Right now is the time of the year when many households in Saudi Arabia are worrying about their high school graduates getting into a good college. Recently the system has gone through a few changes. In the 80s and 90s it was rather stable especially the girls’ high schools. The boys on the other hand had some variety of choice in experimental schools where the education ministry would try out new systems before implementing them nation-wide.
To get into college, you have to have a high grade which is done in percentage. Each subject is given a score of 100, 50 points for each semester and grades for each subject are added up and divided by the number of subjects. It’s a little bit more complicated than that with marks for attendance and good behavior factoring in. Until recently, only the marks that students got in the final year of high school were taken into account by college administrations. That has proven too stressful for many students and has been a reason for many others to slack off the first two years of high school. So now the system has changed so that the whole three years are considered and the final average point is taken from the marks of all the years spent in high school.
Another new big change is the standardized exams given right after high school. This is one centralized system across Saudi Arabia which administers the exams to all high school graduates each year. An advantage of this new system is that students no longer have to apply to each college in person. All they have to do is take the standardized exam and then after a couple of weeks log onto a website managed by the ministry of higher education and make their choice of major. The system then matches up students with the appropriate college. However this is only for government universities. Students who are interested in private universities have to apply there in person and take other exams that are unique to each private university. The majority of Saudis prefer government run universities because not only are they free (no tuition) but also students get a monthly stipend just for attending. The stipend varies from about 200 dollars up to 400 dollars per month depending on the student’s major. Humanties and arts get the lower end and science and technology the higher end.
The summer that a Saudi graduates from high school is for many a stressful time what with new changes almost every year and worrying about whether or not they are able to find a placement at a local university. Without a college education, there aren’t many jobs to choose from and so the majority do go on to college. Parents at this time frantically set up fall back plans such as finding someone big to get their rejected child into university, or finding the means to send them to a private university. Some even go as far as to apply to colleges in other towns and cities to expand the likelihood of getting a placement. And in the latter case, if it’s a daughter, family members actually take time off from work to accompany her or for the unlucky ladies pay for a prison like dormitory to take her in.
It’s a time of year when it is polite to call up acquaintances that have kids graduating from high school and ask them how are they coping. And have they been able to get acceptance for their son or daughter?