Although geographically part of North America, bordering the US states of Texas, New Mexico, California and Arizona, Mexico is truly a Latin American country – with its own unique culture and people. Beyond the stereotypical images of sombreros, tacos and tequila lies a culture and history that can be explored for years. Whether it’s the ancient Mayan ruins, colonial churches or the vibrant food, Mexico will constantly surprise you with its mix of cultural traditions and urban modernity.
Highlighting its rich culture, the country is home to 31 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of these, the best-known is probably the ancient site of Chichén Itzá, named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. International students may also be attracted by the azure coastlines of Baja California, the vast cactus- and cowboy-covered deserts in the north, and modern, highly developed urban hubs such as Mexico City, Tijuana and Cancun. Although a heavily bureaucratic nation where it’s unlikely for everything to run on time, the country offers a good transport infrastructure, as well as thriving arts and culture scenes. Mexico is especially notable for its music culture, which includes the traditional Mexican folk music of Mariachi.
Currently claiming the second biggest economy in Latin America after Brazil, Mexico has been named one of the ‘TIMBI’ group of countries (along with Turkey, India, Brazil, and Indonesia), which are following close behind the ‘BRICS’ nations as the world’s fastest-growing economies. Keeping up with Mexico’s expanding economy is a strengthening higher education system, making this a study abroad destination definitely worth considering.
Higher education in Mexico follows a similar format to universities in Europe and the US with bachelor’s (licenciatura) degrees taking four years to complete, while master’s (maestría) degrees last two years and a PhD (doctorado) is three years long. The country’s higher education system was featured as one of the best worldwide in the first edition of the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, at 33rd.
In regional terms, Mexico accounts for a major chunk of the top universities in Latin America. Some 45 Mexican universities are included in the QS University Rankings: Latin America 2016, which highlights the top 300 institutions in the region. Only Brazil claims more. At global level, a total of 14 universities in Mexico are ranked within the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17.
Here are three of the top universities in Mexico:
Mexico’s highest-ranked institution is the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), ranked 128th in the world rankings, and 4th in the Latin America rankings. The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México is a public university which has a huge student population of around 346,700, spread across a number of campuses in Mexico City and beyond, including 28,000 postgraduates.
In 2007, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s main campus, which was built as a collaborative architectural design project between 1949 and 1952, became one of Mexico’s 31 UNESCO Heritage Sites. The campus, which combines elements of 20th century modernism and traditional Mexican culture, has been praised by UNESCO as a fitting tribute to the country’s progress since the revolution of 1910-20, and, in particular, its recognition of the importance of education.
In the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, UNAM is ranked within the world’s top 50 for art and design, anthropology, development studies, law, education and training, philosophy, modern languages, archaeology, and mineral and mining engineering. It ranks among the world’s best in a further 25 subjects.
Moving up 15 places in this year’s world rankings thanks to considerable international growth is the Tec de Monterrey, a private institution which now stands at joint 206th in the world and 7th in Latin America. Although the school’s population of 91,000 is divided across 31 campuses throughout Mexico, Tec de Monterrey’s main campus is based in Monterrey, a city with the highest income per capita in Mexico which acts as an important industrial and business center for the nation.
The Tecnológico de Monterrey also offers a number of undergraduate classes taught in English. These are for international students studying for a semester or year abroad and can be used to provide credits towards a degree at the student’s home university.
Like the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) is also a very large public university, with just under 150,000 students currently enrolled. Standing at 32nd in Latin America and 701+ in the world rankings, the Instituto Politécnico Nacional’s main campus is situated two kilometers north of Mexico City. The school is also highlighted as a world leader in 10 disciplines covered by the QS World University Rankings by Subject, including computer science, mechanical engineering and physics.
In addition to those listed above, other leading Mexican universities include:
When people think of Mexico they either conjure up the image of ancient Mayan pyramids à la Chichén Itzá, or they think of sunning, surfing, siesta and salsa (the dip not the dance). Whichever image you’re chasing, Mexico will not disappoint.
Mexican food has long been popular in North America, so popular in fact that it’s been developed into a hybrid genre of food known as ‘Tex-Mex’. However, even if you’re already a regular consumer of burritos, fajitas, salsa and guacamole, get ready to rediscover Mexican cuisine in all its tangy, lemony authenticity once you arrive.
Although English is widely spoken, Mexico is a predominately Spanish-speaking nation, and proficiency in Spanish is important. Among its diverse population of 114 million are a number of modern indigenous communities, including the Nahua, Maya and Zapotec tribes. While indigenous people make up 10% of the population, over 80% of the population is ‘mestizo’, meaning of both European and Native American descent.
Despite the booming economy, life in Mexico remains a world apart from the rest of North America. Problems of noise, dirt, poverty and crime persist. Drug wars and violent crime make persistent headlines. But while this is a very real problem in some parts of the country, the threat to tourists and students is minimal. As long as you are aware of the issues and you are sensible about where, when and how you travel, for the most part, you will find Mexico a friendly and inviting nation to study in.
Mexico City, the nation’s capital, is a dizzying metropolis located in a mountainous basin 2,400m above sea level. One of the world’s most densely populated cities, holding over 20 million people, Mexico City is arguably also one of the most colorful, buzzing with life on every street.
Once you forget all you’ve heard about the high crime rates and air pollution, Mexico City will open up a world of excitement. The city center hosts a bustling commercial center of street vendors and market stalls, while the barrios (neighborhoods) of San Ángel and Coyoacán provide laidback, small-town charm. While the key attractions of the Museo Nacional de Antropología and the Basilica de Guadalupe remain favorites, also well worth exploring are the Alameda Gardens, the galleries of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and the pyramids of Tenayuca, Cuicuilco and Santa Cecelia Acatitlán.
Universities located in or just outside Mexico City include the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA), Instituto Tecnológico Autonomo de México (ITAM), Universidad Autónomadel Estado de México, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) and Universidad Anáhuac.
Eastern Central Mexico’s biggest hub for students is the city of Puebla, which has been named a World Heritage Site due to its rich history and Baroque, Renaissance and classic architecture. Second only to Mexico City in terms of higher education establishments, Puebla is a great city for students due to its low costs, large student population and multitude of clubs and bars.
Universities and campuses in Puebla include the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, the Instituto Tecnológico del Estado, Universidad Tecnológica, Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, Universidad del Valle de México (UVM) and the Universidad Anáhuac Puebla.
Other locations in Mexico include Cancun, a popular holidaying location for students and sun seekers alike, Acapulco, known for its tourism and its crowded beaches and Guanajuato, one of the nation’s richest and most scenic colonial towns. You may also visit Tijuana, a border town in the northwestern corner of the Baja California peninsula, just south of San Diego, California. Although recently troubled by drug-related violent crime, Tijuana is once again becoming a popular destination for its beach and party-oriented students.
To apply to study in Mexico you will need to apply directly to the university via the admissions department. Admissions requirements vary from institution to institution but you may be asked to take an entrance exam, and/or a test of language proficiency depending on your circumstances.
If you are planning to study in Mexico for less than six months, you can enroll at a Mexican university as a tourist. Depending on your nationality you may or may not need to pay for a tourist visa upon arrival at the airport.
If you are planning to study in Mexico for longer than six months, you will need to apply separately for a student visa via the Mexican embassy or consulate in your home country. To do this you will need to have been officially accepted onto a course at a Mexican university.
To gain your student visa, you will need to provide a valid passport (valid beyond six months of your planned stay), proof of acceptance into a Mexican university, proof of sufficient funds (US$300 per month of stay) and proof of your return ticket. Visa fees vary, but typically range from US$18-$30.
Your student visa will be valid for just 30 days in Mexico, during which time you’ll need to apply for a resident’s permit with the National Registry of Foreign Citizens. This permit will be valid for up to a year, allowing you multiple entries into the country.
If you’re planning to study in Mexico as a tourist or on a tourist visa, you will not be eligible for internships.
Tuition fees at universities in Mexico vary depending on the course you take and the institution you choose. Although the average costs of higher education overall are around US$5,000 per year, this varies quite a lot. Public universities in Mexico can charge as little as US$350 up to US$850 per year for undergraduate programs, while private institutions will charge considerably more, between US$1,600 and US$16,400 per year, averaging at US$11,700.
Living costs are fairly low in Mexico. Housing in Mexico’s major cities can cost between US$150-200 per month, and even less outside of the center. Travelling within Mexico is very affordable, with the metro train costing US$3 per day for unlimited use and buses costing US$2 per journey.
All costs, including housing, transport, food and drink, will likely come to US$400 on a strict budget and as little as US$500 on a standard budget. If you plan to travel, shop and eat out a fair bit, you should budget considerably more. When working out your total expenditure you should also take into account that international students are not eligible to gain paid work within Mexico.