GCSEs and A-Levels
GCSEs are generally regarded as the equivalent of a US High School diploma. Many schools regard them as the rough equivalent to the US 11th grade plus a little more. Before US admissions officials knew the British system so well, they often just figured students had opted not to do their A-Levels. But now that the British system is widely understood in the US. It is usually viewed unfavourably for students not to complete A-Levels. However, unlike the UK universities system, acceptance at US universities is not conditional on your A-Levels results. Especially since A-Levels exams are not even taken until several months after US letter of acceptance go out. Instead, the US universities will generally ask for GCSEs and AS level results, along with an indication of academic progress in the final (A2) year.
The International Baccalaureate (IB)
All US universities accept the IB Diploma now, and know all about its requirements and value. Most US universities offer course credit for IB courses and it is seen by some as a scholarship route. Many will offer college credit for AP courses provided the exam scores are high. As mentioned above, some may also give credit for A-levels. That credit can allow a freshmen to skip the basic freshman 500-person survey course taught by a graduate student. It can also cut expenses by as much a semester (if a student has enough credit to skip 3 or 4 of the totals courses required). To learn more about the IB, read our IB blog.
Extra credit and competition in US universities
Even for American students, an American High School Diploma needs some additions and ameliorations to get into competitive US universities; in most schools and states, the basic courses required to achieve a standard diploma are simply not strong enough. So most colleges and universities prefer heftier coursework in addition to, or instead of, those basic courses. Such as IB courses and/or a few Advanced Placement courses.
Additionally, A-Levels can sometimes count for US university credit: usually one A-level can equal 3 undergraduate credits. Students need to inquire about this during the application process, and should expect to also provide results from the (American) SAT Reasoning test, possibly SAT Subject tests, letters of reference and so on.
The final word
Parents of high school students should enquire in advance as to whether their school will be able to help with the application process. Many international schools, of course, handle a wide range of applications for universities all over the world. But they might not have much experience with students applying outside the country. Thus, parents should plan to shepherd their children through the process themselves or engage an independent education consultant. For more information, read our blog about reasons to hire an education consultant. It might be money well-spent to engage a private consultant who knows the territory and stays up to speed with the frequent changes to university admissions policies.