If you are considering relocating to Costa Rica with school age children, schools will be a main concern and more than likely determine your choice of where to live. There are many choices in the Central Valley, which is rich in educational options, offering anything from mainstream public schools to your American based private institutions.
Living outside the Central Valley or surrounding area will decrease your choices for schools. Public schools are available in most areas but generally offer instruction only to the 9th grade as required by law for children ages 6-14. Some of the larger communities will offer private Montessori or Catholic schools, which offer instruction to the 11th grade and the National Baccalaureate.
Primary education lasts 6 years while high school might be 5 or 6 years depending on the school of your choice and which degree/degrees are offered. There are three types of diplomas offered in Costa Rica and this will vary with each school.
* The Costa Rican Bachillerato Diploma accredited by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education. (MEP) This is the National Baccalaureate/Diploma of Costa Rica.
* The International Baccalaureate Diploma, accredited by the IBO in Geneva, Switzerland.
* USA High School Diploma, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Schools in Costa Rica that go beyond the 9th grade are required to offer the Bachillerato de Educación de Diversificada or National Baccalaureate. With this degree the student will take MEP (Ministerio de Educación Publico) testing in the 6th, 9th and 11th grade. This degree allows entrance into University in Costa Rica. With this diploma alone, it is very difficult if not impossible to enter a University in the United States.
The second type offered by the European Schools is the IB or International Baccalaureate. To earn the IB diploma, students must complete and test in six IB subjects; write an extended 4000 word essay of independent research guided by a faculty mentor, complete 150 hours of (CAS) creative, action, and service activities; and participate in a critical thinking course called Theory of Knowledge. The program begins in the 11th grade and is completed in the 12th grade. Entrance into University in the USA, Europe or Latin America is tenable with this degree accredited by the IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization) in Geneva Switzerland.
The third type of degree is the United States Diploma, which will allow entrance into University in the United States or Europe and other parts of the world. You cannot however enter University in Costa Rica with this diploma alone. The United States Diploma is available at all of the American Schools in Costa Rica. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, otherwise known as SACS, accredits all of these schools.
Where the IB is not offered, in the American Schools, many students opt for 2 diplomas to open more doors and allow more opportunity for them when choosing a University. They work for the National Baccalaureate then go onto the 12th grade for the United States Diploma. When this is the case, during the 12th grade many students take AP (Advanced Placement) courses, with passage leading to college credit. In addition, many students are bilingual by this time and are able to test out of foreign language in University by passing the AP Spanish test.
AP courses are offered in most topics from English to Calculus. If interested in Advance Placement Courses, you will need to check with your school of interest to see which courses are available because this too varies from school to school.
Public, Catholic, and some of the private European schools operate on the Costa Rican schedule which runs mid February to the end of November. Schools following the United States curriculum operate on a United States calendar starting the middle of August and finishing in June with a month off for Christmas in December and January.