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What is the difference between Cambridge A-levels and Matric?

A Levels vs matric: What’s the difference? We break it down with insights on curriculum, duration, international appeal and university requirements.
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As a parent, you have myriad options when it comes to your child’s schooling. You can opt for a private school or a public school. You can decide on an online school or a brick-and-mortar school. 

You can also choose between various different curricula, such as the South African national curriculum, CAPS, and the Cambridge International curriculum – which are two of the top pathways on offer. 

There are benefits to both. It all depends on what’ll work best for your child. But before you can get to work on a decision, you need to understand the difference between the two curricula, the qualifications they offer, and what that’ll mean for your child. 

A Levels vs matric

The first thing to note is that the Cambridge International system leads up to the Cambridge Advanced (A) Levels qualification. The CAPS curriculum, on the other hand, ends with the National Senior Certificate (NSC), which is also referred to as a matric. 

They’re both high school qualifications. And in South Africa, they’re both valid school-leaving qualifications. 

So what are their differences? We’re going to take a closer look at their:

  1. curriculum
  2. duration
  3. international standing 
  4. university requirements.


The most fundamental difference between A Levels and matric is at the curriculum level. As noted, A Levels are the most advanced qualification possible when studying via the Cambridge International curriculum. Matric follows CAPS. 

These two curriculums have different educational approaches and goals. Overall, CAPS is the more streamlined approach, with a smaller set of subjects, more structure and definite guidelines. It also has a focus on practical learning. 

The Cambridge curriculum has a more flexible approach to learning, with a vast array of subjects on offer – as many as 50 at the A Level – that learners can delve deeply into. There’s a focus on theory, as well as a learning approach that prioritises self-directed learning, research skills, and higher-order thinking skills like critical thinking and problem solving. 


The South African matric is the culmination of 12 years of schooling. The matric year is considered to be the 12th and final year of secondary education, after which learners receive their NSC. 

The Cambridge equivalent of matric is Advanced Secondary (AS) Levels, which is also a valid school-leaving qualification in the country. 

When completing full A Levels, which typically takes two years, learners spend the first year on AS Levels. Alternatively, they could opt for just AS Levels. When studying through UCT Online High School, AS Levels take 18 months to complete. 

International standing

One of the key selling points of Cambridge schooling is its international appeal. It’s commonly chosen by local families who value its international credibility – be it because they’re looking to emigrate, secure a spot for their child at a top international school, or to open up future career opportunities along the line. 

Cambridge International qualifications are recognised by over 2,000 institutions across the globe, including top universities in South Africa, the USA and UK. To confirm if your child’s preferred institution recognises Cambridge International programmes, check the online recognition database, here.

While not quite at the Cambridge level for international appeal, the NSC matric is still a well-respected qualification, and is recognised by many international institutions of higher learning. 

University requirements

If your child is looking to secure a spot at a local university, the NSC offers a streamlined path to their first undergraduate degree. So long as they meet the requirements for a bachelor’s pass, and exceed the minimum admission requirements and any subject requirements for their chosen institution or programme, they stand a chance of receiving a place. 

A Level learners are equally strong candidates, but do need to take an additional step in the application process, and plan ahead during subject selection. That’s because South African Cambridge International learners – like all non-NSC learners – need to first apply for their matric exemption certificate. And like NSC learners, they’ll also need to meet subject requirements, as well as other minimum admission requirements for their chosen course. 

To read more about the matric exemption requirements for Cambridge learners, take a look at our article: Can you get a matric exemption with Cambridge A-levels?

Which curriculum is best for our child

Now that you’ve been introduced to some of the differences between A Levels and matric, you’re on track to select an educational programme that’ll bring out the best in your child. 

Whether you’re set on international appeal, practical learning opportunities, or a seamless pathway to local university acceptance, there's a lot to consider. 

If you’re not yet sure on the best option for your child, check out our quiz: CAPS vs Cambridge | Which curriculum is right for my child? You can also reach out to a member of our team to discuss your options.

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