Study in the Philippines | Top Universities

A newly industrialized country and emerging market in Asia, the Philippines has welcomed an increasing number of international students in recent years, and is also a popular tourist destination – not surprising when you look at those tropical, sunny beaches. However, the Philippines has more to offer than an attractive coastline; those who study in the Philippines will be able to explore its fascinating mix of Islamic, Malay, Spanish and American influences on Filipino culture.

Read on to find out about the top universities in the Philippines, student cities, applications and more.

Not only is the Philippines a beautiful country, it also has one of the best higher education systems in Asia. Offering the opportunity to study in English at an affordable cost, the Philippines attracts over five thousand international students a year from across the globe, with most coming from other countries in East Asia.

There are almost 2,300 higher education institutions in the Philippines, the majority of which are private. Many universities are affiliated with Roman Catholicism, which reflects the country’s colonial past. Of the public institutions funded by the government, the national university, University of the Philippines, receives the most funding.

University of the Philippines 

The University of the Philippines (UP) is actually a public university system made up of seven constituent universities and a total of 15 campuses across the country. Its flagship campus and administrational seat is the University of the Philippines Diliman, which is located in Quezon City and teaches around 22,765 students. UP was founded by the American colonial government in 1908 and has since gained a strong reputation, consistently referred to as the top university in the country. It currently ranks among the top universities in the world for English language and literature.

Ateneo de Manila University

The Ateneo de Manila University is a private research university with four campuses located in the Metro Manila region, with the main campus in Quezon City. Founded in 1859 by the Society of Jesus, it’s one of the country’s oldest universities. Ateneo ranks as one of the top universities in the world for English language and literature.

De La Salle University

De La Salle University (DLSU) is a private, Roman Catholic research university which was founded in 1911 by the Brothers of the Christian Schools and was originally a boys’ school. It teaches around 18,500 students and has a main campus in the heart of Manila. Like the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines, DLSU ranks within the top universities in the world for English language and literature. 

University of Santo Tomas 

The University of Santo Tomas (UST, also known as Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, or the Catholic University of the Philippines) is a private, Roman Catholic research university located in Manila, and has the distinction of being the oldest university in both the Philippines and Asia, having been established in 1611. It’s also one of the largest Catholic universities in the world, with over 42,000 students.

See the full results of the QS World University Rankings: Asia

International students looking to study in the Philippines will no doubt be pleased to hear that Filipinos are known for their hospitality, warmth and happiness.

Spanish and American colonial influences mean that Filipino culture blends the west and east, while many festivals preserve traditions such as folk dancing. The country’s tropical climate also means that there’ll be plenty of opportunities for swimming, surfing, diving and snorkeling in your spare time.

If you’re fluent in English, you should be able to get by fairly well – English is one of the country’s official languages and is widely spoken by residents, although less commonly outside of large cities. There is no shortage of stunning natural spots to explore in your free time, with idyllic beaches, magnificent coral reefs, and an array of waterfalls, rainforests and mountainscapes.

The Philippines is also a great hub from which to explore other East Asian countries, making it ideal for those of you with the travel bug. Read on to find out more about the vibrant student cities you could live in while you study in the Philippines.

Note: Check the latest travel advice from your government before you travel. As of April 2016, the UK government advises against travel to the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, due to the threat of terrorist activity.

Study in Manila

Manila, the capital city of the Philippines and home to over 1.6 million people, has been nicknamed ‘Pearl of the Orient’ for its attractive location on the eastern shore of Manila Bay. Although it may seem like a congested concrete jungle at first, Manila has plenty to offer international students, with a large amount of significant architectural and cultural landmarks. This includes the old walled city of Intramuros, which was the seat of government in the 16th century during Spanish colonial rule. Manila has also been the country’s center of education since the colonial period, and is home to some of the top universities in the Philippines, including the University of the Philippines Manila and the University of Santo Tomas.

Quezon City 

Pronounced ke-zon city and known to Filipinos as Lungsod Quezon or simply QC, Quezon City is the largest and most populous city in the Philippines, home to over 2.7 million people. It was named after Manuel L. Quezon, the second president of the Philippines, who founded the city and developed it to replace Manila as the capital city between 1948 and 1976. Although no longer the capital, QC is still home to a number of important government headquarters. Dubbed the ‘City of New Horizons’, cultural landmarks in QC include the Quezon Memorial Circle, a national park and shrine with the city’s tallest structure, built to commemorate Manuel L. Quezon. Universities in QC include the flagship of the University of the Philippines university system, and Ateneo de Manila University.

Cebu City 

Home to over 866,000 people, Cebu City (Kalakhang Cebu in Filipino) is the fifth most populated city in the Philippines and also the country’s oldest. It was the first Spanish settlement, founded in 1565, and was the first capital of the Philippines. Today it retains landmarks from its colonial past, the most famous of which is Magellan's Cross. It’s a center of Filipino culture – international students who choose to live in Cebu City should definitely not miss out on the annual Sinulog-Santo Niño Festival, which includes a grand parade and traditional dance. Cebu City is also center of commerce, trade and education, with 11 large universities in Cebu City, including the University of the Philippines Cebu College and the University of San Carlos.


Baguio is a much smaller city on the same island as Manila and Quezon City (Luzon island) high in the mountains at an altitude of 1,540 meters (5,050 feet). This means it experiences much refreshingly cooler temperatures than other cities in the Philippines, attracting tourists from both abroad and from Filipino people from other provinces. This has earned it the nickname ‘Summer Capital of the Philippines’ and the city has also become a center of business, commerce and education. One of the University of the Philippines’ seven constituent universities can be found in Baguio as well as seven other major higher education institutions. 

Applying to universities in the Philippines 

There are two intakes for entry into universities in the Philippines, one in June and one in November. You should apply directly to your chosen university, providing an academic transcript relevant to your level of study. Depending on the university and program, you may also need to provide letters of recommendation and/or sit admission exams.

As the language of instruction at most universities in the Philippines is English, you’ll need to prove your proficiency with a test such as IELTS or TOEFL if you’re not a native speaker.

Applying for a Philippines visa

All international students will need a student visa, which you’ll need to apply for from the Philippine embassy or consulate in your home country after you’ve gained admission at a Filipino university. You’ll need to provide the right documents (which should be stated on your embassy’s website) and then attend an interview at the embassy or consulate. Your Philippines visa will be valid for a year and is renewable each semester. The documents you’ll typically need include:

  • Your passport, which should be valid for at least six months after you intend to leave the Philippines;
  • Your completed visa application form;
  • A medical health certificate (DFA Form 11) with life-size chest x-ray and laboratory reports;
  • Three photographs of yourself;
  • A police clearing certificate;
  • Your notice of acceptance to study at a university in the Philippines;
  • Proof that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay, or a scholarship;
  • Your paid visa fee.

Fees and funding

International students looking to study in the Philippines will be pleased to read that living costs are very low – you’ll only need around US$4,200-6,000 per year. Tuition fees are also on the low side. Universities set their own fees and they will vary between programs, but you’ll pay an average of US$1,000 per year at public universities and US$1,200 to 2,500 at private institutions.

Note that your student visa does not allow you to find part-time work in the Philippines while you study, so you can’t supplement your expenses as you go.

Health and safety 

You should secure health insurance before you study in the Philippines. You may be able to acquire this from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, which provides affordable health insurance for all citizens. However, you should also check the options available in your home country. It’s also a good idea to visit your health professional before your visit to check if you need any vaccinations before you set off to the Philippines.

The Philippines’ location on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ makes it prone to earthquakes and typhoons, the latter of which can be expected during the rainy season from June to November. There are also numerous volcanoes in the Philippines. It’s wise to read up on what to do in case of any natural disasters. As of April 2016, the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago are considered dangerous due to terrorist activity so visitors are not advised to visit these locations. 

Fast Facts

  • Made up of over 7,600 islands, although the majority of the population lives on just 11 of these.
  • Officially the Republic of the Philippines.
  • Population of 103 million people
  • Named in honor of King Philip II of Spain – the Philippines was a Spanish Colony for three centuries.
  • Gained independence in 1946.
  • Official languages are Filipino and English, but there are also 19 recognized regional languages.
  • Area of 300,000 sq km (115,831 sq miles), comparable to the US state of Arizona.
  • Currency is the Philippine peso.
  • Due to Spanish colonialism, the majority (82%) of the population are Roman Catholics. Islam is the second largest religion.
  • Capital city is Manila, but the largest city is Quezon City.
  • Government is a Unitary presidential constitutional republic.
  • The Philippines is the world’s leading producer of coconuts.
  • Three of the top 10 largest shopping centers in the world are found in the Philippines.
  • In the province of Camiguin, there are more volcanos (seven) than towns (five).
  • The Philippines is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with many species which are thought not to exist anywhere else in the world.
  • The Philippines’ flag changes to indicate a state of war – the blue and red stripes are switched.