The School System

Find out about the primary, secondary and further education system in Costa Rica...

Pre-school education (Educación Preescolar) covers the stages between birth and when the child reaches six and a half years of age.

Pre-school education in the Costa Rican education system is made up of two cycles, the Ciclo Materno Infantil (0-5½ years) and the Ciclo de Transición (5½-6½ years of age).

Primary Education

Primary education (Educación General Básica) is compulsory, free of charge and open to all. All children who have reached the age of six and a half before the end of February must begin primary school, though a child may start earlier if they reach the age of six years and three months before the end of that month.

In addition to being divided into stages the Costa Rican education system is also organized into cycles; primary education making up cycles 1 and 2.

The age of students corresponds approximately to the various cycles as follows:

  • Cycle 1 - ages 6½-10½
  • Cycle 2 - ages 10½-13
  • Cycle 3 - ages 13-16
  • Cycle 4 - ages 16-18

The core subjects of cycles 1 and 2 are Spanish, social studies, science and mathematics. These classes are complemented with music, physical education, religious education, home economics, art and design, and a foreign language (English or French).

Upon finishing cycle 2 the student receives a diploma certifying the completion of primary school (Diploma de Conclusión de Enseñanza Primaria).

Secondary Education

Cycle 3 and Educación Diversificada (cycle 4) make up the secondary education system.

Cycle 3 begins at colleges and schools, where students are taught by teachers with distinct subject specialities. Cycles 1 and 2 must have been completed in order for the student to progress to this stage.

At the end of cycle 3 the student may choose to continue their studies in Educación Diversificada, which lasts for two to three years. Students can choose between three different sections:

  1. Academic (Rama Académica) - lasting for two years, at the end of which, after the successful completion of final exams known as the Bachillerato, the award of Bachiller is attained
  2. Arts (Rama Artística) - lasting for two years, and consisting of various academic subjects related to the arts, such as Art Theory and Plastic Arts
  3. Technical (Rama Técnica) - divided into modules covering Industry, Agriculture and Livestock, and the Commercial and Service sector. This strand lasts for two years, with study split between academic and technical classes
  • For more details on the different cycles, including subjects taken and number of hours: Click here (PDF in Spanish)

There are exams at the end of each cycle and students must pass these exams in order to move onto the next cycle.

Further Education

Further education in Costa Rica consists of both private and state-run universities and further education institutes. The National Accreditation System for Higher Education (Sistema Nacional de Acreditación de la Educación Superior - SINAES) is responsible for accrediting universities in Costa Rica. The university system is presided over by the National Council of Rectors, CONARE.

  • For further information on higher education in Costa Rica from SINAES: Click here

Financial aid and scholarship programs are available to some students under certain circumstances.