Spain might bring to mind sunny skies and sandy beaches, but did you know that it’s also home to number of well-respected higher education institutions and some of the lowest tuition fees in Europe?
Thousands of foreign students study in Spain every year and it’s not hard to see why.
Its Mediterranean climate is just one benefit to studying in the country. Others include its long history of educational excellence – Spain’s oldest university, Universidad de Salamanca dates back to 1218.
When it comes to the study location, you’ll have plenty of choice as the country boasts a variety of universities. Popular student cities include Barcelona, Granada, Madrid, Seville and Valencia. While Spain has a rich history and culture of its own for you to explore, you’ll also be well connected to other favoured destinations such as London and Paris.
While studying in Spain, you’ll be able to brush up on the world’s second most spoken language, as well as make lots of international connections.
Use your study-free hours to explore some of Spain’s most famous attractions such as the Alhambra in Granada, the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and La Rambla in Barcelona, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, and Seville Cathedral and the Real Alcazar de Seville. You’ll be able to enjoy siestas and tapas and plan getaways to wonderful mountain ranges, beaches and quaint villages that really epitomise old Spain.
In 2007, Spain overhauled its higher education system to comply with the Bologna Process, ensuring its qualifications are directly comparable with those gained in other European Higher Education Area (EHEA) countries.
There are two types of higher education institution (or universidades) in Spain: public and private.
Of the 75 Spanish universities, 50 are state-funded, with 25 privately owned or run by the Catholic Church.
A total of 27 Spanish universities feature in the QS World University Rankings 2020. The top ten include:
- Universitat de Barcelona (165)
- Universitat Autónona de Barcelona (188)
- Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (192)
- Complutense University of Madrid (212)
- University of Navarra (245)
- Universitat Pompeu Fabra (285)
- Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (298)
- Uiversitat Politècnica de Catalunya (300)
- IE University (335)
- Universitat Politècnica de Valencia (336).
The largest proportion of leading Spanish institutions can be found in the capital city Madrid, followed by popular tourist spot Barcelona.
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Degree courses in Spain
Undergraduate courses, otherwise known as Bachelors degrees or ‘grado’ in Spanish, are available in a range of subjects and are provided by most institutions.
Popular courses in Spain include:
- arts and humanities subjects
- hospitality management
For entry onto a course you’ll usually need a secondary education leaving certificate. Some universities may also require you to sit and pass an entrance exam. The majority of courses are taught in Spanish so you’ll need to prove your proficiency. Basic English proficiency is also required by the majority of institutions, so if English is not your first language you may need to prove your ability.
To successfully complete a Bachelors degree, students must earn a total of 240 ECTS credits over four years of study. This consists of basic training, obligatory and optional subjects, external and cultural placements and activities, and a final course dissertation.
Competition for undergraduate places is high, as more students wish to study in Spain than there are places available. European Union (EU) nationals are entitled to compete for places at Spanish universities on equal terms.
A Masters prepares students for academic, research or professional work. These qualifications are usually spread across one or two years. Postgraduate courses are available in a range of subjects and you must hold a Bachelors degree or equivalent for entry.
An increasing number of postgraduate programmes are taught in English. If English isn’t your first language, but you’d like to study one of these courses, you’ll need to prove your ability.
Academic years are split into two semesters. Lectures for Masters courses usually begin in early October, with classes often continuing during the undergraduate exam period in January. The second semester typically starts in early February and concludes in June.
The duration of a full-time Spanish Doctoral degree is three years (maximum), with part-time study taking five years. Most PhDs are split into two stages: advanced research training and a thesis.
As with Doctoral degrees in other European countries, your research will be supervised by at least one tutor who will provide mentoring and support.
For admission onto PhD courses, you’ll need to hold both a Bachelors and Masters degree in a relevant subject.
Students attending UK universities can take part in the European Union’s (EU) study, work, volunteer, train and teach abroad programme Erasmus+ (confirmed for the 2020/21 academic year). The scheme provides students with opportunities to study in Spain for between three months and one academic year, as part of their degree – although this will depend on your university having formal arrangements with a Spanish counterpart.
Financial support is available through Erasmus+ grants, which are provided by the European Commission (EC). These are designed to cover the additional costs that you may incur from studying abroad. Tuition fee contributions are also available to students studying abroad for a full academic year.
Spanish course fees are among the lowest in Europe, with costs the same for EU students as they are for Spanish students. If you come from a non-EU country, your course fees will likely be marginally higher.
Fees are charged per credit, rather than per semester or academic year. The amount that you pay depends on where and what you study.
At public universities, fees for a Bachelors course are set by the government and can vary from €680 (£610) to €1,280 (£1,150) per academic year. Annual course costs at private universities are typically more expensive. For exact fees contact your chosen institution.
Similarly, fees for postgraduate degrees at both public and private universities are regulated by the government. The amount of credits you undertake is based on what course you study and which university you attend. For example, a Masters course will be worth 60 to 120 credits per year, with each credit costing between €22 (£19) and €36 (£32) each, meaning that the cost of a Spanish Masters averages between €1,320 (£1,185) and €4,320 (£3,881).
Students should expect to pay €900 (£808) to €1,100 (£988) a month for living expenses, depending on location and accommodation type. Madrid and Barcelona are the most expensive cities.
Funding to study in Spain
Student loans are not available to international students in Spain, but grants and scholarships are awarded by the government, charitable organisations and individual institutions.
The amount of financial assistance you’re entitled to will depend on your circumstances, but bear in mind that competition for funding is intense.
If you’re an EU or Swiss student you do not need a visa to study in Spain. However, you will need to register with local Spanish authorities and obtain a residence certificate.
Those students coming to study in Spain from outside the EU must obtain a visa if they wish to stay longer than three months. You can apply for a visa at the Spanish consulate in your country of origin.
Exact visa requirements will vary but on the whole you’ll need to have been accepted on to a course at a Spanish university, hold valid health insurance and have sufficient funds to support yourself. You may also need to provide a medical certificate.
How to apply
If you’re an EU student looking to study a Bachelors degree, you’ll need to apply for the ‘Credencial de Acceso’, which is issued by Spain’s official body Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED). Non-EU students without a European Baccalaureate (EB) or International Baccalaureate (IB) will need to register with UNED to take the entrance exam (‘Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad’ or PAU).
Students wanting to study for a postgraduate degree in Spain should apply directly to the institution they wish to attend. Applications are typically made online and you will need:
- a copy of your passport or ID
- passport-sized photographs
- a Statement of Purpose (roughly 500 words on why you want to study at a particular university)
- Bachelors certificate
- Bachelors transcripts
- proof of English proficiency.
Your application documents may need to be submitted in Spanish, so check with your chosen university if you’re unsure.
The country’s main language, Spanish, is the second most common language in the world. While some Bachelors and Masters courses are taught in English, the majority of study programmes are taught in Spanish.
Even if you get onto an English taught course it’ll still be incredibly useful to be able to read, write and speak the country’s language.
You can either learn before you go or take lessons on arrival. Most universities provide language tuition, either through short courses or year-long programmes.
If you are thinking about studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, you have a variety of options in Latin America and Spain. Traveling to Seville, Spain was one of the best decisions I made in my college years. I decided on Spain for a variety of reasons to spend a semester learning Spanish, improving my communication skills and experiencing different cultures along the Mediterranean. I hope if you are thinking about traveling to Spain or taking a semester or year to study there, these reasons will help guide your decision.
1. Experience a different pace of life.
The Spanish lifestyle in general has many differences to the United States. Some would say there is a slower pace of life in Spain, with not much stress or busyness. However, most people in Spain have their own busy schedules, focus on work and experience a faster pace of life. If you study abroad, you will definitely experience this, but on the one hand, there is much freedom in studying abroad. With traveling to a new place, we let go of our prior priorities and commitments to organizations and receive a lot of free time that can translate into a slower pace of life. This is wonderful to experience in Spain, to help redefine our priorities in life and take in life’s moments in a slower, more reflective way.
2. Learn a second language.
Going to Spain is a huge opportunity to improve your Spanish. From participating in exchange programs to meet local students to going out at night to taking classes in Spanish, there are a variety of ways to immerse yourself into a second language. If learning a foreign language has been a dream, traveling to Spain is one way to really focus on your skills. Tip: If would like to practice your language skills more, try living in a smaller city that is less internationalized to not be distracted by English speakers and to have more opportunities to practice your language. Try Seville, Valencia, Cádiz, Granada, Huelva or Salamanca.
3. Surround yourself with beauty.
I didn’t know how much beauty I would discover in Spain. Then I went to Sevilla, Cádiz, Barcelona and so many other places where I was able to soak in city and coastal life and uncover the creativity in architecture and art. If you are looking for some creative inspiration, Spain will satisfy.
4. Uncover an incredible and interesting history.
From Roman times to colonization, Spain’s history is long, dramatic and important to understanding the world on Spanish soil and globally. In Southern Spain, we see a mix of three different cultures and religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Spain has had many ties with North Africa and the Mediterranean, so it is fascinating to see how it all comes together.
5. Explore the rest of Europe and North Africa.
And guess what! If you travel to Spain, it is the perfect spot to travel to other countries in Europe and even North Africa. Experience the cultural differences and friendliness of the people across seas and across two different continents. Traveling is a huge part of studying abroad, and if you would like to see more of Europe, Spain is a great starting point.
6. Find hidden treasures in Spanish street markets.
While many cities are famous for street markets, I found that some of my favorite ways to talk to people and experience more of the local culture was through visiting street markets and talking to artists, business owners and families. Street markets boast homemade, hand-crafted and beautiful items that not only make great souvenirs, but support the local economy. Spain has many street markets, including a famous one on the historic street of Feria in Seville. It’s like walking through a thrift store, but on a different level!
7. Eat all the food.
Spanish cuisine is so delectable. You can never go wrong with some tortilla española (basically a Spanish omelette with potatoes inside) or the variety of tapas in Spain. The Spanish diet is largely influenced by the Mediterranean, with staple foods including seafood, legumes, fruits, hams and vegetables. And also, the olive oil is wonderful there–and used in everything. The Spanish cuisine is generally on the healthier side, which also made me feel better about eating so much food!
8. Drink great coffee.
I started drinking coffee in Spain and their cafés con leche (coffee with milk) are so good. While they are smaller in size than a typical Starbucks, I found that it was the perfect amount for keeping me awake and alert throughout the day. I now wish I could drink it more often!
9. Meet wonderful people.
I loved seeing the social culture of Spain and being greeted by friendly people in the city. I loved the focus on family and loving one another. While many people get different perceptions of friendliness of people in Spain, I felt welcomed into a culture that wasn’t my own. Even meeting people not from Spain and hearing their stories are some of my favorite memories of my time in Europe.
10. Enjoy the nightlife and festivals year-round.
Whether you dressing up in sequins and glitter for Carnival in Cádiz or wearing a flamenco dress for Feria in Seville, the festivals in Spain are a huge part of the culture and very fun to experience. In the springtime around Easter, there are many festivals during Holy Week as well as preparations for spring festivals. Get dressed up, go out dancing and relish in these exciting times!
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