Cambridge International A Levels get students ‘University ready’: New US research

We know that Cambridge International AS & A Levels are well respected by college admissions staff in the US, but the latest research I have been involved in shows Cambridge qualifications are also a good indicator of students’ ability to complete a degree.

Tracking over 600 Cambridge students in the US who completed high school in 2011, our research found that 89% of these Cambridge students enrolled at university and 62% graduated within five years. This is better than the average enrolment and graduation rates in the US.

Cambridge students after high school: What happens next?

Much of my research aims to find out more about ‘what happens next’ to Cambridge students after they take our qualifications. Recently, my colleagues, Carmen Vidal Rodeiro and Cara Crawford, and I were excited to gain access to a huge database of US students. It meant we could follow the post-secondary journeys of a large number of Cambridge students.

This database, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) student tracker system, has information about almost all students at US universities.

In 2011, 7384 US students took at least one Cambridge International AS or A Level. We managed to find matching records for 5543 students – 75% of our class of 2011 – on the NSC database. Digging down further, we decided to look at students who took a package of Cambridge International AS & A Levels called the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma.

This gave us a group of 678 students. We collated all their information and then compared our results with other research looking at US student enrolment and graduation. It was clear from this that these Cambridge students had above average enrolment and graduation rates.

More Cambridge students enrol – and enrol more quickly

The first thing we noticed was that Cambridge students had excellent enrolment rates with 601 – or 89% – of our students enrolling in US colleges and universities. Many of those students – 75% – enrolled the same year as finishing school. The national rate of immediate enrolment was 68%.

We also found that the majority of those students enrolled into four-year (99%), full-time (84%) degrees, and in institutions that were highly selective and with high levels of research activity.

More Cambridge students graduate

Next, we looked at the graduation rates for our students and found that 50% graduated within four years and 62% graduated within five years.

It was interesting to be able to compare these figures with US national statistics on graduation rates. Of all US students enrolled full-time at a four-year institution, 58% graduated within six years. Our Cambridge students compared very well to this: of those who enrolled full-time in a four-year institution, 67% graduated within five years.

Our graduating students also showed a strong preference for institutions that were highly selective and with high levels of research activity, unsurprisingly echoing our enrolment findings.

Cambridge students are ‘college ready’

Getting students ‘college ready’ – truly able and sufficiently committed to complete an undergraduate degree – is a big priority for the US education sector. Students who are not ready to take on the challenge of post-secondary study are less likely to graduate.

For admissions staff at US universities, the task is to select those students most likely to graduate.

For high schools and students, the challenge is to find ways of getting students ‘college ready’. More and more students are taking acceleration programmes like the Cambridge AICE – and its counterparts like the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate – to help get into, and ready for, university.

This is why I am so interested in what happens next to Cambridge students. Did taking particular combinations of Cambridge International AS & A Levels give Cambridge students the skills and abilities to succeed at university? Tracking students through this research has given me even more confidence to say that taking Cambridge qualifications helps students to get college ready.

Cambridge students are often the ones who come into our institution and thrive. They are ready for the demands of the academic course-load of the university and have excellent academic skills.”
US college admissions staff