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Foreign Secondary Qualifications in South African Universities

by Staff Reporter

If you are a student who has attended high school at an international school whereby your secondary qualification is different to the IEB matric, then this article will help you understand the ins and outs of applying to South African Universities. We delve into the requirements, top tips and need-to-know tit bits!

There is a lot of information to go through – but it is worthwhile sticking with it so you understand all that you need to do!

Before we get started, we need to be informed about Matric Exemption.

What is a matriculation exemption?

A matriculation exemption is a legal requirement for first-degree study at a South African university.

  • Foreign students wishing to register for first-degree studies in South Africa must have their school qualifications evaluated by the Matriculation Board that will then issue a certificate of exemption to those who qualify.
  • Students who did not pass Senior Certificate with endorsement are required by law to apply for a matriculation exemption through the Matriculation Board.

“A certificate of exemption is issued on application to prospective students who have obtained a Senior Certificate without endorsement or equivalent foreign school-leaving qualification, who meets the requirements of the published regulations and wishes to pursue first degree studies at a South African university”. 

How do I apply for an exemption certificate?

You need to get hold of the M30e form which is obtainable from:

a)  Admissions Offices of universities or
b)  Download it from the Matriculation Board website or
c)  Request it via e-mail addressed to: applications@usaf.ac.za or
d)  Request that the form be faxed to you.

How long does it take to process an application?

Due to the high volume of inquiries that this office receives, it takes the Matriculation Board 5-10 working days to process the online/faxed inquiries.   If the applicant qualifies for exemption a provisional letter is issued which is sufficient to facilitate admission to South African public university subject to the applicant meeting the institutional requirements. Furthermore, it takes approximately the same time to process an application form. The actual exemption certificate is issued in approximately 6-8 weeks after receipt of all relevant and correctly certified documents as well as the requisite payment. 

If I’m not sure whether I’ll qualify for exemption or not, what do I do?

Visit the online assessment and application page and follow the instructions. http://mb.usaf.ac.za/online-assessment-and-application/

NB: Some universities will admit you into their institution before you have applied for your matric exemption. They will leave the process up to you to do before it comes time to graduate. If you are not cleared or do not apply, you won’t graduate.

How much do I pay for an exemption certificate?

The standard application fee for 2018 was R500.00  this will increase to R530.00 on 1 January 2019 and is a non – refundable fee.  The Exemption fee is adjusted annually and the applicants are required to pay the fee applicable for the year.

Where do I make payments?

The money can be deposited into the following bank account:

Bank: ABSA
Account name: Matriculation Board
Account number: 4059036917
Branch: Sunnyside Branch
Code: 630345
Swift code: ABSA ZA JJ

Please Note: The above banking details were correct athe time of publishing this article. Please ensure you have double-checked these details as they may have changed before making your payment.

When completing the bank deposit slip make sure that your surname and initials are clearly indicated in the reference column and fax proof of payment to Matriculation Board at: 086 686 1720.  Proof of payment needs to be included with the application to prevent delays in processing the application.

> German Arbitur

Deutsche Internationale Schule Kapstadt (DSK) is a German school that offers two secondary qualification streams:

  1. The English stream learners will get their National Senior Certificate (NSC, South African Qualification) as well as a German Language Diploma.
  2. The German stream learners will graduate with the German International Abitur, as well as the IEB NSC.

Owing to both streams having the NSC component, applying to South African Universities is hassle free! As an German stream student, you have two options when applying to SA Universities. You can apply with your National Senior Certificate with no need of getting a Matric exemption, or with your Abitur, but you will need to show proof of your NSC.

More about DSK and the Abitur

A special characteristic of the DSK is the fact that their learners qualify with one of two double qualifications: They obtain either:

  • the National Senior Certificate (NSC, South African qualification) and the German Language Diploma at level B2/C1 or
  • the Combined Qualification with the NSC and the German International Abitur.
  • In the German stream learners graduate with the German International Abitur as well as the IEB NSC, which entitles them to study in Germany, South Africa, and in more than 100 countries worldwide. Teaching and tests take place according to the bilingual character, in German and English.

Examination boards and subjects

  • Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany for the subjects:
  • German Mother Tongue
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • History
  • French as 1st additional language
  • South African Department of Education through its accredited assessment bodies (IEB) for the subjects:
  • English Home Language
  • Life Orientation plus Sport and (Social Studies) Gemeinschaftskunde
  • Afrikaans 1st additional language
  • Music Appreciation
  • Visual Arts Appreciation

Subject Choices

  • 9 subjects – 41 lessons per week in grade 10 – 12 choices:
    2 out of 3 natural sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology)
    French or Afrikaans
    Music Appreciation or Visual Arts Appreciation


  • Double certification (Abitur and NSC)
    Calculation of average mark over 2 years (grade 11 and 12)
  • Final examination:
  • 3 written examinations (German, English obligatory)
  • 2 oral examinations:
  • 20min colloquium
  • 20min project presentation including colloquium
  • No average subject marks
    Overall average mark: 66% half year marks + 33% final examination marks

> French Baccalaureate

Lycée Français Du Cap, is a French school in Cape Town that offers the French Baccalaureate.  In High School or “Premiere” and “Terminale”, the learners are still enrolled with the CNED. The National Centre for Distance Education is a public institution under the oversight of the Department of Education dedicated to providing distance learning material.

With this secondary qualification, you will need to get a matric exemption to study at a tertiary institution in South Africa.

More about EFDC and the baccalaureate

  • A dual-medium education – in French and in English
  • An internationally recognised qualification, giving access to the best schools and universities in the world
  • The world’s largest network of schools, with a single curriculum in 492 schools across 137 countries
  • High School learners (“Seconde” to “Terminale” = Grade 10 to 12) prepare for the internationally recognised French “Baccalaureat” exam.
  • The “Seconde” (Grade 10) provides a common general knowledge to students while allowing the discovery of new domains in Literature, Economics, and Social Sciences, Science and Technology.
  • The “Première” (Grade 11) and “Terminale” (Grade 12) allow for specialisation in a specific stream (Literature, Social Sciences & Economics, or Sciences) while still retaining general subjects that lead to the “Baccalauréat” examination.
  • In “Seconde” our learners are taught directly by accredited teachers, as in Primary and Middle School. In “Premiere” and “Terminale”, our learners are still enrolled with the CNED until 2019. In the near future, they will also be taught directly: there has been an application for the necessary accreditations and is being processed.
  • The CNED (National Centre for Distance Learning), is a public institution under the supervision of the French Ministry of Education. Teaching materials are well prepared and sent to the school by the CNED. The learners’ assignments are sent back to the CNED for marking. These students still have a normal school day with our teachers and in classes, following a normal timetable and strict deadlines. But some of their assignments go to CNED. To best prepare our students for the “Baccalauréat” examination, they are given time-limited assignments on a regular basis. They are also given the opportunity to sit mock “Baccalauréat” exams.

> IGCSE & A-Levels 

International School of Cape Town ISCT offers IGCSE and A-Levels.


  • Cambridge IGCSE is the world’s most popular international qualification for 14-16 year-olds. It is designed to be offered as a two-year course, although ISCT offers it over 18 months, starting at the beginning of Year 10 (January) and running through to June of Year 11. It is internationally recognised as being equivalent to the GCSE in the UK. The ‘I’ indicates ‘International’.
  • It is usually a 2-year course, covering Year 10 and Year 11. At ISCT, we have successfully shortened it to 18 months, starting in January of Year 10, being written off in May of Year 11.
  • Between 7 and 9 subjects are chosen from subject groupings which vary from year to year, depending on demand from the students.


  • Cambridge Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level represents the first half of a full A-level course and gives students the opportunity to study a broader range of subjects without committing to doing a full A-level. You can choose to complete an AS Level examination, then stop studying for that particular subject. Or you can gain an AS Level qualification, then complete the remaining course of study in order to take the A level assessment. Our AS level programme begins in July of each year and runs for 18 months. This is then followed by the one year (optional) A-level. Many of our students complete the AS level and then enter a South African University, while those who wish to study overseas often stay on to complete the full A-level in three subjects.
  • Advanced (A or A2) Levels switch from the full classroom teaching method in AS to a tutor-supported self-study system. This involves on average two contact hours per subject per week while the student follows a well-constructed curriculum in each subject with regular compulsory assignments and assessments.

The Cambridge International Exams (CIE) allow our students to enter tertiary education anywhere in the world. The following is required for acceptance into tertiary education institutions:

Entrance requirements for South African universities and colleges:

In order to gain entrance into a tertiary institution in South Africa, a student must have a matriculation exemption certificate.

The Matric Board requirements for this exemption are as follows:

For more information about Cambridge Examinations and SA university entrance please click here .

Application guidelines: http://he-enrol.ac.za/application-guide

HESA Fees: http://he-enrol.ac.za/fees-structure

Application form: http://he-enrol.ac.za/webform/download-application-form-m30

All grades must have been achieved in two examination sittings.

Full Exemption

2 A-levels (grades A-E) + 3 IGCSEs (grades A-C) OR 3 A-levels (grades A-E) + 1 IGCSE (grades A-C)

which must include:

  • English Language
  • A second language ( at IGCSE or AS level)
  • Any other subject which could be taken at a South African school

OR 4 AS-levels (grades A-D) + 1 IGCSE (grades A-C)

which must include:

  • English (as a first or second language)
  • A second language (as above)
  • Two subjects from two groups of subjects given below + one other subject

GROUP III: a third language, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, or Physics.

GROUP IV: Art, Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Geography, History, Mathematics, Music, or Physics.

GROUP V: Accounting, Business Studies, Computing, Design and Technology or Further Mathematics (only if accompanied by IGCSE Maths C grade).

Other facts

All students writing foreign examinations are considered under immigrant status, which means that they do not need an official South African language as a second language.

  • Matriculation without exemption (for certificate and diploma courses)
  • 2 AS-levels (grades A-E) + 3 IGCSEs (grades A-C)
  • OR 2 AS-levels (grades A-E) + 5 IGCSEs (grades A-E)
  • OR 1 A-level (grades A-E) + 5 IGCSEs (grades A-E)
  • OR 1 A-level(grades A-E) + 3 IGCSEs (grades A-C)

In addition to the Matric Exemption, Universities also have a points systems, based on subject choices and grades achieved. Students wishing to enter a particular field of study require enough points for that chosen field. The ISCT Director of Studies will be able to provide further information about points, alternatively, the University websites will have the same information. 

Entrance requirement for Foreign Universities (please do confirm this with your choice of university):

United Kingdom

  • 3 A-levels

United States of America

  • 12 years of schooling (including High School)
  • SAT I and SAT II


  • HIGCSE or 4 AS-levels or 3 A-levels

> American Curriculum   

American International School of Cape Town offers the American curriculum. Their campus is divided into four sections: Early Childhood Development Centre (ECD): Grizzly Cubs to Kindergarten 1; Elementary School: Kindergarten 2 to Grade 5; Middle School: Grades 6-8; and High School: Grades 9-12. The school follows the American curriculum and offers Advanced Placement (AP) classes in the High School.

For this secondary qualification, you will need to apply for a matric exemption.

More about AISCT and the American Curriculum

Foreign language instruction in French and Spanish begins in Grade 1. Following the northern hemisphere calendar, the school year begins in August and ends in June. The school day begins at 08h00 and ends at 14h50 for Elementary School and 14h55 for Upper School. After-school activities take place between 15h00 and 17h00 with most finishing at 16h00. Each Wednesday, our teachers take part in professional development training from 07h30-08h20. As a result, on Wednesday mornings, classes begin at 08h30. High School students have individualised schedules and take eight classes a year. We work on an alternating schedule whereby the students take the same four 80-minute classes on Mondays and Thursdays (A-day classes) and then four other 80-minute classes on Tuesdays and Fridays (B-day classes). On Wednesdays, they alternate between A-day and B-day classes.


On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, students have an advisory time called Communitas (Latin for community) with their homeroom teacher for 20 minutes. This time is used for character education, distributing information and announcements, receiving academic support, and general community building. Our High School offers 65 courses each year. Each year students take courses in the five core areas: English, science, social studies, math, and foreign language. In addition, they take three electives which include a balance of variety and focus areas. Students take semester exams in the core subjects of English, science, social studies, math, and foreign language. These exams are worth 20% of the semester grade while the two terms in the semester consist of 40% each. 

Do they offer AP classes and what are they?

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are university-level courses taken in high school and prepare students for higher education internationally. More than 90 percent of universities in the United States, as well as 60 other countries, give students credit, advanced placement or both on the basis of AP exam grades. AISCT has a University Advisor/ Guidance Counselor who fully understands the university application processes globally and whose role in the school is to counsel students regarding applications. AISCT currently offers 17 AP courses to 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in the following subject areas: English Language & Composition, English Literature & Composition, Calculus AB, Statistics, Chemistry, Biology, Physics I, Environmental Science, Psychology, US History, European History, French Language & Culture, Spanish Language & Culture, Studio Art (Drawing and 2-D Design) and the AP Capstone Diploma program classes of Seminar and Research. AISCT runs on a US credit-based system with a WASC-accredited USA high school diploma as its exit qualification. A specified number of credits must be earned in each discipline in order for a Grade 12 student to be eligible to graduate from our program. One year-long course equals one credit. Graduation requirements also include a certain number of service hours, partici­pation in Innovation Term, and the successful completion of our Senior Project (an independent research project).

EduConnect 2Cents

If you have attended an international school, there is a way to still have a seamless university application process.  Find out how you can get a matric exemption, according to your school, and you’ll be in university before you know it.  You’re welcome 🙂

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