Study in Italy | Top Universities

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. To learn more about studying in Bologna in particular, download our guide to studying abroad in Bologna.

Then there’s the famous Italian fashion houses, and of course that fabulous food…

Ready to study in Italy? Click on the tabs below to learn about Italian universities, student cities, costs, visas, applications and more.

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 (e.g. 25 work hours = one 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.

Top universities in Italy 

A total of 30 universities in Italy feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2019, of which 12 make it into the world’s top 500. The top five are:

Politecnico di Milano


Politecnico di Milano

The highest-ranked Italian university at 149th 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 2020 for art and design (sixth), civil and structural engineering (seventh), architecture (seventh), mechanical engineering (ninth) and electrical engineering (joint 17th). 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.

Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa 


Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa

Not far behind is Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa at 167th, which was established in 1810 by a Napoleonic decree. It’s a small university, with only around 500 students enrolled. It ranks within the world’s top 300 universities for agriculture and receives the highest score among all Italian universities for its research citations per faculty member (18th in the world).

Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna Pisa


Also based in Pisa, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna Pisa is ranked joint 175th in the world this year. Established in 1987 from previously existing institutions, the university mainly operates in the applied sciences and is part of the Pisa University System alongside Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and Università di Pisa.


Università di Bologna 

University of Bologna

Ranked joint 180th in the world in 2019, Università di Bologna (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.

Learn more about studying in Bologna with this downloadable guide.

Sapienza - Università di Roma 


Sapienza University of Rome

Ranked 217th 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 (112,500) of which around 8,300 are from outside Italy. It counts seven Nobel laureates among its alumni and faculty members, including particle physicist and inventor Carlo Rubbia.

Other top universities in Italy include:

Compare top universities in Italy with the world rankings

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 and the catacombs. But, as a student in Rome, you’ll find that 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 217th in the QS World University Rankings 2019 , making it Italy’s fifth highest-ranked university. Other notable universities in Rome include the Università degli Studi Roma Tre (ranked 801-1000). Rome itself was ranked 66th in the QS Best Student Cities 2018 index.



Celebrated as one of the 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 2019 ranking, Politecnico di Milano. Other internationally ranked universities in Milan include Università degli Studi di Milano (325th), the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (joint 491st) and the University of Milano-Bicocca (601-650), 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 581-590 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 typical tourist photos where you pretend to be holding the tower up with your hands, 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 joint 422nd in the QS World University Rankings 2019. 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 Superiore Sant'Anna Pisa di Studi Universitari e di Perfezionamento and Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa,  ranked 167th and joint 175th respectively, make up the Pisa University System, which is recognized as one of Europe’s leading education hubs.



If you're interested in learning more about studying in Bologna, download our comprehensive guide: How to Study Abroad in Bologna.

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 has a 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 fourth-highest entry in the QS World University Rankings, at joint 180th. 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.

Discover the world’s best student cities 

Applying to universities in Italy 


Study in Italy

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 official Study in Italy website 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.

Documents you may need to provide include:

  • Completed application form to receive a Letter of Academic Eligibility and Suitability (Dichiarazione di Valoro in Loco/ DV); 
  • Completed relevant pre-enrolment form;
  • Copy of your school leaving qualification if you are an undergraduate applicant, or copy of your undergraduate qualification certificate if you are a postgraduate applicant;
  • Transcript of exams, including name of each passed exam and syllabi of each course attended;
  • Two passport-sized photographs, one of which you must sign;
  • Any other documentation that can support your application (translated into Italian);
  • You may also need to provide proof of proficiency in Italian by presenting the results of an Italian language exam.

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.

Applying for a visa to study in Italy 

You will only be issued a visa to study in Italy if you can demonstrate that you:

  • Have suitable accommodation in Italy;
  • Have sufficient funds to cover all costs you might incur while studying in Italy (including tuition, accommodation, transport, textbooks and living costs) This is currently deemed to be €5,824,91 (~US$6,600);
  • Have sufficient funds to be able to travel back to your country of origin at the end of your studies, or proof that you have already purchased a return ticket;
  • Are entitled to medical care in Italy, either through private health insurance or an agreement between Italy and your native country;
  • You might also need to show proof of certificate of payment in full for your degree program. 



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:

  • Completed visa application form;
  • Evidence of having paid the visa application fee (if applicable);
  • Passport valid for at least three months after your course ends;
  • Two recent passport-sized photographs, one of which you must sign.

Tuition fees, living costs and financial aid in Italy 


Rome, Italy

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 €900 and €4,000 (~US$1,000-4,500) 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 roughly €12,000 (~US$13,500) per year to cover accommodation, food, transport, entertainment and other expenses, with expenses higher in the north of the country. 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.

Arrival in Italy

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.

Read our guide to applying to university abroad

Fast Facts

  • Official name: Italian Republic (RepubblicaItaliana)
  • Capital: Rome (Roma), nickname “The Eternal City”
  • Amount needed for living costs: €12,000 (~US$13,500) per year
  • Average international undergraduate tuition fees: from €900 (~US$1,000) per year
  • Borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia
  • Italy has numerous islands, and the mainland is famously shaped like a boot.
  • There are two independent states within Italy, both enclaves: Republic of San Marino and Vatican City.
  • Italy has the only active volcano in mainland Europe: Mount Vesuvius. Of Italy’s 14 volcanoes, three others are active: Mount Etna, Stromboli and Vulcano.
  • Europe’s third-largest economy, eighth largest in the world
  • 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other country
  • Official language: Italian. Other recognized linguistic groups have co-official status including French, German, Ladin and Slovene.
  • Main religion: Roman Catholic
  • Currency: Euro (€)
  • Main exports: engineering products, textiles and clothing, machinery, motor vehicles, transport equipment, chemicals, tobacco, minerals, and nonferrous metals
  • Italy’s national football (soccer) team has won the FIFA World Cup four times, in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 – only Brazil has been more successful.
  • Other popular team sports in Italy include volleyball, basketball and rugby.
  • There is a European law safeguarding the ‘traditional Italian pizza’.
  • The language of music is in Italian (for example mezzolentoandanteallegrovivace and presto).
  • Famous Italian cheeses include Parmesan, from the Parma area in Northern Italy and mozzarella, traditionally made using Italian buffalo milk.
  • Time zone: Central European Time (UTC+1), UTC+2 in the summer
  • International dialing code: +39
  • Internet domain: .it