Brazil offers free college to its citizens, and its free colleges are just as prestigious as private institutions that charge tuition in the US. Brazil’s public colleges, known as federal universities, offer tuition-free education to admitted students.
Brazil colleges dominates the regional rankings for Latin America and in other University Rankings. Not only is Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo ranked as the leading university in Latin America QS but Brazil also claims over 80 of the region’s top 300 universities. There are four Brazilian universities in the top 1: Universidade Estadual de Campinas (3), Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (8) and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (10), the latter also achieving four QS Stars.
Universities in Brazil are categorized one of three ways by Brazil’s Ministry of Education (MEC). Interestingly, the MEC acronym comes from it previously being the Ministry of Education and Culture; when the Ministry of Culture (MinC) was created and the name became Ministry of Education, its previous acronym stayed with it! You’ll also find that every university in Brazil has an accompanying acronym to its name.
The six categories of higher education institutions in Brazil are:
1. Universities: institutions whose core activities are teaching and research for all areas of human knowledge. Community outreach is an important factor in universities, and at least one third of the teaching staff has PhD qualifications.
2. University Centers: multi-course educational institutions that address all areas of human knowledge but are not obliged to carry out research. They are autonomous and do not need to seek permission from the MEC to open new courses.
3. Integrated Faculties and Schools of Higher Education: smaller institutions with little autonomy that need to obtain approval from the MEC when opening new courses, certificates or degrees. They offer courses at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Integrated faculties operate under a common set of regulations set by a larger university institution while schools offer one or more undergraduate courses in a specific area.
If you are able to get into university in Brazil, and especially a good Federal or State University like the University of São Paulo, it‘s well worth it. Courses are completely free of course, and students at the University of São Paulo have access to good free sports facilities.
Brazilian state and federal universities are prone to strikes. Some faculties go on strike every year for months, and I don‘t know how students ever manage to graduate.
If you want to take an undergraduate course at a Brazilian state university, the first step is to enroll for the FUVEST exam. You will need a foreigners ID registration number, or RNE. At http://www.fuvest.br you can see previous years exams. Enrolments finishes in September and the first phase exams take place in November. You have to decide when you enroll and which course you want to take, and you can consult the previous years exam results to see what score you need to get in order to pass the first phase. The first phase exam is a multiple-choice general exam, which covers chemistry, biology, physics, maths, geography, history, Portuguese and English.
But there are other ways of getting into Brazilian Universities. If you already have a University degree recognised by a Brazilian University, and an RNE, you can apply to study for a higher degree, or be accepted to a degree course without taking the FUVEST exam.
To get your University degree recognised by a Brazilian University it has to be evaluated as being equivalent to a degree course in Brazil. You have to show a transcription of all your undergraduate exam results. This evaluation process takes eight to 10 months, but it‘s better to allow a year including carnival and the summer holidays when not much gets done.
Entrance examinations for universities in Brazil
All prospective candidates to a private or public university in Brazil must take an entrance examination, similar to the SAT or ACT test in the US. Before signing up, you’ll need to choose the university and degree program you are interested in, as each university runs its own exam. Depending on the university, you’ll need to take the “Vestibular” exam, the ENEM exam or both.
A fairly new national secondary school exam known as Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM) is used by some universities in the place of the Vestibular. Sometimes the ENEM may replace only the first qualifying section of the Vestibular. ENEM results can be used as part of the final overall grade in the Vestibular. A few public universities (such as USP and UNICAMP) have chosen not to use ENEM grades at all – basing their admission criteria on the Vestibular exam only.
Applying to universities in Brazil
Managed by the Ministry of Education (MEC), a national university application system known as SISU (Sistema de Seleção Unificada) is used by public higher education institutions in order to offer vacancies for candidates who have taken the ENEM. You’ll need to register on the SISU site when its selection process starts (held twice a year at the beginning of the semester) using your ENEM registration number and password. Once registered, the system will inform you of any additional documents and/or admissions requirements you must fulfill before being able to apply to your chosen university.
Universities that have not joined SISU (such as UNIFESP, UFRJ, UFMG and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS)) have their own independent exams.
Due to Brazilian initiatives to promote access to education for students with socioeconomic disadvantages, many universities in Brazil have racial quotas and quotas for students whose secondary education was spent entirely in a publicly funded school. As such, some students may be given extra points in their admissions test if they agree to receive this advantage based on either of the factors mentioned.
Proficiency in Portuguese
All prospective international undergraduate students applying to study in Brazil must be able to prove their proficiency in Portuguese, to be able to study in the language and take the admissions examinations. This is assessed by the Certificado de Proficiência em Língua Portuguesa para Estrangeiros (CELPE-Bras). The CELPE-Bras is offered in Brazil and countries such as the US, Germany, Chile and Japan with the support of the Brazilian Ministry of International Relations (MRE). You can register for the CELPE-Bras online in February, March, August or September.
Brazilian visa requirements
Most international students will need to obtain a visa to study in Brazil. You can do so through the Consulate General of Brazil (Consulado Geral Do Brazil) in your home country. Student visas are issued for one year and can be renewed.
Visas usually take around two to three months to be processed, so make sure you allow plenty of time before the start of your course. You can fill in the visa application form online. To complete the Brazilian visa requirements, you will then need to send a printed and signed receipt to your nearest Brazilian consulate along with the following documents, or go to the consulate in person:
- Passport valid for six months after the end of your course
- Copy of birth certificate (may or may not be required)
- Two printed and signed visa application forms (Pedido de Visto) which will be stamped by the Consulate General
- Two passport-size photos
- Copy of a letter of acceptance from a Brazilian institution recognized by the MEC. Letter should include the length of the course, number of hours per lesson and number of lessons per week. The signature on the letter must be legalized by a Notary (Tabelião) in Brazil.
- Certificate of prosecution/conviction history issued in the last 3 months
- Proof of sufficient funds/financial support for the duration of your stay
- Medical examination results – depending on your country of origin you may also need to get a yellow fever vaccination (you’ll be given a vaccination card which you’ll need for your visa application)
- Receipt of payment of the consular fee for visa processing
You will also need to submit your academic transcripts to the Conselho Estadual de Educação, the educational institution located in each Brazilian state, which will authorize recognition of foreign education certificates.
There are also special Courses and programs for foreigners in Brazil.