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How to Get Into University in Spain as an International Student

Studying at a university in Spain is a great way to advance your academic qualifications while learning a new language, discovering a different culture and broadening your horizons. This guide will help you understand a bit more about how to apply to university in Spain as an international student.

Marc Rogers
Marc Rogers
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How to Get Into University in Spain as an International Student

In the 2021-2022 school year, more than 170,000 international students were enrolled in the Spanish university system, representing almost 10% of the total student population. This number is growing every year, and if you spend any time in one of the country’s bustling university cities, it’s easy to see why. Affordable living, great food, and a lively social scene… what’s not to love?

Spain has 86 universities – 50 public and 36 private – offering more than 2,000 degree courses. International students can apply to any of them, but note that the entry requirements may differ depending on which region the university is in. As you would expect, Madrid and Barcelona have some of the country’s (and Europe’s) top-rated institutions, but there are plenty of other highly-regarded universities around Spain – including one of the world’s oldest universities in Salamanca and institutions in popular destinations for international students, like Valencia and Malaga.

If you’re interested in going to university in Spain, this guide will help you understand a bit more about what choices you have and how to apply. If you enroll on a long-term Spanish course with Expanish, our advisors will be able to offer guidance and support on how to get a student visa for Spain and other bureaucratic requirements. 

You can also request a free consultation with our Expanish academic advisors to learn more about your university and long-term Spanish course options in Spain.  

How to apply for university in Spain as an international student

The university application process differs depending on where you completed your secondary education and where you want to study in Spain. In all cases, it is vital to check what specific admission requirements your chosen university has for the course you wish to study. You should specifically check:

  • What specific documentation is required for admission;

  • What entry exams should be taken and what grades are required for the course you wish to study;

  • Whether a certain level of Spanish is required to be accepted.

Generally speaking, public universities charge lower tuition fees than private universities, but have higher grade requirements for admission. 

Spanish University Application For EU/EEA students (and countries with which Spain has a bilateral agreement)*

If you completed secondary education (high school) or other studies and meet the requirements for admission into university in these countries*, you can enroll in a university in Spain. You can apply via The National University for Distance Education (UNED), which validates your secondary education grades and grants you an accreditation that you will use in your university application. You can read more about the documentation required and the steps to follow here.

You must check the admission requirements for your chosen university, including what entry exams you need to take and whether UNED accreditation is accepted. In most cases it is strongly recommended to take ‘Specific Competency Tests' (‘Pruebas de competencias específicas’, PCE) in subjects related to your chosen field of study. Passing these will improve your university admission score and therefore your chances of being accepted on your chosen course. 

*EU/EEA countries, China, Switzerland, Andorra, or those with a European/International Baccalaureate Diploma.

Spanish University Application for all other non-EU students

  • Homologation of high school diploma: The first thing you need is a certificate proving that you completed secondary education and qualify for higher education in your home country. This must then be officially validated (homologation) by the Spanish Education Ministry, which you can request at your local embassy/consulate. The homologation can take several months, but you should receive a ‘volante acreditativo’ showing you have submitted your documents. This can be used in your university application and to take the entry exams. Remember that any documents will need to be legalized/apostilled and translated into Spanish before being submitted.

University in Spain
  • Take the EBAU entry exam: You will most likely need to take the Evaluación del Bachillerato para el Acceso a la Universidad (EBAU) as part of your university application – it will be key to determining whether you have the required grades to be accepted (see more information below about the entrance exam). The exams are usually taken in June, with a secondary chance in September. In some cases, you may be able to take PCEs via UNED, but the process is broadly similar.

  • Spanish language certificate (if required): Some universities in Spain require you to pass an officially-recognised language test at an accredited institute to prove that you have the necessary level of Spanish to enrol on a course. If this is the case for you, then Expanish can help you with specialist exam preparation Spanish courses.

  • Apply for a student visa (or extension): Once you have an acceptance letter from a Spanish university you will need to get a student visa to study in Spain. You may already have this if you are already on a long-term Spanish program at Expanish, but will need to apply for a visa extension using your acceptance letter.

Is There an Entrance Exam for University in Spain?

The EBAU – often just called ‘selectividad’ – is a series of entry exams for universities in Spain. The EBAU is also taken by Spanish students, and is structured in two phases:

General/Mandatory phase: Four (or five) exams required for all university courses.

  • Spanish language & literature

  • Spanish history or philosophy

  • Foreign language (English, French, German, Italian or Portuguese)

  • EITHER Mathematics or Maths applied to social science or Fundamentals of the Arts or Latin.

In Spanish regions with a second official language (eg. Galicia, Valencia, País Vasco or Cataluña), a fifth exam may be required in that language.

Specific/Voluntary phase: This is recommended as a way to gain additional points (maximum of 4 points, 2 per subject), boosting your chances of meeting the minimum grade requirements and getting accepted to your chosen course. You can usually take 2-4 specific exams, and your top two scores will count towards your overall grade. The subjects taken should be related to the field of study you wish to apply to, and can include:

  • Sciences: Biology, Chemistry

  • Engineering/Technology: Physics, Maths (if not taken in the mandatory phase)

  • Social Studies: Geography, Business Economics

  • Humanities: Philosophy, Art history

Is it hard to get into university in Spain? 

Each course at each university will have a minimum grade between 5 and 14 that is required for admission. The number will vary depending on how popular the course is – for example, the cut-off grade (nota de corte) to study medicine at the University of Barcelona was 12.895 in June 2023, but for courses such as history, design or archaeology it was just 5.000.

Your overall grade out of 14 will be calculated as such:

  • Grade out of 10 – 60% based on high school grades (converted into equivalent Spanish score) and 40% based on EBAU general/mandatory exam (average of four tests).

  • Up to 4 additional points – by passing the voluntary/specific EBAU exams. 

International Student in Spain

When is the deadline for applying to university in Spain?

Most university deadlines for pre-enrollment are in June/July, but you should always check the specific dates with your preferred university.

EBAU entry exam dates are typically late-May or early-June. There is another ‘extraordinary’ exam date, usually in early-September, for those that failed the first attempt or wish to improve their grade. However, at this point some of the most popular courses may no longer have any more spaces left for that academic year.

How much does it cost to go to university in Spain?

Public university tuition fees in Spain range between €700 and €1,200 per year for a Bachelor's degree for EU students. Non-EU students and post-graduate students will typically have to pay more. Private universities also typically charge higher rates.

Tuition fees are calculated as a rate per ECTS credit and so please note that the actual cost of enrolling at a university in Spain can vary depending on:

  • Which region you will study in

  • Whether it is a public or private institution.

  • What degree you will take

  • How many credits you will earn in a year (the standard is 60)

  • Whether you will study at a public or private institution

  • Whether you have to retake any modules/exams (prices rise with each attempt)

Frequently Asked Questions

DISCLAIMER: This is an informative guide, based on available information from official government and other sources. It does not offer any rights or guarantees. Visa rules can change over time, and vary in different countries or regions, so always check information and requirements with official sources.

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