Spanish vs. American Education System

A lot of people ask me about how the Spanish education system works and how it compares to the American one. I thought I would write a post that explains the education system from primary school to university so that everything is crystal clear! Sorry if you’re not American, but I can only speak from my personal experience. In the near future, I will write a post about studying abroad in Spain.

Spanish Education System vs. American Education System

The Spanish education system is quite similar to the American one for Elementary/Primary school: it goes from 1st to 6th grade and there is usually one main teacher that gives class, and additional teachers that teach special subjects like music, P.E., and foreign language. After 6th grade, they go straight to secondary in a course called ESO (obligatory secondary education). 

In Spain, obligatory education stops at the equivalent to 10th grade. So, after “graduating” from 10th grade, students can choose to continue studying bachillerato, which is a specialized upperclassman course for students who hope to continue studying at a university level in the future. Those who choose not to study bachillerato can either start working right away or they can do special trade courses to help ease them into a trade career.

In order to enter into a public Spanish university, students have to take a super exam called the selectividad. It is something like the SAT, but much more restrictive. You see, your grade on this exam determines which majors you get accepted into. Some of the lower scores get you into majors including psychology, modern foreign languages, and teaching, while a higher score could get you into law, medicine, engineering, etc. If you are an excellent student that isn’t good at taking exams and you get a low score on the selectividad, you’re fresh out of luck. I won’t go into too much detail there, but I want to give you a good basis about how this whole thing works.

Once accepted into a major, the university courses are pretty standard compared to the US. The only major differences would be that in Spain, students do not take general education classes. They jump straight into their major and don’t steer off from that. In most cases, you get the chance to choose some elective courses, but not until your third or fourth year and, you guessed it, they have to do with your major. 

Some may think that this is very restrictive and rigid, but I would argue that graduates from the Spanish system are much more knowledgeable about whatever subject matter that they studied than an American student might be. The American student tends to be more well-rounded and prepared for real work experience in a wider realm of positions.

Due to the current economic situation in Spain, jobs are hard to come by. Many students who graduate from college choose to pursue a Master’s degree or PhD to become more competitive in the workforce. On the other hand, American students may or may not continue their education after undergrad because there is a greater opportunity to start working at an entry level position and grow professionally.

I hope this brief summary of the Spanish education system was helpful. It wasn’t exhaustive, but I think I covered the main points.

If you have any specific questions about the Spanish education system, feel free to leave your questions in the comments below!

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