Tertiary education in Costa Rica includes public and private education adding up to 74 institutions. Unlike other countries, Costa Rica lacks a public authority that has as its main responsibility the higher education sector which has caused a lot of incoherence between universities and courses. However, the National Council of Deans (CONARE) is mostly concerned with the public institutions while the National Council of Private University Education (CONESUP) deals with private institutions. Moreover, The National System of Accreditation of Higher Education (SINAES) is concerned with accreditations and has currently 24 universities affiliated. Although enrolment rates are among the lowest between OECD countries, they are steadily increasing each year rising from 40% in 2011 to 50% in 2018. For international students, Costa Rica is particularly attractive, and universities admit that as much as 15% of their total students are non-natives.
Degrees are offered at all three cycles: Bachelor’s (Licenciatura), Master’s (Maestría) and PhD (Doctorado). Licenciaturas will last between 4 to 6 years, Maestrías between 1 to 2 years and Doctorados between 3 to 4 years. There are several other accreditations you can receive: Diplomado and Técnico for pregraduate studies, Bachillerato for undergraduate studies, and Especialidad for postgraduate studies. These are typically shorter in length and are either foundation or specialisation courses which do not represent a full degree. In terms of credits, 45 hours of work per semester / 3 hours per week are equal to 1 credit. The academic year is split into two semesters which run from February to June and July to December. Spanish is the country’s official language.
Admission to higher education in Costa Rica is a pretty straightforward process. If you wish to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, you will be required to show evidence of a passed secondary education certificate, proof of language proficiency in Spanish, identification details and proof of visa entry, if you need it. For further studies of Master’s and Doctorate, students need proof of previous acquired degrees of undergraduate and postgraduate studies, where applicable. Applications are done either online at https://admision.ac.cr/sau/ (not available for all institutions) or you can choose to send your documents personally. Some universities require the Academic Aptitude Test (PAA) in order to be considered. The application period is usually between February and March before the academic year begins, but there is also the possibility to apply in-between semesters.
Tuition fees are different in all institutions and courses since the numbers tend to range between $7,000 to $20,000 per semester, so it is better to check that personally. You can also choose to directly enrol or through a third-party with more information about this here.
Information for International Students
Living in Costa Rica is fairly affordable with its cost of living 19% lower than in the United Kingdom and renting costs 48% lower. Therefore, students can rent a 1-bedroom apartment in the city centre for $477 per month or outside of the centre for $360, and dorms are much cheaper. Per semester, students are expected to spend about $4,000 for living expenses. Costa Rica is known for its beautiful beaches and mountainous areas which constitute a spectacular atmosphere to study in. Apart from that, the country is working towards achieving the international standards in the higher education system, aspect that is visible already. If you decide to apply there, you can access the two higher education organisations at https://www.conare.ac.cr/ and http://www.conesup.mep.go.cr/.