Brief Background: Higher education is an honored
tradition in Spanish society. The first university, Universidad de
Salamanca, was established in the 13th century. As such, many of Spain’s
institutions have developed strong programs that have earned them a
solid international reputation. In fact, several universities are ranked
in the top 500 in the world in various international university
rankings including Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), the QS World University Rankings, and Times Higher Education World University Rankings. There are currently 84 universities in Spain, of which 50 are public and 34 are private.
From 2009 to 2010, Spain immersed itself in a transformation of its
higher education system. Its goal was to harmonize its academic
qualification framework to fit into the European Credit Transfer and
Accumulation System (ECTS) to increase student mobility in the European
Higher Education Area (EHEA). In 2017 alone, nearly 95,000 international
students enrolled in Spanish higher education institutions. American
students accounted for 7 percent of the international student
Good to Know: In Spain, an undergraduate degree is referred to as grado,
and can fall into one of two categories: official, those that are
government-regulated and recognized by the EHEA; and unofficial (propio),
which are independently established by an institution and generally not
recognized by other institutions or education systems. A student
pursues an official degree (grado oficial) as they would an undergraduate degree in the US. An unofficial degree (grado propio)
is typically meant for students that have already completed an official
degree and are looking to improve their technical knowledge in a
specific field or subject. Length of study for an undergraduate degree
varies by subject. While the majority can be completed in three to four
years, more technical degrees, like engineering, medicine, and
architecture, can take up to five years.
The Study in Spain
website is a government-sponsored resource for English-language
speakers. It features information on the cultural and academic value of
studying in Spain and has a university search engine that filters by
province and university type. It also provides information about
administrative procedures; however, the entries often include links to
the official resource in Spanish.
Most undergraduate degrees are taught in Spanish or in one of Spain’s
recognized regional languages, such as Basque or Catalan. However,
there has been an increase in the number of programs taught completely
in English or in a bilingual immersion format. In bilingual immersion
programs, students begin their undergraduate careers in English-taught
classes and are slowly transitioned into a full Spanish learning
Academic Calendar: The school year in Spain
generally starts in the fall and ends in late spring. The majority of
Spanish universities operate on a two-semester system: the first from
September/October to late December, and the second from January/February
to May. Semester exams are usually scheduled the month after the
semester ends (January and June, respectively). Other universities
follow a trimester schedule.
Search: The official source of information for international students is the Spanish Service for the Internationalization of Education (Servicio Español para la Internacionalización de la Educación
or SEPIE). A government run initiative that aims to internationalize
the Spanish education system. Among its resources it features the Study in Spain website providing general information about Spanish culture and education system, and a list of tools
students can use to identify what and where to study, English taught or
bilingual programs, as well as available grants and scholarships.
To search universities by program, region, or employability of graduates, use the What to Study and Where tool (Qué Estudiar y Dónde en la Universidad or QEDU) on the website of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports.
Apply: Spain does not have a centralized application
system for university admission. Each university sets its own
requirements and deadlines for applications and in some instances these
can even vary by program within the university. Some universities or
programs may require applicants to attend an interview, submit
additional materials, or even take a subject or general knowledge exam.
It is important that students familiarize themselves with the
requirements for each university and program of interest.
Each year, universities assess the number of seats in each program
that will be open for new applicants. For public universities, this
number is determined by the regional governments and is based on
projected labor market needs. Of this number, a specific
percentage—determined by the universities—is reserved for international
students. The number of seats open for general and international
admission are typically published in January or February. Students are
advised to apply soon after these numbers are published, as space is
limited. However, students should also keep in mind the pre-application
requirements established by the government explained below. Private
institutions set their own enrollment goals and could provide more
Students that apply for seats reserved for international applicants
are not required to take the Spanish University Access Test (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad or PAU), also known as Selectividad.
If an international student applies to an international seat and is not
accepted, he or she can reapply for a seat in the general admission
pool. However, they will then be required to submit PAU scores.
Prior to applying to university, international students must submit
their credentials to be certified for equivalency. Students from the US
must submit their documents to the Spanish embassy or consulate in their
country of residence to be reviewed by the Ministry of Education,
Culture, and Sports prior to submitting their application. This process
is known as homologación and can take three to six months. The
Spanish Education Advising Office in the United States recommends that
students begin this process as early as possible to assure they’ll have
all their documentation in time for enrollment. In the meantime,
students can apply for a permit for conditional admission (volante de inscripción condicional)
that would show they have initiated the credential equivalency
certificate process, allowing them to be considered for admission to the
university of their choice. While this is a responsibility of the
student, some universities do provide assistance. Students should
contact the admission office of their prospective school or program to
verify which resources are available to them. For the most accurate and
updated information about the credential equivalency certificate process
and its requirements, students can contact the Spanish Education
Advising Office via email or visit their website.
Deadlines: Students typically begin their academic
studies in the fall semester. Deadlines vary by university, but
applications are generally due the first week of June.
Admission Requirements: International students are
not required to take the Spanish university admission test, unless they
apply for general admission (see Apply section). Admission is based on
students’ prior academic performance and high school GPA. However, some
universities could also require international students to take one or
more subject proficiency tests (Pruebas de Competencias Específicas or PCE). These tests are managed by UNEDasiss,
a service from the distance learning institution UNED, and are
administered in Spain and several other locations across the globe. It
is important that students reach out to the university of their choice
to determine which tests they will need to take, if any.
International students may also be required to take a language
proficiency exam for Spanish or English depending on the program they
are applying to and their country of origin. There are several testing
platforms for language proficiency. The most widely recognized
evaluations for Spanish are those given by the Servicio Internacional de Evaluación de la Lengua Española (SIELE) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
(ACTFL). For English, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) are
accepted. It is important for students to research whether their
institution or program of choice requires them to take a language
proficiency exam, which tests are accepted, and the minimum scores
required for admission.
Upon Acceptance: The university will send a letter of acceptance, which is needed to apply for a student visa before coming to Spain.
Tuition and Fees: The cost of tuition at Spanish
universities varies by the type of degree a student enrolls in (official
or unofficial) and by the nature of the university (public or private).
The cost of public universities is regulated by the General Assembly
for University Policy (Conferencia General de Política Universitaria)
and the regional governments where they reside. While the universities
are not allowed to raise tuition for Spanish and EU students,
legislation does allow them to increase the fees for international
students. It is important to research each institution individually to
assess the true cost of tuition for an international student. However,
public university tuition for international students can still be
considerably cheaper than the cost of attending a private university.
The cost of tuition at Spanish universities varies greatly. For public
universities, tuition for an academic year typically ranges between 680
and 2,000 euros, and at private universities it ranges between 5,500 and
The Study in Spain website provides guidance on how to obtain a grant or scholarship to study in Spain. Including resources from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport.
Housing: The average cost of living for students in
Spain is estimated between 850 and 1,000 euros per month, depending on
the city or town of residence and the individual needs of each student.
There are various housing options for students enrolled in Spanish
Visa and Other Permits: Students from countries outside of the European Union pursuing studies for longer than 90 days must apply for a student visa (Autorización de Estancia por Estudios)
through the Spanish embassy or consulate in their country of origin or
residence. This visa expires on a yearly basis, and must be renewed
within the 60-day period prior to its expiration date. For the most
reliable and up-to-date information, students should contact their local
embassy or consulate or visit the Ministry of Employment and Social Security’s website.
Citizens of countries outside of the European Union, the European
Economic Area, or citizens from countries that do not currently have a
reciprocity agreement for social services with Spain must independently
enroll in a private health insurance plan. This is a prerequisite for
the student visa application. The selected health insurance plan must
cover the cost of repatriation of remains and stay valid for the
entirety of the student’s time in Spain.
Upon arrival in Spain, students will have one month to register for the Foreigner Identity Card (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero
or TIE) at the local Foreigners Office or police station. This permit
serves as an identification for the student. More information can be
found through the Ministry of Interior’s website.
Advice from the Field: The internationalization of
Spanish universities is still developing. While there is a growing
number of undergraduate degrees offered in English, it is difficult to
find English-language resources outlining admission procedures.
Moreover, the higher education system and relevant authorities are
currently in the process of adopting changes to make the admission
process more amenable for international students. During this transition
period, counselors are advised to reach out directly to universities,
embassies, or consulates via e-mail or telephone for the most accurate
and reliable information regarding the application process and
When deciding where in Spain to apply, students should keep in mind
the remarkable differences in temperature and precipitation found in
different regions of the country. Cities in the central region undergo
major changes throughout the year, while coastal regions can be less