Obtaining Authentic Secondary Credentials from Saudi Arabia

Universities around the world have seen huge increases in the numbers of Saudi students enrolling on their campuses over the last half a decade, and nowhere has this been more evident than in the United States. Enrollments at the tertiary level have jumped from a base of 3,448 in 2005/06 to 22,704 in 2010/11 [2], and 38,000 Saudi students were studying in the U.S. across all levels at the end of 2010, according to Francisco Sanchez, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.

For receiving institutions, this uptick in applicant and enrollment volume has required nimble adjustments in making sure campuses are attractive and welcoming to their new Arab cohorts. This process has included both outreach efforts to the broader campus and community to ease integration, and training of international admission officers to ensure that institutions are admitting academically qualified Saudi students.

World Education Services plays a role in the credential evaluation familiarization process by providing on-campus and webinar-based training sessions for admissions offices and officers responsible for handling Saudi applicant files. In this article, we will expand on the training already provided by offering a brief primer on how best to obtain and evaluate secondary credentials from Saudi Arabia for the purposes of undergraduate admissions.



The more than six-fold increase in Saudi enrollments at U.S. institutions of higher education over the last five years has been spurred in large part by the Saudi government’s recent investments in education, including huge spending on the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Scholarship Program [3]. Since its inception in 2005, the program has covered the considerable costs of sending 120,000 students overseas to study at all levels of higher education at top colleges and universities across the developed world. In just its second year last April, the International Exhibition & Conference on Higher Education in Riyadh attracted more than 300 universities from across the world, all or most presumably looking for a slice of this well-funded pie.

Mainly focused on technical and medical fields, 45 percent of recipients have so far earned scholarships for undergraduate study, 21 percent master’s study, 5 percent doctoral studies, and the rest in fellowship programs, English language studies or foundation courses. Currently, 30 percent of scholarship students are in the United States, followed by 15 percent in the United Kingdom, 11 percent in Canada, 8 percent in Australia and 6 percent in Egypt. The remaining 30 percent of scholarship students are dispersed across a range of advanced education systems [4].

With the inclusion of some extravagantly funded projects at home – including the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, an international research university endowed with an initial investment of US$10 billion – total investment in higher education accounted for 12 percent of the 2011 national budget, with a further 14 percent allocated to non-tertiary education. The 2011 education budget marks a 9 percent increase from the $36.69 billion allotted in 2010 and, since 2000, public spending on education has more than tripled.


According to 2011 figures [5] from the Ministry of Economic Planning [6], in 2010 the Kingdom hosted 24 public universities, 45 technical colleges (36 male-only, 9 female) and 98 vocational training centers in the tertiary sector. At the primary and secondary level, there were 4,885 secondary schools, 7,826 intermediate schools and 13,626 primary schools.

Across the whole education system there were a total of 5.15 million students, with 2.51 million enrolled in primary schools, 2.4 million in intermediate and secondary schools combined (roughly split half and half at 1.2 million each), and 903,379 in higher education, with a further 78,076 enrolled at higher technical training institutions and 16,300 at vocational training centers.

As a demonstration of the resources that the Saudi government has invested in secondary and university education over the last decade, official figures show that new enrollment at the bachelor’s level has risen from 82,075 students in 1999/00 (31,524 male, 50,551 female) to 227,725 in 2009/10 (114,222 male, 113,503 female), while overall secondary enrollment has grown from 755,977 to 1,206,348 over the same time period. At the master’s level, new entrants rose from 1,640 in 1999/00 to 8,855 in 2009/10, with an increase of 4,997 new master’s students between 2008/09 and 2009/10 alone. Total enrollment at the master’s level grew 78 percent year on year, up from 11,007 in 2008/09 to 19,952 in 2009/10.

The 2011 budget includes plans to build 610 new schools in addition to the 3,200 already under construction; 600 schools were completed in 2010. The education funds from the national budget will also support the building of new colleges and universities throughout the Kingdom and continue to support Saudi students studying abroad.

Education System

Infographic showing the structure of education in Saudi Arabia [7]

Quick Facts

Education Administration

Ministry of Higher Education [8] (universities)
Technical and Vocational Training Corporation [9] (TVTC) (secondary, higher technical institutes, higher commercial institutes)

Institutions and Years of Study



Higher Education




Higher Education

Secondary Education

At the upper secondary level, students are streamed into one of two general academic streams: Scientific and Literary (General); one of three vocational streams: Industrial, Commercial and Agricultural; or a religious stream.

Entry into specific streams happens after a common Year 10 curriculum and after the completion of intermediate education. At the end of Year 10 students are examined and those who average 60 percent or above in all subjects can choose between the scientific and vocational stream. Those averaging 50-60 must enter the literary stream. Entry to religious schooling is based on performance at intermediate school.

At the end of three years, students take the General Secondary Examination leading to the General Secondary Education Certificate (Tawjihiyah). The examination counts for 70 percent of a student’s final secondary school grade, with the remaining 30 percent being derived from prior classroom assessments.

Upper-Secondary Curriculum

A table showing Saudi Arabia's scientific stream curriculum, including course names and hours for grades 10, 11, and 12. [10]

A table showing the Saudi Arabia secondary grading scale and suggested U.S. conversion [11]

Grading at the secondary level tends to be towards the upper level, with a lot of high marks in the upper 80s, 90s, and even perfect scores.

Students who graduate from secondary school can apply for tertiary study depending on the stream of education completed. Graduates of religious secondary schools can only go on to study in the humanities or social sciences at university.

Required Secondary Documents Checklist

World Education Services requires the following documents from Saudi students when evaluating secondary credentials:

These documents should be obtained directly from the appropriate Regional Office of the Ministry of Education or the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) upon request from the student. Documents are typically sent within a few days of a student requesting them, and typically arrive by courier service. The student should initiate the request for documents and require that they are sent directly to the office evaluating them.

As noted above, secondary transcripts are dual language documents (English and Arabic), and will always be signed by the Director General of Education of the regional office of the Ministry of Education. The envelope that the documents arrive in will bear the logo of the ministry on the right hand side. In addition, the envelopes are stamped on the back flap with the stamp of the regional office of the ministry.

A list of all the regional education offices with links to the individual regional websites is available (in Arabic, but readable in English through an Internet translator) from the main ministry website [12] (second link from the left on the top navigation bar).

The Cultural Mission of the Saudi Embassy in the United States [13] also sends documents as a service to Saudi students getting ready to apply to U.S. universities. However, it is unclear exactly what authentication measures are undertaken by the Mission, so WES policy is to accept documents from Saudi Arabia only if they are issued from the regional offices of the Ministry of Education and sent directly to the WES office in a sealed envelope. A review of the documents will then establish if they are authentic or not.

Sample Documents

View sample documents here. [14]

1. Secondary Education Certificate Transcript

Key information (Grade 10):

2. Grade 11 (Second Grade)

3. Grade 12 (the General Secondary School Transcript)

4. Envelope