How New Zealand Students Can Use Their NCEA to Meet GPA Requirements at Top US Universities

15/07/202112 minute read
How New Zealand Students Can Use Their NCEA to Meet GPA Requirements at Top US Universities

Curious how you can use credits from New Zealand’s NCEA curriculum to apply to top universities in the US? Look no further. Read on to learn everything you need to know about how admissions officers look at NCEA credits and why converting them to a Grade Point Average (GPA) can increase your odds of acceptance.

If you are a New Zealand student interested in walking the halls of Harvard or the yards of Yale or the science labs of Stanford — then learning about how you can use your NCEA results to apply to top US universities is an important part of your successful application journey.

The good news is that the admissions officers at top US schools are aware of the various curricula offered by countries around the globe, including New Zealand’s NCEA.

That said, being able to convert your score to a more globally familiar GPA (or Grade Point Average) is important — as you will be asked to report your GPA (along with your school grades) on your applications.

Before we dive into the conversion methods, let’s take a quick look into NCEA.

What is the NCEA and How is it Calculated?

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the secondary curriculum designed and implemented nationally in New Zealand. It covers three years of high school (years 11, 12 and 13), over which you will typically sit six subjects in Level 1, six in Level 2 and five in Level 3.

As you go through various internal and external assessments, you’ll receive credits for each subject according to your performance. The grading system is divided into four categories. Luckily, there is an easy way to remember them using the acronym ‘NAME’. The category letters have the following meanings (from lowest to highest):

  • N: non-achieved
  • A: achieved
  • M: merit
  • E: excellence

Each internal and external assessment is designated a number of “credits” based on the work involved. Each assessment is then graded within the NAME system, resulting in a number of credits at each level: Achieved, Merit, and Excellence.

As the image from NZQA portal shows:

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In the case below, the student received 21 credits: 7 credits with merit and 14 credits with excellence.

OY 8 D Kde YO 5 Ep Jdm Ml K Wdz P Cd Htzg Lz 2 B 3 S 0 Fs YUO Nhh F 7 Km EZZ Nn Q Lz XW 4 Y Re JBXA 3 Q S Rv Bcc 8 C Zq Yss Gk B Oy Tmc Ea 8 UO 52 I Tz Y Dyd Er Le P 1 W Lg U W 4 NVW Wodla Zztxv Y Xz

Then, all the credits from all subjects will be added together, generating a total for all credits from each year. In the example below, the student received:Pasted Image 0

Level 1: 9 credits achieved, 24 credits merit, 104 credits excellence

Level 2: 9 credits achieved, 34 credits merit,  94 credits excellence

Level 3: 4 credits achieved, 24 credits merit,  84 credits excellence

Total credits: 22 credits achieved, 82 credits merit, 282 credits excellence**

This of course makes for a very nuanced curriculum that’s unique to New Zealand. So how does it compare to the US system where a Grade Point Average (GPA) acts as a numerical summary of all your accumulated grades?

To answer this question, we can start by explaining what a GPA is and exactly how it is calculated.

What is a GPA and How is it Calculated?

In the US, most schools use a letter grading system, with a corresponding letter grade, for example an A or B or C. This is measured by a number called a Grade Point Average, or GPA. Your GPA, which is measured on a scale from 0 to 4.0, is the cumulative average of the grades in all of your subjects and is calculated by dividing the total amount of grade points earned by the total amount of credit hours attempted.

Here’s a simple chart that shows how US students convert their letter grades to the 4.0 scale.

GPA Calculator

Weighted vs. an Unweighted GPA

An unweighted GPA is the average of all your grades on the scale shown in the table above. However, some US schools use a ‘weighted’ GPA scale, which gives more ‘weight’ or points to grades in more difficult or accelerated courses like an ‘Honors’ class or a more difficult AP course. So, while an ‘A’ might normally be a 4.0 on the unweighted scale, on a weighted scale, an ‘A’ may be a 5.0.

What is a Good GPA?

Different people may have different answers to this question depending on their academic and US uni goals. Generally speaking, a good GPA is over 3.5 and — if you are aiming at top US universities — ideally over 3.7. Below is a table showing the average GPA of students admitted to the top 30 US unis. Remember, this is an average; so there are students who are admitted with GPAs slightly above or below this median.

Average GPA at Top US Unis
UniversityAverage Unweighted GPA
Princeton University3.97
Harvard University3.97
Columbia University3.9
Massachusetts Institute of Techology3.95
Yale University3.95
Stanford University3.96
University of Chicago3.85
University of Pennsylvania3.9
California Institute of Technology3.97
Johns Hopkins University3.74
Northwestern University3.92
Duke University3.94
Dartmouth College3.9
Brown University3.94
Vanderbilt University3.76
Rice University3.89
Washington University in St. Louis3.89
Cornell University3.9
University of Notre Dame3.9
University of California - Los Angeles3.89
Emory University3.78
University of California - Berkeley3.86
Georgetown University3.89
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor3.82
University of Southern California3.79
Carnegie Mellon University3.69
University of Virginia3.69
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill3.65
Wake Forest University3.65
New York University3.69

Do US Universities Accept NCEA Alongside Any Calculated GPA?

In short, yes!

International curricula such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or A Levels are widely recognised; therefore, they are theoretically easier curricula for US universities to evaluate and compare. However, admissions officers in the US are aware of the various global curricula applicants take and will understand the NCEA and the nuances around it — but it is not seen as rigorous by comparison.

That said, it’s important to remember that admissions officers from top US unis receive an enormous amount of applications. For example, in the latest admissions cycle, Harvard received 57,435 applications for only 1968 places!

Reporting a GPA that is calculated from your NCEA grades therefore acts as a relevant reference point for admissions officers across the board enabling them to “translate” your results in a more commonly applied format.

To summarise, while US Universities accept NCEA and welcome applicants from New Zealand who study this curriculum, it is very helpful to present your grades in a 4.0 GPA scale alongside your NCEA reporting. 

Ready to calculate your GPA using your NCEA (or predicted NCEA) grades?

Blog Image Ncea Gpa Calc