school. The Home Office requirements for Tier 4 visas demand that Colleges keep a written record of the fact that offer-holders have met the standard required in English proficiency. The agreed pro forma is available as Appendix E. Those students whose qualifications are covered by the items listed above do not require the completion of a pro forma.

Those students whose English language qualifications are covered by the items listed within the list of approved English language tests on the Home Office website (www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/applicationforms/new-approved-english-tests.pdf)  do not require the completion of a pro forma.