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Studying in Scandinavia: universities, scholarships, popular programs

What is Scandinavia, anyway? And why do many young people from all around the world choose to study there?
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The kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are collectively known as Scandinavia. These countries not only are neighbors, but share a lot of geographical, historical, and cultural traits, mutually intelligible languages, and multiple economic, trade, and scientific connections.

International students choose these countries because, first of all, these are well developed, rich and strong democracies ranked in the top 10 in the world for happiness and quality of life. Second, these countries boast free universal healthcare, internationally recognized top ranked universities, good living conditions, and very widely spoken English, so it’s easy for foreigners to get by without knowing the local language. Although living costs are high, especially in Norway, and winters are long, education in Scandinavia is highly valued all around the world.

Do you want to study in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark? Then take a look at the best programs, universities, and scholarships.

Education system

Universities in Scandinavia are no different than other universities in Europe. They follow the Bologna Process, offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and use the ECTS credit system (one year of studies is around 60 ECTS).

Undergraduate studies usually take 3 years to complete (180 ECTS). Majority of Bachelor programs are in Swedish, Danish or Norwegian languages, although it is possible to find a program taught in English as well.

Graduate programs are 120 ECTS, and a lot of them are offered in English. Students in Scandinavia often use the opportunity to go to another European country as part of the Erasmus exchange program, or to find an internship while studying.

Fall semester starts in late August – beginning of September and ends in December. 

Spring semester starts in January and ends in the beginning of June.

Top universities and programs in Scandinavia

Scandinavian countries have numerous outstanding schools that excel in fields such as IT, technology, and medicine. According to THE World university ranking, the best universities in Sweden, Denmark and Norway are the following:

Karolinska Institute, Sweden (36th place) – a famous medical university. Its Assembly selects Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine. Top 3 by QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021: Life Sciences & Medicine, alongside Oxford and Cambridge.

University of Copenhagen, Denmark (84th) – one of the largest universities in Denmark offering a wide range of programs (mostly STEM). Highly ranked in Veterinary science, Sport-related studies, and Agriculture/forestry by QS World University Rankings.

Lund University, Sweden (103rd) – one of the largest universities in Sweden, providing education and performing research in numerous areas from medicine and engineering to fine arts. According to QS World University Rankings 2021, it is the first choice for international students in Sweden. The University also received high rankings for subject areas such as geography, development studies, environmental sciences, nursing, finance, and social policy.

Aarhus University, Denmark (106th) – ranked as ‘one of the most international universities’, this school offers programs in English both at Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. Aarhus University’s School of Business and Social Sciences (BSS) is a ‘Triple Crown’ accredited business school (by AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS).

Uppsala University, Sweden (111th) – this oldest Nordic university offers education in three disciplinary domains: humanities and social sciences, medicine and pharmacy, science and technology. Its Pharmacy and Pharmacology studies are highly ranked by QS World University Rankings 2021.

University of Oslo, Norway (127th) – Norway’s oldest and largest institution famous for its  education and research in a wide range of areas. Highly ranked in its social sciences, such as Anthropology and Theology.

Stockholm University, Sweden (183rd) – the university offers 75 study programs taught in English within a wide range of subject areas: science, social sciences, humanities and law. Good place to study environmental sciences (according to QS World University Rankings 2021).

Technical University of Denmark, Denmark (187th) – founded by the father of electromagnetism H.C. Ørsted, the school aims to develop and create value using the natural and the technical sciences. Ranked third in the world to study Engineering (Petroleum) by QS World University Rankings 2021.

University of Gothenburg, Sweden (191st) – ranked first in Dentistry by QS World University Rankings by Subject, the university provides education in many fields

Other notable universities:

Aalborg University, Denmark (201–250th)

Copenhagen Business School, Denmark (201–250th)

University of Bergen, Norway (201–250th)

Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden (201–250th)

KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden (201–250th)

Tuition fees and scholarships in Scandinavia

Education in Scandinavia used to be free for everyone. However, the system became overburdened as the result of many international students coming to these countries. Overseas students are now charged in Sweden and Denmark. Norwegian public universities still remain free.

In Denmark, the tuition is free for Danish students, EU/EEA and Switzerland nationals, exchange students and those who hold permanent residence in this country or other Nordic countries. International students must pay tuition fees and provide proof of financial support before being granted a residence visa. In the University of Copenhagen, for example, tuition fees are in the range of EUR 10,000 to 17,000 per academic year, depending on the particular program.

Scholarships for international students in Danish universities:

Danish government scholarships for highly qualified non-EU/EEA students - Danish universities receive a limited number of government scholarships each year to fund highly qualified full-degree students from non-EU/EEA countries and Switzerland

The Danish State Educational Support  - generally awarded to Danish residents. International students may apply for equal status.

Fulbright program – for American scholars or postgraduate students at master or PhD.-level to study and/or research in Denmark.

Roskilde University Tuition Fee Waivers and Scholarships — several programs at the university offer a tuition fee waiver and scholarships for selected talented overseas students.

There are scholarship opportunities for prospective students from specific countries. The University of Copenhagen provides a database. For example, for Indian students - Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation, JN Tata Endowment Loan Scholarships, Lady Meherbai D. Tata Education Trust Scholarships and a number of other scholarships from external institutions.

In Sweden, tuition fees are applicable to students from outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland. For bachelor's and master's degrees, international students should budget around EUR 8,000-12,000 per year of study, with medical and fine art courses costing much more. PhD aspirants will be pleased to learn that PhD programs in Sweden are completely free.

Scholarships for international students in Swedish universities:

Swedish Institute Scholarships — for international students applying for studies in Sweden at Bachelor's, Master's, PhD, and postdoctoral levels.

In Sweden, there are plenty of scholarships offered by universities. For example:

The Karolinska Institutet Global Master's Scholarships

Lund University Global Scholarship  — for Bachelor’s and Master’s students who have a proven record of achieving consistently high grades in their previous studies and are assessed as being a good match for the programs offered by the university.

KTH Royal Institute of Technology waivers and scholarships to Master’s students.

Linköping University International Scholarships  — Merit-based scholarships and tuition waivers for outstanding Master’s degree students.

Malmö University Scholarships — scholarships for Master’s degree students

Umeå University Scholarships — various scholarships for graduate students at Umeå University. Some funds are subject-specific.

Uppsala University Scholarships — various opportunities for Bachelor’s and Master’s students to gain funding

Some universities have agreements with scholarship organizations and funding bodies in several countries that may allow applicants to apply for funding.

In Norway, all public universities offer free tuition to both domestic and international students. There are, however, some funding opportunities to cover living costs, for example, for nationals from certain countries by EEA and Norway grants, or for nationals from selected countries who wish to study Arctic — High North Fellowship Program. There are a number of other grants and scholarships.

Fulbright program - a variety of long- and short-term opportunities for US citizens to study, conduct research, and teach in Norway.

How and when to apply to a Scandinavian university

For international students, the application deadlines for the autumn semester, when the majority of programs start, are normally from January to March.

English-taught programs require proof of a successful completion of previous studies (high school diploma or a Bachelor’s degree) and good command of English language (IELTS or TOEFL exam). You may need to meet some program-specific entry requirements, too.

In Denmark, applications to undergraduate higher education are coordinated centrally, through the national admission website, but assessed locally at the higher education institutions. To apply to a Master’s degree program, one needs to create and manage an application in the online application portal of the chosen university.

In Sweden, the application process on both Bachelor’s and Master’s levels is managed centrally, by the Swedish Council for Higher Education website.

In Norway, applications are handled by each institution, and the different institutions may have different requirements and deadlines.

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