Understanding Brazilian Higher Education
Below is an overview of the Brazilian educational system, including higher education and graduate programs.
Admissions in Higher Education
In order to be admitted to most universities in Brazil, undergraduate candidates are required to pass a competitive entrance exam, the Vestibular. Unlike what happens in the U.S. system, undergraduate students declare their intended university major when they first register for the Vestibular, which usually takes place between November and January. This is shortly before the start of the academic year in February or March. Some universities also offer entrance exams before the beginning of the second semester, usually around August. The Vestibular at preeminent universities is often carried out over the course of several days, with various disciplines being tested on each day. Although the Vestibular is still widely used in Brazil, some universities are beginning to review this process by employing different admission criteria (interviews, high school transcripts, etc).
Individuals with a Bacharel degree, Licenciatura, or a professional diploma are eligible for graduate programs leading to a Master’s or doctoral degree. Admission criteria for Master’s programs in Brazil vary depending on the institution. Most universities will require entrance exams, undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and interviews.
A doctoral candidate is often required to submit a research plan, and a faculty member must agree to serve as the student’s supervisor as a pre-requisite for admission. Doctoral programs in the Natural Sciences may sometimes offer an exception by accepting graduate students with broad or vague research plans, and allowing them to define a more specific course of study within their first year. A Master’s degree is no longer a pre-requisite for admission to all doctoral programs in Brazil, as some universities include a Master’s as part of the doctoral track.
Brazil has over 100,000 researchers and scholars engaged in research at private and governmental institutions. Brazilian graduate programs deliver 13,000 PhD degrees every year and are continuously evaluated according to internationally recognized standards. Evaluations are conducted by the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES).
Programs are evaluated every three years, with scores ranging from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest). Programs with scores of 3 or below are closely monitored by CAPES, consistently re-evaluated, and closed if deficiencies are not improved. The evaluations of all 2,581 Brazilian graduate programs can guide your search for the best institutional affiliation within your field of study. In addition to program evaluations, CAPES offers detailed descriptions of graduate programs at Brazilian institutions and contact information for individual programs.
Brazilian Educational System
The “Brazilian and American Educational Systems: Level Equivalencies” parallel charts indicate that primary and secondary schooling are similar with regard to student age and grade level in both Brazil and the United States. The greatest differences between the Brazilian and American educational systems can be found at the university level.
In Brazil, undergraduate education may range from four to six years, depending on the course of study. Professional programs are generally taught at the undergraduate level, and some programs (i.e. architecture, engineering, medicine, law, psychology, etc.) may require five to six years of study. Students in professional programs at the undergraduate level may become practitioners upon graduating and completing any professional licensure requirements. Unlike the American system, Brazil does not require graduate level training for some professions (i.e. medicine and law). In some cases, however, a degree of specialization (i.e. medical residency) is required in addition to undergraduate training.
Brazilian universities offer Master’s and doctoral programs in several fields of study. Those are generally divided into eight overarching areas: earth sciences and mathematics, engineering, health sciences, biological sciences, agrarian sciences, humanities, social sciences, linguistics, letters and arts.