The basic structure of Swedish higher education.

Swedish universities offer bachelors, masters and Ph.D. degrees in accordance with the European standard.

Degree programmers in Sweden

Swedish universities offer degree programmers according to the European standard. This includes bachelor’s, masters and PhD programmers.

Bachelor’s programmers, also known as undergraduate programmers, take place after upper secondary school (high school) and are usually three years long (180 ECTS credits).

Master’s programmers, also known as graduate programmers, build upon the knowledge developed during bachelors-level studies and can be one or two years long (60 or 120 ECTS credits).

Ph.D. programmers, also known as doctoral programmers, are research degrees involving several years of work toward a dissertation. The duration and setup of Ph.D. programmers in Sweden vary between universities; see Ph.D. programmers for more details.

Programmers and courses: what’s the difference?

A degree programmer at a Swedish university is made up of a number of courses in a particular field of study leading to a specific degree. Courses, sometimes known as modules in other countries, are the building blocks of each programmer. Each semester, programmer students follow one large course or several smaller courses.

Instead of applying for a full degree programmer, it’s also possible to apply for admission to some courses directly. When you apply for and enroll on a course rather than a programmer, you are only registered for that specific course. When you apply for and enroll on a programmer, you will then register for many courses over the duration of your programmer.


  • You enroll on a two-year master’s programmer made up of four semesters of study. During each semester, you take four courses for 7.5 ECTS credits each, for a total of 120 ECTS credits for the programmer.
  • You enroll on a one-year master’s programmer made up of two semesters of study. During each semester, you take one course for 30 ECTS credits, for a total of 60 ECTS credits for the programmed.
  • You enroll in a 30-credit course in a subject you’re interested in. You take only that specific course and must turn in a new application if you wish to take additional courses.

Degree programmers usually contain a mix of compulsory, recommended and optional courses.

Academic calendar

The Swedish academic year is divided into two semesters:

  • Autumn semester begins at the end of August and lasts until mid-January, usually with a short break at the end of December.
  • Spring semester runs from mid-January to the beginning of June.

Course structure

Full-time studies in Sweden correspond approximately to a 40-hour week, though you may only have a few hours of lectures or seminars each week. The rest of your time is spent reading and working on group projects and other assignments.

You’ll often take only one course at a time for a period of several weeks, after which an examination is given directly. After the examination, a new course begins. For instance, during a 20-week semester, you might take four courses in a row for five weeks each. In some programmes, you might instead take several courses at the same time, with an examination at the end of the semester.

The structure of individual courses varies with the subject area. Technical programmers often include a high proportion of classroom and lab hours, whilst courses in the social sciences may involve fewer classroom hours and more independent and group work.

Lectures and examinations

Courses usually include various types of meetings, including lectures, seminars and laboratory sessions with varying group sizes. Seminar groups can be as small as a few students whilst lectures can be up to a few hundred. The aim is to develop critical thinking and collaborative skills, and students are expected to be active participants in all forms of meetings. Required reading and independent work is usually extensive, regardless of your field of study, and students are expected to come well-prepared to class.

Examinations usually take the form of written or oral tests, laboratory work, group work or special projects. Most programmers conclude with a degree thesis or project.

University or University College?

Two slightly different terms are used in Sweden to describe institutions of higher education: university and University College. The main difference is that universities have the right to award PhD degrees while many university colleges don’t. However, some university colleges do offer PhDs.

There is no difference in the bachelor’s or master’s degrees offered by universities and university colleges, and many university colleges are called ‘university’ in English. As an international student, your experience will be similar regardless of whether you choose to study at a university or university college.

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