Along with its rich historical, artistic and cultural attractions, Italy's reputation for academic excellence combined with affordable tuition fees makes the country an enticing study abroad destination
When planning a trip to Italy, it's easy to picture some of the things it's renowned for, such as coffee, pizza, football and art. However, instead of just visiting its famous landmarks, you could be benefiting from a more immersive experience while furthering your education.
The country boasts around 30,000 international students due to its world-class teaching, reasonable tuition fees and accessible funding opportunities. It's also home to some of Europe's oldest and most respected universities.
As most courses are taught in Italian, you'll get chance to learn a second language, which is sure to impress future employers.
In your free time, you can take in all the country has to offer. World-class options include the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain in Rome, St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, the ancient ruins of Pompeii and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
You'll also be able to enjoy the outstanding Italian cuisine, go hiking in the Italian Alps, soak up the sun on beautiful beaches, check out the fashion hotspots in metropolitan cities such as Milan, Naples and Venice or sample the unique atmosphere of a Serie A football match at Juventus' Allianz Stadium in Turin.
The higher education system in Italy is divided into universities and non-university institutions. They can be classified as follows:
- Universities - includes both private and publicly funded, with the majority being the latter. This includes graduate schools (Scuola Superiore Universitaria), telematics universities and those funded by province. There are 97 universities in total, plus 12 national research centres.
- Non-universities - these are sector-specific academies specialising in the field of arts, known as AFAM (Institutes of High Training in Art, Music and Dance). There are 137 of these across the country, as well as technical institutions, schools of higher education in language mediation and schools of higher integrated education.
The Bologna Process, which standardised higher education qualifications throughout Europe in 1999, is named after the University of Bologna - founded in 1088, it's the world's oldest university.
Due to this reform, qualifications are structured as follows:
- First cycle/Laurea Triennale - comparable to a Bachelors/undergraduate degree (180 credits) and lasts three years.
- Second cycle/Laurea Magistrale - consists of two years of study, and is equivalent to a Masters degree (120 credits).
- Specialist Masters programmes/Master Universitario di 1° Livello - usually involve one year of study and provide students with professional knowledge (60 credits).
- Postgraduate diploma/Specializzazione di 2° Livello - a two-year course training specialists for certain professional sectors.
- Single cycle Masters programmes/Laurea Magistrale Ciclo Unico - a five or six year Masters programme allowing entry for school leavers (300-360 credits).
- Third cycle/Dottorato di Ricerca - three-year, PhD-level programmes.
A total of 36 Italian universities currently feature in the QS World University Rankings 2021, with four making the top 300:
- Politecnico di Milano (137th)
- Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna (160th)
- Sapienza University of Rome (171st)
- Università di Padova (216th).
The academic year in Italy is split into two semesters. The first runs from September/October to January/February, with the second commencing in February and ending in July.
For more information on Italy's university system, visit the Centre for the Academic Promotion and Orientation of Study in Italy at Uni-Italia - Study in Italy.
Degree courses in Italy
A Bachelors degree, otherwise known in Italy as the Laurea Triennale, is usually a three-year programme of full-time study. A broad range of subjects are available, but the country is highly regarded for its academic excellence in art, design, architecture and applied sciences.
While most courses are taught in Italian, the number of English language programmes is increasing. However, international students will more than likely need to prove their proficiency in Italian before being accepted. You'll also need to pre-enrol at your chosen institution, presenting the required valid school leaving certificate (or equivalent) for admission.
To explore Bachelors courses, see the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research's Study in Italy course search page.
Italian Masters courses (Laurea Magistrale) take two years to complete and are divided into four semesters. You'll be taught through a series of lectures, tutorials and group work, which will culminate in the submission of a dissertation at the end of semester four.
Second-cycle postgraduate programmes can be studied in a variety of subjects and some Italian universities provide Masters courses taught entirely in English. To find out if your chosen subject is one of them, check with your institution's international office.
In some subjects, such as law, pharmacology, architecture and medicine, at specific universities school leavers can undertake a five or six-year Masters programme (known as the Laurea Magistrale Ciclo Unico).
Specialist one-year Masters courses (Master Universitario di 1° Livello) are focused on practical education and are typically found in professional subjects such as law, engineering or education.
You'll need to hold a good undergraduate degree, which for some programmes needs to be in a relevant subject.
Browse relevant Masters courses by using the search facility at Study in Italy.
Third-cycle research Doctorate degrees (Dottorato di Ricerca), also known as PhDs, can be studied at all Italian universities and typically take at least three years to complete. During this time, you'll work on an individual project and produce a thesis based on original research.
To get onto a third-cycle programme, you'll need a relevant Masters qualification and will possibly have to sit an admission exam. If your course is taught in Italian, you'll also need to prove your proficiency in the language.
Students attending UK universities can take part in the government's new Turing Scheme for students looking to secure overseas placements and study abroad at an overseas university for the 2021/22 academic year.
The scheme provides an opportunity for thousands of students from schools, colleges and universities to gain study and work experience abroad.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in Italy, so check that your institution is involved in the programme and offers the scheme.
Tuition fees to study in Italy will differ depending on the university and the course that you choose, so it's important to check with institutions individually to find out about costs.
Undergraduate courses at public institutions can cost between €900 (£815) and €4,000 (£3,625) per year, with the average working out at around €1,500 (£1,360). Annual fees at private universities typically range from €6,000 (£5,440) to €20,000 (£18,135).
Students from the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) shouldn't have to pay more for courses than Italian citizens, but for other international students, such as those from the UK, the costs may be higher.
Funding to study in Italy
The same rules apply to international students as Italian students when it comes to scholarships and grants. All students can apply for them, with funding distributed depending on an individual's financial situation and academic merit. This applies to scholarships, student loans, housing assistance, meal tickets and fee waivers.
There are different types of funding you can apply for and the international office at your chosen university can help you decide your options.
It's also worth bearing in mind that Italy is one of the more expensive EU countries, with living expenses in the north considerably higher than in the south. However, according to Numbeo, while the cost of living may be 4% higher in Italy than the UK, renting prices are over 24% lower.
This is good news for international students as universities in Italy don't normally have halls of residence, but will instead offer accommodation services.
EU students don't need a visa to study in Italy, long as they:
- are studying for more than three months
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support
- have comprehensive health insurance cover.
International or non-EU students, including those from the UK, will need to apply for an Italian study visa at their local Italian embassy or consulate. You may be asked to submit:
- a valid entry visa application form and the €50 (£45) admin fee
- a valid passport
- a recent passport photograph
- proof of accommodation in Italy for the duration of your studies
- evidence of sufficient funds
- valid health insurance details
- an acceptance letter from an Italian institution.
Non-EU students need to apply for a residence permit in the city where you'll be living within eight days of arrival. This can be done at your local post office in Italy and you'll be supplied with the relevant application information.
For more information, see the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation - Visa for Italy.
How to apply
University application procedures in Italy depend on your level of study and whether you are an EU or non-EU student. You may need to sit an entrance exam.
Information on application procedures and the necessary documentation can usually be found online through your chosen institution.
The application process involves submitting a pre-application request form to the Italian embassy or consulate in your country - for the UK this is the Embassy of Italy in London - along with the relevant supporting materials. These include:
- a completed application form
- a completed pre-enrolment form
- a copy of your school leaving certificate (undergraduate) or a copy of your undergraduate certificate (postgraduate)
- academic transcripts
- two passport photographs
- proof of Italian proficiency
- additional documentation that supports your application.
All documents must be translated into Italian. If you're an EU student, you'll receive a Letter of Academic Eligibility and Suitability (Dichiarazione di Valore in Loco/DV) from your local Italian embassy acknowledging your foreign qualifications prior to applying to an Italian university. The embassy is then responsible for sending your documents to your chosen institution.
For non-EU students, the embassy will determine whether your application meets the criteria for a visa to study in Italy.
Read more about the process and the documents required at Uni-Italia - Pre-Enrolment.
For university courses delivered in Italian, international students will have to prove their language proficiency at the application stage. This typically involves sitting an exam, although in some situations, you may be able to submit documentary evidence of your competence in the Italian language.
Even if your degree is taught in English, it's still a good idea to have a basic knowledge of Italian as this can help you to settle into your new surroundings and make friends. You can improve your language skills by undertaking a course in your home country or by contacting your institution's international office to enquire about Italian language courses once you arrive.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Thanks to the Bologna Process, Italian courses and higher education qualifications are directly comparable to those studied in the UK.
It's always best to check before applying for jobs, but degrees gained in Italy should be recognised by UK employers.
For information on having your qualifications officially evaluated, see ENIC-NARIC - Italy.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in Italy.