Skip to main content

Moving from the American system into the British system is probably one of the trickiest transitions of all, and success very much depends on the age of the student and on his/her ability and willingness to adapt and take on the extra work that will undoubtedly be required. It would be exactly like jumping onto a jogging machine already going at full tilt.  

It's obviously easier for students to make a reasonably seamless transition from an American school into, and back out of, an American school, but not just because the American schools are in step with the range and level of curriculum in the US and at international American schools.

American schools are also very much geared to welcoming and absorbing new students, often with a structure in place to ease them (and their parents) into school life quickly. A side benefit is that they often also take full advantage of living in a foreign city, planning classes around the museums, theatre, concerts, history, etc whenever they can.

Getting into US universities is possible from either system

US universities are familiar with GCSE and A level qualifications but, unlike the UK uni system, acceptance at a US uni is not conditional on the A level results - especially since A level exams are not even taken until several months after US letters of acceptance go out.  Instead, the US universities will generally ask for GCSE's and AS level results, along with an indication of academic progress in the final (A2) year.

5 GCSE passes at grade C or higher are considered the rough equivalent of a US High School Diploma (without Honors or 'Advanced Placement' (AP) classes). This will be sufficient for a student to gain entry to less selective US colleges and universities. However, the student will have to wait until he/she is 17 years old to apply.

If a student with good GCSEs definitely intends to go to a US university, and wants to apply to more competitive universities, s/he should either complete A levels or the International Baccalaureate, or should attend an American high school that offers AP classes. The IB curriculum is especially recommended if the student might be applying to other countries for higher education (besides the US and UK). Selective US universities will have the same entry expectations as UK universities.

Changing from the American system to the British during high school

In the American system, there isn't really a mid-way marker or set of exams (like the GCSEs or IGCSEs) against which any equivalency can be set, and therefore be useful for purposes of transferring during secondary school. Only when a student has a high school diploma and transcript with AP courses, or the IB Diploma, does the next level of schooling (US or UK universities) know how to gauge course work and exams.

The concern when switching over to the National Curriculum of England is that, after 14, students in the British system begin preparing for GCSEs (national exams taken at 16, with class work very much teaching to the tests), and that's when the US system begins to differ significantly  from the UK system.

After 14, it is key that a student complete an appropriate course of education: UK GCSEs, GCSE + A levels, GCSEs + US High School with AP curriculum, US High School + A level exams, or US High School Diploma depending on circumstances and educational goals. Swapping mid-course would present the student with extreme challenges.

After 16, students have already begun to specialize and concentrate on science, or maths, or literature etc.  After GCSEs, they are working towards their next and final major tests - the A levels (for "advanced") in three subjects, taken when they are 17 and 18. 

The best students in the best British schools do end up with a very advanced level of education in their chosen subjects, but they have been working towards that level of proficiency for several years, and graduate from high school essentially ready for graduate school (18 year olds go on to med school, law school, etc), since university is simply a sharper end of the ever narrowing (but extremely deep and thorough) educational road they've been traveling.  For many students from outside that system, there may be no realistic entry point at 16, scholastically or socially. 

That said, there is some anecdotal evidence suggesting that students tranferring from very strong American high schools (public and private), particularly in the northeastern US, to even the best British public schools (independent schools) have successfully made the jump and lived to tell the tale. It undoubtedly depends on the school, how well the student does on the entrance tests, how willing the new school is to support the student's adjustment, and how tough (academically, emotionally and socially) the student is. 

If parents are considering sending their child back to his or her old UK school (say, a student who has missed GCSEs but wants to go back in time for A levels), the best advice from us would be for parents to start by talking to that school. The decision they will take to admit or not will be based on an assessment of how capable the students is of taking on A level in her chosen subjects. Different A levels require different degrees of preparedness and if there is a gap, some children are more capable of leaping it than others - and there is always a summer with a tutor to help.

Then, if parents need to look elsewhere, it will be a matter of having the above assessment done independently, so that they can make it easy for a school to be confident of making a success of the chosen A levels.

by

Related articles


  • Special educational needs

    Some special needs are easy to spot, others are only determined once a child has experienced considerable difficulties, frustrations or social and emotional problems.  Over the years, diagnosis of and provision for SEN have improved, but both can still be a minefield. Identifying different kinds of special educational needs Few children fit a condition perfectly – if they do, we tend to say they are a ‘classic’ case. Most will not be straightforward: perhaps a dyslexic with dyspraxia and a touch of ADD, or a child with ASD who also has Down’s syndrome. Just as special needs are hard to…

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. One month subscription - £0.49 per day Three month subscription - £0.41 per day Six month subscription - £0.33 per day One year subscription - £0.29 per day Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get an exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special needs. ☑ Receive our monthly newsletter. For further…

  • Finding a state grammar school

    Counties such as Kent or Buckinghamshire are ‘selective authorities’ and most families will have at least one grammar school close to where they live. Elsewhere, for example in Reading or Kingston-on-Thames, there are just one or two grammar schools and competition for places at these is ferocious. How to find a state grammar school Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston,…

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell and Charlotte Church standing. And for some extraordinary - though totally understandable - reason, everyone but us seems blind to our offspring's God-given artistic gifts.

  • Education Consultants

    The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants advise parents on everything to do with children and their education  Our service is a personal one-to-one service.You tell us what you want and we tell you how we can help. And then we do! Our education consultants are our most experienced writers. They have visited countless schools. All are parents. You will have your own personal advisor who has the benefit of the combined experience and expertise of the entire team to draw on. All our consultants work as hard for the children of their clients as they do for their own. Call…


Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

30000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent friendly interactive directory.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1200+ schools.
Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

For a limited time get one month's Good Schools Guide subscription free with any purchase of The Good Schools Guide to North or South London.

Your subscription will activate on checkout

The Good Schools Guide London SouthThe Good Schools Guide London North

 GSG Blog >    In the news >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

Don't overlook non-Russell Group universities.

 
 

For a limited time get one month's Good Schools Guide subscription free with any purchase of the brand new Good Schools Guide London North or Good Schools Guide London South.