Admissions systems around the world

August 13, 1999


Turkey's admissions system is centralised and highly competitive, writes Jennifer Currie.

Every high school leaver is entitled to sit the standardised university entrance exam in June, which is organised by the Student Selection and Placement Centres.

A points system is used to control access to each course. These figures are annually adjusted in line with supply and demand. Recent changes to streamline the exam entry system from a two-part to a one-part paper are causing problems, as this year's point structure has not yet been made widely known.

Students hoping to start university this autumn are uncertain which courses they are eligible for.

Students submit a list of up to ten preferred institutions. These are taken into account by universities when they calculate their course requirements after the exam results have been issued, with the more popular universities asking for higher scores. Students then go to the appropriate institution with proof of their qualifications and matriculate.

The system has been criticised for its inflexibility.

United States

Contrary to popular belief, there is no nationwide official university entrance exam in America.

There are a number of post-secondary admissions tests used by its 3,000 institutions, including the Scholastic Assessment Test. The SAT is a three-hour, non-academic exam intended to measure basic skills. Most universities look for this in addition to high school certificates.

Students must also list academic qualifications to date and extra curricular interests. They can also be asked to complete a number of essays. Character and academic references are also required.

Universities charge a fee of up to $50 for each individual application, so American students tend to apply to between three and eight institutions to keep costs down.

Application forms are usually available a year in advance and as closing dates differ from university to university, students are kept on their toes. As there is no central administration body, students send their completed forms to the institution itself.

The cost of a year's fees can vary from between $4,000 to $25,000. Some institutions use a "needs blind policy" when considering applications, meaning that the student's financial situation is not looked at until the offer of a place has been cemented.

Students are notified of their acceptance between April and June and take up their places in the autumn.


Described as "brutally fair" Eire's university admission system uses a common points system that is administered by the Central Applications Office.

Students submit up to 20 course choices to the CAO by the beginning of February each year. They can choose ten degree courses and/or ten diploma/certificate courses. Students are urged to list them in order of preference. Anybody with a school leavers certificate is entitled to apply.

Admissions are almost entirely based on the academic results of the school leavers certificate, which are released in August. There are no interviews or tests.

Critics of the system complain that because computers match students to courses on the basis of their total score, aspects like personality are not taken into consideration, which can later cause difficulties in people-based subjects, like medicine.

Universities make their first round of offers just days after the exam results are issued, with a second round taking place later in September to fill up any vacancies. Applicants are entitled to a place on the highest preferences that tally with their exam score.

Entrance requirements are automatically determined by the demand for places. Places on physiotherapy courses are the most hotly contested in Irish universities, meaning that the number of points required now ranks alongside the traditionally high scoring subjects, such as law and veterinary medicine.

A Department of Education Commission recently reassessed the points system, but did not recommend any major alterations.


Continental Europe prides itself on its long-established principle of "free access" for every school leaver to all degree courses.

Since 1969, any Italian student with a school leaving certificate has had the legal right to enrol on any degree course at any state university, in any discipline.

Because of the broad nature of the European secondary education programme, students with a science background automatically qualify for entry to an arts course. Likewise, students who specialised in literature at school are eligible medics. Degree programmes are longer as a result. Lectures are also open to the public by law.

Decades of crammed lecture theatres and strained resources have caused the Italian government to look at limiting student access to certain degree courses. If passed, the new legislation will allow universities to deny entry to some courses if it will lead to improvements in teaching standards.

Courses that lead directly to professional qualifications, such as law and medicine, are the first to be targeted for programmed access. Previous attempts by the government to control entry onto these courses ended in failure when the Italian courts ruled in favour of the egalitarian rights of every student to a tertiary education. Although the old law will still exist, judges will be expected to overrule it in favour of the new one.

Critics of the traditional system are calling for this approach to be taken to the whole system, in an attempt to safeguard the quality of teaching in all fields.

Many other European countries are attempting to develop similar strategies to control their university admission procedures.

Additional reporting by Paul Bompard.

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