Study in Puerto Rico | Top Universities

A lush tropical island in the Caribbean Sea just west of the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, also referred to locally as la Isla del Encanto (the Isle of Enchantment) features some 20 varieties of orchids and a distinctively bright green species of parrots. Puerto Rico’s national symbol of pride is an animal called the coqui, a tiny brown frog about 80 millimeters long. While rainfall is abundant, Puerto Ricans enjoy a tropical monsoon climate all year long with temperatures ranging between 27.2°C and 32°C. Suffice to say, Puerto Rico is delightful.

Capital city San Juan is a cultural and architectural gem with a characteristic Spanish Art Deco influence mixed up with Latin American culture and art. Expect to find uber stylish art galleries, coffee snobs, cute cocktail bars and casinos. If zip-lining over rainforest canopy in between lectures or tumbling down vast stretches of black sand beaches or embarking on kayak and boating tours when you’ve got some spare time sounds like your ideal study abroad experience – put your feet up and read this guide for a breakdown of the best universities in Puerto Rico, life in San Juan, and everything you need to know about applications, fees and visas. 

Puerto Rico is home to 152 accredited universities and colleges (21 of which are based in the capital city of San Juan), according to the Institute of Education Sciences. Puerto Rican universities follow the US system, awarding four-year bachelor’s degrees, as well as Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc) degrees, and – more rarely – PhDs.

There are also a few specialized private higher education schools providing professional training in trades such as tourism, business and secretarial skills. Most courses are taught in English and Spanish. While most universities in Puerto Rico are recognized by the US, you should make sure to check the university you are considering has some kind of international and professional accreditation, and that your qualification will be valid in your home country and elsewhere.

Only one Puerto Rican university features in the QS World University Rankings® 2018 – the Universidad de Puerto Rico. This institution also appears in 42nd place in the QS Latin America University Rankings, a ranking which also features three more top Puerto Rican universities.

Universidad de Puerto Rico 
Universidad de Puerto Rico

Ranked 42nd in the QS Latin America University Rankings 2018, and also featured in the QS World University Rankings 2018, the Universidad de Puerto Rico is a public institution located in capital city San Juan. Over a hundred years old, it employs over 3,000 faculty members, and has around 58,000 students enrolled. The university is highly international, with international students accounting for around 75% of enrolments at postgraduate level (and 25% at undergraduate level).

The Universidad de Puerto Rico offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs taught in Spanish in a variety of subjects within education, business administration, the social sciences, public communication, natural sciences, military sciences, humanities and aerospace studies.

Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico 

Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico
Ranked in the 181-190 range of the QS Latin America University Rankings 2018, the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico is a large private non-profit university with Christian roots, currently employing approximately 1,500 academic staff and teaching around 50,000 students.

The Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico offers a mix of courses in visual arts, aviation, natural sciences, biotechnologies, environmental and chemical sciences, health sciences, social and political sciences, communications, entrepreneurship and business, IT, engineering, criminal justice, mathematics, music, psychology, religion, tourism and social work.

In addition to running a work-study program, the university also offers a number of scholarships which you can read about here. Tuition fees for international students range from US$2,500 to $5,000 for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico (PUPR) 

Ranked 251-300 in Latin America, Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico (PUPR) is a small private non-profit establishment founded in 1966 with campuses in Orlando, San Juan and Miami, and which offers courses in engineering, geomatic sciences, architecture, computer science and business administration. With expenses towards the higher end for universities in Puerto Rico, PUPR’s tuition fees will set you back US$8,040 per year.

Universidad del Sagrado Corazón

The oldest private university in Puerto Rico, the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón was originally founded in 1880 by a religious order as an all-girls school. Now operating as a selective liberal arts school, the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón favors a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to education, in which each student combines a major field, a double major, a major and a minor, or three minors in three different disciplines. With courses in business administration, communication, education, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences, tuition fees at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazónare are US$5,780 per year.

Sistema Universitario Ana G. Méndez (SUAGM)

The first private higher education provider established in Puerto Rico, the Sistema Universitario Ana G. Méndez (SUAGM) features four universities across the island, as well as five sister branches based in Maryland, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Miami and Dallas. To encourage student internationalization, SUAGM runs several exchange programs for both staff and students, as well as regular student trips overseas, and also collaborates with universities in Europe, Central America and China. SUAGM offers a number of scholarships, including the Pell Grant among others. Entry requirements and tuition fees will vary depending on which of the group’s universities and courses you apply to.

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Puerto Rico
Being a relatively small island (just 170km long by 60km wide), most universities in Puerto Rico are concentrated in capital San Juan. Located along the north coast, San Juan has a dense population of 395,326 and is a financial and cultural hub in the region.

San Juan’s idyllic setting, tourist attractions and relatively affordable prices make it an ideal spot for students looking to enjoy themselves on the weekends and between seminars.

While prices are inflated in San Juan in comparison to other parts of the island, life remains relatively affordable. A pair of jeans will set you back approximately USD 40, a one-bedroom apartment smack in the middle of the city center will cost you approximately USD 800 per month. Note that a studio located somewhere a little more remote should be more affordable and cost you about USD 550 monthly.

San Juan’s residents are fortunate to have very lovely beaches to choose from, either within walking distance or a short car ride away. First, there’s Condado Beach – very “Miami Beach” with its backdrop of high-rise buildings and beach resorts set against vast stretches of sand. Then, there’s Ocean Park Beach, east of Condado Beach, where you’ll find a younger LGBT-friendly crowd either kite boarding or playing beach volleyball, and vendors selling seafood turnovers, soft drinks and beer, lining a row of guesthouses.

About an hour and a half’s drive from San Juan, El Yunke Peak is a tropical mountainous rainforest. The park has a number of trails you can follow to take in the beautiful flora, fauna and the beautiful native Taino rock carvings.

Not to miss out on: San Juan’s nightlife! The city is packed with restaurants, quaint little bars, old Art Deco hotels and clubs, and the national minimum drinking age is 18.

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San Juan
US students need not apply for a visa to study in Puerto Rico, as it is part of the American commonwealth. Students from elsewhere will need to apply for a student visa and provide prospective universities with evidence of sufficient funds to cover their expenses in Puerto Rico during the first year, including written letters from relatives testifying that they will provide financial support if needed or grants from their country of origin.

International students tend to be few in Puerto Rican universities; at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, for example, only 0.06% of students are foreign. However, there are a number of exchange programs, such as that run between New York University and the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón.

Courses in Puerto Rico tend to run from August until May, with the first semester ending in December, and the second semester starting in January.  Typical entry requirements include SAT scores and a Spanish language proficiency test. While an odd course here and there might be taught in English and quite a lot of the reading be done in English, you will need to be bilingual, as most of the teaching is in Spanish.

Student visas for Puerto Rico

Since Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, its visa requirements are the same as those required to study in the US. Prospective students from outside of the US will need to obtain a student visa. Note that you may need to apply some time in advance, as visas take between three to four weeks to be issued. You will need to book an appointment with your local Puerto Rican embassy, bring two completed visa application forms, your passport, a passport photo and evidence of sufficient funds.

Exchange programs

There are quite a few exchange programs available at universities in Puerto Rico. The Universidad del Sagrado Corazón,for instance, runs an exchange program with New York University (NYU) for ‘outstanding graduates’. The program selects participants based on grades and college admission test results (CEEB, SAT, or ACT or equivalent).  The Universidad del Sagrado Corazón also provides opportunities for students to transfer from another university, provided they have an academic average of 2.50 or higher, less than 24 approved credits, and recommendations.

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Fast Facts

  • Puerto Rico has over 434 kilometers of beaches.
  • El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest on US territory.
  • There is an average rainfall of about 5.08 meters throughout El Yunque each year.
  • Cock fighting continues to be legal and enjoyed by many in Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto Rico observes 24 official national holidays.
  • Population of approximately 3.4 million people
  • Puerto Rican cuisine blends together Spanish, African, Taíno Indian and American culinary traditions.
  • Puerto Rico is a major producer of rum, including the well-known Don Q brand (named after Don Quixote).
  • Puerto Rican music is influenced by a mixture of different sources, including Caribbean, African and European cultures, and the impact of events such as migration, colonialism and revolution.
  • Modern barbecue as we know it descends from the Puerto Rican Taíno pork roast, or the barbicoa.
  • Famous Puerto Ricans include actor Benicio del Toro and singer Ricky Martin, while Jennifer Lopez, David Blaine and Rosario Dawson all have at least one Puerto Rican parent.