As a French student, I was surprised the first time I came to Sweden to discover a totally different university system. First, it’s not unusual for Swedes to take a gap year after gymnasiet (high-school). Hence, most of them are more than 20 years old when they start studying their Bachelor.
During my Erasmus year in Uppsala, I was only 19 and ending my Bachelor while some of my classmates were, sometimes, until 26 and just starting their studies! Today I am 22 years old and just began my second master, while Swedes from my age are mostly in their Bachelor. I think this difference stems from a chiller way to perceive studies and their outcome.
I think the Swedish university system is built to make you responsible for your own studies. Photo: Unsplash/Mikael Kristenson.
One course at a time
In Sweden, as most European countries I think, a school year is divided in two semesters. Each semester is then divided into several “periods” – from two to four. One course fits in one period. That means that in one semester you can have from two courses to four courses, one after the other and not at the same time.
For instance, I am now studying my third period’s course entitled “Analytical Tools”. It started on 12th November and will be ending in January. Before I got one course in September, “Introduction to intersectionality”, and one in October, “Exploring Intersectionality”.
This is way different than France where I could have more than five courses to study at the same time during the whole semester. Here in Sweden, I can focus on one course at a time, which allows me to better understand and acquire the knowledge necessary to succeed in my exams and my studies.
You cannot fail
The Swedish system is built as to make you feel like you can’t fail. Indeed, it is possible for you to take the same exam indefinitely, until you succeed. Thus, exams have usually two dates and essays two deadlines, in case you don’t feel like taking it the first time – because you did not study enough for example – or if you are sick.
In France, if you are not showing up at an exam you need to get a really good reason, otherwise it’s written that you failed and you have to register to a re-take exam, which is not seen as a good thing on your grade transcript. In Sweden, it does not matter as long as you pass the exam. I think this way is really encouraging and makes you more relax about your exams.
In general, I think the Swedish university system makes you more autonomous and responsible for your own decisions: if you decide not to study, you don’t have any sanctions but you can only blame yourself for your lack of studying.