What grades do I need to get into a NZ university?

Written by: Maggie Shui

What grades do I need to get into a NZ university?

Sometimes you just want the bare requirements laid out for you. So here it is: what you need to get into university.

For most NZ universities, your admission into the programme of your choice goes through two steps:

  1. Gaining University Entrance
  2. Meeting an Entry Score requirement

Once you pass these two steps, hey presto, you can go to university.


  1. Step One: University Entrance (UE)
    A. What is University Entrance?
    B. UE requirements: NCEA
    C. UE requirements: Cambridge (CAIE)
    D. UE requirements: IB
    E. What if I’m a New Zealand student but don’t take NCEA, Cambridge (CAIE) or IB?
    F. What is Discretionary Entrance?
  2. Step Two: Entry score
    A. What is an entry score?
    B. 2017 entry score requirements by university
    C. How entry scores are calculated for NCEA, Cambridge (CAIE) and IB
  3. What to do if…
    A. You gain University Entrance but don’t meet the entry score requirements
    B. You don’t gain University Entrance
  4. What if I want to study overseas?

1. Step One: University Entrance (UE)

A. What is University Entrance?

University Entrance (UE) is the minimum requirement for entry into a New Zealand university. In other words, all NZ universities require you to gain UE, and many universities will have requirements additional to this (which is where entry scores come in).

UE requires you to have completed a high school qualification such as NCEA, Cambridge (CAIE) or IB. There is also a literacy and numeracy component, which requires you to pass certain assessments within your high school qualification to demonstrate your literacy and numeracy skills – that is, your ability to read, write and do some number stuff.

Click through here for UE requirements for students studying NCEA, Cambridge (CAIE) and IB:

B. UE requirements: NCEA

Here are the UE requirements for NCEA students:

What are "approved" subjects?

For your NCEA credits to count towards UE, they must be from university approved subjects. Don’t worry: the approved subjects list is broad. It includes the usual suspects such as English, and maths and science subjects, but also includes ones you might not expect such as Agriculture & Horticulture, Home Economics and Printmaking.

Here’s the full list of university approved NCEA subjects.

How do you get your literacy and numeracy credits?

Do Level 1 Maths, Level 2 English, and pass most of your assessment standards in these subjects, and you will tick off all the literacy and numeracy components of UE. To encourage you to meet the literacy and numeracy requirements, your high school may have made maths mandatory up to Year 11 and English mandatory up to Year 12.

That said, literacy and numeracy credits aren’t exclusive to English and maths. You can get your literacy credits from many Economics, Drama or even Biology assessment standards. You can get your numeracy credits from some Physics, DVC and Accounting assessment standards, among others.

And here’s a breakdown of the literacy assessment standards, outlining which standards count towards reading and which count towards writing.

C. UE requirements: Cambridge(CAIE)

Here are the UE requirements for Cambridge (CAIE) students:

How do I know my UCAS Tariff points?

Your UCAS Tariff points are calculated from your six best subject units at AS and A Level. The remaining subjects are ignored:

Your UCAS Tariff points are then calculated as follows:

D. UE requirements: IB

Here are the UE requirements for IB students:

E. What if I’m a New Zealand student but don’t take NCEA, Cambridge (CAIE) or IB?

Scroll down this page for UE requirements for other high school qualifications available in NZ such as Steiner and Accelerated Christian Education.

F. What is Discretionary Entrance?

Discretionary Entrance is a pathway for eager beavers who want to head straight to uni before doing NCEA Level 3. Getting Discretionary Entrance means you have not gained full UE, but you’ve demonstrated you are ready for university through other means. Namely, you get good grades, and your school principal thinks you’re mature and motivated.

Here is a guideline for what universities typically require for Discretionary Entrance:

Here are some things to note when it comes to Discretionary Entrance:

  1. Some university programmes have additional requirements for admission through Discretionary Entrance, e.g. discretionary entrance into Bachelor of Commerce at UoA requires you to have taken Level 2 Maths.
  2. Some university programmes do not accept ANY students via discretionary entrance, e.g. Engineering or Health Science at UoA. So, if you want to get into med school through Health Science at UoA, discretionary entrance is not an option for you.
  3. Meeting these requirements does not guarantee Discretionary Entrance. Admission is ultimately at the discretion of the university you apply for.

You should always research the university programme you’re interested in to check for any requirements specific to that programme.

2. Step Two: Entry Score

A. What is an entry score?

UE is the base requirement for entry into any NZ university, but many of NZ’s top universities will have grade requirements additional to UE. This is the entry score requirement. Your entry score is calculated from your grades in high school. If you meet the entry score requirement for your chosen university programme then, in most cases, you are guaranteed a place in that programme.

To make things difficult for us, lots of NZ universities call the entry score by different names. You have the Rank Score at UoA, the Preferential Entry Score at Otago and the Guaranteed Entry Score at Victoria. Luckily, they all refer to the same thing. As Shakespeare famously wrote, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and an entry score by any other name would still be a method used by universities to rank applicants.

B. 2017 entry score requirements by university

Here are the entry score requirements for NZ’s top universities:

University of Auckland

Here’s the full list of rank score requirements (as well as other additional requirements) for different programmes at UoA for students who've studied NCEA, Cambridge (CAIE) and IB.

University of Otago

Victoria University

The Architectural Studies and Building Science programmes at Victoria University have different entry score requirements:

  • NCEA: 180
  • Cambridge (CAIE): 170
  • IB: 29

University of Canterbury

Massey University


Some programmes at AUT don’t have a rank score requirement. Programmes with a rank score requirement include the Bachelor of Communication Studies, Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences, and Bachelor of Engineering.

Some programmes such as the Bachelor of Design and the Bachelor of Visual Arts have other steps in the application process, such as the submission of a portfolio and cover letter.

Find out the requirements for your programme at AUT.

Universities that don’t have a rank score requirement

Some universities only require you to have gained UE. Such universities include the University of Waikato and Lincoln University.

C. How entry scores are calculated for NCEA, Cambridge (CAIE) and IB?

**UoA, Victoria and Massey give 140 points for an A* grade at A Level. Otago, Canterbury and AUT do not distinguish A* from A grades in their entry score calculations.

Meeting UE and the Entry Score requirement may not be enough

Keep in mind that some university programmes have requirements additional to UE and the entry score. For example, entry into the Bachelor of Design programme at Massey University requires you to submit a portfolio. Entry into the Bachelor of Engineering programme at UoA requires you to have done maths and physics in high school.

Again, you should always research into specific entry criteria for your chosen programme.

3. What to do if…

A. You gain UE but don’t meet the entry score requirement for your preferred programme

Still apply for you preferred programme

If your entry score is not far off, you should still apply for that programme. Meeting the entry score requirement means you’re guaranteed entry. However, if there are places available, applications from students who don’t meet the entry score threshold will be considered.

Apply for other programmes

You should also apply for another programme (or several other programmes) that you do meet the entry score requirement for. You may have the opportunity to switch degrees after your first year if you get good grades. Depending on what degree you choose, some of your papers from your first year might even count towards your new degree.

Complete catch-up credits

And finally, you may be able to boost your entry score with catch-up credits if you studied NCEA. These are additional credits that you complete after your Level 3 NCEA results are released in January. To find out how you can complete these credits, talk to your school dean or careers advisor. You should also contact the university to let them know you want to update your application with catch-up credits. And one more thing to note: if you meet the entry score requirement with catch-up credits, that no longer means you are guaranteed entry into that programme. Your application will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

B. You don’t gain UE

Complete catch up credits

As above, if you studied NCEA, you can complete catch up credits to help you achieve UE.

Complete a foundation year

You can gain admission into university by completing a foundation year. Most universities such as UoA, Otago and Victoria offer foundation programmes that, once completed, may lead to admission into university. This is also an option if you’ve gained UE but want to be better equipped before you dive into university.

4. What if I want to study overseas?

If you have your sights set on studying overseas, then your first step is to research into the international student admission requirements for your chosen university.

This article is focused on entry into NZ universities (let us know if you’d like a resource on applying to overseas unis!), but here are some requirements you’re likely to encounter for overseas unis:

  • A grade requirement, possibly in the form of a GPA (similar to an entry score)
  • Additional documents, such as a personal statement or essay
  • Additional tests. For example, if you want to apply for a university in the US, you’ll need to sit the SAT which is the US university admission test. You’ll most likely need to arrange and study for this independently of your high school.

It’s also worth noting that CAIE and IB are more internationally known than NCEA, which is only taught in NZ. This might mean your chances of gaining admission into an overseas university are better if you do CAIE or IB. However, doing NCEA will not prevent you from studying overseas, which many NCEA students have done.

By Maggie from MyTuition

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NCEA vs Cambridge (CAIE) and how it affects University Entrance

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