Education in Spain

If you're planning to relocate to Spain, you may be curious about the educational opportunities in this country. This information can come in handy not only for families with kids. The demand for graduate and postgraduate studies keeps actively growing among adults. Read this article to get to know about the education system in Spain for people of all ages!

Preschool Education

There are two types of preschool educational establishments in Spain:

  • Nurseries for boys and girls aged younger than three
  • Preschools for kids aged 3-5

The latter are free. The former charge for attendance but the fee is usually affordable. The government can provide financial support for low-income families who can't afford nurseries.

Preschool education is not compulsory but most families use it. It's a norm to send the child to a nursery when they're just a few months old.

Primary and Secondary Education

At the age of 6, all Spanish kids have to go to school. During the first six years of studies, parents meticulously supervise their kids. The teachers provide mothers and fathers with exhaustive reports about their children's performance.

At the age of 12, secondary school begins. It lasts four years and is compulsory too. Then, teenagers can have a two-year course to prepare for university exams.

The national government sets the standards for primary and secondary education in public schools. The regional authorities and schools have the right to adapt these standards at their own discretion. The scope of the mandatory subjects includes Spanish, a first foreign language, science and maths — and these subjects account for at least 50% of teaching time. A second foreign language, physical education, culture and business are optional.

Public schools are free to attend. Yet parents need to pay from their own pocket for textbooks, pens, notebooks and other items that their kids will need.

According to statistics, around ⅓ of kids in Spain attend private or semi-private schools. They're available in 6 varieties:

  • Schools that the Spanish government partially subsidizes. They stick to the national educational standards. At least 25% of classes are in Spanish.
  • Fully private schools. These operate independently from the local authorities. The tuition fees might vary greatly: from €300 to over €10,000 per year.
  • Schools that stick to alternative teaching methods (for instance, Montessori or Waldorf-Steiner).
  • Religious schools. Most of them are Christian but there are some Jewish ones as well.
  • Boarding schools. It's a great option for kids whose parents live far away from the school. However, it's not a budget-friendly variant because boarding schools can charge up to €30,000 per year.
  • Schools that provide special educational needs support.

If you want your kids to attend an international school, you'll be able to choose from over 280 establishments. Around 100 of them are located in Madrid and Barcelona. It makes sense to opt for a private school if you want your kids to get an education in a foreign language or meet foreign international standards.

Vocational Training

At the age of 16, young Spaniards finish their obligatory secondary education. If they don't feel like obtaining higher education, they can opt for the vocational one. It can prepare them for various skilled jobs. The shortest version of the vocational training lasts 2 years and provides only the basic skills. To become true experts in their chosen field, youngsters can devote 4 years to this stage of their education.

Higher Education in Spain

Higher educational standards in this Mediterranean country are very decent. After you get a degree from a local university, you should have good career opportunities both in this state and abroad.

In total, there are slightly less than 100 universities in this country. Public universities are more numerous than private. Here is the key difference between them:


Public universities

Private universities

How wide is the range of study fields


Limited: typically features economics, legal sciences, social sciences and humanities

How personalized is the teaching

Not too personalized

Highly personalized thanks to a smaller number of students

How much independence do students have

A lot

Not too much

In total, nearly 1.6 million students attend higher education establishments in this country. Slightly over 3% of them come from abroad. Around ⅔ of all the foreign students arrive from Latin America — which is only natural because their native language is Spanish. Roughly 20% of foreign students come from the EU and approximately 10% from Asia. All the other regions contribute only a few percent.

If you want to study in Spanish or just would like to improve your command of this language, feel free to benefit from language courses at the university. Dozens of establishments offer short-term, mid-term or long-term courses for international students. You can study Spanish along with your main classes. Alternatively, you can arrive in June and devote intense three months to this language before the main classes start.

Most importantly, don't forget about the visa. If you come from outside of the EU/EEA/Switzerland, you should first get accepted into the university and receive the official confirmation. Take this confirmation, health insurance and proof of having sufficient funds to the nearest Spanish consulate or embassy in your homeland and apply for a student visa. When a young person applies who doesn't earn enough money yet, they can prove that their parents have enough savings to support them.

After you arrive in Spain, make sure to obtain a residency permit. Most likely, you'll receive it for one year. If you perform well and stay at the university for one more year, you'll be able to renew your permit. It's a wise policy because up to 30% of local students drop out before the end of the course (in this case, we're talking not about expats but about all students, including Spaniards).

Cost of Getting Higher Education

If we compare Spain vs USA, UK and the other EU states, we'll see that the cost of higher education in this country is deliciously affordable. Public universities normally charge from €750 to €2,5000 per year for a bachelor program and from €1,000 to €3,500 for a master's one. It's the government that determines the tuition fees for such institutions and funds them. Private universities can charge much more, up to €20,000 per year. They decide on the tuition fees themselves and don't receive financial support from the authorities.

If you don't have a property in Spain, you'll need to rent it. In the capital, you can get a room in a shared apartment for around €350–600 per month. In the areas where life is more affordable, the prices can be twice as low. Some universities have halls of residence and student flats — but the demand for such accommodation usually exceeds the supply. If you're interested in staying with a Spanish family, ask the university about this opportunity. It would be a great chance to learn the language and the local culture.

To sustain yourself, you might need around €1,000 per month in the largest cities and as little as €350 per month in remote areas. This would include only the most basic expenses, such as food, bus tickets and budget-friendly clothes.

It's obligatory to get health insurance:

  • Foreigners from the EU can rely on their European Health Insurance Cards
  • Individuals aged younger than 28 can get coverage for their insurance from a students insurance fund
  • All the others need to pay for the insurance themselves

The price of health insurance depends on your age, health condition and the chosen plan. The cheapest version can cost you less than €100 per month and the most expensive plan will be around €300 per month.

To sustain themselves, students often find part-time jobs for the most part of the year and full-time jobs for the summer. It's legal to do so — but if you come from outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland, make sure to obtain a local work permit. If you want to work without a permit, your selection of employment opportunities will be limited. If the authorities find out that you're working without a permit, you might lose your student visa and will need to go home. The good news is that the work that you do in terms of your internship doesn't require such a permit.

As for scholarship opportunities, Spain, compared to the other EU states, offers few of them. One of the most popular options is the Erasmus+ program which enables foreigners from all parts of the world can come here to study. Only individuals aged younger than 30 can take part in it. Americans can apply for a grant through the Fulbright US Student program. To get to know about the available scholarships and grants, you can check the websites of Spanish universities as well as the website of the Spanish Ministry of Education.

Facts to Remember About Studying at a Spanish University

Most probably, your academic year will be divided into two parts. The first semester will begin from mid-September till early October and end by late December. The second one will start in late January or early February and finish in May. Some universities have trimesters. At the end of each semester or trimester, you'll need to pass the exams. In selected institutions, exams are distributed throughout the year.

At the beginning of each semester, you'll need to choose your curriculum. There will be a lot of obligatory classes and a few elective ones. After you decide on your curriculum, you'll hardly be able to modify it until the next semester or trimester.

Regardless of which field of knowledge you want to specialize in, teaching will most likely include practical work, seminars and lectures. The latter typically last for around one hour.

On weekends, most universities are closed. They don't offer extracurricular activities on Saturdays and Sundays because Spanish students use these days to visit their families.

Types of Higher Educational Establishments

Polytechnic universities in this Mediterranean country offer programs in architecture, engineering and other similar fields. Establishments that lack the adjective "polytechnic" in their names are more focused on legal, social and health sciences as well as humanities. They're more theoretical and less technical.

International universities tend to be focused on business. There, you can get a degree that foreign countries will recognize. Teachers usually speak English and/or some other language.

In a higher arts school, you can specialize in design, dance, music, theater or other creative fields. You'll get a lot of precious hands-on experience. Research often takes place in collaboration with major universities.

Offline and online learning are both possible in many establishments. In fact, the largest local higher education establishment is the National University of Distance Education. Over 260,000 students attend it remotely. It features conventional onsite and distance learning programs and is supported by the national government.

Admission Process

Many universities reserve approximately 5% of places for foreign students. The competition among the applicants tends to be fierce. There is no centralized system that would distribute international students among educational establishments, so you should apply to the chosen university directly. To find out about the procedures, visit the website of the chosen university or reach out to its student secretariat. Be ready to start by validating your qualifications.

Degrees and Qualifications

Higher education in Spain is split into three cycles:


Duration, years

Required number of ECTS credits


Up to 4

60 per academic year, 240 in total







The ECTS acronym stands for the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System. One ECTS credit results in 25-30 hours of student work.

This three-level framework is typical of all the universities that have joined the Bologna agreement. It sets uniform standards for multiple establishments to ensure a consistently high quality of education and make it easier to compare universities.

Top Universities

Below, we'll share the names and brief characteristics of the most well-known Spanish universities. Please mind that it's not a ranking but a simple list.

Complutense University of Madrid

This one is highly popular among foreign students from all regions of the world. They come here to become doctors, teachers, psychologists, specialists in fine arts and experts in many other fields. Most programs are taught in Spanish — but some are available in Catalan or English.

University of Barcelona

While the Complutense University of Madrid has 26 faculties, its Barcelona counterpart offers only 16. Nevertheless, this establishment is just as popular among foreigners. Here, you can study engineering, humanities, health sciences and much more. You'll appreciate the multicultural environment and an emphasis on educational innovation.

University of Granada

It's the largest university in the country. It was founded in the 16th century and has been maintaining exceptionally high educational standards since then. Its core values are equal opportunities for everyone, internationalization and research.

University of Salamanca

Opt for this one if you'd like to escape the hustle and bustle of big cities. This university is one of the oldest in the country and attracts many foreign students. It's located in a small historical town with an incredibly rich culture, so it will be an aesthetic pleasure for you to stay there.

University of Valencia

It's a polytechnic university where students specialize predominantly in technology and science. However, fine arts and business administration are on the curriculum as well. Over 400 subjects are available in English.

Pompeu Fabra University

It's located in Barcelona and offers a mix of on-site and online classes. It has three campuses around the city. They are focused on, respectively, social and human sciences, health and life sciences and communication and IT. Pompeu Fabra was a linguist who helped to standardize the Catalan language. The university that bears his name is one of the best places in the country to learn this language.

Autonomous University of Madrid

Here, students specialize in many different disciplines: from theatre to medical studies, from philosophy to business and from teaching to law. Many courses are available in English. Apart from academia, this university is also renowned for its research.

University of Seville

It was founded at the very beginning of the 16th century and offers over 50 international undergraduate and graduate degrees. Flamenco and bullfighting originate from Seville — so it's only natural that this university is focused on culture and arts. It boasts an impressive historic-artistic collection and frequently collaborates with other cultural establishments.

University of Catalonia

It's based in Barcelona and stands out from the other educational establishments for two reasons. First, its audience tends to be older than in other universities: around 60% of students are aged over 30. Second, it's famous for its remote and online learning: over 50,000 students attend distant courses.

University of Vigo

The city of Vigo is located in Galicia. It consists of three campuses, each of which is focused on its specific fields of study: urban setting, mixed arts, sports and humanities in the first campus, technology in the second and social and economic sciences in the third. The flagship field is technology. It's the only university in the country that has sent micro-satellites into space.

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