Costa Rica’s exuberant market for international education

Costa Rica’s exuberant market for international education


When Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949, its citizens declared proudly, “our teachers are our armed forces”. In the course of recent years, this “army” has unsheathed a new weapon, in the form of the IB diploma, which an increasing number of both private and public schools in the country are now offering.

The IB diploma is a rigourous, internationally recognised certificate, consisting of 7 courses, including a compulsory critical thinking curriculum plus components to ensure creativity, social engagement, and well roundedness, plus a final research paper. It is considered an ideal preparation for universities throughout the world.

According to official statistics issued by the International Baccalaureate Organisation based in Geneva, the IB diploma has been offered in Costa Rica since 1991. Originally this was the domain of elite private schools, such as the world famous United World College, which has one of its campuses in the Costa Rica. “The added value of the international baccalaureate in a highly competitive world represents a very positive competitive edge. The IB courses are counted as first year university credits and they help to achieve higher performance in university and in professional life”, said Gina McCarrel, the director of Lincoln College, another one of the well-known IB schools in the country.

In recent years, however, the number of schools offering IB programmes has grown substantially. According to official figures from the IBO, there are now 31 schools in the country, which offer one or more of the four available IB programmes.

Becoming an IB world school demands a substantial investment of around 60,000 dollars and yearly payment of over 4,000 dollars. Until a few years ago, the programme was therefore accessible only to well endowed private schools. But that changed in 2007, when Asobitico was born.

Asobitico is the association of IB schools in Costa Rica. They have created a fund to assist public schools in becoming IB. Thanks to it, ever greater numbers of students are graduating with the IB diploma, which is a passport to all international universities world wide.

The economic and developmental context of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a progressive country. It is a country that consistently performs highest in Latin America in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), scoring higher than other countries having comparable income levels. It is, a country, that places great importance on education.

The GDP per capita is US $12,874 at purchasing power parity. Its economy is developing rapidly. It used to be centred on agriculture but now it includes finance, pharmaceuticals, information technology, and ecotourism. High value-added goods and services, including medical devices have further bolstered exports. Glaxo-Smith Kline, Intel, and Procter and Gamble have a significant presence in the country.

Finance, Engineering, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Life Sciences, Computer Science, International Law, and Hospitality Management represent areas in which Costa Rica’s new generations of high school graduates will seek to obtain college qualifications, both at the undergraduate and post-graduate level. In 2016, the success rate of IB candidates in obtaining the diploma reached the same level as the rest of the continent and is rapidly approaching the 72%, which represents the international level. It is extremely probable that many, indeed the majority of these well prepared students will seek admissions in these fields at English speaking universities in North America and Europe

A green country, thriving on its bio-diversity

Costa Ricans are proud of the rich biodiversity of their country. According to the UNDP, it is the only country to meet all criteria required for environmental sustainability and was twice identified in the New Economic Foundations statistics as one of the greenest, most environmentally sustainable countries in the world.

Curating this treasure of biodiversity will require expertise on an international level, and it can be predicted that North American, European, and Australian universities offering biology, ecology, environmental policy, forestry, marine biology, etc, will find a keen and discerning clientele among prospective students from Costa Rica.


Costa Rica is a regional success story. It has attained one of the highest levels of foreign direct investment per capita in Latin America owing to its political stability, fiscal incentives in the free-trade zones, and especially the high education levels, now increasingly culminating by the increase of IB diploma graduates. The countries’ wealth of natural and human resources make it a promising destination for colleges and universities promoting their services among a young and dynamic population, in a country that places a premium on education as a development strategy.

About the author: Dr. Luis Murillo is a former medical researcher in neurobiology and an international college adviser, who has worked for many years with IB schools in Europe and Asia. His experience of Hungarian medical schools is based on his experience as a guest lecturer at the Medical Faculty of Debrecen University and as a counsellor who has sent some his own students to pursue medical studies in Hungary.

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