Getting into SA Universities with Cambridge results

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Getting into South African Universities with Cambridge IGCSEs, AS & A Levels


James Ball – University Admissions Counsellor | Enko Sandton


Wits University


A common question I get asked by my students is whether they will be able to get into South African universities with their Cambridge results (IGCSEs, AS & A Levels). I always reassure them that Cambridge is well known and recognised within the South African university system. I then work closely with them to ensure that they know the specific requirements to get a certificate of exemption from Universities South Africa (USAf) and that they are aware of the minimum requirements for their chosen degree programme. At Enko Sandton we do this very early on to ensure that a student’s subject choice aligns with their university ambitions or gives them good options if they are undecided about what they want to study.


Certificate of Exemption


A certificate of exemption from USAf is a prerequisite for Cambridge students wanting to study at South African universities. As mentioned, I work very closely with Enko Sandton students to ensure that they have the right combination of subjects and that they know what marks they need to achieve. Without expert guidance up front, students could get a nasty surprise when applying to their dream universities. Once again I must emphasise that a certificate of exemption does not mean a student will be accepted into their chosen degree programme. Various university faculties will have their own minimum requirements that a student must meet (see section below).


There are three main options that our students can choose from to get their certificate of exemption: the A Level 4 subject option, the A Level 5 subject option and the AS Level 5 subject option. Below are brief explanations and a few examples for each one.


Option 1: A Level 4 Subject Option


For this option students need to achieve 3 A Levels at an E grade or higher and have one IG subject at a minimum C grade. It is hugely important to check the recognised subject list (divided into five groups) as this option requires at least one subject from Groups I, II and III. For Enko Sandton students Group I is normally English First Language while Group II is a second language such as French, Portugese, Spanish, Chinese, Zulu or Afrikaans. The most common subjects I see in Group III are Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths. The fourth subject can come from any of the groups. If you would like to see the full list please email


Here are two made-up examples to give you a better idea of how this option works:


Example 1 – Themba Mochaba


  • AL English (C) – Group I
  • AL Physics (B) – Group III
  • AL History (B) – Group IV
  • IG French (A) – Group II


Themba would get his certificate of exemption. He has three AL subjects above an E grade, an IG subject above a C grade and at least one subject from groups I, II and III.


Example 2 – Max Wells


  • AL English (A) – Group I
  • AL Chemistry (A) – Group IV
  • AL Maths (A) – Group III
  • IG Physics (A) – Group III


In this example, even though Max has achieved straight As and would have several international options he would not get his certificate of exemption as he does not have a subject from Group II. This reveals the importance of getting good subject choice advice up front.


Option 2: A Level 5 Subject Option


For this option students need 2 A Levels with a minimum E grade and 3 IG subjects at a C or above. Once again the student would need to have at least one subject from Groups I, II and III. The other two subjects can come from any of the groups. One thing to keep in mind here is that if students have UK universities on their list then Option 1 is the one to go for as in most cases at least 3 A Levels are required.


Example 1 –  Bongi Sithole


  • AL English (B) – Group I
  • AL Maths (C) – Group III
  • IG Zulu (A) – Group II
  • IG Physics (B) – Group III
  • IG Business (C) – Group  V


Bongi would definitely get her certificate of exemption. She has 2 A Levels above an E, 3 IGs above a C and at least one subject from Groups I, II and III.


Example 2 – Caitlin Humphries


  • AL English (C) – Group I
  • AL Chemistry (B) – Group III
  • IG Maths (D) – Group III
  • IG Zulu (B) – Group II
  • IG Geography (A) – Group IV


Despite a solid academic performance and having subjects from the required groups, Caitlin would not get her certificate of exemption. This is because she doesn’t have 3 IG subjects above a C grade. In this case her Maths mark let her down.


Option 3: AS Level 5 Subject Option


This option is the most complex of the three so it is easier to break it down into seven checkboxes. Students must have all seven to get their certificate of exemption.


  1. 4 AS subjects with a minimum D grade
  2. 1 IG subject at a C or above
  3. Two languages
  4. English passed at an appropriate level
  5. 1 subject from Groups I or II
  6. 2 subjects from Groups III, IV or V
  7. Two-sitting rule (An examination sitting is a 12 month period. E.g. May/June 2019 & Oct/Nov 2019)


Examples are the easiest way to provide clarity on this option.


Example 1 – Stan Nowak


  • AS English (B) – Group I – Oct/Nov 2018 exam session
  • AS Maths (C) – Group III – Oct/Nov 2018 exam session
  • AS Physics (A) – Group III – Oct/Nov 2019 exam session
  • AS History (A) – Group IV – Oct/Nov 2019 exam session
  • IG French (C)  – Group II – Oct / Nov 2018 exam session


USAf would definitely provide Stan with a certificate of exemption as all the boxes have been ticked. Go through them one by one to get a feel for this option.


Example 2 – Linda Broman


  • AS English (A) – Group I – Oct/Nov 2018 exam session
  • AS Physics (A) – Group III – Oct/Nov 2018 exam session
  • AS Geography (B) – Group IV – Oct/Nov 2018 exam session
  • AS Maths (C) – Group III – May/June 2019 exam session
  • IG Spanish (D) – Group II – Oct/Nov 2017 


Unfortunately Linda would not get her exemption. Before reading on see if you can spot why. 


Her D for IG Spanish cost her but she was also unable to write all her exams within the two-sittings window.


With so many possible combinations it is definitely worth chatting to a Cambridge recognitions expert or your university admissions counsellor to make 100% sure you are in line to get your certificate of exemption.


Minimum requirements for your programme of choice


Many university faculties will set minimum requirements for degree programmes. One of the best places for Cambridge students to check for specifics is on an up to date undergraduate prospectus. Universities such as Wits, UCT and UP have made it very easy for students to see what is required. Contact the relevant university directly or speak to your universities admissions counsellor if these details aren’t easily accessible online. Below is a screenshot from the UCT undergraduate prospectus for 2020 for various Business Science and BCom programmes


Note: Points are calculated using the table below (for the Faculty of Commerce at UCT points for English and Maths are doubled).


Image via UCT Undergraduate Prospectus 2020


National Benchmark Tests (NBTs)


A final aspect worth mentioning is that students must check if they need to submit NBTs with their application (NBTs test a student’s academic readiness for university). For example, UCT requires NBTs for ‘all applicants to undergraduate programmes living in, or at school in, South Africa, and all Health Sciences applicants’. Wits on the other hand only requires NBTs for specific programmes e.g. those within the Faculty of Health Sciences.


For more information and specific advice on these matters chat to your university admissions counsellor, contact CAIE’s Recognitions Manager or if you are an Enko Sandton student email

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