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A Guide to Education & International Schools in Sweden

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  • Nathan Reed

    With InterNations I quickly connected with other Canadian members who became close friends over time.

In recent years, the quality of Sweden’s education system has been somewhat under debate, but expats with children will still find some of the best schools and higher education in Sweden’s largest cities. Sweden places great emphasis on the learning development of students, starting with a focus on play, community, and even equality in the first year of preschool.

Sweden’s education system is student-based. Students are allowed to choose where they want to go to school, regardless of where they live. In addition, upon completion of primary school, students are given the option to choose whether they want to go to secondary school or not. Nearly 100% of Swedish students do choose to continue into secondary school. There they are able to choose between nearly 20 different programs for their course of study.

If you are relocating to Sweden with children, use this guide as a helpful tool to navigate the Nordic country’s education system.

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The Education System in Sweden

Sweden places great importance on its education system. As a whole, the country promotes equality regardless of gender or social status. Sweden also encourages innovation and creativity across all fields, and has its sights set on being a leading country in research.

Education Facts in Sweden

  • Sweden gives its students the right to choose where they want to attend school. This means, if a child does not like their school they are able to switch schools—public or private—at no extra cost.
  • As a technologically advanced society, Sweden often uses computers and IT software for interactive learning. Over 70% of primary students have access to their own computer.
  • A recent study in Sweden suggests that there is some inequality among learning abilities in Sweden, specifically in the areas of math, science, and reading.

What is the Education System Like in Sweden?

Sweden is a country built around staunch equality and community spirit. This directly influences their school system, where children are taught the same subjects until they are old enough to make their own education / career choices. From a very early age, the way in which a child learns is nurtured and they are encouraged to socialize and collaborate with their fellow classmates. Furthermore, great emphasis is put upon treating the genders equally, which lends towards Swedish society’s reputation for equality among gender and class.

Swedish Grading Scale

Sweden largely uses the A to F grading scale, but assigns numbers to these letters to calculate an overall final grade at the end of the semester.

A 20 B 17.5 C 15 D 12.5 E 10 F 0

What are the School Systems like in Sweden? 

Public schools in Sweden are supported by their municipality (i.e., the state or province) and thus paid for by Swedish taxes. The government body that oversees education across the country is the Swedish National Agency for Education. This body of government is responsible for ensuring all students in Sweden have access to high-quality education regardless of where they live in Sweden. Public schools follow the Swedish National Syllabus, which teaches all general subjects.

One of the main differences between public and private schools is that private schools are not obliged to teach the Swedish National Syllabus. However, the majority of private schools choose to follow this curriculum so that education expectations and standards remain the same throughout the country.

School Age in Sweden

Children are required to go to school when they turn six years old. It is possible for kids to start preschool as early as one year old. Their compulsory education lasts until 15 years of age.

What is the School Year in Sweden?

Official academic start and end dates may fluctuate slightly by municipality and school, but on average, school in Sweden begins around mid / late-August and ends early / mid-June. The year is broken up into two semesters. There is a long break in December from the middle of the month until early January.

For younger kids, school hours are typically 8:30 to 14:30. Older students start at the same time and leave around 15:00 or 16:00.

Daycare and Kindergarten

Parents are able to enroll their children in many childcare options before compulsory primary schooling starts. The terms daycare, kindergarten, and preschool are not commonly used throughout Sweden. Instead, you will see the word dagis, which is the equivalent of daycare, and förskola, which directly translates to preschool. However, förskola can also represent what most expats would think of as kindergarten (i.e., in Sweden, preschool and kindergarten are interchangeable concepts).

Between the three terms—daycare, preschool, and kindergarten—kindergarten is used the least throughout Sweden.


Daycare costs money in Sweden, but it is largely subsidized by the government and therefore fairly reasonable. Most Swedish parents place their children in daycare when they are between 12 and 15 months old. Daycare activities are focused on play, group activities, and developing a child’s overall learning and motor abilities. Staying true to Sweden’s penchant for gender equality, even in daycare boys and girls are treated and taught exactly the same.

Daycare fees fluctuate depending on your municipality. On average, the school costs should equal to only about 3% of a family’s income per month. This percentage may drop to 2% if you have more than one child.

Is Preschool Mandatory?

Because schooling is optional in Sweden until a child turns six, parents can choose to enroll their kids in preschool instead of daycare. Like daycare, children can attend preschool as young as one year old.

In a child’s sixth year, they will enroll in f__örskoleklass, which serves as the mandatory year of preschool as well as the first mandated year of Swedish primary school. The educational approach will again focus mostly on play, singing, and drawing. This year of schooling is meant to help kids transition into Year 1 of primary school.

Talk to other international parents with young children in Sweden

Talk to other international parents with young children in Sweden

Primary and Secondary Schools

In a country so steadfast in equality regardless of gender or social standing, you may think there is no such thing as the best primary or secondary school. Should they not all be the same? Well, in recent comparison studies, Swedish officials have found that gaps do exist from municipality to municipality. Because these gaps do show some correlation between the educational quality and the socio-economic status of the municipality, the federal government is looking to take measures to correct this imbalance.

While there is no definitive list of the top schools in Sweden, these are considered the top areas for schools in the country:

  • Vellinge
  • Orust
  • Ovanåker
  • Kalmar
  • Aneby

Primary School (Elementary School)

Primary school in Sweden is compulsory beginning in the fall when children turn six until they are 15 years old. There are nine grade levels plus one mandatory year of preschool. Although all ten years are referred to as primary school, they are broken up into four levels of schooling:

Schooling Stage School Years Student’s Age F__örskoleklass Preschool 6 yrs. old Lågstadiet Years 1–3 7–9 yrs. old Mellanstadiet Years 4–6 10–12 yrs. old Högstadiet Years 7–9 13–15 yrs. old

A loose translation of the schools would be

  • F__örskoleklass (preschool);
  • Lågstadiet (elementary school);
  • Mellanstadiet (middle school);
  • Högstadiet (high school or lower secondary school).

All schools, even private, teach relatively the same curriculum as per the Swedish National Syllabus. In total, students will study 16 subjects:

  • Swedish
  • English
  • mathematics
  • physical education
  • handicrafts
  • music
  • visual arts
  • technology
  • physics
  • chemistry
  • biology
  • history
  • social studies
  • religion
  • geography
  • home economics

Rather than having these classes every day of the week, courses are spread throughout the school days with some classes happening twice a week and others three or four times a week. Science courses are typically taught in one timeslot.

Throughout the compulsory schooling, students will have the opportunity to study extracurricular activities as well as additional languages.

Secondary School (High School)

Although the literal translation of the last three years of Sweden’s primary school, Högstadiet, translates to “high school,” it is secondary school that most closely resembles what other countries consider to be high school. Secondary schooling in Sweden is voluntary, but nearly every student attends. Students who do not choose to continue with secondary education will be followed up with by their municipality until they are 20 years old.

Upper secondary school is also called gymnasium in Sweden. It starts at Grade 10 (when the student is 16 years old) and lasts for three years. Students can choose from 17 different national programs to study as well as local programs or individual tracks designed specifically for a student’s learning ability and career interests. Of the national programs, six are designed to prepare students for higher education and twelve are vocational.

Entrance requirements vary depending on the program a student chooses to enter. However, each program mandates a passing grade from primary school in Swedish, English, and math.

Swedish National Program Tracks:

  • Preparatory programs:
    • Social science
    • Natural science
    • Business management and economics
    • Technology
    • Arts
    • Humanities
  • Vocational programs:
    • Electricity and engineering
    • Building and construction
    • Vehicle and transport
    • Health and social care
    • Child and recreation
    • Business and administration
    • Natural resource use
    • Handicraft
    • Restaurant management and food
    • Industrial technology
    • HVAC and property maintenance
    • Hotel and tourism

School Cost

Public schools in Sweden are free. Annual tuition for private schools, however, will typically fall between 30,000 SEK to 100,000+ (3,000 to 10,300+ USD).

International Schools

If you are not planning on staying in Sweden for long, one of the best ways to keep your child up to date with the education system of their home country is by sending them to an international school. Thanks to their diverse international population, Sweden contains many international schools to suit the needs of students from across the globe.

Who Uses International Schools in Sweden?

Because public and private schools are held in such high regard, international schools in Sweden are primarily for international students. The majority of students in attendance are either brand new to the Nordic country or do not intend to stay for long. Swedish children may also attend these international schools, but as public schools are free and of high quality, it is rare.

Expats interested in sending their children to an international school should expect high fees and long wait lists. If you need help deciphering all that is required to enroll your child in an international school, contact the experts at InterNations

Where to Find International Schools in Sweden

Although you can find international schools throughout Sweden, you will find the greatest variety in Stockholm. Other cities where you can find a decent amount of options include Malmö and Gothenburg. Schools will offer a range of international curriculum such as British schools, American schools, German, and French.

International Schools Requirements and Admission

Although requirements will vary, these are the general requirements most international schools will ask for:

  • completed application form
  • copy of the student’s passport
  • copy of the most recent full school report and other transcripts
  • any documentation regarding special education needs
  • application fee

You may also be asked for yours and your child’s Swedish tax numbers and Swedish IDs. Application fees will typically be around 1,000 SEK (100 USD) per child. Some schools may require an in-person interview with the student before final admittance.

Fees for International Schools

International school tuition fees will vary based on municipality, school level, and the individual school. Most international schools will require a one-time enrollment fee on top of their regular tuition fees. Like Swedish private schools, fees can range anywhere from 30,000 SEK to 100,000+ (3,000 to 10,300+ USD) annually.

Top International Schools in Sweden

  • British International School of Stockholm
  • Tanto International School
  • Bladins International School of Malmö

Higher Education

As the home of the Nobel Prize, it is easy to assume that some of Europe’s best universities are in Sweden. In general, Swedish higher education is ranked high by international standards. At most universities there is a strong emphasis on research and independent studies.

What is Higher Education like in Sweden?

Higher education in Sweden is divided into three levels: Bachelors, Master, and research. In 2007, Sweden entered into an agreement with the rest of Europe that streamlines education standards and procedures. Thus, anyone studying at a Swedish university can easily have their credits transfer to another European institution and vice versa.

Sweden aims to be a leading country in research. Presently, higher education in Sweden is leading the way for research in several specialized areas such as environmental technology and nanotechnology.

Swedish students who want to enroll in a Swedish university must have a certificate of completion from an upper secondary program. Admission for international students requires they be qualified to attend university in their home countries (this normally involves an equivalent of a secondary school certificate of completion). International students may also be required to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of Swedish and/or English, depending on the program.

In addition, students from outside the EU/EEA will need to guarantee their residence permit is ready in time for the start of classes.

Top Courses to Study in Sweden

Students with an interest in sustainable energy and development will easily feel at home in the Swedish higher education system. As one of the leading countries in the world for renewable energy, Sweden places great emphasis in the study of environmental learning and protection. Likewise, the country is known for great innovation. Even if environmental studies and sustainable technology are not your primary areas of education, but you are interested, you can mold these interests to your chosen field.

Other areas of interest for international students moving to Sweden include engineering, information technology, and other such degrees that require creativity and innovative thinking.

How Much Does it Cost for International Students to Study in Sweden?

Higher education in Sweden is free for Swedish and EU/EEA students. Students from outside the EU/EEA, or from Switzerland, will have to pay a fee. For both undergraduate and graduate programs, average university tuition fees in Sweden are around 125,000 SEK per academic year (13,000 USD).

Best Universities for International Students in Sweden

While there are many great universities for international students, here are some of the top institutions:

  • Karolinska Institute
  • Linköping University
  • Lund University
  • University of Stockholm

Ask other international parents already living in Sweden

Join one of our many local parent groups and get advice on which schools to choose.

Language Schools

Sweden is a country where learning the language will not just get you far, it is imperative. Even if a job requires only English, employers may give preference to candidates with a working knowledge of Swedish. This goes hand-in-hand with Sweden’s belief in communal effort and support.

One of the best ways to learn Swedish is by enrolling in a language school. This will enable you to learn both with a language professional and other language learners. Those intent on really immersing themselves in the language may want to look into a temporary homestay or join a language group through InterNations.

Top Language Schools in Sweden

  • Swedish for Professionals
  • Grow Internationals
  • Folkuniversitetet
  • Medborgarskolan

You can also find language courses for beginners at Stockholm University and the University of Gothenburg.

Language School Fees

Fees for language schools will vary, but you should be able to find something between 3,000–5,000 SEK per month, averaging about two classes per week (300–500 USD).

(Promotion) Higher Education for Working Professionals

If you want to gain enough knowledge to reach a higher managerial level, upskill, or change career paths, there are now many opportunities available. For working professionals, one aspect is crucial — flexibility. One of the most flexible offers available are the accredited Master and MBA online degrees offered by IU International University of Applied Sciences. Learn more here.

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    With InterNations I quickly connected with other Canadian members who became close friends over time.

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