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Education System of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in Central America lodged between Caribbean sea to the east and the Pacific ocean to the west.

The Ministry of Public Education is responsible for education in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, education is divided into four cycles:
  • Pre-primary education
  • General basic education/primary 
  • Secondary education
  • Higher education

Educational Background

Primary education in Costa Rica was made compulsory and free of charge for all citizens in 1869. For the first time a public school was established in Costa Rica, with the name "Colegio de San Luis Gonzaga" in 1869.

University of Costa Rica was the first university created by the President then in 1941 Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia. In 1948, the constitution of Costa Rica was amended and Title VII was included in it, which stated that both secondary and primary education are free and for all Costa Rica nationals the basic education was made a fundamental right. 

The law of Fundamental education was approved by Congress in 1957. This law framed the goals, objectives and guidelines for the education system of Costa Rica. 

Education Profile of Costa Rican Education

Compulsory Education

The basic general education in Costa Rica is free of charge and compulsory.
Years of compulsory education: 9 years

Pre-primary Education

The pre-primary education is divided into two cycles:
  • Maternal and Infant: This cycle is for children aged 4 years and 3 months to 5 years and 2 months. This cycle is also called as the interactive group II. 
  • Transition: This cycle is for children aged 5 years and 3 months to 6 years and 2 months. 
This educational level consists of education in language, music, art and craft.

General Basic Education (Educacion General Basica, or EGB)

The general basic education in Costa Rica last for 9 years, and is divided into 3 cycles:
  • Beginning cycle/Cycle I: Comprises of grade 1 to 4
  • Middle cycle/Cycle II: Comprises of grades 5 and 6
  • Senior cycle/Cycle III: Comprises of grades 7 to 9
Senior cycle is offered in primary or secondary schools, by subjects are taught by specialised teachers. 

Primary Education

The cycle I and II of the general basic education are known as the “primary education”.  Children at the age of 6 years and 6 months can enroll at this educational level.
  • Duration: 6 years
  • Ages: 6 to 12
The primary education in Costa Rica is compulsory to attend. This educational level provides basic knowledge and skills and is encouraged to participate in activities that help to develop their social, intellectual and artistic skills. 

Certificate awarded: Upon successful completion of the middle cycle (Cycle II), a “diploma for the completion of primary school” is awarded.

Diversified Education

Senior cycle (Cycle III) and diversified education (cycle IV) are known as “Secondary Education”. 

Cycle III: This cycle offers general education and last for 3 years. 

Cycle IV: The diversified education is offered by secondary schools or day and night educational institutions/schools. Upon completion of cycle III, pupils can select their studies in cycle IV.
  • Duration: 2 to 3 years
This cycle focuses on specialisation and is split up into 3 divisions:
  • Academic division: This division last for 2 years and comprises of grade 10 and 11
  • Artistic division: This division last for 2 years
  • Technical division: This division last for 3 years and comprises of grades 10, 11 and 12. The technical secondary education is classified into 4 types:
    • Commercial
    • Agricultural
    • Services
    • Industrial
After the academic division, students are required to pass a “bachillerato test”. Students who pass this test are awarded a “high school diploma” and are eligible to enroll in higher education institutions of Costa Rica. 

Higher Education

Higher education in Costa Rica is offered by public, private and parauniversities. The higher education institutions in Costa Rica offer courses at all degree levels: undergraduate and graduate.

Higher Education Qualifications

The higher education in Costa Rica is divided into 3 levels (qualifications):

Undergraduate (Pregrado)

This level comprises of diploma and profesorado
  • Diploma (Diplomado): This is an academic degree that is given to the students who complete a short-term university programme that last for 1 to 2 years. 
  • Profesorado: This academic degree is for teacher education. 

Undergraduate (Grado)

This degree level comprises of  Bachillerato and Licenciatura. 
  • Bachillerato (Bachelor's): This degree last for 4 years.
  • Licenciatura: This degree requires one additional year after bachillerato.

Graduate (Posgrado)

This degree level comprises of professional (Especialidad Profesional), Master’s (Maestria) and doctorate (Doctorado).
  • Professional (Especialidad Profesional): This degree last for 2 years.
  • Master (Maestria): This degree last for 1-2 years. 
  • Doctorate (Doctorado Academico): The doctorate is the highest higher university education degree and last for 3 years.

Special Education

Students with special needs are provided special education.  In Costa Rica, special education started in 1940. State is responsible for the special education in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, there are many educational centres/ schools for special education (Escuelas de Educacion Especial) to children. 

Adult Education

Adult education in Costa Rica is for adults and young people who could not complete their daytime formal education for some reason. Adult education in Costa Rica is offered by night schools. The admission age is 15 years. These schools focus on third cycle of the basic general education and diversified education

Admission Requirements

The entry requirement for higher education in Costa Rica is completion of secondary education. Admission requirements vary from university to university. Candidates may be required to prove their level of command in Spanish language. Click here to know in detail the admission requirements and process for higher education institutions in Costa Rica.

Accreditation Authority

The National Accreditation System of Higher Education (SINAES), established in 1999, is responsible for the continuous quality improvement of the higher education system of Costa Rica. The SINAES is in charge for accrediting higher education institutions/universities in Costa Rica.

Contact details:
Address- 
San Jose, Pavas, 1.3 kilometers north of the Embassy of the United States, Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz building.
PO 1174-1200.

Email: sinaes@sinaes.ac.cr
Tel.: (506) 2519-5813
Fax: (506) 2290-8653
Facebook: facebook.com/sinaes.ac.cr

International Students

Cost of Study and Living

The cost of study and living varies. The private higher education institutions have slightly higher fees as compared to public higher education institutions. 

Student Visa

International students who are planning to study in Costa Rica must apply for the student visa in order to study in Costa Rica. For detailed information on the study visa for Costa Rica, click here


For information on the Costa Rican education structure and grading system, click here.
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