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

July 23, 2012 § 19 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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§ 19 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

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