Spain and Russia – two examples of the European college experience

Evin Nesburn, Features Editor

High school students across America seem to primarily focus on getting into college. Even though Viewpoint hopes to stress balance in all aspects of a student’s life, most students see college as an ultimate goal. Although it is paramount that a good education is emphasized, high school students regularly seem overworked when applying to the colleges that they are eager to attend.

Around the world, college processes and experiences are unique. No two countries have exactly the same system. To gain greater perspective on the American college process, it is helpful to examine the college experience in other countries around the globe.

Ms. Martin and Mr. Goudkov, who went to college in Spain and Russia respectively, shared their experiences with The Patriot.

What was the college application process like?

Spain: In Spain, rankings from 1-10 are used as grades. At the end of senior year, a large test is taken covering the material learned in high school. Once the test is passed, students can sign up for college, usually in their local area, although sometimes students apply to colleges in other areas of Spain or Europe. Ms. Martin explains that the entrance exam and high school grading system in Spain is less daunting and pressing than the one in the United States. She also clarifies that most colleges are on the same level of rank, so there is no clear advantage in choosing one college over another.

Russia: Mr. Goudkov took three entrance exams when applying to college in 1995. He had to pass written German, spoken German, and written Russian to enter the school of foreign languages. He explains that, “because 9-10 more applicants applied for the same spot I did, applicants with a higher overall score were matriculated.” When Mr. Goudkov was applying, every college administered exams at the same time, so applicants had one chance to get into University. If men were not accepted into college at 18, they would be drafted into the military for 2-3 years.

How do college classes function?

Spain: From the beginning of Freshman year, students pick their major and dedicate themselves to that subject while filling designated credits for that major. Most students go to class from 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and then return home at the end of the day, but some students design their own schedules. Usually, the final exams taken in both February and June determines students’ grades at the end of the semester. Students can retake their finals in September if they fail either the February or June test. Ms. Martin also explained that for most careers, grades do not determine job options after college and there is less pressure to receive a 10 on an exam than an A in the United States.

Russia: Mr. Goudkov explains that he was “like a kid in the candy store” when he was at Tolstoy State University in Tula, Russia. There was a set curriculum for each student and the student did not have the freedom of choosing their classes. Mr. Goudkov was especially enthusiastic about his major, German, as well as English. Every semester, he would enroll in the same classes with the same 10-12 classmates, which was unlike his experience at Williams College in the United States.

What characterizes social life in college?

Spain: In Spain, college students return home around 2 p.m. every day. Living on a college campus is not a regular part of the college experience in Spain. However, Ms. Martin expressed that life on Spain’s college campuses are active and social, and students regularly gather in the cafeteria to socialize. Additionally, there are no sports teams on campus. Athletes attend designated athletic colleges instead of academic colleges. Although in Spain one can still get the sense of college life, Ms. Martin sometimes wishes she could have experienced an American college where all facets of social life take place on campus.

Russia: Mr. Goudkov explains that going to school with the same people created bonds that extended beyond friendship. He considers these people to be his brothers and sisters away from home. When he lived in a dorm for a year in Russia, he described the experience as similar to that of his time at Williams College in America.  

What do college financials look like?

Spain: College is much more affordable in Spain. Financial aid is usually offered to students belonging to large families or students eligible due to other circumstances. Enrollment in public college costs depends on the subject and geographical area of the college. The annual rates vary from 750 euros in Andalucia to 2,300 euros in cities like Madrid or Barcelona. This makes public college accessible for all social classes. Private colleges in Spain cost around 9,500 euros a year. Once a student pays this yearly fee, they are enrolled at their local university.

Russia: Mr. Goudkov was paid to be a college student, and the higher the grades he received, the more money he obtained every month. He explains that the system in place “was a leftover from the Soviet-style socialism that included free healthcare for all, free housing for all, free education for all, etc.” His wife, who studied political science in Almaty, Kazakhstan had “an almost identical experience” to his. He doubts, though, that this system is still in place today.

How has the process changed since you attended college?

Spain: Over the last fifteen years, Spain has implemented a European Credit Transfer System. Under this program, a student in the European college system can transfer credits from one university to another. Other than this new program, students still receive grades that range from 1-10. Because of this, Ms. Martin feels receiving grades in college is less stressful than in the United States.

Russia: In Russia, standardized testing has been adopted. These tests are similar to the SAT or ACT, and students submit their scores when applying to colleges.

Viewpoint students applying to colleges both abroad and in the United States can gain a more global perspective by understanding the application processes and college life around the world.