Studying in Spain

Studying in Spain

Higher education in Spain has its origins in the Middle Ages.

The University of Salamanca, founded in 1218, is the first University established in Spain. Obviously, history has changed the way the system has worked, and the current system derives from the French model of the 19th century.

However, Spanish Universities have recently gone through important changes that have led to a self-governing and decentralized system. In addition, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is forcing Spanish universities to converge into one common system compatible with all European Universities.

The educational policy is controlled by the Ministry of Education together with the departments of higher education in the universities. Within this framework, the Consejo de Universidades outlines the requirements to create new universities, centers and institutes. In addition, it helps regulating advanced graduate studies.

Within the higher education level, Spain has public and private Universities. Universities are organized in Schools (Facultades), and within each School there are different Departments, which specialize in a specific part of the corresponding science. Currently, the Spanish university system comprises 49 public universities, 14 private ones, and 4 Catholic Church universities.

Regarding its content, the Spanish university system displays an equilibrium between scientific disciplines included in the social sciences and humanities (History, Economics, Literature, Philosophy, etc.), and the pure sciences (Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc). Likewise, within the different Universities we may find scientific disciplines specifically applied to the society. An adequate equilibrium between theory and practice is carefully achieved in disciplines like Architecture, Medicine or Law.

Also, it is becoming very common to see Universities that offer a higher university degree which interlaces academic contents from several scientific disciplines (Economics and Law, Business and Tourism, Languages and Marketing etc).

This option generates professionals with a very high level of training, who are very sought after by national and international companies. 

  Studying in Spain


Credit to study in SpainThe Current Credit System organizes higher education degrees. Basically, one credit implies 10 hour of work, considering the actual classes, practical sessions, internships, research papers, and the student’s personal work.

Depending of the number of credits the degree has, there can distinguished the following:

  • First cycle degrees (Carreras de primer ciclo or Diplomaturas, Carreras Técnicas).
    These studies have no more than 200 credits and are taught in 3 years.
  • Second cycle degrees (Superior degrees, Licenciaturas, Ingenierías Superiores).
    These studies have at least 300 credits and they are between 3 and 5 years long.

  • Third cycle degrees include graduate studies (Master’s and PhD’s).
    In most cases, in order to have access to these studies, applicants should have achieved a second cycle degree.

In many occasions, once students have completed a first cycle degree, there is the chance to achieve a second cycle degree after taking some transition classes.


The basic configuration of the plans of study includes:

  • Major Classes (Asignaturas Troncales):
    Directly related to the basic contents of the degree. They must be common to all syllabi of any university.

  • Compulsory classes (Asignaturas obligatorias):
    Required classes that each university decides to include in its degree. They do not have to be taught in other universities. Students in that university must take that class in order to achieve the degree.

  • Elective classes (Asignaturas optativas):
    Classes that every university offers to the choice of students. Their purpose is to give a specialized knowledge on a specific field, and thus, differentiate their degrees from what other universities may offer.

  • Free configuration credits (Créditos de libre configuración):
    They are meant to complete the student’s curriculum with classes that are of their interest, even when they might not have anything to do with the degree. These credits can be obtained by taking classes from other degrees (even from other universities). Students can also get those extra credits by participating in academic activities (Seminars, congresses, field work, internships, etc). The total amount of these credits should conform the 10% of the total credits of the degree.

The most significant feature of the ECTS credit is that, apart from the teaching hours, it also takes into account the actual effort that the student needs to make in order to pass the class. Measures included:

  • - The acquisition of a University degree system comparable and understandable all over Europe.
  • - The establishment of a new system with 2 cycle university degrees (Undergraduate and graduate studies).
  • - The establishment of a homogenized credit system for every country.
  • - The promotion of international exchanges of students, instructors, and researchers.
  • - The design of a Quality Evaluation System.
  • - The promotion of lifelong learning.
  • - To involve universities and students in the process.

All undergraduate studies (no matter if they have 1 or 2 cycles) will change into one only cycle.

These degrees will have between 180 and 240 credits, divided up into 3 or 4 years. These degrees will enable students to develop a professional career.

Only 2 types of graduate studies will remain: Master’s Degree and Doctorates.

Masters will become official and they will be more specific, focused on research or advanced professional training. Official Masters will have 60 or 120 ECTS credits (one or two years) and students will need to have their official undergraduate degree. It is important to note that not all masters will have to be official.

Doctorate studies will be the top of academic achievement and students will have to prepare a Doctoral thesis. Students will be required to have passed at least 300 credits between undergraduate and graduate studies. These studies will train professionals in advanced research techniques. The training will imply courses, seminars, research papers, and research skills development. Doctoral thesis will have to be original research works that contribute to the progress of that scientific field.

Grades are based on the points obtained over a maximum of 10

  • 0,0 - 4,9 SUSPENSO (SS).
  • 5,0 - 6,9 APROBADO (AP).
  • 7,0 - 8,9 NOTABLE (NT).
  • 9,0 - 10,0 SOBRESALIENTE (SB).
  • 9,6 - 10,0 MATRÍCULA DE HONOR (MH).

ECTS established

  • A - EXCELLENT: Extraordinary performance, with only minor errors.
  • B - VERY GOOD: Above the average, but with a few mistakes.
  • C - GOOD: In general, good work, but some notable errors.
  • D - SATISFACTORY: Good but with significant room for improvement.
  • E - SUFFICIENT: The performance is just over the minimum level required.
  • FX - FAIL: A little more work is necessary on order to obtain the credits.
  • F - FAIL: A lot more work is necessary.

Equivalence of the numeric grade according to the Spanish scale of 10 corresponds to the following ECTS grades:

  • 9,6-10 MH Matrícula de Honor = A (EXCELLENT).
  • 9,0-10,0 SB Sobresaliente = B (VERY GOOD).
  • 7,0 - 8,9 NOTABLE (NT).
  • 7,0-8,9 NT Notable = C (GOOD).
  • 6,0-6,9 AP Aprobado = D (SATISFACTORY).
  • 5,0-5,9 AP Aprobado = E (SUFFICIENT).
  • 3,0-4,9 SS Suspenso = F (FAIL).
  • 0-3,0 SS Suspenso = FX (FAIL).

During the last few years there has been a surge in organizations and institutions oriented towards post-degree studies and continuous education, which has significantly multiplied the diversity of studies and training available.

The variety and specialization of the teaching profiles of each of these organizations makes it difficult to provide an exact classification, although they could be considered as centers for post-degree studies and business schools.

The main characteristics of the studies available in these centers combine:

  • - A high degree of specialization.
  • - Demanding academic level.
  • - Shorter programs (between 8 and 24 months) than the official courses.
  • - Oriented for the most part towards students that already have a higher education university degree.

One of the main tools to measure the quality of institutions dedicated to the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language is the CEELE (Certificate of Quality in the Teaching of Spanish as a Foreign Language). CEELE is a certification that guarantees the quality and academic excellence standards of those study centers that have obtained it.

The certification is granted by the University of Alcala de Henares and by EDUESPAÑA.

The CEELE is designed as a tool to certify the quality management in those study centers dedicated to the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language.

The inspection for obtaining the CEELE certification quantitatively evaluates areas such as quality of teaching, program design by the center, the teachers, the infrastructure or the adequate advertising of the educational offerings, amongst other factors.

Likewise, the inspection committee, which belongs to the Department of Modern Languages of the University of Alcala de Henares, issues, through academic reports, recommendations and suggestions with the objective of increasing the level of quality of the schools and institutions that the committee is evaluating.

CEELE guarantees the compliance with a series of internationally recognized criteria on the part of the centers specialized in the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language.

This certificate guarantees a quality control similar to the one present in many of our neighboring countries and which allows for a student, teacher or linguistic agent who has chosen a school or institution with the CEELE certificate of guarantee to be assured that the schools has successfully undergone an independent, objective and professional inspection.

Moreover, the CEELE schools may participate in international collaboration programs that require a guarantee of compliance with the established quality standards.