Evaluating Academic Credentials from Brazil



In academic year 2010/11 there were 8,777 [2] Brazilian students at U.S. colleges and universities. While this was a very slight decrease from the prior year (8,786), it is generally expected that enrollments are set to increase sharply in the coming years thanks to a public-private scholarship program that promises to send 101,000 Brazilian students and exchange visitors overseas on a mix of exchange and full-degree programs through 2015. The United States has been listed as one of the main partner countries under the Science Without Borders [3] program and will likely receive the largest share of Brazilian scholarship students.

As admissions departments here in the United States begin to see an uptick in Brazilian applications, familiarity with the document requirements, credentials, and grading scales of Brazil will be essential in providing fair and accurate credential evaluations. To that end, World Education Services [4] offered a free webinar [5] on the education system of Brazil in March 2012 with advice on evaluating the academic credentials of those graduating from the secondary and tertiary levels of the Brazilian education system. In this article, we offer a hard copy companion piece.

Statistical Overview

  • Population: 205,716, 890 (2012, CIA World Factbook)
  • GDP Per Capita: $11,600 (2011, UIS)
  • Youth Literacy Rate (2008, UIS, 15-24): 97.8%
  • Adult Literacy Rate (2008, UIS, 15+): 90%
  • Tertiary Enrollment Rate 2002 (UIS): 20%
  • Tertiary Enrollment Rate 2009 (UIS): 36%
  • Higher Education Total Enrollment: 5,115,896 (2009, MOE)
  • Brazilian Students in US Higher Education: 8,777 (2010/11, IIE)

System of Education Overview

Brazil is a federal country with 26 individual states and one federal district. While state governments are responsible for implementing and/or administering elementary- and secondary-level education, there are national curricular guidelines set forth by the federal authorities. These are complemented by regional curricula set by local and regional governments.

Higher education is regulated by the national educational authorities through the federal Ministry of Education [6] (Ministério da Educação). Public higher education may be funded by one or more of the three levels of government (municipal/ state/ federal).

The Brazilian education system is broadly divided between basic education (educação básica) and higher education (educação superior). Basic education currently includes early childhood education (educação infantil, 4-6 years), elementary education (ensino fundamental, 6-15) and secondary education (ensino médio, 15-18).

Elementary- and secondary-level education is offered mainly in the public sector, although there are also many private schools (13 percent of total enrollment in 2009, according to the World Bank). Higher education is also a mix of public and private provision, with the private sector having grown considerably in recent years to cater to demand not being met by the public sector, especially at the undergraduate level. Today, almost 75 percent of tertiary-level students are enrolled at private colleges and universities.

The 2009 Brazilian Educational Census listed 2,252 institutions of higher education nationwide, with a total enrollment of 5.45 million students. Admission to public universities is very competitive, as they are generally considered to be of a higher quality, in addition to being almost free (students pay a nominal maintenance fee established by the academic institution in compliance with corresponding jurisdictions).

The duration of compulsory education is currently nine years but, according to the provisions of a 2009 constitutional amendment, that will be extended to 13 years (from the ages of 4 to 17) by 2016. Under that same amendment, it is a constitutional obligation that 18 percent of national revenue be spent on education.

The language of instruction is almost exclusively Portuguese, although students are required to take a second language at the secondary level. Some states have made English compulsory, others offer the option of a third language (in addition to English), while others leave it to the student to decide. The academic year runs from February to December.


General Program Specific Program Description Grade Age Authority
Basic Education (Educação Básica) Early Childhood Education
(Educação Infantil)
Initial Education 3 Years 0-3 Municipalities, States
Preschool 3 Years 4-6
Elementary Education(Ensino Fundamental)  (Compulsory) Primary School (Ensino Fundamental I) 1st Grade 6-11 Municipalities, States
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade
Middle School (Ensino Fundamental II) 6th Grade 11-15
7th Grade
8th Grade
9th Grade
Secondary Education
(Ensino Médio)
Upper Secondary Education 10th Grade 15-18 States
11th Grade
12th Grade
Vocational and Technological Education (Educação Profissional Técnica de Nível Médio) Upper Secondary Education Grades 10-12 15-18 States
                             Higher Education (Educação Superior) Sequential Courses [7] 1,600 hours 18+ Federal Government
Completion Courses Variable
Undergraduate Bachelor 2,400 hours
Higher Diploma 2,800 hours
Technological Diploma 1,600 hours
Graduate Master 2 years
PhD 2 years
Professional Degree 3 years
Specialization Courses (Certificate) 360 hours

Source: Ministry of Education, 2008

Elementary and Middle School Education (Ensino Fundamental)

As of February 2006 [8], the first nine years (previously eight) of Brazilian schooling are compulsory and free in public schools, with the compulsory years divided between grades 1-5 and grades 6-9 (ages 6 to 14). The new nine-year elementary education program was fully implemented in 2010 and, collectively, the first nine years are known as ensino fundamental or fundamental education. Most students attend public schools at this level.

The curriculum is taught over a (minimum) four-hour day and compulsory subjects, as determined at the federal level, include: artistic education, biology, ethics, mathematics, physical education, physical science, social life, social studies (history and geography) and Portuguese language. Other subjects are determined at the regional level to meet student and community needs. Most states and municipalities require a foreign language beginning in grade 5.

Students who graduate from ensino fundamental are awarded a transcript, or histórico escolar, which grants access to high school. A certificate (Certificado do Conclusão do Ensino Fundamental) is also awarded. There are no external final examinations.

Upper Secondary Education (Ensino Médio)

High school, or upper secondary education (ensino médio), is three years in duration and covers grades 10-12. However, with an additional year of schooling having been introduced from the beginning of fundamental education in 2006, it won’t be until the end of the 2014/2015 academic year that students begin their ensino médio studies in grade 10, and until 2017/18 that students begin graduating after 12 years of schooling. Prior to 2006, ensino médio covered grades 9-11.

A student who has completed ensino fundamental can access secondary education without sitting an entrance examination. Schooling is offered at instituições de ensino médio (regular) and instituições de ensino técnico (technical schools).

In 2006, there were approximately nine million students enrolled in secondary education, with the majority (85 percent) enrolled in state-run institutions. Nearly half of those students were enrolled in evening schools.

Secondary Education Curriculum (Ensino Médio)

High school curriculum requirements mandate a minimum of 2,400 hours of instruction over the three years of ensino médio. According to a 1996 law on secondary education, the secondary curriculum is composed of both a national core curriculum and a state curriculum. The national curriculum is complemented with coursework designed by regional education authorities.

Over the three years there are three broad areas of study:

  1. Languages, arts and physical education
  2. Mathematics, natural sciences and related sciences
  3. Humanities

Compulsory core subjects include: art education, biology, health programs, literature, chemistry, one foreign language, mathematics, physical education, physics, Portuguese, and social studies (history and geography).

A minimum of 75 percent of the curriculum must contain instruction in these subjects. The rest of the curriculum is determined by the state, municipality or by the institution. These subjects will include job skills and work-related training.

National Curriculum (Parte Comum) 75%:

Regional Curriculum (Parte Diversificada) 25%:

Vocational Secondary

Vocational training at the secondary level lasts three to four years depending on the program chosen. Primary and secondary sector technical programs require a minimum of 2,900 hours of schooling, with at least 1,200 hours devoted to vocational training. This is complemented by work placements and internships of at least one semester.

Students graduating from technical secondary programs are eligible to take the university entrance examination and to enroll in traditional higher education programs.

Academic Credentials

The most commonly awarded high school credential is the Certificado de Conclusão de Ensino Médio (Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education).

Other awards include the Certificado de Conclusão da Educação Profissional Técnica de Nível Médio (Certificate of Completion of Secondary-Level Technical Education) and/or the Certificado de Conclusão de Ensino Médio com Habilitação Técnica (Certificate of Completion of Secondary-Level Technical Education).

Pre-1996 awards include Certificado de Conclusão de 2º Grau (Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education), Certificado de Conclusão de 2º Grau com Habilitação Técnica (Certificate of Completion of Secondary-Level Technical Education), Certificado de Auxiliar Técnico (Technical Certificate), and Diploma de Técnico de 2º Grau (Secondary-Level Technician’s Diploma).


Nationally administered by the educational authorities:

The Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio [9] – ENEM: Sistema de Seleção Unificado [10] (SiSU) was introduced in 2009 as a centralized and standardized admissions exam for public institutions of higher education at the national level. However, these public institutions retain the autonomy to use ENEM as the only, primary, or secondary entrance examination (in combination/substitution with/of their own examinations).

Because it is a new examination, many institutions are currently using it in combination with their own examinations (i.e. Vestibular); however, educational authorities are trying to encourage them to use it as a unique form of admissions, especially so among federal institutions. According to a November 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education article [11], all 59 federal universities are now employing ENEM as the first part of their two-phase examination process, the second of which they organize in-house, or as a stand-alone entrance exam.

The ENEM exam tests students in five main areas (natural sciences, human sciences, math, Portuguese and either English or Spanish as a foreign language) over 180 multiple-choice questions. Students must also write an essay.

The test is administered by the Ministry of Education’s National Institute for Educational Studies and Research (INEP), and average examination results by school, city and state are published annually on INEP’s website [12].

Institution specific:

Individual or regional groups of universities set their own entrance examinations, known as the Vestibular, to test students’ knowledge of the national core curricula. Students who sit the exam can apply to any of the universities using that particular Vestibular.

The Vestibular usually takes place from November to January, before the start of school year in February or March, although certain universities hold it every semester. There are multiple subject exams conducted over two sessions. Typically, students take a multiple-choice test first with questions based on the broader core curriculum. Top scoring students then take a second exam with questions related to their proposed major. The top scorers up to the maximum number of vacancies for each field of study are allowed to enroll in their chosen majors.

Access to Higher Education

Students with the Certificado de Conclusão de Ensino Médio and Certificado de Conclusão de Ensino Médio com Habilitação Técnica can sit the university entrance exam (Vestibular). Admission to university is based on results from the Vestibular (and/or ENEM), in addition to interviews at some universities, with top-scoring students given first choice of institution.

Higher Education

Higher Education Enrollment

The private sector has grown three times faster than the public sector in terms of enrollments over the last decade. Private institutions of higher education in Brazil now enroll 75 percent of all tertiary level students, with many taking evening programs in vocationally oriented, for-profit schools.

At the undergraduate level, the majority of students attend private higher education institutions, whereas at the graduate level the majority attends public universities. These are mainly federal, although two of the most important research universities are state institutions in São Paulo.


In the last several years the federal government has tried to increase access to public institutions with the creation of four new federal universities in some of the country’s poorest states, in addition to 47 new campuses at existing institutions. In 2009, 3.7 million out of 5 million tertiary students were enrolled in private institutions. Of the 1.3 million in the public sector, 752,000 were enrolled in federal institutions. Current government plans would see federal university enrollment increase to 1 million, including greatly expanded access to technical education (from 54,000 students in 2009 to an eventual goal of more than 650,000 students).

Since 2003, new enrollments at Brazil’s federal universities have grown from 109,200 to 243,500 in 2012, according to the most recent INEP Higher Education Census. Total enrollment has grown from 527,700 in 2003 to 696,700 in 2009. The number of federal universities has increased over the same timeframe from 45 to 59, while funding has also been provided for 126 new university campuses.

These statistics reflect the ongoing expansion plan of Brazil’s federal higher education system, which in a little more than eight years has seen its budget doubled, according to the Ministry of Education. Perhaps more importantly, the geographic location of university campuses has diversified away from state capitals and large cities, with new universities and campuses opening in more remote regions.

There has also been significant growth in graduate education over the last five years. Whereas in 2003, there were 27,649 masters and 8,094 doctorate degrees awarded by Brazilian universities, there were approximately 41,000 masters and 12,000 PhDs awarded in 2010, according to Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior [13] (CAPES). The sciences accounted for 51.6 percent of the master’s degrees in 2008.

Brazil’s 14 Newest Federal Universities

Undergraduate Credentials (Graduação)

Typical undergraduate programs require between 2,400 and 3,000 hours of classroom instruction. Most professional programs require an internship or professional practice, and most have major and/or institution-specific requirements (e.g. many require foreign language proficiency).

Graduate Credentials (Pós-Graduação)

Academic Stream (Stricto Sensu)

Pós-Graduação Latu Sensu

Admission to non-degree specialization lato sensu programs is based on an undergraduate degree. Programs are all taught and typically 1-2 years in length.

Credentials include the Especialização em (field of study) and Certificado de Pós-Graduação ‘Lato Sensu’ em Nível de Especialização (typically in an applied discipline)

These programs do not typically give entry to stricto sensu studies, although some coursework may be transferable at specific institutions.

Admission to stricto sensu programs (i.e. Mestredo) is based on an undergraduate degree (i.e. Bacharel, Título Profissional, Licenciado).


Administrative category

Academic Organization

Quality Assurance

Evaluation of undergraduate programs (Avaliação dos Cursos de Graduação) is overseen by the Comissão Nacional de Avaliação da Educação Superior [28] (CONAES), which works under the auspices of INEP (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais). Program evaluations follow a three-step process:

  1. Authorization
  2. Recognition (evaluation after 50 percent of proposed curriculum is in place)
  3. Renewal of recognition every three years.

Institutions that score more than three (on a scale of 0-5) in the evaluation process receive automatic recognition. Others have to undergo further evaluation. Programs that perform well on the evaluation will receive additional public funding. Private institutions have to meet minimum standards for students to benefit from government scholarships. At the graduate level in the academic stream (stricto sensu), quality standards are overseen by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES).

Grading Scale

At the secondary level, regional education authorities regulate the grading scales. They are typically standard, but not always. The most common grading scale at both the secondary and tertiary level is 0-10 with 5 as the minimum passing grade. Some institutions use 6, while some at the graduate level use 8 as the minimum passing grade.

Not all universities use the 0-10 scale. You may also see grading scales using A-D grades with explanatory notations. Most transcripts have a key to the grading scale and, as universities are free to use whatever grading scale/pass mark they choose, it is important to understand where passing grades are set when performing an evaluation.

WES Document Requirements

Secondary Level

What to Submit How to Submit
1. Certificado de 2. Grau or Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio (certificate of secondary school completion/diploma) issued by the Colegio or Ministério da Educação


To be submitted to WES by applicant.

2.Histórico Escolar (academic transcripts) issued by the institution attendedTo be sent directly to WES by the institution attended.

Copies of precise, word-for-word, English translations are required for all foreign language documents.

Higher Education

What to Submit How to Submit
1. Clear, legible photocopies of all graduation certificates issued by the institutions attendede.g. Título Profissional, Bacharel or Licenciado, Doutorado


To be submitted to WES by applicant.
2. Histórico Escolar (academic transcripts) for all programs of post-secondary study To be sent directly to WES by the institutions attended.
3. For completed doctoral programs, a letter confirming the awarding of the degree To be sent directly to WES by the institutions attended.
Copies of precise, word-for-word, English translations are required for all foreign language documents.

Most academic transcripts at the secondary level include a legend attesting to the completion of the program. At the higher education level, most academic transcripts when completed indicate that the degree was conferred.

Brazilian institutions are typically very efficient in responding to document requests.

Verification Resources

All officially recognized institutions and programs at the undergraduate level are listed through the Ministry of Education’s e-MEC database. The search function (Consulta) will provide institutional address information in addition to details on program offerings, including the evaluation rating they have received (GPC), the semester structure and the minimum number of school hours required for graduation: http://emec.mec.gov.br/ [29]

The agency responsible for statistics and evaluation of undergraduate programs is the Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais Anisio Teixeira (INEP): http://portal.inep.gov.br [12]

All officially recognized institutions and programs at the graduate level are listed through the CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior) database. Again the programs are searchable by area, evaluation grade and region: http://www.capes.gov.br/cursos-recomendados [30]

Sample Documents:

Click here [31] to access sample documents from Brazil. (See specific credential information below.)

A. Secondary Level Qualification

  1. The name of the institution.
  2. Ensino Médio = Upper Secondary education.
  3. Base Nacional Comum refers to the national curriculum subjects taken by the student.
  4. Parte Diversificada is the regional curriculum.
  5. The grades for each course are on a scale of 0-10, with a minimum passing grade of 5 (as noted under ‘Observaçãoes’).
  6. Contact hours for each subject.
  7. Concluiu o Ensino Médio refers to the student’s successful completion of secondary education, making him/her eligible for higher education. This is certified by the director of the institution attended.

The WES stamp at the bottom indicates that the document was received directly from the institution.

B. Academic Transcript Request Form (Requisição de Histórico Escolar)

  1. This is a sample of a WES document for requests of academic transcripts from Brazilian institutions of education. The document should include:
  2. The name of the institution
  3. The name of the program (Grau)
  4. Degree conferral (Colação de Grau)

C. Academic Transcript (Histórico Escolar)

  1. Name of the institution.
  2. Name and level of the program.
  3. Information on the official recognition of the program. In this example, the official recognition was renewed in 2005.
  4. This column lists courses taken.
  5. The semester and year the courses were taken.
  6. Credits awarded and school hours devoted to each course.
  7. Final grade for each course, on a 0-10 scale in this example, with a minimum passing grade of 5 (as noted under ‘Observaçãoes’). Semester averages are listed under ‘Média Semestral,’ while the overall average is indicated at the bottom under ‘Média Geral do Curso.’
  8. Colação de Grau indicates the date when the degree was conferred. Most academic transcripts will have this detail.
  9. Signature and seal of the school official.

D. Degree Certificate (Certifcado)

  1. Name of the school.
  2. The name and level of the program.
  3. Date conferred (Colação de Grau).
  4. Signature of the school official.