Studying in Spain

Applications and costs

Studying in Spain

Competition for places at Spanish universities is high, as there are generally too few places for all the students wishing to attend. Applicants must pass the Prueba General de Bachillerato (PGB) examination.

The acceptance to a university depends on the result obtained in this exam, as well as the average mark gained during the two years of study for the baccalaureate. Those who pass the PGB with a high mark are generally awarded a university place in July, while others may have to wait until August to find out whether they’ve been accepted.

EU nationals are entitled to compete for places at Spanish universities on equal terms with Spanish nationals. In addition, a small number of places at most universities, e.g. 5 per cent, are allocated to non-EU students. In general, qualifications that are accepted as entry requirements in a student’s home country are accepted in Spain. Spanish universities accept British A Levels as an entrance qualification, but an American high school diploma isn’t usually accepted. American students must usually have spent two years at college or hold a BA, BBA or BSc degree.

For information about the recognition of EU diplomas in Spain, contact the Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Subdirección General de Cooperación Internacional, Centro de Información sobre Reconocimiento de Títulos y Movilidad de Estudiantes, C/Alcalá, 36, 28071 Madrid (902-218 500, ). As with school enrolment, foreign qualifications must be verified via a process known as homologación by the Spanish Department of Education and Culture in Spain.

All foreign students require a thorough knowledge of Spanish, although preparatory courses are provided. Note that in autonomous regions where there’s a second official language (e.g. the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia), courses may be conducted in the local language. Many foreign university students (and Spanish students abroad) can study in Spain under European Union exchange programmes for periods ranging from a few weeks to several months.

In general, the academic year runs from October to June and applications should be made as soon as possible (e.g. on receipt of final school exam results). Applications must be submitted to universities and addressed to the student secretariat (vice-rectorado de alumnos).


In most regions, university fees (tasas) are set by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. In autonomous regions with responsibility for their own education, fees are set annually by the university council and the local regional government. Private universities under the auspices of the Catholic church set their own fees. Spanish university fees are low for residents and EU nationals and depending on the faculty and location. Grants and scholarships are available to Spanish and foreign students and around one in seven students receives a grant. (Note that a disadvantage of moving to Spain is that foreign children resident in Spain may be classified as overseas students by their home countries, making them no longer eligible for grants and possibly liable to pay fees or higher fees.)

There’s a huge difference in the cost of living between cities and regions, Madrid and Barcelona being the most expensive. Finding a part-time job to help pay your living expenses is difficult and shouldn’t be relied upon. Some universities have their own student halls of residence (colegios mayores), although places are in high demand and short supply. The availability and cost of private rented accommodation varies with the location.

Spanish students under the age of 28 and registered at a Spanish institute of higher education are covered for health insurance by a students’ insurance fund. This fund also covers many foreign students under reciprocal agreements, including those from EU countries. Students over the age of 28 and others who aren’t covered must have private health insurance.

Many Spanish students attend the nearest university to their home and treat university as an extension of school, particularly in Madrid and other large cities where accommodation is expensive. Faced with the choice of living with their parents or in a depressing university residence or cheap room, most choose to live at home. Spanish students don’t usually work during their studies or during holidays and most go home at weekends. Few university facilities are open at weekends, when foreign students must amuse themselves. Note that, like Spanish state schools, universities offer few extra-curricular, sports and social activities.

Further Information

Further information about higher education in Spain can be obtained from the cultural sections of Spanish embassies abroad and from the University Council (Consejo de Coordinación Universitaria), Secretaría General, C/ Juan del Rosal, 14, 28040 Madrid (914-539 800, ).

A useful book about higher education in Spain is Studying and Working in Spain by M. Newton and G. Shields (Manchester University Press), and the Spain Exchange website includes a wealth of useful information about studying in Spain, as well as a detailed description of all universities and higher education establishments in the country ( ). For up-to-date news on international studies in Spain, visit our website on international education, .

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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Further reading

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