3 Essential Attributes of an International College Preparatory Program: A Parent’s Guide to the Best International Schools in Costa Rica

CRIA kids in school libraryLooking for a strong international college preparatory program, at one of the best international schools in Costa Rica? Then you’ll be happy to know that yes, there is such a thing as a Costa Rica-based international school with a college preparatory experience, beginning in Pre-Kindergarten.

At Costa Rica International Academy (CRIA), we firmly believe – and know, based on experience and empirical evidence – that an international college preparatory program is not an activity restricted to the final two years of high school: A focus on numeracy and literacy growth must be constructed during the early years and scaffold up through Grade 12, to ensure that students have achieved the academic levels expected, as they submit their university applications.

Tip: In a rush? Throughout the post, spot the “what to look for best international schools in Costa Rica 150 Look for” and “CRIA logo tiny 150 At CRIA” shortcuts for quick informational overviews.

Here’s what to look for in a college preparatory experience at the best international schools in Costa Rica, including CRIA:

Essential Attribute #1: An International Curriculum + K-12 Focus on College Prep

CRIA Organizational skills 2

College prep – and a strong educational foundation – begins with three important attributes: Think. Aspire. Achieve.

Think: Critical thinking skills are the foundation of an academically balanced K-12 school. The best international schools in Costa Rica – CRIA, among them – teach students how to learn, not what to learn; there is no indoctrination to any one ideology. Our high standards of educational content and skills are written into CRIA’s curriculum for parents to see at each grade level.

Aspire: A balanced college preparatory program will place a strong focus on an individual student’s aspirations: sports, the visual and performing arts, universal values, health, bilingual language opportunities, and leadership/team participation in co-curricular activities, among them. At CRIA, our goal is not to send every graduate to an Ivy League university; it’s to match our students’ abilities and interests to the right post-secondary education, be it an Ivy or a top-tier culinary school in Paris.

Achieve: The best private schools in Costa Rica focus on individualized academic student achievement. CRIA families are success-oriented and our international college-prep curriculum fosters a positive growth mindset: Our students believe in hard work and perseverance, and take personal responsibility for their own success. The natural outcome is that our students gain college acceptances that match their capabilities, passions, and special areas of interest, which were nurtured throughout their K-12 international school experience.


what to look for best international schools in Costa Rica 150Look for: The best international schools in Costa Rica have local (host country) and international accreditations, paired with a clear focus on international curriculum and the college preparatory experience, beginning in Pre-Kindergarten: This is the first indication of a school’s culture of quality assurance – a clear signal that the school meets international standards while being positioned to leverage the best qualities of the local educational experience, as well.


CRIA logo tiny 150At CRIA: CRIA is the only U.S. and MEP-accredited school in Guanacaste province. We have bothU.S. accreditation (MSA) and Costa Rican (MEP) accreditation [Download] and our teachers are all U.S., Costa Rica, or home country certified. In a recent two-year self-study, CRIA achieved the highest accolades from the Middle States Association (MSA) accreditors and exceeded quality standards 23 times – recognition of our extraordinary focus on quality.

Essential Attribute #2: After-School Activities, Extracurriculars, and Specialized Programs

best international schools in Costa Rica offer swim classes

Student abilities and aspirations are a core element of any good international curriculum and college preparatory program.


what to look for best international schools in Costa Rica 150Look for: Variety. A highly inclusive activities program is essential to a diverse student body. The key is to provide opportunity – to allow students to discover their interests and passions, so that they can develop aspirations rooted in a sense of accomplishment and belonging. This is how students develop the confidence to take action.


CRIA logo tiny 150At CRIA: As one of the best international schools in Costa Rica, CRIA also offers some of the best extracurriculars, after-school activities, and specialized programs – all, designed to help our students find their passions and fortify their present and future aspirations.

Here’s a sampling of the specialized programs and activities we offer at CRIA:

English Language Learners Program (ELL)

Our program is leveled from basic beginners on up, to prepare non-native English speakers for success in our mainstream academic program – and for their post-secondary education abroad. 

Learning Support Program (LSP)

Designed for students with special needs (ex. Dyslexia, ADHD, Autism), our program prepares LSP students for inclusion in the mainstream classroom. LSP students may or may not have an IEP diagnosis and plan, which is why the best programs are inclusive: At CRIA, LSP students are taught in the mainstream classroom with some sheltered pullouts, as needed.

High Ability Programs

CRIA offers a variety of tiered math courses, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, specialized online electives, and university dual enrollment courses, to provide college-level rigor for high-flyer students.

In addition to infusing our curriculum with academic challenge, our high-ability programs are a key element in college prep, as virtually ALL U.S. university applications ask whether students have taken university “dual enrollment” courses, in which a student takes a university course(s) for university and HS credit, while still in high school.

At CRIA, your student can check the “yes” box. We offer an on-campus AP course program and have partnered with Grand Canyon University Dual Enrollment program online, to provide passionate students with the opportunity to get a head start on their university careers. 

Co-Curricular and Extracurricular Activities

CRIA kids playing soccer

After school, students should have access to opportunities to hone their skills and follow their passions in competitive sports, the Model United Nations (MUN) simulations, Student Government, the National Honor Society, and a variety of STEM, community service projects, and visual and performing arts opportunities.

These activities form an important foundation for student aspirations – and also for college preparation. Universities want to see that admission candidates have challenged themselves in these types of co-curricular activities.

Online Elective Options

If the recent pandemic has offered one positive takeaway for education, it is the push toward better, more, and higher quality online learning opportunities: Exposure to high-quality online elective options can expand student opportunities to pursue their special areas of interest and passions.

Mid- and post-pandemic, the best international schools in Costa Rica, including CRIA, have built into their program opportunities for all students to choose such online/virtual courses and, thus, enhance their campus-based experience.

A Bilingual Program

As parents, you should settle for nothing less than a robust additional-language option within an English-medium curriculum. In CRIA’s case, Spanish is taught as an academic language, providing students with an opportunity to become effective communicators in one of the fastest-growing and most widely spoken world languages. 


CRIA logo tiny 150At CRIA: Our Spanish-language curriculum includes music, PE, swimming, art, and Costa Rican Social Studies, all taught in Spanish. This provides ample opportunities for students to practice listening and speaking Spanish through fun and engaging courses, while supporting aspirations for bilingualism.


A School Health Program

Exemplary school health programs will manage a curriculum that addresses physical, social, emotional, and financial health. At CRIA, these skills are taught across grade levels and are aligned with our school values: a growth mindset, individual responsibility, high expectations, and treating others the way you would like to be treated – lifelong values essential to a healthy lifestyle.

Health education is even more important and timely, given the current world panorama. With recent pandemic disruptions to student learning, the best private schools in Costa Rica must attend to the needs of each student and get back to face-to-face campus learning. This begins with healthy habits and responsible decision-making. 

Universal Values

An essential part of a quality international curriculum and education is, well, internationality. At CRIA, we are proud of our third, third, third demographic profile: One-third Costa Rican, one-third U.S., and one-third nationalities from 22 other countries – in total, students from 24 nationalities and teachers hailing from 8 countries.

This is a key element at the best international school in Costa Rica – and in the world’s best international college preparatory programs: The opportunity to grow up together, partner with, and learn alongside friends and peers of many ethnicities and nationalities.

That said, at CRIA, as at any exceptional international school, there is no majority/minority dynamic in our school culture. We are a melting pot and every day is an opportunity to learn from one another. Above all, we observe and embody the Golden Rule: Compassion and kindness are key within our school culture.


what to look for best international schools in Costa Rica 150Look for: When choosing a college preparatory school, if you see indoctrination-style vocabulary to a specific ideology (ex. call-outs on critical race theory, culturally responsive teaching, restorative justice, multiculturalism, victim/oppressor dynamics) in the school’s beliefs, values, and discipline statements, or in their strategic plan, be aware that this focus, at best, can take time away from the wonderful benefits and demanding academic requirement of an international school setting.


CRIA logo tiny 150At CRIA: We are pragmatists and know that you’ve chosen CRIA for our academically focused and balanced program. While we celebrate our students’ cultures, backgrounds, and home countries, we also recognize that there’s only so much time in a teacher’s day: With the hours we have, we focus on your student’s academic progress and achievements.

Essential Attribute #3: A Focus on Student Achievement

graduating seniors at CRIA, a Costa Rica international schoolIf you’re here, it’s because you’re researching the best international schools in Costa Rica with an eye to your child’s future academic success and personal fulfillment.

At CRIA, we know that a big part of the college preparatory experience is just that: preparation for college, through a focus on a rigorous K-12 academic program that fosters student achievement.


what to look for best international schools in Costa Rica 150Look for: Before you make any decisions, even about Pre-Kindergarten, review the High School Profile for any candidate international school, to determine whether their PK-12 program has achieved acceptances to a wide range of university programs. Be sure to check their historic success – not just this or last year, but over several years.


CRIA logo tiny 150At CRIA: Our students have earned acceptances to both Ivy League schools and a range of top-ranked universities, as well as top-tier post-secondary programs worldwide in diverse disciplines: culinary schools, design schools, business programs, and the arts. This is evidence that our college preparatory program delivers a balanced program, providing opportunities for your child to pursue his or her passions, within their capabilities.

Beyond high student achievement, one of the most important attributes of a college preparatory school is a formal college counseling department. At CRIA, we help students match their capabilities, interests, and passions with the right university, thus providing our international school graduates with the best possibilities for university success.

A recent CRIA graduate, who now attends a top-tier U.S. university, sums up the value of high achievement for gaining college acceptances: "At CRIA, I had the opportunity to take university dual enrollment courses for college credit, as well as AP courses. I received 12 credits upon acceptance to the University of Florida and was exempted from remedial courses in math and English language (which are becoming the norm for university freshmen). This was a great head start on my university career and I highly recommend for international school students to take advantage of at least one of these options to set yourself apart from other university candidates."

Interested in joining the CRIA family?

We’d love to meet your family and learn about your journey to researching the best international schools in Costa Rica. Learn more about the CRIA admissions process and get in touch to schedule a campus visit. We look forward to it!