School and Grade System in Mexico. For all Interpreters who struggle with this issue.

July 23, 2012 § 37 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

During my years as an interpreter I have been asked many things about Mexican Spanish, culture, way of living, etcetera; but by far, the most popular questions have consistently been about the Mexican educational system and its equivalency with the American system.  I have seen very capable colleagues from countries other than Mexico struggle with the interpretation of a simple phrase like: “Solo terminé la secundaria,” so today, I decided to put in writing, once and for all, the Mexican educational system.

The educational system in Mexico starts at the age of two, however, education is not compulsory before the child turns 6.  Also, the educational system ends with the 12th. Grade, but compulsory education ends after the 9th. Grade.

These are the equivalencies between Mexico and the United States:

School System:

Preschool = Kinder o Jardín de Niños, sometimes: Educación Preescolar   (2 to 4 years of age)

Kindergarten (last year before elementary school) = Pre-primaria.

Elementary School = Primaria (1st. to 6th. Grade. Children from 6 to 12 years old) Compulsory.

Middle School or Junior High = Secundaria (7th. to 9th. Grade. Children from 12 to 15) Compulsory.

High School = Preparatoria (10th. To 12th. Grade. Children from 15 to 18).

Community College =  Carrera Corta (2 years degree)

College = Universidad (4 to 6 years depending on the degree)

Master’s = Maestría

Doctorate – Doctorado


Diplomas or Degrees:

Elementary School Certificate = Certificado de Primaria (Compulsory)

Junior High or Middle School Diploma = Certificado de Secundaria (Compulsory)

High School Diploma = Certificado de Preparatoria (Also called “Prepa”)

A student who finished High School completed the Bachillerato and is called Bachiller.

A student who has an Associate’s Degree completed a Carrera Corta and he gets a Diploma.

A student who gets a Bachelors Degree completed the Universidad and has a Licenciatura

A student who gets a Master’s Degree finished a Maestría and is a Maestro.

A student who gets a Ph.D. finished a Doctorado and is a Doctor, or a Doctor en Filosofía.

A Colegio is not a college. It is a private school even if it is an elementary school. (a public school is a escuela)

A College where they do not offer Master’s and Ph.D. programs is called a Escuela. Escuela de Arquitectura (School of Architecture)

A College where they offer post-graduate education is called a Facultad. Facultad de Medicina (Medical School)

In Mexico, schools grade their students with the following scale (Some schools use different systems but this is the prevailing scale):

MB or Muy Bien = A

B or Bien = B

S or Suficiente = C, D

NA o No Apto = F

A student’s grade average is calculated on a scale from 1-10

A Promedio de 10 would be the equivalent to a 4.0 GPA

On the other hand, to refer to a 10 as a 4.0 in Spanish would be disastrous. Be careful!

I hope this will help the next time a Mexican client says: “Solo terminé la secundaria,”  and you interpret it as: “I just finished middle school.”

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§ 37 Responses to School and Grade System in Mexico. For all Interpreters who struggle with this issue.

  • Jorge says:

    The scale is 1-10 for Elementary (primaria) and jr-high (secundaria) where 6 and up is approved, for the high school and university the scale is 1-100, to be approved you need at least 70. and for a master degree you can have 70 only 1 or 2 times more than 2 times you are not approved…

  • Mary says:

    This is very helpful. Wnen I travelled to Mexico, I spent a lot of time asking about the educational system because it is a bit different from the U.S. The term high school doesn’t have an equivalent, so most Spanish speakers in the U.S. I have talked to just use the English words, as in “Mi hijo va al high school.”

  • Sol Vargas says:

    Great post, Tony! All the terms, particularly “colegio” and “escuela” seem to generate a lot of confusion.

  • Steve says:

    Evidence that there’s no such thing as “trivia” for a translator: I first learned about the Mexican grading system while watching the TV show “Hart to Hart”, starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers. The version shown in Venezuela had been dubbed in Mexico and the opening each week explained that “él es un 10 y ella es un 10 así que son … la Pareja 20.” (which was the Spanish title). Later a Mexican colleague explained that this referred to the grading system.

    P.S. Not sure if it’s still true, but scores in Venezuela at least in elementary and secondary school used to be on a scale of 0-20.

  • Janeth says:

    Fabulous information, Tony! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

  • Enrique Duran says:

    me gustaria saber si tiene un manual de estudio para el bachillerato ya que no pude terminar el bachillerato en Mexico, entiendo que este se llama ” Prepa, y si lo hay como lo puedo adquirir mi nombre es Enrique Duran y mi email es, mi telefono es 562 556 5552

  • Valeria says:

    Hi, well i want to know if i can do my high school in mexico without doing another year of middle school, im currently going to 8th grade on August can you give me this information}? Thank you.

    • I do not believe you can do that because 9 grade is middle school in the Mexican system. High school is 3 years over there: grades 10 to 12. I suggest you verify this information with the Mexican Consulate or the Mexican Department of Public Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública) In the United States education is a local matter, in Mexico is a federal affair with a national educational system.

    • FlamingRuby says:

      No, students start school in Mexico at 1st grade to 12 grade. But junior high school is 7-9 & high school is 10-12. Summer break for primary students actually starts in mid-June to early September. For junior high, mid-June to second half of August. For high school, late May to late August. That is how the Mexican Education System is built.

  • Abby says:

    I go to school in Canada. In grade 10 but was wondering if u would be able to graduate in another country. Would that be possible ?

  • Snuffy C. says:

    Reblogged this on "Now You're Learning" and commented:
    I hope this helps you guys.

  • Ileana C says:

    Another big difference between the educational systems are the certificates and transcripts. In Mexico kids get a certificate after primaria (elementary), after secundaria (middle school) and preparatoria (high school) and even have graduations ceremonies and dinners. The certificates include detailed classes and grades while in the US, at least in Texas, students can request a transcript after elementary school and high school, but not after middle school and there is only high school graduation.

    • Janeth Murillo says:

      I studied in South America and after finishing the ‘primaria’ (5years) I received a diploma. I then started the ‘secundaria/bachillerato’ (6 years), attended a graduation where I received a diploma; after that, I went to the university and studied engineering. I believe high school in Central America is also known as ‘bachillerato’.

  • Thank you! I am writing an article on our six month experience sending our five year old to public school in Mexico. Even though we live here I forgot the names of the school levels! Mucho gracias!

  • Vivian says:

    How long does a person go to school for if they want to become a Massage Practitioner?

  • Raul says:

    I want to know, what’s the equivalent in Mexico to “post-secondary” education. 🙂

    • Carlos says:

      I believe “post-secondary education” refers to the education you have after high school or “preparatoria” en Mexico.

  • Sebastián says:

    good article.

  • Thanks for the explanations. Most of my trade involves Portuguese and I am still getting used to 23 different Spanishes

  • Janny says:

    I would like to do Universidad in MX, do you any good schools?
    Or who can I contact regarding my situation?
    Is there like counselors I can talk to?

  • Julia says:

    Very helpful the information you put
    In here but I do want to correct you regarding Secundaria and its equivalent here in the U.S.
    Secundaria is consider and the equivalent
    As High School. So if you finished Secundaria in Mexico and come to the U.S. you can
    Go straight to Tech college or Com College and transfer to. University. The truth is that in Mexico Preparataria is more like a Community College where you have to attend to complete prerequisites To be able to transfer to a University for a higher level of education such as Master’s Deggre or PH Degree, otherwise once you finished Preparatoria is like if you finish an AA or AS degree in USA.
    By all means if you graduate from
    Secundaria in Mexico there is no need to attend High Achool in the USA.

    • Dear Julia, thank you for your comment, but I disagree. The high school program in the United States covers 12 years of basic education. Unlike “secundaria” studies in several South American countries where the program covers up to the 12 grade, Mexican “secundaria” covers the 7, 8 and 9 grades. Depending on the U.S. State system we are talking about, this would equal middle school or junior high (plus the 9th grade in some States). The “preparatoria” curriculum covers the rest of the basic education (grades 10 to 12). As somebody who studied at the college level in both countries, and based on my years in the employment-based immigration field, I can tell you that an equivalency evaluation of studies for a “secundaria” certificate from Mexico is not a high school diploma. A “preparatoria” certificate is needed to pursue a bachelor’s degree in college, not a Master’s or a Ph.D.

      • Janeth Murillo says:

        I believe the information provided by tony is accurate. I studied in South America and after finishing la ‘secundaria’ (also known as bachillerato), I went straight to the university to study engineering.

    • Mikha says:

      Also I want to add that coming to the United States as a grown up teenager I noticed the school in Mexico is advanced compared to the USA or at least that was my experience. The credits you get for an associates I would say are equivalent to “preparatoria” courses.

  • After living in Mexico for 5 years and teaching in a private ‘colegio,’ I concur 100%. However, I continue to be perplexed as to the equivalency of the Mexican ‘diplomado.’ I understand from context that it is a post-graduate course of study for professionals generally taken as a part of continuing and specialized education, but I have a hard time figuring out how to translate it to English to communicate the concept adequately.


  • Sheila says:

    I was so confused and this post is so clear to understand I´m so happy to got here. I´m Mexican and I moved to USA (NY) 3 months ago. I´m actually doing an ESL program with the main reason to improve and practice my English but honestly I don´t feel good enough after these 3 months. I got my Bachelors Degree in Business couple years ago in Mexico. Recenlty I got interested on study here in The United States and get the oportunity to study with native speakers. I´m sure this is the best way to improve it. However as I said before because I was not sure how the Education System works here this post is really amaizing and the way how you explain everething!. I will say that a Mexican who speaks a perfectly English wrote this. Now I´m kind of worried if after my Bachelors Degree in Mexico I only can apply for a Master or what options I could have, I´m not sure how it works. It would be awesome see an article of that.

    Sorry for my bad grammar, I´m still working on it.

  • Hi thank you for the information abut méxico and usa schools but there’s some thing that you did not mentioned,in usa the maximum qualification is 100 for the jr high and under
    In méxico is 10 if you traslate that to the usa grades it becomes to 100 not 4 so a 70,80,90 ect. Is a 7,8 or 9 in méxico thanks for taking the time to review my comment.

  • AnaMaria says:

    What a thorough explanation! One of my clients, at the immigration department was asked this very same question: Did you graduate from high school? His answer was: yes, I did. The immigration official enquired: how many years of high school did you complete? He replied: Three. The immigration official and I, as his interpreter, were puzzled. My client then explained as good as he could, but it wasn’t enough. Now, from your explanation I know. Thank you!

  • Claudia says:

    Es malo tener solo la secundaria terminada pra los Estados Unidos? Terminé en Mexico la secundaria y tengo carrera técnica

    • Hola, Claudia. Gracias por tu comentario. En un mercado laboral tan competitivo como el estadounidense, un certificado de secundaria no ayuda mucho a obtener un trabajo bien remunerado (para la economía norteamericana). La carrera técnica podría ayudar a mejorar las opciones, dependiendo de lo que hayas estudiado. Si piensas mudarte a los Estados Unidos en el futuro, recomendaría una revisión de estudios por una agencia especializada, como las que utilizan los abogados de migración. De esta manera vas a saber con certeza la equivalencia de tu nivel de estudios técnicos en México. Consulta con un profesional.

  • Laura says:

    I LOVE the manner in which you’ve approached this subject! After 30+ years in this field, I am tired of how people swear that High School and Secundaria are the same educational system…

    ¡Me encanta! Thank you!

    • Laura, thank you for your comments. As you know, that is what happens when people from other educational systems try to assimilate a different system based on hearsay and anecdotal feedback instead of directly going to the source. I am glad you liked it.

  • Irma says:

    Great post. I have a question, how you translate to english “Certificado de Bachillerato”? Baccalaureate Certificate or Highs School Diploma or something else?

    • Irma, thank you for your comments. Because “bachillerato” is the equivalent to high school, and the Mexican system does not issue diplomas, but the “certificado” is a combination of a diploma and school transcripts, I would call it high school diploma so it makes sense and it is understood by everyone. They are both used for the same purpose in the two countries.

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