Many American students complain about the college admissions system, especially with regards to the pressure to excel in standardized tests like the SATs. However, they have little to complain about when compared to students in Brazil, whose only way to prove their intelligence and preparation for college is by taking one massive standardized exam, or maybe two, for each university they apply to.
The Brazilian college admissions system is, to say the least, unfair.
First, students must take either a vestibular or ENEM, or both, depending on the university they apply to. Vestibular is like your nightmare in which the SATs not only test you on English and math, but also on geography, history, literature and foreign language. And it happens twice, if you pass the first round. The vestibular tests on those subjects and more, varying with respect to the course you apply to. That’s right, in Brazil you do not apply to a university per se. You apply to a major within that university, and if you change your mind about your major later, your best bet is to drop out and take the vestibular again.
Also, each vestibular is different for each university, meaning you must train yourself for different test formats. In Brazil, there is no discussion whether a student performs better with a type of exam like the ACT instead of the SAT; you have to take what the university provides. Another option is ENEM, a national exam that measures high school students’ performance. It is an improvement from the vestibular because it is the same for the entire country, and it also allows students to apply to up to five different majors in the same or different institutions to keep their options open.
However, both ENEM and vestibular cannot alone accurately determine a student’s true ability to succeed in college in a few hours of examination. It makes no sense why high school transcripts would not count for college admissions. Not only does the system disregard a student’s continuous dedication to his learning – instead of trying to memorize as much information as possible to get a high score on a one-day exam – but also discourages students from taking high school grades seriously, considering that they will truly not count for anything later.
Brazilian students are also in no way encouraged to pursue extracurricular activities or any commitments outside of school that they feel passionate about. Students become so consumed by the need to train for standardized exams that they often do not pursue their passion seriously. Rather, they target a career path that their test scores will allow them to follow. Students who get high scores on vestibular for Law but not for Engineering end up becoming lawyers when they would have rather learned Electrical Engineering.
The Brazilian college admissions system provides little incentive for students to stay true to their passion. Many students accept an undesired major because they dread returning to a college prep institution to spend one more year studying for the next vestibular, especially because the odds of getting stuck in this stage for years are higher. Being smart enough is often not the problem. There simply aren’t enough spots for everyone because the best Brazilian universities are federal, free and therefore limited, but this is yet another separate issue.
The Brazilian system is not geared towards helping students attend the college of their dreams, pursuing their vocation, cultivating a passion for learning. What students learn instead, from the beginning of high school, is that they must memorize answers to questions that educators predict will be on exams, and that they should study the major they get accepted to, regardless of their true interest, unless they’d like to return to college prep school. Brazil needs to put far more emphasis on high school performance, evaluating students’ transcripts and involvement in and out of school, running a more fair and effective college admissions process.