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Spanish Valor

With prices dropping, Daniel Ward can’t find any reasons to put off a study trip to Spain

Up until 25 years ago, Spain’s popularity as a tourist destination among other Europeans owed much to the low cost of vacationing there. Since then, prices have increased but the world has woken up to Spain’s history, culture, gastronomy, and natural beauty thus enabling it to remain one of the world’s top tourist destinations. And recently, costs have dropped, making it much more affordable for students.

Spain has been hit particularly hard by the recession, which has led to the stagnation and even reduction of some prices, particularly rents as there is an excess of property on the market in some areas. This combined with the recent gains by the dollar against the euro (€) has made the country particularly attractive to American students.

In terms of basic articles (such as food, toiletries), Spain is one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe. If the average price in Europe is 100, the cost in Spain is 88.

Spain is also one of the European countries with the lowest price variation. The difference in price for the same food or toiletry product between the most expensive and the cheapest retail outlet is 19 percent. In Norway, however, the difference can be as high as 57 percent, in Sweden 47 percent, and in Italy and Portugal up to 41 percent.

For a university student, the comparative advantage of studying in Spain is considerable in financial terms. The average cost of tuition fees charged by universities in the U.S. ($30,000) would cover the entire cost of living in Spain for a year (a university residence in Madrid, including accommodation and meals, costs less than $1,000 per month, and average tuition fees in a private university are around $9,000).

For European Union (EU) students, enrollment fees for bachelor’s degrees (grado) at public universities in Spain vary between $750 and $1,600 per academic year. These fees are established officially by the education authorities in the Autonomous Communities (the regional governments). The amount to be paid each year is fixed by the Autonomous Community itself, within the limits proposed by the Conferencia General de Politica Universitaria (the General Assembly for University Policy) and set by the central government. The cost of official postgraduate studies (master’s and doctoral degrees) taught at both public and private universities is established by the education authorities. However, education in Spain comes under the jurisdiction of the regional governments, which are allowed to increase the amounts set by the central government for universities inside their territories.

Students from outside the EU generally have to pay more than double the EU fees but this is still very reasonable for Americans. For example, the University of Valladolid charges non-EU students 54€ ($71) per credit. Most undergraduate degree programs are based on 240 credits over four years so a year’s tuition works out at only $4,250.

At private universities, the registration fee alone for bachelor’s degrees studies varies between $750 and $1,500 per academic year, depending on the degree, the institution, and the student’s academic performance. The fees at private universities are established by the university itself.

Both at public and private universities, the amount that students pay varies according to the number of credits for which they enroll, the degree course chosen, and their academic performance (students repeating subjects must pay an extra charge when they enroll for the second time).

The fees for official master’s and doctoral degrees at public and private universities are regulated by the government. In the 2011-2012 academic year, the fees are within a range set between $20 and $40 per credit. Therefore, a master’s course comprising 60 credits would cost an EU national between $1,250 and $2,250.

Of course, fees for Spanish language programs at private schools and universities vary but are generally much cheaper than for comparable programs in the U.S.

Rents are estimated to be about a third of prices in the U.S. but expect to pay considerably more in the cool areas of popular cities like Barcelona and Madrid where the cost of living can work out to be double that of less well-known cities like Valencia, Salamanca, or Valladolid.

A recent study found that grocery prices in Spain were about 25 percent lower than in the U.S. but you may have to adjust your consumption habits to really save money. Eating fresh vegetables and fish like the locals works out to be much cheaper than steak and fries. Wine and beer are often cheaper than sodas.

Return flights to Spain can be found for as little as $600 (from New York) and last year, Iberia resumed its direct service from Los Angeles to Madrid (from $850 return). From the end of May until the end of October, Delta is offering direct flights from New York to Valencia.

Studying in Spain is the experience of a lifetime and well worth whatever price you have to pay. But, it’s always nice to get a bargain.

Daniel Ward studied at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

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