Complete : Independent : Higher Education : Career Guidance : Sri Lanka

HOW TO DECIDE? Here is what you need to know


This How-to-Guide will help you find what you are looking for in few easy steps.

Navigate through this site based on what you are looking for:

  • Want to find a course / degree program?
  • Want to get career and hgher education advice?
  • Want to study further based on your qualifications?
  • ...


The interactive diagram below shows possible higher education options and pathways. Click on each box to find out more information about each level

SLQF L 1 SLQF L 2 SLQF L 3,4,5,6 SLQF L 7,8,9,10,11 SLQF L 12
O/L A/L Bachelor’s Degree Postgraduate / Masters' Programs and Degrees Postgraduate Research MPhil / PhD
Professional Qualifications
Foundation Programs Leading to Degrees HNC HND Final Year of a Degree (Topup)
Find out more details...

G.C.E. O/L

Very Important Initial Education Qualification

General Certificate of Education at Ordinary Level (O/L) is considered as the initial educational qualification in Sri Lanka.

Maths and English - Credit Passes are Usually Required

Especially some posts in public sector specifically mentions the requirement of minimum O/L qualification. At the point of university entrance for certain programs, it is essential to have a minimum pass grade in specific subjects in addition to A/L results. Eg. To enter the faculty of Law, you need to pass O/L Mathematics in addition to the required A/L z-score. Also, if anyone is planning to do a degree program in a foreign university or at a private institute in Sri Lanka offering foreign degrees, it will be useful to have minimum credit passes in Mathematics and English.

London O/L

London O/Ls are generally considered to be equivalent to local G.C.E O/Ls when entering foreign universities and local private institutes offering foreign degree programs.



G.C.E. A/L

Needed for State University Entrance - Based on A/L Stream

General Certificate of Education at Advanced Level (A/L) is considered as the final stage of secondary education in schools. G.C.E. A/L results mainly direct students to their higher study path. Based on the A/L stream, subject combination and the Z- Score students can get admission to a state university.

To Follow Foreign Degrees

If someone wants to enter a private university or a foreign university, the A/L stream is not that significant. However, for areas like medicine it will be considered significantly.

Selecting an A/L Stream is a Key Decision

One's future career ambitions can be perfectly achieved if students select their A/L stream after carefully thinking through his/her actual capacities and desires, rather than selecting the stream based just on O/L results. Proper career guidance would be greatly useful if a student doesn’t have an insight about it.

Common Mistakes Students Make

Selecting a stream based on what their friends select.
Thinking that they should do Maths or Science if they get good O/L results, without thinking about their skills, desires and passions.

A/L Streams

Currently in Sri Lanka there are 5 A/L streams.
1. Physical Science Stream (Combined mathematics, Physics and Chemistry/Information Technology )
2. Biological Science Stream (Biology (Botany and Zoology), Physics and Chemistry)
3. Commerce Stream
4. Arts Stream
5. Technology Stream (Engineering Technology, Bio-system Technology, Science for Technology and a category subject)

London A/L

London A/L is generally considered to be equivalant to local G.C.E A/Ls when entering foreign universities and local private institutes offering foreign degree programs. Currently there is no clear pathway for London A/L students to enter into local universities.



Foundation Programs Leading to Degrees

To Enter into a Degree Program Even if You Do Not Pass A/L

Foundation programs categorized in the SLQF level 2, would be beneficial for students who do not pass the A/L exams but are having the desire and the potential to follow higher studies such as a degree program.

But You May Need Good O/L Results

In some situations in order to enter on to a degree program through a foundation program, students may need to have minimum pass grades in specific O/L subjects.

Eg. To enter Law Faculty students need to have minimum PASS grade for O/L Mathematics. Students who are planning to register for a degree program in IT in a foreign university, may need CREDIT passes for Mathematics and English in their O/Ls.

Get Career Advice Before Choosing

Student may need proper guidance and support, to choose the correct Foundation Program, which makes them eligible for the desired Degree program.



Bachelor’s Degree (Undergraduate Degree)

Nowadays, it is essential to have a degree to get a good job in most industries. Therefore, every student should aim to complete a University Degree.

Ways to Get into a Bachelor’s Degree Program

1. Pass G.C.E AL exam with adequate z-score and get into a state university degree program depending on the AL stream.
2. Pass G.C.E AL or London AL and enter into a foreign degree program in Sri Lanka or in a foreign country. If you choose to go to a foreign country (study abroad) you may be required to obtain additional English language qualifications such as IELTS.
3. With AL results you can also follow an external degree program at the Open University.
4. If you do not pass AL exams, you can follow and pass a Foundation Program and enter into a foreign degree program.
5. With AL results or sometimes even with OL results, you can follow a HND program (see diagram) and enter directly into the finalyear of a degree program.
6. Completion of some of the Professional Qualifications will allow you to enter into the second/third or even the final year of a degree program (e.g. CIMA , BCS)

There are two levels of Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor’s Degree is classified as SLQF level 5 (E.g. BSc, BA). Typically, this can be a three year degree where students do a limited number of subject modules and complete 90 credits (the unit credit is used to measure the workload of a subject). Bachelor’s Honors Degree is classified as SLQF level 6 (E.g. BSc (Hons.), BA (Hons.). Typically, this can be a four year degree where students complete 120 credits. Some postgraduate degree programs and academic jobs require an Honors degree. Therefore, it is always more beneficial to follow follow an Honors degree program.

How important is Industry Placement?

It is very important to choose a degree program with a recognized industry placement period. Generally the degree certificate will mention that the degree program includes an industry placement period / year (sometimes called: Sandwich Degrees). The industry placement provides valuable experience to students while studying and prepares them to work effectively in the industry.

Types of University Degree Programs Available in Sri Lanka

  • State University Degrees - State Universities are established by the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka. The degree programs are directly administered by the UGC. Students need to pass local AL and enter into a state university through the z-score system.
  • Open University Degrees - Students can follow degree programs as external students by applying through a seperate application process that is not dependant on th z-score. There is no age limit to follow an external degree program. Open University is also a state University.
  • Foreign Degree Offered by Private Institutes - There is a large number of private institutes in Sri Lanka that offers foreign degree programs. Although the course is conducted in Sri Lanka, the degree certificate is directly offered by the foreign University. Therefore, it is a low cost opportunity for the students who pass AL exams but are not selected for state universities to obtain internationally recognized degrees.
  • UGC Approved Degree Programs offered by Private Institutes - These degrees are offered and awarded by local private institutes with the approval from the University Grants Commission.
  • Foreign Degree Pathway Programs - These programs are typically diploma or advanced diploma programs that are equivalant to first/second year of a foreign degree program. Students who complete these programs can apply to selected foreign Universities to enter into the second or the third year of the degree study and complete the degree aborad. and .



Professional Qualifications

To become a professional such as a Chartered Accountant

These programs directly focus specific professions. Eg. Charted Accountancy focuses on providing skills and qualifications to become Charted Accountants, BCS (British Computer Society) qualification focuses on developing IT professionals.

Professional Bodies

Those who fulfill requirements of the qualification will get the membership of the particular professional body. Different professions have both local and internationally established professional bodies. These professionalbodies conduct their own exams as professional exams. It is important to choose a professional body that has very goodlocal and/or internationally reputation.

Equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree

Most of the professional qualification are considered as an equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree where they can directly register for a Master’s Degree program.

In most cases, different institutes conduct classes and deliver the subject content to the students. It is the students responsibility to register with the relevant professional body as a student and to sit for the exams.

Professional Qualifications are classified as SLQF level 4 and 5

Student may need correct guidance to get an idea about the suitable profession for them before selecting a path way to a professional qualification.



Higher National Certificate (HNC)

Students can obtain HNC after completing SLQF level 2, A/L or Foundation Program. To obtain HNC students need to complete 30 credits. HNC is equivalent first year of a Bachelor’s Degree program where students will be eligible to progress HNC to a degree. Therefore, students may need professional guidance to understand right HNC which would lead to a Degree based on his or her capacities and desires.

HNC is classified as SLQF level 3.



Higher National Diploma (HND)

HNC -> HND Pathway

Students can obtain HND after completing SLQF level 3 HNC. To obtain HND in this pathway students need to complete additional 30 credits after completing HNC which carries 30 credits.

HND = Second Year Completion of a Bachelor's Degree

HND is equivalent to the second year of a Bachelor’s Degree program. Therefore, after completing the HND, students can generally enter into the third year of specified Degree programs (also called Top-up degree completion). Professional guidance would help students to choose right HND which lead to the right degree program where their capabilities and desires are matched.

HND is classified as SLQF level 4.



Higher National Diploma (HND)

HND Entry directly after AL

Students can obtain HND after completing SLQF level 2, A/L or Foundation Program. To obtain HND in this pathway students need to complete additional 60 credits.

HND = Second Year Completion of a Bachelor's Degree

HND is equivalent to the second year of a Bachelor’s Degree program. Therefore, after completing the HND, students can generally enter into the third year of specified Degree programs (also called Top-up degree completion). Professional guidance would help students to choose right HND which lead to the right degree program where their capabilities and desires are matched.

HND is classified as SLQF level 4.



Top Up Degree

Path to get a Degree after completing HND

This is an alternative pathway to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree or a Bachelor’s Honors Degree. Typically, a topup degree is the final year of a Degree Program which is classified as SLQF Level 5 or 6. To obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in this pathway students need to complete 30 credits after completing the HND (One final year) To obtain a Bachelor’s "Honors" Degree in this path way students need to complete 60 credits after completing the HND. This means that, to obtain a Honors Degree after completing the HND, the students may have to complete the last two years of a four year Honors Degree.

There are a number of HNDs and Topup degrees on offer in Sri Lanka. Therefore, students may need to choose the correct HND and the Top Up degree pathway to achieve their career ambitions in their chosen field.

Flexibility and Lower Financial Cost

Generally, HND + Top Up Degree pathway offers more flexibility in both studies and financially as well. Most HNDs and Top Up degrees are available to be followed Part-Time allowing the students to work hile they study. The total cost of getting a degree can be lower than following a full degree program.



Postgraduate / Masters' Programs and Degrees

Entry Qualification is a an Undergraduate / Bachelors' Degree

Generally, students need to have an undergraduate degree qualification to follow a Postgraduate Program. These programs concentrate in developing specialist skills and knowledge in specific areas.

EXAMPLE 1: After passing AL's, a student may follow and obtain a Bachelors Degree such as "BSc in Business Management". Then he/she may work for some time in the industry, initially as a managemnt trainee and then in a specific department such as purchasing. With some experience in Purchasing, he/she may develop an interest in this area and can decide to obtain a specialist postgraduate degree such as MSc in Purchasing and Supply Chain Management. This allows the student to become a specialist in his/her chosen area and gain better employment opportunities or promotions.

Entering with Work Experience

If you have enough work experience, you may not need an Undergraduate Degree to Enter. Some Postgraduate Degrees may not require an undergraduate degree as the entry qualification as long as the student has sufficient work experience in the chosen field or area of specialization. This is a good oportunity for people who enter into employment just after completing ALs and realise later in that it is difficult to get a promotion or better employment without a degree or postgraduate qualifications.

EXAMPLE: There are a number of MBA programs and MSc programs that allow students to enter with experience (usually around 10 years experience is required).

However, most good Masters' degree programs require a bachelors degree qualification as the entry requirement.

Different levels of Postgraduate Qualifications Leading to Masters' Degree

SLQF 7,8,9,10 and 11 levels are allocated for post graduate programs.

  • Post Graduate Certificate (PGCert) - SLQF level 7. PGCert can also be an exit award as an initial part (first few modules) of a Masters degree
  • Post Graduate Diploma (PGDip) - SLQF level 8. In some cases, PGDip can be an exit award, after completing the taught modules of the Masters degree (without doing the Dessertation / Research Project)
  • Masters with course work - SLQF level 9
  • Masters with course work and Research component - SLQF level 10
  • Master of Philosophy - SLQF level 11. It is a pure research based Masters degree leading to a PhD

Postgraduate Degree Awarding Institutes

Both state Universities and private institutions offer Masters programs. Unlike Undergraduate Degrees, students are required to pay to follow Masters programs in state Universities. Private higher education institutes also offer Masters programs awarded by foreign universities. Some of the students go abroad for postgraduate study.



Postgraduate Research MPhil / PhD

Postgraduate Research Degrees are mainly earned by carrying out an independant large research project in a chosen area and topic. The objective of a research degree is to become an expert in that particular subject area.

Master of Phylosophy (MPhil) / Master of Research (MRes)

The MPhil / MRes is an advanced postgraduate research degree. MPhil / MRes is the most advanced research degree before the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). An MPhil / MRes is usually assessed by a thesis and a viva exmination, after completing several years of original research. MPhil / MRes is regarded as a second master's degree, standing between a taught Master's and a PhD. Passing of MPhil or MRes viva can serve as a provisional enrollment for a PhD.

Doctor of Phylosophy (PhD)

PhD is the Highest Educational Qualification (SLQF level 12).

PhD's are awarded for a wide range of areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering, and humanities The completion of a Ph.D. is often a requirement for employment as a university professor, researcher, or scientist in many fields. Individuals with an earned doctorate can use the title of "Doctor" with their name and use the post-nominal letters "Ph.D."

In Sri Lanka, students should normally have a MPhil degree to enter into a PhD program. However, in some cases, students can register for a MPhil/PhD degree with a good undergraduate honors degree (with 1st or 2nd class) and / or a Masters degree. Students who register for a MPhil/PhD degree program must first pass the MPhil stage before entering into the PhD stage. The requirements to earn a PhD degree vary considerably according to the country and institution. A PhD candidate must submit a project, thesis or dissertation often consisting of a body of original academic research, which is in principle worthy of publication in a peer-reviewed journal.In many countries, a candidate must defend this work before a panel of expert examiners appointed by the university.

PhD Awarding Institutions

Students can enter into a PhD program in State Universities in Sri Lanka. However, the ability of a University to award a PhD in a particular subject/specialization depends on the avalability of the academics in that particular area. Also, there are a few private higher education institutes that has UGS aproval to award PhDs. Sometimes, thre are scholarships available to go abroad to follow a PhD depending on the subject area.

Who Should follow a PhD?

Students are expected have a certain level of maturity in order to start a PhD program. This is because of the self motivation and committment required to continuously work on a difficult project for typically three years while having work and family committments. If a student is planning to take this path it is adviceable to select an area he/she is really passionate about.



Selecting the right higher education institute is one of the most important decisions which determines your future. Ideally, this should be a once in a life time decision - made right first time! Otherwise, you might end up loosing your precious time and money.

What are the common mistakes?

With the large number of institutes in Sri Lanka, offering different higher education options, it is sometimes very confusing to decide. Here are some of the mistakes both parents and students make.

Following your friends

Discounts and offers are not the only deciding factors

Not asking the right questions

Not knowing available loan schemes and financial assistance

Important factors you should consider

Quality of education

Parent University / Awarding body

Recognition of the Institute



Soft skills development opportunities

Employability after graduation

Cost and value for money

Find out more...


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