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Choose a university in Spain, with the help of our guide, and one thing is for sure: your friends will be very jealous!
Stretching to the Pyrenees in the east, the Mediterranean in the south, the Bay of Biscay in the north, and Portugal in the west, Spain is one of the biggest countries in Europe.
It is also the fourth most popular tourist destination in the world, welcoming an annual volume of tourists which considerably exceeds its population.
It is a country of contrasts, where the affluence and cosmopolitan bustle of Western Europe is mixed with a distinctly southern extravagance and charm; where an expressive and flamboyant culture segues into afternoon naps and long languid evenings in bars and cafés; where distinct regional identities often take precedence over a unified national one.
This proved to be a combination that the nearly 85,000 international students who were studying there in 2009 could not turn down. Of course, lifestyle alone isn’t enough to draw in the punters – you need to have good universities too! And Spain has plenty of them. Some 18 Spanish institutions feature in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings, of which 14 are within the top 500.
The largest concentration of these are in capital city Madrid and second city Barcelona, with the latter boasting the country’s two highest ranking universities, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona and Universitat de Barcelona.
Studying at master’s or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to Spain >
Find out more about some of Spain's top student cities...
Spain’s capital and largest city is home to four universities in the QS World University Rankings, led by Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (206), followed by Spain’s oldest university, Universidad Complutense de Madrid (226), Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (343), and Politécnica de Madrid (451-500). Like any historic European capital worth its salt, you’ll find fast paced modern life taking place against a backdrop of beautiful historic architecture, with plenty of culture on offer; including the Prado – one of the world’s most celebrated art galleries. The city’s biggest football team, Real Madrid, is one of the world’s most decorated and famous.
See where Madrid appears in the latest QS Best Student Cities >
Spain’s second city is the capital of Catalonia, a region to the southeast of Spain with a proud regional identity. It is one of the most aesthetically distinct cities in Europe – dominated by daring modernist architecture, such as the Sagrada Familia cathedral. It is a famously youth-orientated city, and plays host to the annual Primavera Sound music festival. Barcelona boasts Spain’s top two highest ranking universities, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona and Universitat de Barcelona (176 and 187 respectively), as well as Universitat Pompeu Fabra (266) and Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (350). Some football team or other is also based there.
A student's guide to Barcelona >
A conservative city on Spain’s south coast, Valencia is probably best known for being the spiritual home of paella. It is also home of the massive Les Falles (in praise of St Joseph, nominally…) festival and the Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, one of the biggest music festivals in Europe. It is a major tourist magnet due to its beautiful beaches and unique picturesque centre. Valencia’s main institutions of higher education, the Universitat de Valencia and Universidad Politecnica de Valencia both make the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings.
Granada, located towards the south of Spain, has a distinctly North African feel, the result of centuries of Moorish rule. The most famous example of this legacy is the spectacular Alhambra, a huge castle which overlooks the city. It is fair to say that it is a major student city, with its university, the Universidad de Granada (451-500), hosting over 80,000 students in its five different campuses, so you’ll probably feel right at home – a feeling which will be bolstered by the free tapas you’ll get with every drink you order, a quirk of the region in which the city is based.
Another charming historical city, located towards the southwest of Spain, Seville is the capital of the region of Andalucía, and home to the sizeable Universidad de Sevilla (551-600). It’s known for its festivals (Semana Santa and the Feria de Sevilla are the biggest), and its tapas, but Seville is probably most famous for being the home of flamenco – Spain’s national dance and the accompanying music. In the modern age, it is also famous for its relaxed but exciting nightlife – so if you like to party into the early hours, then perhaps Seville should certainly be on your list.
According to the Top Universities Students Online Usage Report, respondents in Spain were more likely than any other European group to choose smartphones as their most-used internet device. More global trends in internet usage >
There is no centralized application portal for Spanish universities, and each institution will set its own entry requirements and deadlines – be careful to check with the university itself. You may need to sit an entrance examination, though EU students and others who have done International Baccalaureates will often be excused this part of the procedure
Teaching, as you might expect, will almost certainly be in Spanish, so it’s important that you have a grasp of the language; you’ll struggle to even get as far as applying if not.
Visa requirements depend on whether or not you’re from the EU. Students from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are treated the same as EU students in this case.
• You will pay the same fees as local students. These average at around US$2,100 a year.• You won’t need a visa, but will need to register at the Central Registry Office for Foreigners, from which you will receive a certificate confirming your right to study in Spain. In order to get this, you will need to present a passport or national identity card, and proof that you’ve been accepted onto a course.
• Your fees will be higher, but only marginally. The average figure in 2010 was just over US$2,200.• You will need to apply for student visa type D in your home country. This comes in two formats; open and 180 days, so make sure that you apply for the right one. Exact requirements may vary. You will certainly need to have been accepted onto a course, have purchased health insurance, and have sufficient funds (a letter confirming parental support is deemed sufficient). You may need to prove you don’t have a criminal record and provide a medical certificate. You should allow three months for processing.• You will be allowed to work, so long as it does not adversely affect your studies• After arriving you must also apply for an Autorización de Estancia por Estudios, a temporary permit which gives you right of residence in Spain, within 30 days. This has to be renewed annually, and will hinge on your satisfactory academic performance.
Search universities in Spain >
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