The differences between studying in Brazil and the U.S.

. Jan 03, 2020
college brazil us Photo: Jorge Salcedo

Many Brazilian young people, if they have the means, opt to pursue their studies abroad. In fact, Brazil is among the top ten countries that sends students to the U.S. for tuition. In turn, Brazil is the 24th most popular destination for American students. Nonetheless, there are some crucial differences between both countries’ undergraduate education systems. Here, we outline some key points that any student wishing to study in Brazil should know. 

</p> <h2>Applications</h2> <p>In the U.S., university entry is decided by the famous standardized tests. Students have the option of taking either the SAT or the ACT, the main difference being that the ACT also tests for science, while the SAT only tests for reading, math, English, and writing. Both exams are also scored differently: the maximum SAT score is 1600 points, while the top ACT score is 36 points. Nevertheless, both are equally accepted by most American universities, be they public or private. </p> <p>In addition to the ACT and SAT, some schools might also require SAT Subject tests, which test students on more specific topics. Students can pick from 20 different areas, ranging from physics to Modern Hebrew.&nbsp;</p> <p>Students applying to American universities must also provide personal statements, varying in structure depending on the university. While some institutions may require one 200-word essay, others may demand over five pieces of writing. These essays are supposed to give the university a deeper sense of the student&#8217;s personality and motivation. Thus, candidates are asked to tell personal stories and explain why they are passionate about a specific subject or institution.</p> <p>Brazil’s application process is quite different. Students are expected to either take the Enem or school-specific entrance exams. The Enem, or National High School Exam, is a standardized test used by all federal universities, but it is also accepted by some state-level and private institutions. In 2019, over 5 million people signed up to take the exam, but almost 9 million applied in 2014, making the Enem one of the biggest national examinations in the world. All students are tested in natural sciences, human sciences, languages, math, and writing. The results are then weighted differently, according to the student&#8217;s chosen course. </p> <p>An alternative to the Enem are the so-called <em>vestibulares</em>, which are individual entrance exams developed by each university. These tests can vary in the number of questions, sections, and even the time of year in which they are applied.&nbsp;</p> <p>Some Brazilian universities will only accept Enem results, while others will give students the option of submitting both. By taking both tests, students can increase their chances of acceptance. In some courses, such as fashion, architecture, and dance, students might also be required to take separate exams that test more specific abilities.</p> <h2>Subject choices</h2> <p>While American universities are known for their liberal arts programs, which allow students to take several subjects outside their majors, Brazilian universities are more focused when it comes to subject choices.&nbsp;</p> <p>Most U.S. colleges require students to take a number of core courses, which may include material students covered in high school, but at a college level. On the other hand, Brazilian students only take courses that correspond to their major. In fact, a basic Brazilian curriculum is pre-defined by the Ministry of Education and most students already have a set list of subjects they are obligated to take each year.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Brazilian curriculum is not all pre-determined, though. Most courses allow students to pick an area of specialization after their second year. Moreover, students are required to pick a set of optional courses according to the subjects offered in their university.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the end of the day, while students in America can apply to universities with an “undecided” major and pick their subject area mid-way through college, Brazilian students must choose their area of study during the application process.&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, while American universities allow students to easily change majors by signing a few documents, Brazilian students must entirely reapply to change courses. In other words, students must retake their entrance exams, though some institutions might provide alternative methods to switch courses.&nbsp;</p> <p>Another major difference between Brazil and the U.S. is that while Americans must first earn an undergraduate degree before applying to schools of Medicine and Law, the same courses are offered as undergraduate degrees in Brazil. In other words, Brazilian students can pursue law or medicine directly after high school.&nbsp;</p> <p>The most popular subjects among Brazilian men and women are law and business administration. Teaching is also very popular among women, while men focus on civil engineering, according to data from the Ministry of Education.</p> <h2>Financial assistance</h2> <p>American universities tend to have well-developed models for financial aid. Moreover, the U.S. is notorious for its massive federal student loan debts, reaching a total sum of USD 864 billion. Brazil has a similar system of financial aid.&nbsp;</p> <p>While universities may have their own financial aid and scholarship packages, the government offers a series of projects seeking to make education more accessible to low-income candidates. For example, the Student Financing Fund (Fies) is a federal student loan program which allows students to pay their debts after graduation.&nbsp;</p> <p>The System of Unified Selection (Sisu) has been adopted by 130 institutions across the nation and provides spots in federal- and state-level universities. Students with high Enem scores have higher chances of being selected, meaning that the system guarantees placements for the most talented candidates.&nbsp;</p> <p>The University for All (Prouni) program provides partial and full scholarships for low-income students wishing to attend private universities. Students must earn a minimum Enem score to be eligible. If seeking a full scholarship, candidates must prove that their gross family income is at most 1.5 times the minimum wage. In turn, students must have a maximum family income of 3.5 times the minimum wage to qualify for a partial scholarship.&nbsp;</p> <p>The government also offers programs for international students looking to study in Brazil. Established in 1965, the Undergraduate Student Program (PEC-G) allows students from developing countries to enroll in Brazilian undergraduate programs. Students must come from a specific list of countries that have an educational, cultural, scientific or technical agreement with Brazil. Most students in the PEC-G program come from <a href="">Paraguay</a>, Haiti, Cabo Verde, Guinea Bissau and Angola. </p> <h2>Lodging</h2> <p>Other than paying for tuition, living away from home can be very expensive. In most American universities, students will live in college dorms, sharing rooms with one or more colleagues. If students can’t afford to pay for said accommodation, universities will normally cover some of those costs through a financial aid package.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Brazil, however, most Brazilian students live at home or rent apartments, as most universities don’t have their own official dorms. Nonetheless, some Brazilian institutions, such as the São Paulo State University (UNESP), provide dorms for low-income students who can’t afford to rent apartments. If dorms aren’t available, students can apply for grants that help cover rent and food costs.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Internships</h2> <p>A key aspect of Brazilian universities is that students go on internships during the school year, with these jobs lasting between six months and two years. On the other hand, American internships tend to last from two to six months at most and students normally intern during their long summer vacations.</p> <p>Many Brazilian universities require students to intern for a certain number of hours every year. Entering their third year of studies, students’ schedules are adjusted to fit internship programs. For example, most students will intern for six hours during the day and attend night classes after work.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, some universities are starting to change their internship requirements. It has come to their attention that students can’t work for six hours and be expected to pay attention in class. While American students spend most of their time in libraries studying independently, Brazilian students are undertaking jobs with almost full-time hours.</p> <p>“We want to prepare students through a good theoretical education so they can excel in [practical work],” said professor Jane Marques, who overlooks internship programs for the Marketing course at the University of São Paulo, in an interview to news website <em>Guia do Estudante</em>.&nbsp;</p> <p>To guarantee that students are unable to undertake a six-hour work schedule every day, the University of São Paulo is strategically spacing out its classes so students can’t stay at work for extensive periods of time.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nonetheless, this measure has been met with hostility by some students who argue that they need their internship wages to cover their living costs. Moreover, since most Brazilian students have almost two years’ worth of internship experience once they graduate, employers are looking for recent graduates with high levels of work experience. Therefore, not being able to intern throughout the school year may place certain students at a disadvantage.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Growing trends in Brazilian education</h2> <p>Online classes are increasingly popular in the U.S. In fall 2015, 29 percent of students in the U.S. were taking at least one long-distance course. Moreover, 12.3 percent were enrolled in courses that were completely long distance. In fall 2016, more than 508 thousand students were studying at institutions that offered primarily online programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. </p> <p>Brazil has been following a similar trend. Over one million students are enrolled in long-distance programs in Brazil. This represents more than 15 percent of overall undergraduate enrollments. Interestingly, 86.6 percent of students undertaking long-distance courses are enrolled in private institutions and it can be 60 percent cheaper than regular courses, according to the official Long-Distance Education (EAD) <a href="">website</a>.

Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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