Upper secondary education in Sweden

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Learn about entry requirements, the application process, and the different study programmes when you apply for Swedish upper secondary education. See how grades from other countries are validated, and read about the requirements regarding language proficiency.

Upper secondary educational programmes are run by municipalities and private educational providers. Upper secondary school (gymnasieskolan) in Sweden is a free and voluntary school form, which you can choose to attend after completing compulsory school (grundskolan).

There are two types of study programme in Swedish upper secondary education. You can choose between university-preparatory programmes (högskoleförberedande program) and vocational programmes (yrkesprogram). These are combined under the title “upper secondary school” in Sweden.

Swedish upper secondary school is a three-year education, where the university-preparatory programmes provide an entry qualification for higher education at university and university college, while the vocational programmes focus on vocational learning.

There is also an adapted upper secondary school (anpassad gymnasieskola), which is a four-year education for young people with intellectual disabilities. 

All young people in Sweden are entitled to study at upper secondary school when they have completed compulsory (secondary) education. The aim of upper secondary education is to prepare pupils for a vocation or further studies.

Who can apply to upper secondary education in Sweden?

The Nordic countries have an agreement on admission to upper secondary education in the Nordic region, so all young people under 20 with a secondary education qualification from a Nordic country can apply to start on a Swedish upper secondary programme. 

If you are over 20, you can be admitted to the adult education system.

How is upper secondary education organised in Sweden?

Sweden offers a broad range of upper secondary programmes. There are 18 different programmes (nationella program) that you can study at every upper secondary school in Sweden, and specialised programmes that are not available at all schools. 

Eight subjects are common to all upper secondary schools - English, History, Sport and Health, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Religion, Social Studies, and Swedish/Swedish as a Second Language. All pupils must study these subjects (gymnasiegemensamma ämnen) in order to prepare them for a vocational career and further studies, and for personal development and active participation in societal life.

In addition, there are individual elective subjects and a number of subjects (programgemensamma ämnen) that vary according to your specific programme. Many programmes also include unpaid workplace-based learning (arbetsplatsförlagt lärande/APL).

Some schools offer more subjects, but this means that these study programmes are only available at a few places in the country. You can contact the individual Swedish upper secondary schools to see what subjects they offer. 

Does Swedish upper secondary education prepare you for further studies?

Swedish upper secondary programmes are designed to prepare you for studies at university and university college. All programmes give you access to either university education or to higher vocational education, HVE (yrkeshögskolan).

Although the study programme gives you the basic skills, the different programmes provide specific qualifications to various higher education programmes.

If you want to apply to a certain higher education programme, it may be necessary for you to have specific subject-based skills or qualifications. Consequently, it is vital that you choose the relevant subjects to attain the necessary qualifications.

If you study on a vocational upper secondary programme, you can start to work in Sweden when you have completed the programme. You can also choose elective subjects that enable you to study at university. 

Contact the educational institution you are interested in for information about entry requirements.

Which study programmes are available in upper secondary education in Sweden?

Six study programmes from the national programme are university-preparatory programmes (högskoleförberedande program). These specialisations give students both general study skills and the opportunity to specialise in subjects they find particularly interesting. The national university-preparatory programmes are:

  • Business Management and Economics Programme
  • Arts Programme
  • Humanities Programme
  • Natural Science Programme
  • Social Science Programme
  • Technology Programme

Twelve study programmes from the national vocational programme (yrkesprogram) focus more on skills and expertise for specific subject areas or vocations. These programmes are for students who want to prepare for Swedish higher vocational education, HVE (yrkesutbildning). In order to apply for HVE in Sweden, you must first complete upper secondary education.

You can also complete upper secondary education in Sweden by studying on the English International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, which gives you an internationally recognised upper secondary qualification. This is a vocational programme that combines academic courses from the IB Diploma Programme with practical courses aimed at various specialisations.

Alternatively, you can choose a sports programme, where you combine upper secondary education with sport at a high level, or an apprenticeship programme, where you combine learning at school with practical experience at a relevant workplace for approximately half of the three-year programme.

If you have an intellectual disability or a non-congenital brain injury, and need more adaptations than upper secondary school normally offers, adapted upper secondary school may be an option. Here, you can choose between nine vocational national programmes and individual programmes, if you need to focus on subject areas rather than traditional subjects, and programmes that differ from the national structure.

How do you get admitted to an upper secondary educational programme in Sweden?

Most young people in Sweden apply for admission to an upper secondary programme in the spring of Year 9. You can apply for admission up to and including the spring term of the year of your 20th birthday. 

You apply to a Swedish upper secondary educational programme via your municipality. Contact the Student Advisory Office in the munipality in which the upper secondary school lies to apply for an upper secondary place. If you want to apply to a private education provider, send your application direct to the school.

In many municipalities, admission to upper secondary school is administered through a common website, while others use written application forms. Municipalities in Sweden have different deadlines for applications to upper secondary education.

You can find more information about the application process on your municipality’s website. Contact your municipality if you want help and guidance about applying for an upper secondary educational programme.

What are the entry requirements for upper secondary education in Sweden?

To start an upper secondary programme in Sweden you must have completed compulsory school, with pass grades in English, Mathematics and Swedish or Swedish as a Second Language.

If the programme you want to apply to is very popular, the programme will require a higher average grade from compulsory school.

If you satisfy the entry requirements for admission to a programme, you are eligible (behörig).

In order to satisfy the entry requirements and become eligible for admission to vocational educational programmes, you must have pass grades in:

  • Swedish/Swedish as a Second Language
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Pass grades in any five other subjects, i.e. a total of eight subjects.

In order to satisfy the entry requirements for university-preparatory programmes, you must have pass grades in:

  • Swedish/Swedish as a Second Language
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Pass grades in a further nine subjects, i.e. a total of twelve subjects

For entry to the Business Management and Economics Programme (ekonomiprogrammet), Humanities Programme (humanistiska programmet), and Social Science Programme (samhällsvetenskapsprogrammet), four of the nine subjects passed must be Geography, History, Social Sciences and Religion.

For entry to the Natural Science Programme (naturvetenskapsprogrammet) and the Technology Programme (teknikprogrammet), three of the nine subjects passed must be Biology, Physics and Chemistry.

For entry to the Arts Programme (estetiska programmet), pass grades must be attained in any nine subjects.

Can you apply for upper secondary education if you do not fulfil the entry requirements?

If you lack the necessary qualifications for entry, you can instead choose to apply to an introductory programme (introduktionsprogram): preparatory education (preparandutbildning), programme-oriented individual options (programinriktat individuellt val), vocational introduction (yrkesintroduktion), individual options (individuellt alternativ), and language introduction (språkintroduktion).

How are your grades from other countries validated in Sweden?

If you have completed part of an upper secondary education in another Nordic country and want to continue your education in Sweden, your earlier education and your language proficiency can be assessed in relation to the corresponding level in a Swedish school. Foreign grades can be validated in three ways:

  • You take a test in the Swedish courses.
  • The Head Teacher can give you a grade E (pass) if your grades, certificates or similar show that you have reached the level for a pass grade. The Head Teacher may not award a higher grade than E.
  • You can participate in the teaching on a course and attain a grade.

What Swedish language proficiency is required in upper secondary education in Sweden?

When a pupil from another Nordic country is to start school in Sweden, the Swedish school will assess the pupil’s abilities in Swedish to see whether their language skills are good enough for the pupil to keep up with the tuition.

If the pupil lacks sufficient skills, he or she is offered teaching in Swedish as a Second Language.

It is a requirement that pupils attending a Swedish upper secondary school understand enough Swedish that they can keep up, and that they meet the general entry requirements in Mathematics and English.

Can you have mother-tongue teaching in Sweden?

If you have a parent/guardian with a different mother tongue to Swedish, you are entitled to mother tongue language teaching if that language is spoken daily in the home and if you have a basic knowledge of the language.

If the parent/guardian has a national minority language as a mother tongue, you must be offered mother tongue language teaching even if the language is not spoken daily in the home. The national minority languages are Finnish, Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish), Sami (all dialects), Romany Chib, and Yiddish.

Are you eligible for student finance when studying at upper secondary level in Sweden?

If you are a Nordic citizen and want to do all or part of your upper secondary education in Sweden, you can receive support from the student finance authority in your home country if the school in Sweden is approved by the authority in your home country.

Can you apply for a higher education programme abroad with a diploma from a Swedish upper secondary programme?

The Nordic countries have an agreement on co-operation on upper secondary school education. The agreement binds the countries together and ensures that people from the other Nordic countries have access to upper secondary education, both for the university-preparatory and vocational programmes, on the same terms as the country’s own citizens.

If you have a qualification from a Swedish upper secondary school that makes you eligible for higher education, you can apply to higher education in all the Nordic countries.

State support for Swedish upper secondary educational institutions that accept Nordic students

A Swedish educational institution may apply for a state grant in Sweden for pupils from the other Nordic countries. You can find more information about this in the Upper Secondary School Ordinance (Chapter 12).

A Nordic pupil can be admitted to an upper secondary programme if the pupil, through their previous education in another Nordic country, has undergone an education that corresponds to a Swedish compulsory school education and satisfies the entry requirements for the programme they have applied for. However, the pupil is exempted from the requirement for a pass grade in Swedish. Alternatively, the pupil from another Nordic country is regarded as equivalent to applicants from the municipality in which the educational programme the pupil is applying for is arranged.

Where do you find study guides in the Nordic countries?

National study guides are useful when you are looking for educational opportunities and careers in the Nordic countries. You can find information about upper secondary education, vocational education, and other relevant educational opportunities, and you can get an overview of the various upper secondary programmes and information about the application process, entry requirements, and guidance on choosing subjects.

More information

When you are planning to study at upper secondary level in Sweden, it is important to find out about things like student accommodation, student finance, and recognition of Swedish education in the other Nordic countries. You can find a lot of valuable information in the Info Norden study guides.

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