Studying in Sweden For Members

Reader question: How formal are Swedish universities?

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Reader question: How formal are Swedish universities?
Students at Stockholm University. Photo: Veronica Johansson/SvD/TT

The university term is starting soon for many students in Sweden, and you may be wondering how formal Swedish universities are if you've never attended one before.


How should I address my lecturers?

Depending on where you're from and what kind of school or university you've previously attended, you may be used to referring to your teachers or lecturers by their title (or in some cases, titles) in speech or emails, with a strict hierarchy determining how teachers and students react.

Don't be tempted to use the Swedish word kära where you would use "dear" in English at the start of an email. In letter-writing, kära in Swedish would be similar to addressing your lecturer as "beloved" or "darling", which is probably not the tone you want to strike.

Don't refer to them as professor, either. Firstly, not all of your lecturers will actually be professors, and secondly, it's just too formal for Sweden. Avoid Sir, Madam, Ma'am or similar, for the same reason. A man calling a woman "madam" could even appear patronising in Sweden, so is best avoided.

Lecturers and students are seen as equals in many regards and have an informal working relationship, so you'll be expected to address each other by first names with a simple hej, both in text and in speech. In Swedish, hej is appropriate for any level of formality.

What should I wear?

Although Sweden is informal, it's not entirely without rules. You're still expected to dress somewhat professionally when attending university classes, so think smart casual. Jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of trainers would be fine, but sweatpants and flip-flops would be frowned upon.

This also applies to socialising with teachers outside of class. You may get on well and be of a similar age to your lecturer, especially if you started studying later in life, but inviting them out for a beer after class is probably not recommended.


Don't go too far in the other direction, though. You're certainly not expected to turn up to classes in office clothes, although this depends somewhat on the subject. You're less likely to raise eyebrows if you turn up to classes in a suit as a business or economics student than you are if you study gender studies or languages.

Many university students in Sweden start studying later than elsewhere, and may even have had a career before starting their studies, so bear in mind that you'll be expected to take your studies seriously and act professionally, so turning up to class hungover or not doing your homework would be unwise.

How should I behave in class?

As a general rule, you shouldn't be afraid of participating actively in class.

In a lecture, you should either put your hand up or wait until the end of the lecture if you have questions. 

In a smaller class or tutorial, expect a group discussion, where you're expected to solve a case or answer a question by collaborating with your classmates.

The atmosphere will probably be quite relaxed so you won't necessarily need to raise your hand in this kind of situation, but make sure you don't interrupt anyone and you let them finish making their point before you speak.

You might also be tempted to try and impress your lecturer in class by showing that you know all the answers, but try and avoid doing this. You'll have a chance to show your knowledge in your individual exams, and group discussions are an opportunity for everyone in class to learn together rather than an opportunity to show off.


You don't usually need to put your hand up and ask your lecturer's permission to leave the room, if you need to go to the toilet, for example, but it is good courtesy to let them know before class if you will be arriving late or need to leave early.

If you do miss class for any reason, let them know (not because you necessarily have to, but because it's polite), and make sure you ask if you can get a copy of the class notes or slides so you can catch up in your spare time.



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