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Study in Spain: primary, secondary, higher education for foreign students

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Education in Spain is compulsory for all children from 6 to 16 years old: primary education (primaria) lasts six years, then children receive compulsory secondary education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria or ESO). Students leave school with basic vocational training. Then they can continue their studies in high school, enter a higher educational institution. The country is actively developing the sector of higher education, receives high marks from the compilers of international rankings, pays special attention to opening business schools and teaching medicine. The cost of education in Spain is relatively affordable, and the quality of education and living standards make it attractive for foreign students.

The Spanish education system is divided into four stages, two of which are compulsory:

  • Kindergarten, preschool ( Educación infantil ) - optional
  • Primary education ( educationación or escuela primaria ) - compulsory
  • Compulsory secondary education ( educationación secundaria Obligatoria ) - compulsory
  • Complete secondary education ( bachillerato ) - optional.

Kindergarten / preschool in Spain (Educación infantil)

The first six years of study in Spain are called Educación infantil , or teaching children. This period is divided into two stages:

  • The kindergarten (guarderia) accepts children from 3 months to 3 years old, but is not paid by the state. Guardería are private or public, both of which charge a fee.
  • Preschool (escuela infantil), where children from 3 to 6 years old study, are often attached to public primary schools, and are free of charge. From the age of four, children learn to read and write, by the time Infantil is completed, they know the alphabet. The emphasis is on the study of various aspects of culture, environment, traffic skills.

Preschool is a great, easy way to introduce foreign children to the Spanish language and local culture.

Primary school (educationación / escuela primaria)

Primary schools are known as escuelas or colegios (the latter term is sometimes used to refer to semi-private / private schools ). Children are required to attend primary school in the calendar year in which they turn six. Escuela primaria is divided into 3 two-year stages or cycles, which are 6 academic years:

  • Primer ciclo - 6-8 years old
  • Segundo ciclo - 8-10 years old
  • Tercer ciclo - 10-12 years old.

Children study Spanish, literature, language and literature of the autonomous region where they live, mathematics, natural and social sciences (history, geography, biology), art, a foreign language (sometimes a second foreign language) + physical education. All students have a daily reading time. In the third cycle, Educación para la Ciudadanía - ethics / social relations is studied. At the request of the parents, the children attend lessons in religious (Catholic) education.

Spanish children receive homework and grades from grade 1 (there is a 5-point system), but the first exams are taken in grade 3. If the level of knowledge of the student is insufficient, he can stay for the 2nd year, during the holidays, additional classes are held for the laggards.

Compulsory secondary education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria) in Spain

After primary school, students move on to compulsory secondary education ( Educación Secundaria Obligatoria - ESO ), which covers ages from 12 to 16 years. You can get compulsory education at:

  • Public School ( Instituto de Educación Secundaria )
  • Private school ( Colegio Privado )
  • A publicly funded private educational institution ( Colegio Concertado ).

The Spanish secondary school system has undergone major changes in recent years, moving away from the traditional model of machine learning and becoming similar to the British general education system. Teaching focuses more on project work and continuous assessment than fact-learning.

Secondary education is divided into two cycles: from 12 to 14 and from 14 to 16. Both cycles have compulsory and optional subjects. The core curriculum usually consists of:

  • Spanish
  • literature
  • language and literature of the region of residence
  • mathematics
  • geography
  • stories
  • foreign language
  • physical education and sports.

Additional subjects include music, technology, second foreign language, ethics / social relations. In the second cycle, students choose several additional courses, which include: natural, social sciences, music, technology, plastic, fine arts. Religious education is optional.

There is a relaxed atmosphere in Spanish schools , the discipline is softer - the family is expected to help the child learn. The Spaniards are family and child oriented: they are loved and pampered, children live with their parents until they are 20-25 years old, until they are ready for an independent life.

If students successfully complete four years of study, they receive a secondary education certificate or Graduado en Educación Secundaria . The next stage of secondary education is the Bachillerato degree, which will enable them to apply to university. Those who do not plan to get higher education receive Certificado de escolaridad / escolarización .

Students can choose secondary vocational training ( formación profesional or Ciclos Formativos ), focused on the development of a working specialty, or even leave their studies altogether. Some students combine lessons with on-the-job training and receive Certificado de Técnico .

Complete secondary education in Spain

The final stage of training, high school - Bachillerato , which provides preparation for entering a university or vocational school.


To obtain the Bachillerato certificate, students study for another 2 years. This stage roughly corresponds to the British A-level or the American High School Diploma. The Bachillerato certificate entitles you to university admission, although students will also have to pass an entrance exam ( Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad or Selectividad ).

The program includes a number of core subjects: Spanish, Foreign Language, History. Students choose:

  • Natural sciences and health sciences
  • Natural sciences and engineering
  • Social sciencies
  • Humanitarian sciences
  • Art.

In total, the student studies about nine subjects, while the annual exam results for each subject are summed up to get an overall grade of up to 10.

To pass Selectivo under the supervision of the state, a student will have to pass 7-8 exams in 3 days. They will then be given a total score of up to 10 (as in the Bachillerato system). These scores will be combined with Bachillerato scores to provide the overall grade required for university admission. The results for the Bachillerato exam account for 60% of the final cumulative grade, and the Selectivo exam for 40%.

Ciclos Formativos

Professional courses are designed for practical training in working skills: plumbing, electrical work, hairdressing, etc. Professional courses last four years and consist of two parts:

  1. Grado Medio is the basic level of study.
  2. Grado Superior - Available to students 18 and older after completing Grado Medio or Bachillerato. The qualification allows you to enter the university.

Higher education in Spain

The tradition of university education dates back to the Middle Ages - the University of Salamanca, founded in 1218, is one of the oldest universities in the world. Modern Spanish universities offer high quality education. For example, Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona is ranked first among Spanish universities in the 2018 Times Higher Education list, at 140th. There are five universities in Spain in the list of 400 best universities:

Most of the courses at Spanish universities are taught in Spanish, while some are taught in the regional language (Catalan). But there is a growing number of undergraduate and graduate courses taught in English.

There are 76 Spanish universities ( universalidades ): one third are private universities, a small part belongs to the Catholic Church, the rest is subordinate to the state. Most of the top universities are located in Madrid and Barcelona . There are prestigious business schools and other specialized educational institutions.

Types of universities in Spain

Universities in Spain can be divided into four types:

  • Escuelas Universitarias , Colegios Universitarios - three years of study lead to a bachelor's degree
  • Facultades - Master's courses are offered in all academic disciplines (except technical)
  • Escuela superior de ingeniería y arquitectura (higher technical schools of engineering and architecture) offer master's degrees in engineering.

International universities in Spain are usually business schools that offer higher education (bilingual or in English ).

Qualifications in Spain

Spanish universities offer formal and informal degrees. Official degrees correspond to the Bologna ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) and are recognized in all countries of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA):

  • Grado - BA, four years, 240 ECTS.
  • Posgrado - Master's degree, one to two years, 60-120 ECTS.
  • Doctorado - PhD, three to five years, 60 ECTS.

All Spanish universities also award unofficial Magister and Maestrias degrees . They are awarded by individual universities, do not provide access to PhD courses, and are generally not recognized outside the country. However, they are often associated with specialized sectors and can therefore be very helpful in finding employment in Spain.

For admission to the master's and doctoral programs, it is necessary to present a university diploma. Foreigners must confirm their diplomas; this can be done at the Ministry of Education.

Tuition fees in Spain

The cost of higher education in public universities is set by the autonomous communities. The running costs of studying for a bachelor's degree are 450-2000 euros per year. Tuition fees range from 900 to 3000 euros per year. If you come from outside the EU, the cost will be higher.

Private universities set their own fees. The cost of enrolling in undergraduate, graduate or doctoral courses can range from 5,000 to 18,000 euros.

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