The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A Levels) is an entry qualification for universities in the United Kingdom and worldwide. The US equivalent for that purpose would be the High School Diploma. However, in England and Wales, the high school diploma is considered to be at the level of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), which is awarded at Year 11. For college and university admissions, the high school diploma may be accepted in lieu of the GCSE if an average grade of C is obtained in subjects with a GCSE counterpart.
As the more academically rigorous A Levels awarded at Year 13 are expected for university admission, the high school diploma alone is generally not considered to meet university requirements. Students who wish to study in the United Kingdom may additionally participate in the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, which are considered to be at the level of the A Level qualifications and earn points on the UCAS Tariff, or may opt to take A Level examinations in British international schools or as private candidates. Standardized tests, such as the College Board's SAT and SAT Subject Tests or the ACT, may also be considered.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) recommends that in addition to a high school diploma, grades of 3 or above in at least two, or ideally three, Advanced Placement exams may be considered as meeting general entry requirements for admission. The IB Diploma may also be accepted. For College Board tests, a minimum score of 600 or higher in all sections of the SAT or a minimum score of 26 or higher in all sections of the ACT along with a minimum score of 600 in relevant SAT Subject Tests may be considered as meeting general entry requirements for admission.
The GCE was first examined in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was intended to cater for the increased range of subjects available to pupils since the raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15. The examinations were graded into ordinary levels for the top 25% academically of 16-year-olds. A-Levels were the subsequent examination for those who studied for a further two years after O-Levels (GCEs). These were often in addition to O-Levels in subjects that the student was particularly adept at.
Letter grades are used, with A, B, C, D, and E representing a pass and U (unclassified) representing a fail. After leading British universities had expressed concerns that the A grade alone would no longer be enough to seek out the most capable candidates, the A* grade was introduced (GCSE, the replacement of GCE and CSE)[clarification needed] for students who achieve 80% and above in the overall A-Level qualification and achieve 90% and over in all A2 (this applies to GCSE and not GCE but may apply to CSE) modules.