Academics

The academic profile and admission requirements vary from university to university. It’s important to find a university that matches your academic ‘fit'.

Academic opportunities

You do not have to choose your major when you apply to a US university. However, if you know what you want to study, make sure the university offers degrees in the areas that interest you.

There’s also more to the academic side of university than the subjects on offer. Think about which of the following are important to you, and in what ways:

  • Student to faculty ratio
  • Access to faculty outside of class time
  • Undergraduate research opportunities
  • Honour or scholar programmes
  • Study abroad programmes
  • Library facilities and opening hours
  • Internships, community service or volunteering for credit

Admission requirements

It’s important to be realistic about your university choices in terms of what academic profile they are looking for.

Some of the top-tier universities in the USA admit fewer than 6% of all students who apply (the University of Cambridge rate of admission is more than double this). These universities are looking for academically excellent applicants who have exceptional extracurricular involvement.

However, there are thousands of universities in the USA, so academic expectations range from high to low. You do not need straight As and A*s to be admitted to a good university in the USA.

In general, American universities will at least be looking for:

  • Five subjects at GCSE or the equivalent National 5s
  • IB or A-levels/Scottish Advanced Highers
  • Very few ‘soft’ subjects
  • Some sort of extracurricular involvement

You should be following at least the standard course load or curriculum that students at your school normally take for university entry.

Less competitive bachelor’s programmes might accept the BTEC or National 4s, and community colleges might accept vocational qualifications like the GNVQ or HND. You should contact each institution’s admissions office to know for certain, and to find out how they view qualifications like non-Advanced Scottish Highers, Pre-U, the EPQ, the Welsh Baccalaureate, etc.

Competitiveness

US universities don’t have specific entry requirements like British universities.

They do publish the grade point average (GPA) that their first year (freshman) students achieved in high school. This can be usually be found on the admissions section of a university’s website, and is out of 4.0.

Use the table below to average all your GCSEs, A-levels and/or Scottish qualifications into a GPA.

This will help you know if a university’s academic profile is within your reach.

Universities will also publish the average or range of admissions scores their admitted students typically receive.

You should always report your UK grades when applying, not your GPA equivalent. This is not an official conversion, and is only to be used in judging your competitiveness.
GPA GCSEs pre-2017 GCSEs post-2017 National 5s A-levels Highers and Advanced Highers GPA
4 A/A* 9 A A/A* A 4
3.7   8       3.7
3.3 B 7   B   3.3
3 C 6 B   B 3
2.7   5   C   2.7
2.3 D 4       2.3
2 E 3 C D C 2
1.3 F 2       1.3
1 G 1 D E D 1
0 U U       0