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You can read our guide if you want to get the lowdown on studying abroad in Italy, but we hardly need to sell it to you, do we?
After all, Italy has it all: from volcanoes to leaning towers, World Heritage Sites to perfect espresso, and, of course, some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities.
After all, you would expect a pretty decent higher education system in the country credited with inventions as diverse as dentures and dictionaries – not to mention the huge legacy of the Roman civilisation. This region has a long history of being ahead of the game, and that continues today.
The Università di Bologna (UNIBO) is Italy’s top-ranked, and one of the first universities ever established – possibly the very oldest in existence. But if the name sounds familiar, that’s probably due to Italy’s continued leadership in higher education; Bologna gives its name to the Bologna Process, the project that is making academic systems and qualifications more compatible across Europe, and in which Italy has been a key participant.
Much like its other attractions, Italy’s top universities are spread across a wide area.
There’s the Sapienza - Università di Roma in Rome, Università degli Studi di Padova in Padua, Università degli Studi di Firenze in Florence, and the Università di Pisa in (you guessed it) Pisa.
Overall, the country has around 90 higher education institutes, including 58 state universities, 17 private-sector universities, and a number of specialized postgraduate or e-learning centers.
Why is Milan one of the world's best student cities?
Discover Italy's top student cities...
Where to start with Rome? Well, most people probably start with the Coliseum, followed by some of the other main sights – perhaps the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Catacombs and Forum.
But as a student studying in Rome, the fun lies in discovering the sides of the city most visitors would miss – those cafés only the locals know about, secluded parks where you can take a break from the crowds, boutiques selling local designers’ creations.
If you’re keen on literature, you might enjoy a night out at a ‘book bar’ – sort of a cross between a bar, a library and a book club. For bargain hunters, antique fairs and flea markets offer plenty of vintage and second-hand goodies waiting to be discovered.
The universities in Rome are also excellent, particularly Sapienza - Università di Roma (216 in the QS World University Rankings 2012/13) and Università degli Studi di Roma – Tor Vergata (336).
Ranked at 21 in the QS Best Student Cities 2012, Milan offers the full package: world-class universities, excellent lifestyle, and a large and diverse student population.
As well as being Italy’s leading financial hub, Milan is also recognized as a world leader in the fashion and design industries, on a par with London, Paris and New York. If sports are more your thing, you’ll probably know it as the home of two of Italy’s biggest football teams, AC Milan and Internazionale.
And if you’re thinking about your future career, rest assured that Milan’s highest score in the QS Best Student Cities ranking is in the Employer Activity category. This reflects the large number of employers who seek out graduates from the city – and in particular from the Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, one of Europe’s top business-focused universities.
You’ve climbed the tower, you’ve taken one of those photos where you pretend to be holding it up: what next? As a student, you’re unlikely to be short of options; Pisa has a large student population, so there’s always plenty going on.
The main higher education institutes are the Università di Pisa (314 in the QS World University Rankings 2012/13) and Scuola Normale Superiore and Sant'Anna School. Together these make up the Pisa University System, which is recognized as one of Europe’s leading education hubs.
Its most famous past student is Galileo Galilei, who studied at the University of Pisa in the 16th century, and went on to become one of the world’s most famous astronomers, physicists and inventors. No wonder Pisa takes higher education so seriously.
A student's guide to Pisa >
Applicants for undergraduate (‘first cycle’) programs are expected to have completed at least 12 years of education, and obtained satisfactory results in their own country’s pre-university exams (such as A-levels or SATs). Proficiency in Italian is also required, demonstrated either by sitting an exam or submitting evidence of language courses previously taken.
The academic year is split into two semesters, from September/October to January/February, and from February to July. Typically each semester in Italy will consist of 14 teaching weeks, followed by a six-week exam period. It is usual for most exams to be oral, which means a series of one-on-one question and answer sessions with the examining professors – rather a daunting prospect for many international students!
Italy’s university fees differ depending on the institution and course. According to government guidelines, average fees are between US$850 and US$1,000 per year, but private universities will be more expensive.
International students are eligible for the same scholarships and grants as local students, assessed by academic merit or financial need. Italy describes its higher education system in terms of three ‘cycles’, which can sound rather confusing, but basically refers to undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates.
Once you’ve been offered a place, you can apply for a student visa through your nearest Italian embassy or consulate. You’ll need to provide evidence of sufficient finances to support yourself and to return home, details of your accommodation arrangements, and proof that you will be able to access medical aid – either through private insurance or an agreement between Italy and your native country.
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