How to apply to a university in Spain for international students? [2021]

Do you want to study in Spain but you’re not sure what to do and how to apply? You’ve come to the right place.

It is important to be well prepared and know what you need before you start these sometimes complicated procedures. However rest assured, when doing one of the University Pathway courses in Spain with us, our educational consultants on location will help you along the way.

In this post, we’ll show you all you need to know to apply to a university in Spain.

Index:
EBAU, Selectividad, PAU, PCE – important terms explained
The Spanish University system
Requirements for applying to Spanish universities
The Spanish University entry exam explained
How to calculate your University access grade (nota de acceso)?
Frequently asked questions

Introduction

Spanish is the language with the second most native speakers in the world (after Mandarin) and one of the most studied foreign languages alongside English and French. Additionally, its great weather, world-renowned cuisine, and bustling nightlife make Spain a favorite destination for international students.

Spain is also home to some of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe. So, it’s no surprise that every year more than 600,000 students come to study in Spain.

Whether you’re planning to study in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or any other Spanish city in Spain, there are some things you should keep in mind before arriving. One of the most important ones is the application to the university. That’s why in this post, we’ll show you how to apply to a university in Spain as an international student.

Recommended read: The best universities in Barcelona for international students

What is the difference between EBAU, selectividad, PAU, PCE? – important terms explained

EBAU (Evaluación del Bachillerato para el Acceso a la Universidad): It is the system of exams to enter a [public] University in Spain. These exams take place every year in May. In September there is a second round of tests, in case you need to improve your first exam results.
Selectividad: The popular name given to the EBAU university entry exams.
PCE (Pruebas de Competencias Específicas): It’s the term used to refer to the individual exams, per subject (asignatura in Spanish).
PAU (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad): It’s how the University entry exams for foreign students were called before 2017.
UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia): UNED is the biggest public university in Spain and the second biggest in Europe, and allows you to study remotely. The UNED organizes the EBAU exams and has campuses all over Spain.

How to apply to a university in Spain for international students - Library

The Spanish University system

Spain is home to more than 80 universities (or universidades in Spanish). Nearly 60% of them are run by the autonomous communities while the rest are private or run by the Catholic Church.

The majority of the most prestigious universities are in Madrid and Barcelona. However, there are also distinguished business schools and universities in other cities such as Valencia, Granada, or Salamanca.

Types of University

Universities can be divided into three groups:

  • Public University or Universidad Pública: It’s funded by the national or autonomous community government.
  • Private University or Universidad Privada: They’re funded and run by private organizations. Some of them also receive state funding.
  • University run by the Catholic Church or Universidad de la Iglesia: They’re run by the Catholic Church and grant official titles and certificates with the same validity as public and private universities. These institutions are usually financed mostly by the students. The main difference with private universities is that church universities are governed by the agreements between the Holy See of Rome and the Spanish State and they have educational projects based on Christian humanism.

Credits and ECTS

Each academic year in Spain is worth 60 ECTS in accordance with the European Credit Transfer Scheme. As a result, a Bachelor’s Degree (Grado) is worth 240 ECTS (4 years of study) while a Master’s Degree (Máster) is worth 60 to 120 ECTS (1-2 years of study). PhDs (Doctorado), on the other hand, don’t have an ECTS range.

It is important to note that all the universities in Spain accept international students. So, regardless of where you’re from or where you have obtained your secondary school certificate or diploma, any international student can apply to attend a university in Spain.

Before starting at the University of your choice, you will have to go through a series of bureaucratic procedures, which we will explain in the next section of this article.

How to apply to a university in Spain for international students-Madrid

Requirements for applying to Spanish universities

Master’s Degree

Even though each university might ask you for different paperwork if you want to obtain a master’s degree in Spain, there are some documents and certificates that most of them require such as:

  • Bachelor’s degree certificate (officially translated)
  • A copy of your passport or ID
  • A copy of your transcripts (officially translated)
  • An official Spanish level test (DELE or SIELE), certifying B1 or B2 level of Spanish

As requirements vary per study and university, it is recommended you contact the university of your choice in Spain.

Bachelor’s Degree

If you’re an undergraduate and want to earn a Bachelor’s degree at a Spanish university, the requirements vary depending on the country you have studied to obtain your secondary education.

Students from the EU
If you have successfully finished your secondary education in a country within the EU, EEA, Switzerland, or a country with whom Spain has a bilateral agreement (such as China), you need to apply through the Spanish National University for Distance Education (UNED).

It is not compulsory to take any of the EBAU tests. However, depending on the University and the studies you want to apply to, and the grades on your secondary education certificate, it is recommended you sit for some of the Pruebas de Competencias Específicas (PCE) exams. Taking these tests will significantly improve your chance of admission to the studies of your choice.

The application called for registration or Solicitud de inscripción usually opens in April and must be filled out by the candidate. After that, the student has to print out the application and mail it to the UNED along with a copy of their passport, identity card, or school leaving certificate.

If the application is accepted, within the following 3 months, the candidate will receive a certificate called Credencial de Acceso. Then, the student has to send this certificate to the university in which they want to attend. Along with this Credencial de Acceso, universities may ask for some other documents. This varies from each institution so check it with the university of your choice.

Students from outside the EU
If you are not from the EU, EEA, Switzerland, or a country with whom Spain has a special agreement and you want to earn a Bachelor’s degree at a University in Spain, you will need to go through a series of procedures.

First of all, you will need a student visa to study at a University in Spain. You will already have your student visa if you are doing the University pathway course in Spain or any intensive Spanish language course with Linguaschools for longer than 90 days. In that case, contact us and we will help you extend your study visa. Apart from that, to enter University you will need:

  1. Homologación of your school certificate: Get a recognition certificate from your secondary school (homologación). This document certifies that you have obtained the necessary degree to study at a Spanish university.
    To obtain the recognition certificate you will need to ask the Spanish Embassy or consulate in your country. The Embassy will give you a so-called Volante de Acreditación that you will need to apply to the universities you want to study at.
  2. EBAU entry exam: You need to register for a Spanish university entrance exam called Evaluación del Bachillerato para el Acceso a la Universidad (EBAU). This system of tests is also referred to as the ‘selectividad’ exam and before 2017 it used to be called PAU (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad). We will explain more about the EBAU University entry exam later on.
  3. Spanish language level certificate: At most universities in Spain, a minimum level (B1 or B2) of Spanish is required to start your studies. This level should be proved by any of the two official tests for the Spanish language: DELE or SIELE. Many of our Spanish schools in Spain are SIELE and/or DELE exam centers.
    From a practical point of view, it makes sense to have a high level of Spanish as you will be living and studying in Spain.

Apart from those, some other documents that universities might require when you’re applying for a Bachelor’s degree are:

Keep in mind that you need to submit all these documents in Spanish and they must be certified by a translator.

Once the University accepts your application, you will receive an acceptance letter.

NOTE: Each university may have different procedures and they might also ask you to pay an application fee. So check the specific requirements and documentation that you need for the respective university.

If you take the University pathway course in Spain with us, you do not need to dig too far into all these procedures, as we will hold your hand and guide you through the whole process.

The Spanish University entry exam explained

You will read various terms used to refer to the Spanish University entry exam, like “Selectivity exam” or Examen de selectividad, PCE (Pruebas de Competencias Específicas), or PAU (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad). Earlier in this article, we explained all the different terms. We will refer to the University entry exam as the “EBAU exam”, which consists of various PCE exams, one for each subject (asignatura).

The EBAU or Evaluación del Bachillerato para el Acceso a la Universidad is a non-compulsory exam that students need to take to get into a university in Spain.

Although in theory it is not compulsory, because of the way your access grade (nota de acceso) is calculated, in practice it is mandatory if you want to access the studies and university of your choice. Especially if you have taken your secondary education outside the EU.

The EBAU exam is composed of two parts, the General phase, and the Specific phase. Each phase consists of various exams per subject (PCE’s):

General phase

In this section, you need to take 4 mandatory subjects (5 in Catalonia, Valencia, the Basque Country, Galicia, and the Balearic Islands) about:

  1. Spanish Language and literature
  2. Spanish History
  3. Foreign Language (can be English, French, Italian, German or Portuguese)
  4. One ‘core’ subject linked to the Bachiller modality that includes subjects such as science, arts, music, technology, and others.
  5. Extra language test (if applicable): Galician in Galicia, Catalan in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, Valencian in Valencia, and Basque in the Basque Country.

Specific phase

In the Specific section, students can choose between 2 and 4 subjects depending on their Bachillerato and the specific weights that each university requires. Subjects can be: Biology, Chemistry, Maths, Physics, Economics, Art, Geography, Scientific math, and others.

The specific phase exam isn’t mandatory but it’s highly recommended as students can add an extra 4 points to their access grade.

How to calculate your access grade (nota de acceso)?

Your access grade is a score between 5 and 14 points. The maximum grade for the General phase is 10 and you can add an extra 4 points in the Specific phase. The average grade on the (homologated) certificate of your secondary school makes up for 60% of your access grade and the 4 (or 5) test scores of the General phase score will count for the remaining 40% to get to the maximum of 10.

Each University and study establishes different weighing parameters for the test scores and subjects taken in the Specific phase.

The exact calculation is as follows:
NMB=avg. grade of your secondary study
CFG=avg. grade of the general phase
CFE1=grade on specific phase subject 1
WP1=weighing parameter subject 1
CFE2=grade on specific phase subject 2
WP2=weighing parameter subject 2

[NMB x 60%] + [CFG x 40%] (avg. score general phase, max. 10)
+
[CFE1 x WP1] + [CFE2 x WP2] (avg. score second phase, max. 4)
=
nota de acceso (max. 14)

Example: A student got an average score of 8.55 from the general phase. Then in the second phase, they took Physics and Chemistry exams and got a 9 and a 7 respectively. They want to study Architecture, and the University they want to study at considers Physics more important than Chemistry at that degree, so their 9 will turn into 1.8 additional points (9*0.2) and Chemistry in 0.7 more points (7*0.1). The final score will be 8.55+1.8+0.7= 11.05 out of 14 points possible.

It’s worth noting that the test score in the general phase lasts forever, but a test score in the specific phase is valid for only 2 years.

Frequently asked questions

When does the academic year start in Spain?
When is the application deadline for Universities in Spain?
How much does it cost to study at a University in Spain for international students?
Can I work in Spain with a student visa?
How long does it take to validate my secondary school certificate?
Can I extend my student visa without leaving Spain?
Is Spain a good country to study for international students?
Do I need to take an entry test to study at a University in Spain?
Do I need to present my documents in Spanish to apply to a University?
Do I need to speak Spanish to study at a university in Spain?
Is it easy to find accommodation in Spain as an international student?

When does the academic year start in Spain?

At Universities in Spain, the academic year runs from September to June of the following year. Schools are closed on public holidays, which can be national, regional, or local, and holidays such as Christmas and Easter (Semana Santa in Spanish).

When is the application deadline for Universities in Spain?

Although application deadlines may vary depending on the institution, there are usually 3 intakes for studies at Spanish Universities:

  • First week of June: for studies beginning in the fall semester (October).
  • First week of September: late applications for studies beginning in the fall semester (October).
  • First week of December: for studies beginning in the spring semester (February).

How much does it cost to study at a University in Spain for international students?

Tuition fees in Spain are among the lowest in Europe. The fees are calculated and presented according to ECTS credits. A Bachelor program can cost between €750 and 2.500 per year at a public university while a private university costs up to € 20.000 per academic year.

Can I work in Spain with a Student Visa?

If you have a student visa and residence permit, you can work part-time up to 20 hours per week. It’s important to note that you’re only allowed to work as long as you have a valid visa.
Read more: Can I work in Spain with a student visa?

How long does it take to validate my secondary school certificate?

That depends on the country you’re applying from but, normally, it takes around 3 months.

Can I extend my student visa without leaving Spain?

Yes! As long as you don’t change studies or universities, you can apply to extend your student visa at the Oficina de Extranjeria from 60 days before your current visa expires and not later than 90 days after the expiration of your visa. Terms might vary per region and these procedures can take time, so we recommend starting as early as possible.

Is Spain a good country to study for international students?

Absolutely! Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world and receives more than 600,000 international students every year.

Great weather, rich culture, good universities, and buzzing nightlife make Spain one of the most attractive options for both students and young professionals.

Do I need to take an entry test to study at a University in Spain?

Even though in theory the EBAU (Evaluación del Bachillerato para el Acceso a la Universidad) is a non-compulsory exam, it’s highly recommended that you take it if you want to access the studies and university of your choice.

Do I need to present my documents in Spanish to apply to a University?

Yes! You need to submit all the documents in Spanish and they must be certified by a translator.

Do I need to speak Spanish to study at a university in Spain?

Even though some universities have courses in English, for many studies you need an official Spanish level test (DELE or SIELE) that certifies, at least, a B1 or B2 level of the Spanish language.

Is it easy to find accommodation in Spain as an international student?

If you take a general Spanish course or University pathway course in Spain with us, you can reserve a stay in one of our shared apartments or host families. There are some attractive prices for students staying long term.

You can also reserve only the first 4 weeks if you need a study visa, and look for a long term solution once you’re in Spain. Spain receives thousands of students every year so there is a wide range of accommodation options for every taste and budget. You can either rent a place once you arrive in Spain or book it from your country.
Read also: how to find a room or apartment for international students in Barcelona.

Other relevant articles

The Linguaschools complete and comprehensive guide to Spanish paperwork.

Anything to add? Share your own experience in the comments below!

DISCLAIMER: We have gathered information to our best knowledge, from our experience, using several different (official) sources. Regulations change and interpretations may vary per country or region, but also between public office or staff. No rights can be derived from any of our articles. The content is merely a guide and we recommend you check information with official sources before and during the process.

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