Vassar - Wesleyan en Madrid

Registration: Options & Requirements

Introduction: Curricular Options

VWM students can take courses designed for foreign students through the Curso de Estudios Hispánicos (CEH)[1] and courses designed for Spanish students (i.e., direct-enrollment courses) at both the Carlos III (UC3M) and the Universidad Complutense (UCM).  There are two options for direct enrollment at the Carlos III:  partial-credit Cursos de Humanidades (CH) and full-credit Cursos de Grado (both are explained in more detail below).  VWM students are required to earn at least 24 Spanish credits over the course of the term.  Since two credits are granted for satisfactory completion of the orientation session in Santiago or Granada, that means students should expect to take at least 22 credits in coursework.  These 24 Spanish credits translate into 4 course credits on American home campuses.  That ratio--of 6 Spanish credits to 1 American credit--holds for all courses taken in Spain (whether through CEH, CH, and Grado courses at the Carlos III, or regular Complutense courses, or the program orientation session in Santiago and Granada).  Since credit values for courses will vary much more here than they would in the US and since courses here are, as a rule, less intensive than they would be in the US (indeed, CEH and CH courses will invariably carry less than one full American credit), students should expect to take more courses here than they would on their home campuses.  Therefore, if you normally take four courses at home, you should NOT imagine that your plan of study will consist of four courses in Spain; you should aim, rather, to pick out as many courses as you need to meet the minimum of 22 course credits required.  Depending on the combination of CH, CEH, and grado courses you choose, this will call for 4, 5, or even 6 or more courses in Spain.  In order to enhance the authenticity of your academic experience in Spain, we expect students to take at least 11 credits (that is, half of them) through one or another direct-enrollment option, that is, Cursos de Humanidades (CH) and Cursos de Grado at the Carlos III or Cursos de Grado at the Complutense.   Students with a very good command of Spanish are expected to take more direct-enrollment courses than this minimum.  As a rule, our students do very well in direct-enrollment courses, provided they make the kind of effort they would at home and communicate their expectations clearly to their professors.  In the academic year ending in 2012, for instance, the average grade received on our program was an A minus (compared to the B plus average typical on the Wesleyan campus).  However, the range of variation around that average is certainly greater than it would be on the home campus.  A few students failed the occasional course. Another who was worried about her gpa for professional-school purposes was disappointed by a B plus and a B.  For these reasons, it is important that you pay close attention to the guidelines below for grade translation and, especially, for study habits and differences in expectation.  If you feel you must finish with a very high average (an A or A minus), consider your course selection carefully in consultation with the director and your home-campus advisor.  You will especially want to make use of the NRO (Vassar) and pass-fail (Wesleyan) option where appropriate (e.g., in a particularly difficult grado course).  Bear in mind, however, that some CEH courses are graded more harshly than grado courses and that, on the other hand, a high grade in a grado course (which our students receive routinely) can look very good to future graduate schools and employers.  Finally, pay close attention to the orientation below on the different codes and expectations that obtain in public European universities in contrast to American private liberal arts colleges.  Professors here will say that "you are doing fine" if you are doing B or C work or even just passing.  If you are hoping to come away with a high grade ("una nota alta"), it is essential that you communicate this to your professor so s/he can let you know what you need to do in order to achieve it (our students do so routinely, but not without effort and especially regular, and clear, communication with professors).  Normally this entails much more intensive work toward the end of the term, in preparation for a final exam and/or paper.  Term-time papers or exams are frequently easier than the final exam or paper, so--again--it is imperative that you state your hopes with your professors up front clearly and do the corresponding work you need to do to earn the grade you would like.  It invariably helps to speak as well to the more academically motivated Spanish students in the course and find out what their strategies are for preparing the final exam or paper.  Frequently students form study groups that can be rewarding both academically and socially.  There is certainly much-less handholding and signaling along the way in European public universities than what you you might be used to getting in American private liberal arts colleges; some of us would argue they are, in that respect, better preparation for life.  In any case, treat these differences as an opportunity to learn new academic and life skills.  Finally, once the term is over it is your responsibility to track grade postings in your aula global account and communicate directly with your professors about any anomalies or surprises you find there when it is still possible to correct the problem (sometimes by taking a make-up exam by email).  In addition to communication directly with your professors, you may write the director to find out how your Spanish grade fits into the bigger picture of the course Actas (i.e., the full list of grades given in a particular course, which is our benchmark for curving).  This is one key benchmark for figuring out whether you should follow up with a professor about an unexpectedly low (Spanish) grade before it is too late.  Given our students' general academic talent and work ethic and the guidelines for curving explained below, low grades or failures after translation are very much the exception and more often than not a predictable result of choices made by students in the way they spent their time during the term 

Curricular offerings at a glance... Spanish credits
For foreign students Curso de Estudios Hispánicos (CEH)
- Covers language classes, as well as courses in a wide variety of fields.
- Most students are required to take one language class.
Direct- enrollment options Cursos de Humanidades (CH)
Humanities general-education minicourses offered to non-majors at the Carlos III
Regular undergraduate courses
4 - 8


For VWM students, there are 3 basic configurations of courses that would satisfy the program requirements in terms of courses and credits. These configurations are based on students' language ability, which is established by a language-placement exam taken on the first day of the Madrid orientation.

Configuration I - Superior level in Spanish Credits
1 CEH (typically a language class) 4
3 asignaturas de GRADO 18-24
Orientación Santiago/Granada 2
Configuration II - Advanced level in Spanish Credits
CEH lengua (required) 4
2 asignaturas de GRADO 12-16
1-2 CH 2-6
Orientación Santiago/Granada 2
Configuration III - Intermediate level in Spanish Credits
CEH lengua (required) 4
2 CEH (any other) 8
1 asignatura de GRADO 6-8
1-2 CH 4-6
Orientación Santiago/Granada 2


Cursos de Estudios Hispánicos (CEH)

The Curso de Estudios Hispánicos registers and handles the transcripts for all foreign students attending the UC3M. The CEH administers the language placement exam and staffs a full range of Spanish language courses for foreign students. The CEH also hires regular UC3M faculty to teach a selection of 4-credit courses primarily in the humanities and social sciences.

The CEH organizes an orientation program for foreign students at the beginning of each semester; this orientation session is required of VWM participants. At that time, the CEH distributes a Guía del estudiante, which contains syllabi (programas) for all CEH offerings, and professors give 15-minute introductions to each of their courses. The orientation also includes a presentation of the cultural, athletic, and social  activities  available on campus.


Cursos de Humanidades (CH)

The Cursos de Humanidades are a series of 1-, 2- or 3-credit courses offered by regular UC3M faculty primarily for Spanish students. They are conceived as general-education humanities courses for non-majors.  They tend to be monothematic and interdisciplinary and therefore offer a unique learning experience.  They are scheduled irregularly throughout the semester, starting anytime after the third week of classes.

Examples of CHs offered in the past include:

-“La elaboración del mal en el siglo XX: desde Auschwitz a las comisiones de verdad” (2 credits); 2 hours each Tuesday & Thursday for 5 weeks starting Oct. 22; - “Fantasía y realidad en la narrativa española del siglo XIX” (2 credits); 2 hours daily from Nov 4 to Nov 15;
- “Picasso en los museos de Madrid” (1 credit); 2 hours each Friday for 5 weeks starting Oct. 25.
- “El trabajo de las mujeres en la España contemporánea” (1 credit); 2 hours each Wednesday for 5 weeks starting Oct. 23.

The offerings and schedules are provided by the CEH and on the web toward the beginning of each semester. (Consult the web for last semester's offerings.)

Some CHs involve field trips with fees. The program covers these fees for students who complete the course. Students withdrawing from such courses after the UC3M deadline will reimburse the program for the expenses incurred.


Asignaturas de Grado

VWM participants have access to the full range of regular UC3M courses in any of the UC3M titulaciones [2] or majors.  This section is designed to help you understand how the academic experience is structured in Spain so that you will be able to figure out which direct-enrollment courses you might want to take in Spain.

These courses are listed on the university´s website under the facultad (division) or departamento in which they are taught, in either primero, segundo, tercero or cuarto curso de carrera[3] (freshman, sophomore, junior or senior years), in either the primer ciclo (encompassing the freshman and sophomore years) or segundo ciclo (junior and senior years).  (Some departments at the UC3M offer segundo ciclo courses only).



Primer curso
Segundo curso
Tercer curso
Cuarto curso

The plan de estudios for each titulación outlines the courses offered by each department, as requirements or electives (optativas) for completion of the carrera (major). The courses vary in credit, but, as indicated above, they usually carry between 4 and 8 UC3M credits. The number of credits/hours is indicated on the online syllabus (programa).  Bear in mind that a segundo, tercer or cuatro curso course is NOT necessarily more advance or difficult thatn a primer curso course.  The higher the curso, the more focused and thematic the course.  Indeed, some say that primer curso courses, which tend to be introductory surveys, are MORE difficult than upper-curso courses because they cover a much broader range of topics and call on a greater variety of skills and kinds of knowledge AND because they are designed to weed out less serious-students from the majors.  Therefore, you should freely consider upper-curso courses based on interest and convenience rather than because of possibly false assumptions about their greater difficulty. 

For a list of titulaciones (degrees) at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, go to:

Courses offered by the various facultades or departamentos can be found by following the corresponding link, either on the page listed above or from the VWM web site (See: Comunicación Audiovisual, Humanidades, Sociología, Ciencias Políticas, Economía, etc.). It is important to note that similar types of courses may be found in more than one departamento or facultad. History courses, for instance, are located primarily in Humanidades, but they may also be found in Sociología or Economía. Economics courses appear in both Economía and Ciencias Políticas y de la Administración.

For further help in selecting a regular UC3M course you should consult with the VWM program coordinator on your home campus before leaving the US or, in Madrid, with the Director and Assistant Director and the undergraduate monitoras.  You should also make use of the course evaluation binders with evaluations left by former program students in the Madrid program office.  As in the U.S., it is important that you do your best to choose the best professors and not just go by course titles or online descriptions.  For this purpose, it will be especially important that you make use of the undergraduate program monitoras (you will be introduced to them on the first day of Madrid orientation), the course evaluation binders in the program office, and any program students who choose to stay for the year (particularly in the spring term).  

Direct Enrollment Options and the American Student

The regular UC3M courses in grado and the CHs provide VWM students with the opportunity of an authentic, total-immersion learning experience. Over the years American students enrolled at the UC3M have successfully completed courses at all levels and in a broad range of colleges and departments. Although they may seem challenging at first, these courses ultimately prove to be a more rewarding experience than CEHs and are an important tool for experiencing Spanish academic culture first-hand.


The Spanish Academic Calendar and Final Exams

Unlike many European universities, the UC3M functions entirely on the semester system (in Spanish: cuatrimestres or sistema cuatrimestral). The first semester runs from early September to December, with exams in January, the second, from early January to early June. In this section we provide information that will help students determine how to adjust their schedule to their curricular and personal needs.

The Spanish Academic calendar at a glance:

Term Classes Begin Classes End Final Assessment
Fall CEH Sep (early) Nov. (late) Dec
Grado Sep (early) Dec By special arrangement, when classes end or by fax
CH Sep (late) Dec When course ends
Spring CEH Jan (late) April (late) April (after last class)
Grado Jan (late) May (early) May (late), as stipulated on the UC3M schedule
CH February Apr - May When course ends

- Final exams / Grado

Fall: Final exams for Spanish students are in January. VWM participants enrolled in regular UC3M courses will negotiate their exam date with their professors. Many professors are willing to move a final exam up to the last week of classes, before our program departure date in December.  Students may otherwise request the examen final por fax (final exam by fax), a protocol that is authorized by the UC3M bylaws. In such cases, the exam is faxed to the study abroad officer on the student's home campus, to be completed and returned to Madrid by fax. The date for such an exam is stipulated by the professor.

Spring: VWM participants enrolled in regular UC3M courses are expected to take their final exam in Spain, during the official UC3M exam period.  Many professors are willing to give an exam in the last week of classes, but this must be arranged by the student at the beginning of the term and should by no means be considered a sure thing.  Nevertheless, many professors do agree to such arrangements with our students.

Students will work out the details (exam or final paper date, procedure in the event the exam is to be proctored and faxed from the U.S.) with their professor at the beginning of the semester and communicate this information to the Director and Subdirectora on their ficha de matrícula.


Spanish Credits

The Universidad Carlos III de Madrid uses a credit system that differs from those of Vassar, Wesleyan, and other American universities.  The minimum required course load on the VWM program is 22 credits in Madrid, in addition to the coursework completed in Santiago and/or Granada (two credits). Twenty-four UC3M credits are equivalent to 4 units of coursework at Vassar College and Wesleyan University, or 18 semester hours of credit elsewhere.

Credit distribution is determined by Wesleyan's Office of International Studies and Vassar's Office of International Programs, based on recommendations from the VWM Resident Director. Six UC3M credits are the equivalent of one Vassar/Wesleyan unit of credit. Slight adjustments will be necessary in some cases, and will be made on the basis of such factors as course hours, level of rigor, and whether the course is in the student's major field of study. Students with particular concerns should discuss them during registration with the Resident Director; faculty advisors on the home campus may discuss such concerns with Carolyn Sorkin, Wesleyan's Director of International Studies, or Susan Correll, Vassar's Director of International Programs.

Here is a sample of how this may be accomplished:

Course UC3M credits
CEH: Advanced Spanish (language) 4
CEH: Spanish Literatura 4
Grado: The History of Theater 6
Grado: Antropología cultural 6
CH: The case of the Basque region and ETA 2
Lengua y Civilización Españolas (en Santiago de Compostela) 2



Your grading options at a glance:

Type of Class Vassar Wesleyan
Cursos de Estudios Hispánicos (CEH) A-F A-F
Cursos de Humanidades (CH) A-F or NRO A-F or CR/U
Cursos de Grado / Asignaturas de licenciatura (AL) A-F or NRO A-F or CR/U

Key: A-F = graded; SA/UN = ungraded (Vassar); NRO = “Non-Recorded Option” (Vassar); CR/U = pass/fail (Wesleyan)

All CEH courses grant four UC3M credits and are offered for a letter grade only. Students from Wesleyanֳ College of Letters may, as the exception, choose the pass-fail (CR/U) option. If they do so, they must notify the Director in writing before the drop/add period ends. Otherwise they will be enrolled for a grade.

– Wesleyan CR/U option

Regular UC3M courses (CH, Grado) may be taken either for a grade or on a pass/fail basis. Normally students are limited to one pass/fail course per term, and most students choose not to take their courses pass/fail.  This choice is indicated on the ficha de matrícula and it is binding. A failure to communicate this choice by this deadline will result in enrollment for a grade. For courses counting toward the major, students are strongly encouraged to consult with their major advisor before choosing the pass/fail option. Spanish and Iberian Studies majors at Wesleyan must take all courses they wish to count toward their major for a grade.

– Vassar NRO option

Any Curso de Humanidades (CH) or Asignatura de  Grado may be elected NRO (Non Recorded Option).  The deadline for any NRO election is the same as the date in effect at Vassar. No late requests will be accepted.

To register an NRO election, the student must seek authorization form his/her major advisor at Vassar and then inform the resident director and assistant director in Madrid via email, indicating the lowest letter grade the student wishes to have recorded on the permanent record. The resident director in Madrid will submit the information to Vassar Registrar.

Hispanic Studies majors at Vassar are not allowed to NRO courses for the major once it has been declared.

– Translating grades, transcripts and the GPA

Grades from study abroad appear on the Vassar and Wesleyan transcript and are factored into the studentֳ grade point average. Students from other institutions should consult with their dean or study abroad officer. 

VWM students at the UC3M are subject to the Spanish grading system, which is either numerical, alphabetic, or both.  When we translate grades, we take into account the distribution of all grades given in a course that term.  We also take into account any evidence of a skew particularly affecting non-native students, including American students and students in our program (if more than one enrolls in the same course).  In other words, if there is a strong skew or a given professor clearly grades severely, we curve accordingly.  We have found that our program students do well in direct-enrollment courses, so long as they make the kind of effort they would at home and so long as they are very clear about their expectations with their profesors and actively seek advice from them about how to achieve the kind of grade they are hoping to get.  Generally speaking, the grades for courses taken at the Carlos III or Complutense have the following equivalents, although there may be further adjustments according to the presence of a marked skew in grade distribution:

Spanish/Numerical Spanish/Alphabetic VWM Equivalency
8.5 – 10 Sobresaliente A range
7.0– 8.4 Notable B range
5.0 – 6.9 Aprobado C range
4 or lower Suspenso Fail
NP [4] Withdrawal or Fail


Class Access

The CEH publishes grades for its courses toward the end of each semester (January, May).  For timely recording of grades (and indeed for regular communication by professors over the course of the term), it is essential that you ensure your Aula Global account is up and running as early as possible in the semester.  See the Subdirectora (Pepa Eizaguirre) about this.  For regular courses (CHs and Cursos de grado), Spanish faculty report grades unofficially on the bulletin boards and the web, soon after the exams (or final papers) are corrected. (Students taking CHs may therefore know their grades for these courses before leaving Spain.) Grades for regular UC3M courses are reported officially to the program office in mid-March and late June. Students also have access to their grades through their UC3M computer accounts, through the Aula Global. They are converted and reported to the home campus soon thereafter. As a general rule, official transcripts are available as follows:

Fall Term Spring Term
CEH January June
Grado/CHs March July


Course Selection Process


The course selection process begins on the home campus, where students discuss their academic program abroad with their faculty advisor.  Information is also available from the campus VWM program coordinator or the study abroad office.  Now that the Carlos III term starts earlier than ever, it is crucial that students use the links to the Carlos III and Complutense curricula on this website to begin working out a tentative plan of study with alternatives before their arrival in Spain.

Course selection in Madrid

Students register for courses with both the UC3M, through the CEH office, and the VWM program.  The main difference from registration in the U.S. is that registration abroad takes place within the first week of classes and that, following the deadline marked for this purpose by the program, it is almost impossible to drop a course.  The reason for this is straightforward:  European students declare a major before beginning their university studies and follow a program of study with relatively few electives.  The sequence, therefore, is mostly decided and known well in advance.  As outsiders to this system, you are given considerably more leeway in terms of deadlines and eligibility to take courses in a wide variety of fields, but not as much lead time as you are used to in the U.S.  This is the price to pay for an authentic experience of another academic system in a mere semester, and the program offers a great deal of support to enable this, but there's no denying it calls for patience and resourcefulness on your part.  That is why the best service you can do yourself is to inform yourself as fully as possible about course options before arrival in Spain.  Then, once in Madrid, make the most of the binders of course evaluations by former program participants in that first week of orientation.  And, finally, pick the brains of the Carlos III undergraduate monitoras associated with the program, continuing program students, and any other local university or former program contacts you may have about professors and courses.  This makes for an intense first week or two of orientation in Madrid but the degree of satisfaction you derive from your coursework in Spain will be directly proportional to the effort and initiative (and patience) you put into informing yourself  fully about the more rewarding professors and courses.

VWM course selection

Students discuss their curricular needs with the Director and Assistant Director and monitoras during orientation week. They report their schedule on the program's ficha de matrícula to be submitted to Pepa by the date specified in the calendar. This deadline is FIRMPlease be aware that it is the students´ responsibility to confirm with their major advisor whether a course will count toward their major.  Please also bear in mind that some courses, particularly those that might be considered excessively pre-professional (e.g., courses in marketing, publicity or business administration), might not be considered acceptable on home campuses (the key criterion is whether there is a department on the home campus that would itself teach such a course).  It is students´ responsibility to confirm with their respective study abroad office on the home campus whether any such courses about which they might have doubts will find a departmental home.  

The date of submission of the ficha de matrícula is the program's deadline for withdrawal from courses.  As a rule, students will not be allowed to withdraw from any course after this date.

Outline of registration process

Week 1 Orientation
Week 2 CEH and Grado classes begin
Submission of the VWM ficha de prematrícula indicating tentative schedule


FAQ: Is it difficult to get into classes in Madrid?

Generally speaking, NO. Access to Cursos de grado, and Cursos de Estudios Hispánicos (CEH) is more or less guaranteed. Enrollment in a few Cursos de humanidades may be limited, but is usually not. The wide range of courses in this program guarantees all students the opportunity of taking a CH, if not their first choice, certainly an alternative.  The main difficulty has to do with course conflicts, especially with language courses, which cannot be scheduled till the language placement exam is taken and graded in the first few days of Madrid orientation. That is why it is important to come up with alternatives early on, and to be flexible about adjusting your plan of study during orientation and registration week.


The Universidad Complutense de Madrid

The Universidad Complutense de Madrid, one of Spain's largest public universities, is located on the west side of central Madrid. Thanks to an agreement (convenio) between Wesleyan and the Universidad Complutense, VWM students may enroll in a regular course (asignatura de licenciatura) at the UCM in a subject not taught at the UC3M.  The Complutense should be considered seriously by those students needing or wanting to take courses in many fields in the Humanities and Natural Sciences not covered as thoroughly by the Carlos III (for instance, Spanish Literature, History, Art History, Psychology or Biology).  First-year courses are not eligible, and courses in Bellas Artes (Fine Arts) have strict enrollment limitations and require the instructor's permission, which is not always granted. Courses begin the first week of October and students have until mid-November to register in the fall. Approximate spring dates are: February start of classes followed by a mid-March resgistration deadline.

Students interested in this option should consult the Complutense's web page and with the Program Director and Assistant Director. Procedures for enrolling in a Complutense course are as follows:

- After advising Pepa (the program assistant director) that they wish to enroll at the Complutense, students need to pick up an envelope with a credential of accreditation (certificado de acreditación) and a tuition release form from the Oficina de Relaciones Internacionales at the Vicerrectorado de Relaciones Internacionales. See below for more information:

María José Serna
Oficina de Relaciones Internacionales
Pabellón de Gobierno
Isaac Peral, s/n
28040 Madrid (Metro Moncloa)

Office hours: 10am - 2pm
Tel: 91 394 69 36 / 91 394 69 21
Fax: 91 394 69 24

- Students visit the specific facultades where they discuss their needs, speak with professors, obtain information about courses and purchase an inscription envelope (sobre de matrícula) from the secretaría. After filling out the forms they take all the material to the Vicerrectorado de Alumnos (Metro Ciudad Universitaria) and pay the sum of 30 euros, which will be reimbursed by our office. All this paperwork must be brought to our office and Pepa will complete the registration. See below for more information:

Vicerrectorado de Estudiantes
Edificio de Alumnos
Av. De la Complutense s.n.
Ciudad Universitaria 28040
(Metro Ciudad Universitaria)

Tel: 91 394 12 99
Office hours: 10am to 2pm

-Grades:  At the time of the final exam, students must give their official grade sheet (papeleta) to their professor. They request this form from the Oficina de Relaciones Internacionales during the final month of classes. The papeleta -used to register the student's grade and their class attendance- will be handed over to the professor in a preaddressed envelope that our office will provide. Failure to hand in the papeleta may result in the student losing all credit for the course.

-Final exam: Students must make special arrangement for taking their final exams. In the fall semester they will take the exams by fax at their home institution, while in the spring semester they must take the exam before classes end and they return to US. During the first week of classes students will take a letter to their professor (our office will provide a personalized letter when the student has provided the professor's name) in which their situation is explained and they must obtain a signed consent form, which they will bring to our office.

Our arrangement with the Complutense greatly increases curricular options in Madrid, and many students have found enrollment in courses there to be highly rewarding. Students should keep in mind, however, that the administrative support at the Complutense is more limited than what is available to them at the Carlos III.They need to be independent and resourceful, and they also need to take considerable care in scheduling courses since the Complutense and the Carlos III are on opposite sides of Madrid.

Studio Arts at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Students with some background are especially encouraged to advantage of Wesleyan's convenio with the Universidad Complutense by enrolling in classes in art (drawing, painting, sculpture, or photography) at the Facultad de Bellas Artes at that university. The Facultad de Bellas Artes's web site includes their plan de estudios (major), with the various courses (asignaturas) that Spanish students may take to finish their "carrera":


Important advice about teaching styles, strategies for learning, and the pace of academic life in European universities

Teaching styles vary greatly between Europe and the United States; so too, therefore, strategies for learning. In Europe, professors tend to rely on lectures much more than out-of-class reading or written assignments. The final exam, a final project handed in at the end of the semester, or a combination of the two often constitutes the sole means of evaluation.

American students succeed in this new environment so long as they attend class regularly, take careful notes, read the major items of the course bibliography, and pace their learning of the material appropriately. Sharing notes and forming study groups with classmates is an important aspect of the European educational experience. One of the virtues of this system is that responsibility for learning is shifted to the student. The best students in Europe benefit from this system by reading widely on their own, by learning to work closely with the professor, by developing good independent research skills, and by taking advantage of the cultural life of the city (e.g., museum exhibitions, lecture series, concerts, archives, etc.). Because European university courses tend to evaluate less frequently, some American students are lulled into concluding early in the semester that classes in Europe are much easier, only to be stunned by the frenzied pace at the end of the semester in anticipation of the final exam. In any case, to keep a proper perspective on the Spanish university system, remember that Spanish students tend to take more than half-again the credit load required by the VWM program. This helps explain why formal out-of-class reading and writing assignments are required less frequently than is the norm in American liberal arts colleges. Much more of the learning process is expected to take place in class or else on the student's personal initiative.

The differences may be summarized as follows: learning in the United States is often structured by a series of external guides (a schedule of periodic, graded assignments), whereas European students pace their learning largely on their own.  Our advice: attend all classes; take copious notes; study them regularly; consult more than once with the professor about final projects and/or exams; read course bibliography on your own, guided by your professor's recommendations; and share material and study with Spanish classmates.

The following overview of the academic challenges that often face American university students abroad has been adapted from the CIEE's Amman Language & Culture Program: Students Handbook (spring 2008) and accurately characterizes the typical academic experience of American students abroad. We reprint it here because it usefully encourages students to accept these challenges as an opportunity to learn in different ways from what they are accustomed to at home and offers strategies for adjusting to most new academic environments outside of the U.S.

American students abroad most likely:

  • Have expectations about what makes a good class based on previous academic experiences in the United States
  • Work best when the instructor gives them clear, precise guidelines on assignments and expectations, and encourages them to do their best
  • Assume that the instructor will define the main ideas for the class, connect the outside-of-class readings to those ideas, and provide detailed syllabi and visual aids like PowerPoint presentations or overhead projections
  • Expect the instructor to welcome and value student questions and opinions, even when they challenge what the instructor is saying
  • Assume grading criteria to be spelled out clearly so that students who apply themselves and follow those criteria will be assured a good grade
  • Expect to be tested and evaluated on a regular basis so that they can monitor their performance on a continual basis


Local students most likely:

  • Expect the instructor to stand at the front of the classroom and give a lecture, considering it their job as students to connect the lecture to the readings themselves
  • EITHER assume that they will have to figure out for themselves what the instructor expects, and that it is best to take copious notes, read every assignment, and memorize everything OR skip class and ignore readings until the last two weeks of class content to come away with a barely passing grade (this is particularly the case in countries where grades have no relevance in the job search process, so don't get sucked in since it is not likely to apply to you)
  • Regard the instructor as the authority, and would never consider challenging the instructor's point of view (unless specifically invited to by the professor)
  • Recognize (if they think about it) that the instructor may consider them unqualified, at the undergraduate level, to have an informed opinion on the subject matter of the course
  • Understand that it is their job to stay motivated and on task, and not the instructor's. If they are good students, they will know (or figure out) what needs to be done and do it independently: first of all, by speaking early and regularly with the professor and other motivated students about readings, assignments, and final exams or papers
  • Know there will be one, maybe two, exams, that will cover everything, and that they probably won't have a real idea of how well they did until after grades are final
  • Would never fault the instructor if the whole course fails


What to do to adjust:

  • Treat learning in another academic culture like learning in another language. Ask yourself, "What are the rules? How do I translate what I am experiencing into something I can understand?"
  • Be more independent in your learning. If the lecture doesn't match the readings, ask yourself why. Make a connection, think about it on your own, or talk about it with your peers. If you need more information, take the initiative and go to the professor (early and regularly) and to the library.
  • Do not expect a syllabus - or, at least, not the kind of step-by-step syllabus you receive from instructors at Wesleyan or Vassar. You may receive a list of 40 or 100 books that are somehow relevant to the course you're taking, and it's up to you (with the professor's guidance in office hours, if you seek him/her out) to figure out which, and how many, to read, and how to locate them.
  • Ask for what you need from your instructors. They may not know that they are teaching across a cultural divide. If you need clarification or extra help, or aren't sure what to do, ask.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions; just be diplomatic and monitor yourself. Because Socratic teaching is not the norm, instructors will not automatically steer the class back to a point or thread. They will follow your questions graciously wherever they lead and not understand why you get upset when the class doesn't stay on point.
  • Be prepared to memorize a lot more than you are used to doing - not a bad skill to pick up. Yes, the concept is critical, but even in the US you sometimes have to be able to rattle off the facts and indeed you should know them before venturing to make sweeping judgments!

  • Try, for just one semester or academic year, to be more focused on learning than on your GPA. This is not to trivialize the importance of your GPA to your future, but rather to encourage you to trust yourself, your hard work, and your intellect. If you accept that you will not be able to keep a running tally of your grade throughout the term, and instead focus on learning, you probably will be much happier and do better in the long run. Students who work hard and well (by seeking guidance from the professor early and regularly), do the readings and homework, and come to class consistently nearly always do well.
  • Remember that your program staff (if you are on a program or at a university with an international student office) is available to help you with the transition and Ôtranslation' process. They are both your support and your advocate, but can't help if you don't let them know what's going on.


Study skills abroad:

  • Begin studying the assigned readings and materials prior to class. The material will be fresh in your mind, and doing so will keep you from falling behind. If you don't study immediately, the subsequent lectures will make little sense, and you'll continue falling behind.
  • Read widely in the field outside of what is assigned (using the course bibliography as a guide).
  • Reading is not the same as studying. Studying involves thoughtful, careful contemplative reading and note-taking.
  • Study and work through both the instructor's lectures and the texts yourself. Make notes while doing so, and try to connect the main ideas with the relevant facts. This will make it much easier to study for exams, and is particularly useful when you're studying in a language in which you are not fluent.
  • Begin your homework immediately after it is assigned. This way the material will be fresh in your mind and you will retain it better. This is important because there are fewer exams and papers, and you will need to remember material for longer periods of time.
  • Review things on the weekend. Even a brief re-read of notes will make it that much easier when exam time comes.

  • Treat homework like a quiz. Relying on notes, learning aids, or friends has its benefits, but if you really want to know your knowledge baseline, try doing at least 50% of your homework assignments on your own.
  • Do not be deceived by an apparently casual attitude to class or to coursework by most fellow students and even the professor. Grade-point averages do not matter to graduate schools or future employers in Spain, in Europe, and indeed in most of the world as much as they do in the U.S. Therefore, what you will observe in many (perhaps, in some courses, most) students is the attitude and the work habits of students content merely to scrape by (with a -sometimes barely- passing grade). Most VWM program students are not used to getting only barely passing grades nor do they expect them. Therefore, if you want to come away with the kind of grade you are used to at home, you will need to work for it the way the very best of students (not nearly as visible as the others) do here: namely, by scrupulously following the strategies for studying abroad outlined above.


Recapping academic regulations

  1.     Participate fully in the CEH orientation program and to abide by the norms and regulations stipulated in the CEH's Guía del estudiante. These norms pertain to: deadlines for registration and adding/dropping courses; use of the internet facilities; access to announcements on the CEH's bulletin board; personal conduct; process for obtaining the UC3M identification card.
  2.      Daily attendance in all class sessions is required throughout the semester. UC3M with the full backing of VWM take absences into consideration in the final grade. Personal travel or family visits do not justify absences.
  3.      All participants must enroll in the equivalent of 24 UC3M credits. (This does not include the two credits from either Santiago or Granada.) Special permission must be requested to carry a heavier course load.
  4.     At least 6 credits should correspond to regular UC3M or UCM courses (that is, to coursework taken outside of the CEH).
  5.     The CEH requires students to take one language course. Bilingual students may be exempted or they may choose to take "Spanish for bilinguals". Year-long students may be exempted from the language requirement in the spring; the decision will depend on the results of the spring term CEH language placement exam.
  6.      VWM participants may not enroll in courses taught in English.
  7.     Students interested in using courses in Spain to satisfy general requirements or expectations for graduation (such as the Wesleyan "expectations for general education" or gen eds) should notify the study abroad officer and faculty advisor on their home campus, indicating exactly which course(s) they wish to use and the requirement(s) or expectation(s) they wish to satisfy.
  8.      Final exams:
    1.      The schedule is announced at the beginning of each semester and it is firm.
    2.      At the professor's discretion, students taking licenciatura or grado courses may be able to take the exam as soon as classes are over. They may also opt to take the final exam by fax, as an alternative to the regularly scheduled final exam.
    3.       Students taking regular UC3M courses (ALs or CHs) must discuss the date of their final exam with their professor at the beginning of the semester and communicate this information to the Director on the ficha de matrícula.
    4.       If you must anticipate your final exam and your professor agrees to it at the beginning of the term and if you are given a choice between a final paper and a final exam, we strongly urge you to choose the final exam since papers tend to be more strictly graded.
  9.      Professors at the Carlos III usually post their grades in the (electronic) aula global. Students with questions or doubts have up to three weeks from the last day of class to request a revisión (an explanation and, if warranted, a change) of the grade. However, professors also have the right to set aside one date for this purpose (called the día or fecha de revisión), which they post in the aula global in the last week of classes. Professors rarely grant exceptions to the process or deadline. Students are therefore advised to act promptly. If no date is posted, contact your professor in writing or in person immediately to request an appointment.

[1] The other American university programs currently located on the UC3M campus include: Academic Year Abroad (AYA), Boston College, Johns Hopkins U., Saint Mary's College (Moraga, CA), U. of California, Washington U. (St. Louis).

[2] Titulación = degree granting program; the titulaciones at the UC3M include licenciaturas (roughly equivalent to the American B.A. or B.S.) and diplomaturas (a shorter degree program).

[3] Carrera = major.

[4] NP = "no presente" for the final exam.