Italy certainly has plenty of charms to tempt tourists and international students alike: a diverse landscape; an immense cultural and historical legacy; iconic and historic sites including Rome’s Colosseum and Pisa’s Leaning Tower; incomparable cuisine; an impressive history of inventions and discoveries… and, of course, universities in Italy include some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious.
Aside from the monumental legacy of the Roman civilization, Italy has a long history of leadership and innovation. Notable Italians include explorers Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo; Enrico Fermi (physicist who created the world’s first nuclear reactor); Leonardo da Vinci, who proved the world is not flat; Alessandro Volta, who studied electricity (recognize the term ‘Volt’?); and Galileo Galilei, who discovered four moons around Jupiter and invented the telescope, with which he proved that the Earth revolves around the sun.
That’s just for starters – the list of famous Italian thinkers and inventors goes on and on, ranging from eyeglasses and espresso machines to automobiles and eau de cologne. The origin of the word ‘university’ is also attributed to Italy, and the University of Bologna is believed to be one of the very oldest in the world.
Then there’s the famous Italian fashion houses, and of course that fabulous food…
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There are around 90 universities in Italy, of which the majority are publicly funded. There are also a number of specialized postgraduate centers, polytechnics and other academies that form part of the higher education sector.
Under the Bologna Process, Italy has implemented the nuovo ordinamento system, replacing the former vecchio ordinamento. Higher education in Italy now consists of a three-year bachelor’s degree called the laurea triennale, which can be followed by the two-year master’s degree (laurea magistrale, previously the laurea specialistica).
There is a credit system in place to quantify the amount of work needed to pass each course (eg. 25 work hours = 1 credit), as well as an opportunity to change your course or continue your studies abroad after three years. Students wishing to study law must take the five-year Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico, while medical students must take a six-year degree.
A total of 28 universities in Italy feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017, of which 12 make it into the world’s top 500. The top five are:
The highest-ranked Italian university at joint 183rd in the world, Politecnico di Milano ranks particularly well for its art and engineering courses, with places in the top 20 of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016 for art and design (10th), civil and structural engineering (14th), architecture (15th), and mechanical engineering (18th). Notable alumni of Politecnico di Milano include celebrated Italian chemist Giulio Natta, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1963 for his work in high polymers.
Not far behind is Università di Bologna (UNIBO), at 208th. UNIBO lays claim to being one of the very first universities established, although the actual date of its founding is uncertain. If the name sounds familiar, that may be due to Italy’s continued leadership in higher education; the University of Bologna gives its name to the Bologna Process, the ongoing project to make academic systems and qualifications more compatible across Europe.
Ranked joint 223rd in the world, Sapienza - Università di Roma is another of the world’s oldest universities, founded in 1303. Sapienza is one of the largest European universities, with a large student population (110,000) of which around 6,000 are from outside Italy. It counts six Nobel laureates among its alumni and faculty members, including particle physicist and inventor Carlo Rubbia.
Politecnico di Torino is ranked 305th in the world in 2016-17, and is Italy’s oldest polytechnic university, established in 1859. As you can imagine, it ranks particularly well for technical subjects, and is in the top 50 of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016 for civil and structural engineering, electrical engineering, and architecture.
Ranked joint 338th in 2016-17, Università degli Studi di Padova (UNIPD) was founded back in 1222 and now has around 61,000 students enrolled in 32 departments. UNIPD houses the oldest surviving permanent anatomical theater in Europe, dating back to 1595, and has taught the likes of Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei.
Other top universities in Italy include:
The top universities in Italy are spread across a wide area, as are the rest of the country’s attractions, meaning plenty of attractive choices for those planning to study in Italy. Find out more about some of the most popular cities for students…
Where to start with the Italian capital? Well, most people probably start with the main sights – the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Forum, the Spanish Steps or the catacombs. But as a student in Rome, the fun lies in discovering new sides to the “Eternal City”.
You might take in a show in one of Rome’s many theaters, or enjoy a large outdoor performance at the Stadio Falminio or Olympic Stadium. If you’re keen on literature, why not enjoy a night out at a ‘book bar’ – a fusion of bar, library and book club? For bargain hunters, Rome’s antique fairs and flea markets offer reams of vintage and second-hand goodies. If you’re brave enough, you might even rent a scooter and try to navigate the notoriously chaotic Roman traffic.
There are a range of excellent universities in Rome, particularly the Sapienza - Università di Roma which is ranked joint 223rd in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017 , making it Italy’s third highest-ranked university. Other notable universities in Rome include the Universitá degli Studi di Roma - Tor Vergata (ranked 481-490 in the world) and the Università degli Studi Roma Tre (701+).
Celebrated as one of world’s best cities for students, Milan offers the full package: world-class universities, a high standard of living, and a large and diverse student population. A thriving economic hub in the north of Italy, Milan retains a strong sense of its past, while simultaneously representing modern urban Italian life.
The city’s cosmopolitan population coexists alongside a wealth of historical sites, including the Santa Maria alle Grazie Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which contains the famous painting The Last Supper. As well as being Italy’s leading financial center, Milan is recognized as a world leader in the fashion and design industries, designated a ‘Fashion Capital of the World’ alongside London, Paris and New York. If sports are more your thing, you’ll probably know Milan as the home of celebrated football teams AC Milan and Internazionale.
With eight universities in Milan, the city has the largest student community in Italy. Its higher education options include Italy’s highest entry in the 2016-17 rankings, Politecnico di Milano. Other internationally ranked universities in Milan include Università degli Studi di Milano (joint 370th), the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (491-500) and the University of Milano-Bicocca (651-700), while the Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi is known as one of Europe’s top business-focused universities. The Università degli Studi di Pavia (UNIPV), at 551-600 in the world rankings, is also located just north of the city of Milan and offers a range of international programs taught in English.
Once you’ve climbed the famous Leaning Tower and taken one of those photos where you pretend to be holding it up, you’ll find there’s a lot more to Pisa than this iconic landmark! Pisa has more than 20 historic churches, several palaces and a series of stunning bridges across the River Arno. During the summer, you’ll find students relaxing along the banks of the river, sipping drinks from one of the area’s good wine bars.
While you might not find so many clubs or live music venues in Pisa, the city does offer some alternative music venues, disco bars and karaoke bars. Meanwhile, you can enjoy a leisurely dinner or drink at one of the city’s restaurants and bars, have a walk in Piazza Garibaldi and the riverside Lungarni, or treat yourself at one of Pisa’s spas.
The city gets much of its life from its student population, who organize all kinds of parties, shows and cultural events. Among universities in Pisa, the main one is the Università di Pisa, ranked 431-440 in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017. The university’s most famous past student is Galileo Galilei, who studied there in the 16th century and went on to become one of the world’s most famous astronomers, physicists and inventors. Along with the University of Pisa, the Scuola Normale Superiore and the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa make up the Pisa University System, which is recognized as one of Europe’s leading education hubs.
Although less familiar to foreigners, Bologna is well-known among Italians, and not just because it is the largest city and capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Bologna is known as the culinary capital of Italy, famous for its cuisine (la cucina Bolognese). It’s also been named a Creative City for Music by UNESCO, and is known for well-preserved historic center. The city’s pervasive shades of red, from terracotta to burnt oranges and warm yellows, have given it the nickname Bologna la rossa (Bologna the red).
Having developed around one of the world’s oldest universities, Bologna remains very much a university town, with a large and diverse student population. There is a thriving nightlife, active gay scene, good live music scene, and almost a hundred concerts every year featuring international rock, electronic and alternative bands. Other study-break activity options include a restored silent and sound films festival in July, three major car museums (Ducati, Lamborghini and Ferrari), and a Formula One collection.
Among universities in Bologna, the highest-ranked is the Università di Bologna (UNIBO) – which is Italy’s second-highest entry in the QS World University Rankings, at 208th. Other higher education institutions in Bologna include the Collegio di Spagna (within the University of Bologna, for Spanish students); a branch campus of the US’s Johns Hopkins University; the Academy of Fine Arts of Bologna, and the Collegio Superiore di Bologna. You might also consider taking some classes at the Carpigiani Gelato University, where you can learn to make authentic Italian ice cream.
University application procedures in Italy vary depending on whether you are an EU or a non-EU student, and whether you’re applying at undergraduate (referred to as ‘first cycle’) or graduate level (second and third cycle). The Study in Italy website run by the Italian Ministry of Education has all the information you’ll need about applying to universities in Italy – but keep reading for an overview of key steps.
In general, the first step is to contact your chosen university to check the entry requirements for your degree program. Once your eligibility is confirmed, you must submit a pre-application request form to the Italian embassy or consulate in your country of origin along with the relevant documentation (see below). You will need to get your documents translated into Italian by an approved translator. The form you need to fill out will vary depending on whether you are an EU or non-EU student and your degree subject. For example, non-EU students applying to study at institutions for arts, design, music and dance will need to fill in the form Model A-bis, while other students will need to fill the form Model A.
Documents you may need to provide include:
If you are an EU student, the embassy through which you are applying will send you a Letter of Academic Eligibility and Suitability (Dichiarazione di Valoro in Loco/ DV), which acknowledges your foreign studies prior to applying to universities in Italy. The embassy will then send your documents to your chosen university and you will receive confirmation of acceptance (or rejection) directly from the university. If you are a non-EU student, the Italian embassy or consulate will find out if your application meets the criteria for a visa to study in Italy.
You will only be issued a visa to study in Italy if you can demonstrate that you:
You can find out if you will need a visa to study in Italy using this handy tool offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministero degli Affari Esteri). Most of the time, the visa is free; however, some candidates may need to pay a visa processing fee. You will also need to present all necessary documents giving evidence of the requirements outlined above, as well as:
Tuition fees at universities in Italy differ depending on the institution and course, as institutions set their own rates. According to government guidelines, average fees are between €850 and €1,000 (~US$900-1,060) per year at public universities in Italy, while private universities will be more expensive. Some specialized courses may also charge higher fees, while doctoral students receiving a grant from their university of choice will not need to pay fees.
In terms of living costs, you’ll need €12,000-18,000 (~US$12,740-19,120) per year to cover accommodation, food, transport, entertainment and other expenses. When budgeting, you should keep in mind your lifestyle and spending habits, as well as where you’ll be based – major cities and tourist areas will be more expensive than smaller towns, especially in the north of Italy.
International students are eligible for the same scholarships and grants as local students, assessed by academic merit or financial need. This applies to scholarships, student loans, housing assistance, meal tickets and fee waivers. These services are managed by the university’s DSU Office (Diritto allo Studio Universitario – Right to Education), which also provides useful information and services for students including counseling, extra-curricular activities, sports, transport and other practical matters.
Having arrived in Italy, all students (including those from within the EU) must apply for a residence permit (Permesso di Soggiorno). Non-EU students on a long-stay student visa (more than 90 days) need to apply for this at their local post office within eight days of arrival, while EU nationals should register at their local Ufficio Anagrafe (registry office) within three months of arrival. International students on a short-stay student visa (up to 90 days) must make a declaration of presence (Dichiarazione di Presenza) to the local police (Questura). You should carry the declaration of presence or residence permit with you, as you may be asked to show it to police or public safety officers.