With its long-established education system and competitive studying and living costs, this welcoming central European nation is a fine choice for international students
In 2017 there were 65,793 international students in Poland, making up nearly 5% of the total student population. The number is set to increase in the coming years, which shouldn't come as a surprise - situated at the crossroads between eastern and western Europe, Poland is a populous, cultural country with plenty to explore.
Away from your studies you'll be able to visit the popular tourist cities of Kraków, Gdansk and the country's capital Warsaw, as well as travel further afield to immerse yourself in Poland's national parks, lakes and mountains.
Low costs of living, a high-quality education and the opportunity to learn a second language are just some of the reasons to consider studying in Poland. You'll also be following in the footsteps of notable alumni, such as Marie Curie and Nicolaus Copernicus, who both studied at Polish universities.
There are nearly 500 higher education institutions (HEIs) in Poland, both public and private, meaning you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding where to study.
Specialist institutions include universities of agriculture, maritime universities and government service HEIs - for a full list, see Go! Poland.
Five Polish universities make an appearance in the top 1,000 of the Times Higher Education's World University Rankings 2019, while 14 appear in the QS World University Rankings 2019 - including two in the top 500, the University of Warsaw (394th) and Jagiellonion University (411th).
These two institutions also appear 6th and 7th respectively in the QS Emerging Europe and Central Asia (EECA) University Rankings 2019.
Warsaw was placed 53rd in the QS Best Student Cities 2018, up from 63rd two years previously. As well as the University of Warsaw, the city is home to the highly reputable Warsaw University of Technology.
The Polish academic year runs from October to mid-February (fall semester), and from mid-February to June (spring semester), each term ending with exams.
Teaching is delivered in the form of classes, seminars, discussion groups, lectures and laboratory sessions, depending on your course.
Degree courses in Poland
Bachelors degrees in Poland, or first-cycle studies, are typically three to four years in length and are offered as either a Bachelor of Arts (Licencjat) or Bachelor of Science or Engineering (Inżynier). Courses are primarily focused on preparing students for employment or further study.
Many Bachelors degrees are offered in English, with these full-time programmes amounting to 180-240 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits. Applicants must have successfully completed upper secondary school (sixth form or college).
To successfully complete a semester, you'll need to pass all exams according to the common grading scale, as published by Go! Poland:
- 5 - very good (bardzo dobry)
- 4 - good (dobry)
- 3 - satisfactory (dostateczny)
- 2 - unsatisfactory/fail (niedostateczny)
- credit/pass (zaliczenie).
In Poland, Masters courses - leading to the title of Magister - follow one of two structures:
- second-cycle courses last 18 months to two years and are worth 90-120 ECTS credits.
- long-cycle, integrated courses start in your first year of university, take up to six years to complete and are worth 270-360 ECTS credits. These are offered in a limited number of fields, including dentistry, pharmacy and law, and involve in-depth specialisation.
Course content is focused on deepening theoretical knowledge, and on more creative courses the development and application of creative skills. It's likely you'll be required to submit a dissertation before defending it in an oral examination.
Third-cycle, Doctoral (Doktor) studies typically last for four years and lead to a PhD. They're offered by research institutions and universities, and you'll need to have already gained a Masters qualification to apply.
You'll receive heavy supervision and engagement from your mentor, and will be expected to carry out teaching duties and training as well as complete and publicly defend your thesis.
You can take part in the European Union's (EU) education, training and youth support programme Erasmus+ if you're studying at a UK university. The scheme provides study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to students in partner countries. Opportunities last from three months to one academic year.
Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative to any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation actively involved in education or training.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in another EU country, so be sure to check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the scheme in your subject. Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about any available opportunities in Poland.
Full-time education at Polish HEIs costs nothing for Polish citizens. It's also free for international students from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and in some other circumstances. Visit Go! Poland to see if you're eligible.
For those expected to pay their course fees at these public institutions, the current averages are:
- €2,000 per year for Bachelors and Masters courses
- €3,000 per year for Doctoral and specialist courses.
Private institutions have the freedom to set their own fees - these can range from €2,000 to €6,000 per year, depending on the course and institution.
Regardless of your fee-paying status, you'll have to pay an administration fee to your university when you enrol. Some may charge an administration fee per year - contact your university to find out how much you'll owe.
Funding to study in Poland
The Polish government has a list of current scholarships (in Polish) for international students, available in specific subjects, typically as part of agreements with other nations - to see what's available, visit NAWA - Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange.
A number of Polish universities have their own scholarship programmes, usually offered on a merit basis. Contact your institution to see what you could receive as an international student.
As an EU citizen, you're permitted to live in any EU country while studying as long as you:
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution
- are studying for more than three months
- have comprehensive health insurance cover
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support.
Students looking to study at a Polish university for a minimum of three months will still need to obtain a residence permit from your local Voivodeship Office. Speak to your university's international office for further guidance, or visit the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
If you're from a country outside of the EU and you plan on studying in Poland for a minimum of three months, you'll need to contact your local Polish embassy to process your visa application, which can take up to 15 days. You'll require all the necessary documentation and to pay the visa fee.
This visa information is still valid following the UK's decision to leave the EU and will be updated if changes happen.
How to apply
There's no central applications system for higher education in Poland, meaning you'll submit your applications directly to your chosen institutions. Because of this there's no limit on how many universities you can apply to, but remember to prioritise quality over quantity to make the best first impression.
To enrol on any postgraduate programme, you'll need an undergraduate degree that's legally recognised in Poland, and you must provide proof of recognition to the Polish university by the end of the first term. It's likely you'll also need to provide a personal statement, academic references and copies of ID, as well as other documents.
Apply as early as possible - university applications can take months to process, and you'll need to allow extra time for visa or scholarship applications if you're submitting any. You'll usually be able to apply from the end of May, when postgraduate course details are listed on university websites.
While a large selection of Bachelors and Masters programmes are taught in English, it's worth learning Polish in any case - even if it's just to enjoy a balanced life outside of the classroom. You can arrange for intensive language courses before you go. Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about your options.
NAWA offers Polish summer courses. Alternatively, if you'd like to learn the language before you arrive, sites such as Duolingo, e-polish and Babbel offer online Polish courses at varying proficiency levels.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Existing undergraduate qualifications acquired in other European countries will usually be recognised and accepted by Polish universities. Your Polish Masters degree or PhD will also be internationally recognised, including by UK employers, due to Poland's involvement in the Bologna process.