Perhaps you've been eyeing Europe as a study abroad destination but think your options are limited to the U.K. and Ireland because you don't speak a second language. Good news: in Sweden, you can get by without knowing any Swedish, both at school and in everyday life.
In Sweden you can study for a semester or an academic year, do a full undergraduate degree, or even a postgraduate program entirely in English. Many local Swedish students take courses that are taught in English (and not just English-language courses), as English is an everyday part of academic life in Sweden.
What other reasons are there for studying in this northern European country, and how does one go about doing so? Read on to find out.
Why Study Abroad in Sweden?
Sweden is an attractive study-abroad destination--and not just because of the natural beauty and architecture. It's easy-going and safe, Swedes are polite, speak English very well, and the public facilities are excellent throughout the country. Some students may also be able to study for free.
Sweden's also a culturally fascinating and naturally beautiful country. Stockholm's Gamla Stan (Old Town), the world's largest outdoor museum at Skansen, grand palaces like Drottningholm, the islands of the Stockholm Archipelago, and the wild beauty of Lapland are just a few things you can see while studying in Sweden.
English proficiency in Sweden is very high, so it's easy to live there as an English speaker, plus there are a lot of full-degree programs that are taught in English. If you're serious about the educational experience you will get studying abroad (and aren't just looking for a semester of partying and traveling), Sweden has some of the world's top-ranked universities--it's joint home (with Norway) of the Nobel Prize, after all.
Although Swedes are known for their social reserve, it may actually be easier to make local friends while studying in English in Sweden than in some other places. While in some countries, students taking courses in English are put in classes together, meaning you only mix with other foreign students, in Sweden many local students take classes in English. So, your classmates won't only be other international students.
English Study Abroad Options in Sweden
Everything from semester to full-degree programs to postgraduate courses are available in English in Sweden. Here's what you need to know about the different degree types:
To complete your entire degree at a Swedish university, direct enrolment is the way to go. Bachelor's, Master's, and Ph.D. programs can be completed through direct enrolment.
In general, graduate students will have a broader range of subjects to study in English in Sweden. But, with a bit of flexibility and an open mind, students will find a Bachelor's degree program taught in English to suit their needs.
Many universities around the world have official exchange agreements in place with Swedish universities. If you just want to study there for a semester or a year, a direct exchange is likely your best option, so check with your institution to see whether they partner with any universities in Sweden.
The benefits of direct exchange are that most of the logistics of enrolling and signing up for classes will be taken care of for you (or you'll at least be pointed in the right direction), and your final degree will still be from your home institution. If you're coming from another EU country, the Erasmus Program is an excellent way to participate in a direct exchange at Swedish universities.
Going through a third-party provider might be the best option if you're looking for a specialist or short course, such as Swedish language study, or summer school. Such providers are usually more expensive than either direct enrolment or direct exchange programs, but there is often the possibility of tailoring the program to your specific needs.
English-Friendly Destinations in Sweden
Sweden is the fifth-largest country in Europe, and spreads from the Øresund bordering Denmark to the Arctic Circle areas, bordering Norway and Finland. The south is comprised mainly of farmland, whereas the north is heavily forested.
If traveling in your free time is important to you, Sweden is conveniently bordered by Norway and Finland, is connected by bridge to Denmark, and is also very near Russia, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Plus, it's only a short flight or train ride away from other European destinations. There are lots of opportunities for exploring Northern Europe from Sweden.
The southern parts of the country are generally warmer, whereas the northern parts can get seriously cold in winter. The winters are dark throughout the country, but the further north you go, the less daylight there is in winter (and the more in summer!). These are important considerations when choosing a destination in Sweden, as extreme weather and light conditions can impact your health in unexpected ways.
The top university towns in Sweden include Lund, Stockholm, Umeå, Uppsala, Gothenburg, Linköping, and Gävle. Here are a few important things to know about each city.
In the far south of the country, a short train ride from Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as the larger Swedish city of Malmö, Lund is a charming university town. The university itself is one of the best, and the largest, in the country. There are more opportunities for Master's courses in English, but undergraduate students looking to take their whole degree at Lund University can study Physics, Fine Arts, and Music taught in English.
Stockholm is Sweden's beautiful capital, and is home to a number of institutions, including Stockholm University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Karolinska Institutet, and the Stockholm School of Economics. As an example of the variety of courses that can be taken in English, Stockholm University offers Bachelor's programs in Latin American Studies, Earth Sciences, and International Business & Politics.
Umeå is in north-eastern Sweden, and home to two institutions: Umeå University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. It's a gateway to the Arctic Circle areas of Sweden, as it's a short flight from Kiruna in Lapland. Students of science and medicine might find Umeå a particularly attractive option, because as well as the University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå University offers a range of courses at the Master's and Bachelor's level in English in various medical and science subjects.
Just north of Stockholm, Uppsala University is the oldest in Sweden (founded in 1477) and one of the best in the world (as well as in Sweden!). It's an attractive place to go if you want to be close to Stockholm and at a renowned university. And, there's a huge range of opportunities for studying in English in Uppsala: Uppsala University offers more than 700 courses in English.
In south-western Sweden, Gothenburg has quite a mixed European feel as it's long been a port city, attracting visitors and settlers from all over Europe. It's home to the University of Gothenburg and the Chalmers Institute of Technology. Many Master's and Bachelor's courses are offered in English at the University of Gothenburg, including African Languages--one of the few places outside of Africa and North America where you can study this.
Half-way between Gothenburg and Stockholm, Linköping University is one of the largest in the country. As well as its convenient location for exploring Sweden, Linköping should be on the radar of students interested in green energy and sustainability, as the city is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025.
Gävle is a small university town north of Stockholm, home to the University of Gävle and Gävle University College. As it's a smaller town, studying here will give international students a more intimate look into Swedish life and culture. There are more opportunities for studying a Master's degree in English at the University of Gävle, although a Bachelor of Science in Social Work is available in English.
Study Abroad Housing in Sweden
If you're studying in Sweden for just a short time (such as a semester), it'd probably be easiest to get a room in student housing (dorms). These are cost-effective and will help you make friends. They often come with single-sex shared rooms, meaning you'd have a roommate.
Some institutions have dorms specifically reserved for international and exchange students. There are pros and cons of this--you'll meet people in a similar situation to yourself, but it may limit your contact with local students. Exchange programs and third-party providers will assist in securing a place in student housing.
If you're planning on taking your whole degree in Sweden, you might prefer to seek independent private housing, or spend a short time in student housing while seeking more long-term accommodation. Options for independent private housing will be easier to come across once you're already in your town and know the geography of the city and have made some connections who can help you.
Study Abroad Costs in Sweden
Sweden is known to be one of the more expensive destinations in Europe to travel in, and while many expenses are quite high, this doesn't necessarily mean the costs of studying is very high.
Some foreign students can even study in Sweden without paying tuition fees. For example, if you have a Swedish temporary residence permit, are a European Union, European Economic Area or Swiss citizen, have family that is a EU or EEA citizen with right of residence in Sweden, or plan to pursue a PhD in Sweden, you also won't have to pay fees.
There are also opportunities for scholarships from Swedish universities and the government-run Swedish Institute, so check out individual universities to see what may be available for international students. For example, Lund University offers a competitive scholarship for direct enrolment students that covers 25-100% of program fees. Uppsala University also offers scholarships for international students, with more money generally reserved for Master's students.
If you're not eligible for free tuition and are unable to get a scholarship, if you're from the US you may still find paying full tuition fees at Swedish institutions to be cheaper than paying for college at home, or at least comparable. Although fees vary depending on the course and the institution, expect to pay in the region of $10,000 to $15,000 per year as a direct enrolment, fee-paying international student.
For more information on keeping costs low when studying in Sweden, check out the following article: 7 Thrifty Tips for Studying Abroad in Sweden on a Budget
Study in English -- But Learn Swedish
Just because you can get by solely on English in Sweden, does that mean you should? While learning Swedish may not be as 'useful' to many students as a widely-spoken language like Spanish or French, or even as necessary for daily life as Japanese or Italian, that doesn't mean international students in Sweden shouldn't make an effort.
If you're seeking to understand your host country on more than just a superficial level, learning some Swedish will definitely help. OK, you can fall back on watching English-language TV, but what can you learn by watching locally-made dramas? You may find Swedish people to be stereotypically reserved until you practice your Swedish on them.
What's more, if you have an interest in certain subject areas--such as Northern European/Germanic languages, history and art history, literature or translation studies, or international business--then studying Swedish may end up being pretty useful. One of the joys of studying abroad is learning new and different things from what's possible at home, so make the most of the opportunity and try something new.
Swedish universities often offer introductory Swedish courses to international students, either as regular classes or as evening courses.
Studying in Sweden in English is not just possible, but very easy. Students wanting to study in Europe but without the language skills or confidence to dive into studying in a second language should seriously consider Sweden. There are opportunities here to study at some of the best universities in the world and extend yourself while enjoying the benefits of studying in your own language in a foreign setting.
This post was originally published in July 2019, and it was updated in October 2020.