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Masters in Spain

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Why study for a Masters degree in Spain?

A Masters in Spain can be an excellent opportunity to study within a prestigious higher education tradition whilst developing skills in one of the world's most popular international languages. Though not always as visible as other European countries in world university rankings, Spanish higher education is still renowned for its quality, with a large number of institutions (some of which date back to the 13th century). Today, Spanish Masters degrees draw upon the country's expertise in a number of cutting edge fields. From renewable energy to new organ transplant procedures, Spanish universities and their research are having an impact around the world and its no wonder that large numbers of international students go looking for a Masters in Spain.

Spain is a particularly strong choice for postgraduate study if you're interested in working internationally after you graduate from your Masters. Spanish is spoken by around 500 million people and, as well as being the first language of a range of Latin American nations, is also the second most common language spoken in the USA and the third most popular language worldwide. Spain also maintains a range of global business, heritage, scientific and cultural partnerships. All of this means you'll have excellent opportunities at the end of your Masters programme.

You'll also find Spain a friendly and welcoming place to begin postgraduate study abroad. A large number of Spanish programmes are now taught in English (en inglés) so you won't have to learn Spanish unless you want to. You'll also be part of a large cohort of international students choosing Spain for university study, with enrolments continuing to rise year on year.

This article will help you get to know the Spanish higher education system and prepare you with important information about course structure, applications and visa systems. After that, your most difficult decision about studying a Masters in Spain will be where: Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia…?

Masters degrees at Spanish universities

There are currently 82 universities in Spain: 51 of these are public institutions supported by state funding. The remaining 31 are private, having been established by independent groups or foundations rather than through government legislation. All can offer some form of postgraduate programmes at Masters level.

Spanish research and education covers a range of subjects, with disciplines arranged into the broad fields of: Arts and Humanities, Sciences, Health Sciences, Social and Legal Sciences and Engineering and Architecture. Most institutions will offer some Masters programmes in all of these areas, but some are more specialised with a focus, for example, on technological or arts disciplines. Some Masters training also takes place at external university research centres (affiliated with one or more university and focussing primarily on PhD-level research) and a number of Spanish universities specialise solely in postgraduate programmes and / or distance learning options. Your choice of institution will therefore depend on its provision in your specific subject area, but you'll certainly have lots of options available to you as a Masters student in Spain.

Structure and content of Masters degrees in Spain

Like most European countries, Spain is a signatory of the Bologna Process. This means that Masters degrees are postgraduate qualifications, following undergraduate programmes and (in some cases) preceding doctoral training.

The Spanish academic year generally runs between the start of October and the end of June. At most institutions this year is divided into two main teaching semesters, separated by examination and holiday periods. The first semester generally runs in the winter, between September or October and December. The second runs in the Spring, between January or February and May. The main examination period is held in June, with a holiday between July and the beginning of the next academic year. Depending on the length of your Masters programme, you may find that this holiday period is designated for the completion of your dissertation.

Organisation of a Spanish Masters degree

A Masters in Spain can take 10-24 months and will represent between 60 and 120 ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits.

Spanish Masters programmes may include modules (or asignaturas) which can be core (asignaturas troncas), compulsory (asignaturas obligatorias), or optional (asignaturas optativas or de libre elección). Most will comprise a mixture of modules or be exclusively based on core units, depending on the level of flexibility built in. At the end of your programme you will be required to complete a Masters dissertation, the credit weighting of which can range between six and 30 ECTS credits, but will generally account for around a quarter of the total value of your course.

Masters courses offered through the Erasmus programme are very common in Spain. They are always two years in duration and include periods of study abroad, placements and/or internships. These Erasmus Masters are not to be confused with 'Inter-University' Masters which are delivered collaboratively by groups of Spanish institutions. You can read more about international postgraduate study as an Erasmus student in our guide to Erasmus Mundus funding for Masters students.

Official and non-official degrees

One peculiarity of the Spanish education system is the presence of two different categories of university degree at both undergraduate and Masters level.

Official degrees are, as you might expect, fully recognised academic qualifications, established in accordance with government regulations. They are valid throughout Spain and fully recognised within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) as well as most international university systems.

Non-official degrees are created by universities without government input or accreditation and are not recognised within the EHEA system. A selection of Masters qualifications fall into this category, with titles such as 'Non-official Masters', 'Specialist Masters' and 'Expert Masters' as well as various other diplomas or certificates. As a rule these qualifications do not carry an ECTS credit value and do not require independent research and dissertation tasks, being professionally, rather than academically, focussed.

The existence of such qualifications may seem strange, but they can serve a range of purposes. The majority are professional qualifications designed to train graduates with key skills in vocational fields. In some cases universities may even design and run very specific training programmes in collaboration with external, non-academic, partners and aimed exclusively at students seeking to work with, or for, those partners.

Applying for a Masters in Spain

In accordance with the Bologna process, admission to most Spanish Masters programmes will require you to hold a Bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Further criteria will be set by individual universities and will vary between institutions and courses. You may be expected to provide some or all of the following:

  • An academic transcript of your previous studies.
  • A CV indicating any professional and / or research experience relevant to your course.
  • References (it may be advisable to include an undergraduate tutor amongst your referees).
  • Documents proving English and / or Spanish proficiency as required by your course.
  • A personal statement outlining your interest in the course and subject area as well as its suitability to your aims and career goals.

Recognition and accreditation of foreign qualifications

If your undergraduate qualification was achieved within the EHEA, it will usually be recognised automatically. In other cases, your university should be able to review and confirm your qualifications.

Further official accreditation of foreign qualifications is not usually required for Masters programmes, but will be a fairly simple process if required. Accreditation takes place through an official body within the Spanish Ministry of Education and applications are usually commenced at Spanish Embassies or Consulates. You will usually need to provide the following documents:

  • Copies of documents proving your identity and nationality.
  • A certified copy of the qualification you wish to have recognised and accredited in Spain.
  • A document detailing the programme of studies carried out in order to receive this qualification, including information on course duration, course content and hours of study.
  • Payment of a corresponding application fee (around €90-150 / $115-195).

Criteria for the submission of official documents

Spain operates fairly strict guidelines with respect to the documents submitted for official purposes (such as a university application or for the accreditation of existing qualifications). In particular, you should be aware that documents issued abroad will usually need to be accompanied by a 'sworn translation' into Spanish. This can be conducted by certain diplomatic and consular representatives (at Spanish embassies abroad, or foreign embassies within Spain). Independent sworn translators also provide this service within Spain.

Application deadlines

Spanish universities set several application deadlines. Courses at particularly popular and competitive institutions may begin taking applications as early as January, whilst others may open their application window from May. Universities begin selecting students from the first 'batch' of applicants and may continue to accept further applications until all places have been allocated. Each university will have its own application procedure, but you can use the FindAMasters course search to view information on applications procedures as well as contact details for a range of Spanish Masters programmes.

Language requirements

The large number of postgraduate courses taught in English means that you won't usually be required to learn Spanish in order to study for a Masters in Spain.

However, with a year or two to spend studying in the country, you might like to take advantage of the opportunity to acquire some new language skills. Learning another language is always an excellent way to gain additional value from international study and this is especially true with respect to Spanish. As one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, Spanish will equip you well for work in academic, professional and business fields and will enhance your CV for a wide range of employers.

Even though their programmes are often taught in English, most universities in Spain will offer Spanish language courses to foreign students. With regular opportunities to practice your skills whilst living in Spain as a Masters student this can be a convenient (and surprisingly fast!) means of acquiring some fluency.

You can learn more about Spanish language training and academic tests of Spanish proficiency using our guide to Spanish language tests.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in Spain

If you are an EU student, you won't need a formal visa to enter Spain: a valid identity card or passport will be sufficient. However, EU students (as well as those from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland) will still have to register with the Central Registry for Foreign Citizens and acquire a Foreign National Identity Number (Número de Identificación de Extranjeros). This will allow you to open a bank account and receive discounted fares on public transport as well as entitling you to use Spanish health services.

If you are a non-EU student, you will have to apply for a type-D visa at the Spanish embassy in your home country. The visa is initially valid for three months, after which you will need to have it extended (see below). Make sure you are granted a type 'D' visa with multiple entries. You will then be permitted to re-enter Spain freely during your stay if you travel outside of the Schengen area or return home for holidays. Non-EU student visa holders are normally not allowed to undertake paid work with their type-D visa, unless they obtain a work permit.

Visa application requirements (non-EU students)

In addition to a completed application form, two to four passport photos and the payment of any associated fees, the following documents are usually required as part of a Spanish student visa application:

  • A passport, valid for the duration of your intended stay in Spain.
  • Proof of university admission (for example, an offer letter from your institution) and details of the contents of your Masters (including the duration).
  • Proof of healthcare cover (some embassies/consulates may have a minimum level of insurance).
  • Proof that you have the means to support yourself financially whilst living in Spain. As a rule, you should be able to demonstrate personal savings, income or financial support equivalent to at least €532 ($690) for each month of the academic year.

In some cases you may also require:

  • Proof of address in Spain.
  • A medical certificate.
  • A police background check from your country of residence.

Some consulates will wish to conduct a face to face interview with prospective candidates, but this should be made clear early in the application process. In most cases, the initial processing period for a Spanish student visa application is seven days. If you don't hear back from the consulate during this time, you can assume that your paperwork is in order and that your visa will be delivered. It will usually take a further two months for the visa to be produced. In most cases you will need to collect your visa from the consulate upon being notified that it has been issued.

Within a month of arrival you will have to apply for a non-community student card from the regional government. This allows you to get a longer-term student visa and also to enrol fully at your university. To do this, you must go to your local Foreign Nationals Office to make an appointment for fingerprinting to process the foreign national ID card. The fee for this is usually €15 ($20).

Where to go for additional advice

Exact immigration criteria can vary for students from different countries. If you think that any exceptions or particular requirements may apply to your application you should be able to get information and guidance by contacting a Spanish consulate in advance. Your university may also be able to assist you, either through a dedicated international office, or through its student recruitment and admissions department. You can also access detailed information and advice at the website of the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in Spain

Tuition fees in Spain are usually charged per credit, rather than per semester or per academic year. Charging per credit actually helps make sense of the varying rates for programmes in different subject areas. Because each credit reflects around ten hours of supervised teaching (in addition to your own independent study and preparation), the cost of providing and resourcing that time can be easily reflected. In some science subjects, where expensive facilities and equipment are required, costs will be higher; in other areas with less demanding teaching requirements, costs per credit will be lower.

Fees per credit for Masters programmes are regulated by the government and this applies to both public and private universities. In the 2012-2013 academic year fees per credit ranged between €22 ($29) and €34 ($44). This means that, with other administrative charges taken into account, the full cost of a Spanish Masters programme averages between €995 ($1,290) and €1,920 ($2,487) for a 60 ECTS credit course and between €1,990 ($2,578) and €3,920 ($5,078) for a 120 ECTS credit course. Subject areas requiring particularly expensive facilities or resources may be more expensive and costs for non-EU students may also be slightly higher.

Some Spanish Masters programmes may incur small additional charges, including application and administration fees as well as supplementary costs for any extra-curricular activities and insurance.

Funding for Spanish Masters programmes

A range of scholarships and funding packages (or becas as they are known in Spanish) are available to support Masters programmes. Funding providers include the Spanish Government and regional authorities as well as independent charitable organisations.

Some individual universities also offer funding to help students access postgraduate studies. For example, the Universidad Carlos III offers scholarships for postgraduate students, whilst the University of Oviedo also provides becas specifically for students on its Masters programmes.

Lists of other scholarship and funding opportunities for students studying in Spain are maintained on the websites of large charitable foundations and research bodies, such as AECID (the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development) Fundacion Carolina as well as Spain's Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.


Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in Spain, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment prospects with a Spanish Masters degree

Spanish universities put a lot of emphasis on 'careers', from the application stage to degree completion: placing skills development at the heart of curriculum development. Some Spanish universities actually guarantee exposure to relevant employers and / or offer integrated placements in industry as part of their Masters programmes. This means that, whatever you choose to study as a Masters student in Spain, you'll come away with a high quality, internationally recognised degree that will position you well for further academic study or employment. Your time studying abroad in Spain will also demonstrate your adaptability to employers and, if you've taken the opportunity to learn some Spanish, provided you with valuable communication skills in a world language.

Of course, a Spanish Masters degree is also an excellent preparation for a PhD in Spain. Visit FindAPhD.com to learn more about PhD study in Spain.

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