South African education - CAPS or IEB?


Hi everyone
I am researching high school education options for my daughter, who starts high school next year.
She would like to study in the US or UK after completing high school - but we are not sure which education system is best for her.
Is anyone out there well-versed in which of our two main offerings - Independent Examinations Board (IEB) or CAPS (the government system) - is better for university acceptance?
There is the option of online distance education (CIE), but attending high school is first prize.
I’m concerned about how UK and US universities view the South African CAPS syllabus. Although IEB is based on CAPS, it is run by an independent examination board, and thus considered more rigorous and well-rounded - so perhaps it is better thought of by tertiary institutions?
Any advice appreciated!
Warm wishes and thanks


Hi @morganfayza (Beth),

Thanks for your question. It’s a common one - it’s difficult to know how your decision will open doors down the road.

As I understand it, the UK care about the distinction more than the US.

The US are really most concerned with a students performance within their environment, so regardless of the school or curriculum that your daughter takes, if she performs well compared to her peers and other years from her school, she will be in a great position.

The UK are more particular because you apply to specific degree programs, and they need to know that your daughter is qualified to succeed in her first year and beyond. To this end, CIE will place her more strongly and unlock the door to any degree at any university. If she does IEB or NSC (CAPS) , depending on the degree and university, she may need to do a foundational course or a bridging year.

As for the difference between IEB and NSC (CAPS), I don’t think it makes a big difference. They are similar enough and as I understand it, IEB students receive the same NSC (CAPS) certification anyway.

Personally, I’d encourage her to enrol in high school and enjoy all that comes along with that, but if she wants to challenge herself and stand out (particularly for competitive US and UK universities), she could take CIE via distance learning.

Hope that helps!


Dear Duncan

Thank-you so much for your considered, helpful reply - it has assisted me greatly in understanding the complexities of high school education in South Africa!

Samara will be attending either an IEB or CAPS-syllabus high school for the foreseeable future, so it may be necessary to complete the CIE via distance learning at some point.

With this in mind, would you advise that it is possible for her to complete AS levels (CIE) after she has attained her Matric (NSC) certificate in Grade 12? Is this the way to go, or is it possible, do you think, for a Grade 11-12 pupil to complete the CIE parallel with their high school curriculum (IEB/CAPS)? I am hoping that it is possible, but wouldn’t want her to burn out as a result.

Warm wishes and thanks



Hi @morganfayza,

I’d say that doing both curriculums concurrently is definitely achievable and there are some schools that are offering this (like DSG and SAC in Grahamstown). But you’re right that burnout is the concern. It’s a personal decision. The best way to mitigate would be getting tutoring - being enrolled in some program whether Crimson one-on-one CIE tutoring or another facility. That will improve efficiency and lower stress.

As you’re aware, the CIE syllabus goes beyond IEB, so those A Level subjects (probably 4 at AS and at least 3 at A Level) cover nearly all of the IEB content. I’ve heard that AS is about equivalent to IEB.

One thought is (and it’s not a decision that needs to be made now) is that if your daughter is very academic, gunning and potentially a good fit for top selective admission US and UK universities, she should and will pursue both curriculums thereby stand out as an applicant be the most prepared. For less competitive universities (that are better suited to a less competitive student), the IEB should suffice (in general). You can gauge that as time goes on.

All the best,