Situated in the center of Europe, Poland is among the largest and most populous countries in the region – ninth largest in Europe by area, and sixth in the European Union (EU) by population. Poland has enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years, particularly since joining the EU in 2004; in the midst of the economic crisis of 2009, Poland was the only European nation to report economic expansion.
With a history dating back for over a thousand years, Poland’s cultural heritage is incredibly rich. This includes its longstanding traditions in the higher education sector, with the first university in Poland founded in the 14th century. Today, Poland is becoming an increasingly popular study destination, with more than 46,000 international students choosing to study there in 2014/15.
For many of those who choose to study in Poland, the country’s appeal is augmented by its relatively low living costs, which remain below those of most EU members. University fees are likewise relatively affordable, typically no more than US$4,000 per year.
Click on the tabs below to learn more about the top universities in Poland, popular cities for students, applications, visas and more.
There are more than 500 universities in Poland, most within the private sector. The country prides itself on its many notable university alumni, including the first ever woman to win a Nobel Prize, Marie Curie, and the famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
Six universities in Poland feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17, while 15 rank within the top 200 in the QS University Rankings: EECA 2016 – a dedicated ranking of the top universities in Emerging Europe and Central Asia. Here are some of the highest ranked universities in Poland:
Located in the Polish capital, the state-funded University of Warsaw is currently ranked 6th in the EECA rankings. Founded in 1816, it’s Poland’s largest university, with 51,700 students enrolled within its 19 departments. The University of Warsaw’s long history is also packed with interesting events and legends. During World War II, for instance, the campus was turned into a military barracks by German soldiers; during this time academics established the so-called “Secret University of Warsaw” and continued educating students in various hidden locations.
The country’s oldest university, and one of the oldest in Europe, Jagiellonian University is another of the most prestigious universities in Poland, ranked joint 7th in the EECA rankings. Established in 1364, it has a long tradition of educating the country’s future leaders. Among the numerous notable alumni of the university are John III Sobieski (King of Poland until 1696), Nicolaus Copernicus (famed for formulating a model of the universe with the Sun at the center), Pope John Paul II and two Nobel Prize winners, Ivo Andrić and Wisława Szymborska. Today Jagiellonian University teaches about 41,800 students at its campus in Krakow, Poland’s second largest city.
Next up, Warsaw University of Technology also features in the QS University Rankings: EECA, ranked 18th among universities in Emerging Europe and Central Asia. It claims a place among the leading technological institutes in Europe, and is one of the region’s largest providers of technical education. Located in the Polish capital, the university has over 37,000 students and 19 faculties, which cover all fields of science and technology. Founded back in 1899, the university was one of the first universities in Poland to teach engineering. In recent years, its graduates have become known for making up an impressively high percentage of Polish managers and executives.
Another historic university which dates back to 1702 when it was founded by Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor of the Habsburg dynasty, the University of Wroclaw is ranked 44th in the EECA rankings. It is the largest university in the region of Lower Silesia and currently teaches over 40,000 students and around 1,300 doctoral students across 10 faculties. The university’s main focus is scientific research and its alumni include nine Nobel Prize winners.
Because of Poland’s central location, you could say it connects the eastern and western parts of Europe, both geographically and culturally. A former communist state, Poland has been recognized in recent years as one of Europe’s most resilient economies, continuing to enjoy growth even while the rest of the region suffered the effects of the 2008-9 financial crisis.
Modern-day Poland offers a wide range of sites and activities, catering to lovers of both natural landscapes and city life. Highlights include beautiful beaches beside the Baltic Sea, the Masurian Lake District, the Tatra Mountains, picturesque villages and of course the country’s many vibrant cities (more details below). Of course it also doesn’t hurt that the cost of life in Poland is relatively low in comparison to most European countries. The local people are also known for their hospitality and friendly nature, so they will no doubt help you get settled.
Discover some of Poland’s major student cities:
The capital of Poland, Warsaw is also the country’s largest city. It is situated close to the center of the country, on both sides of the river Vistula, and has a distinctive character and spirit. The city was almost completely destroyed during World War II, leading to a large-scale reconstruction project which aimed to recreate much of the original architecture. Its Old Town district, beside the river banks and popular among tourists, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, celebrated as “an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century.” Aside from its historic center, Warsaw also has a growing collection of skyscrapers, ranging from the residential Złota 44, completed in 2012, to the art deco-inspired Palace of Culture and Science, which dates back to 1955.
There are lots of universities and colleges to choose from in Warsaw, including Poland’s highest-ranked institution, the University of Warsaw, and Warsaw University of Technology, which also features in the QS World University Rankings. The city was a new entry in the QS Best Student Cities 2016 index at joint 63rd.
The second largest city in Poland, Krakow is located in the southern part of the country. It served as the Polish capital for five centuries, up to 1569, and remains a major economic, academic and cultural hub. One of the most popular destinations for visitors to Poland, it captivates people from around the world with its splendid historic architecture – which, in contrast to Warsaw, survived WWII largely intact. The city is in some respects an open-air museum of Polish heritage, from Europe’s largest medieval town square and the magnificent gothic Wawel Castle, to art nouveau-style bohemian cafés in which the country’s great artists and thinkers have gathered over the years.
There are about 20 universities and colleges in Krakow, of which just under half are publicly funded, including the oldest and second highest-ranked university in Poland, Jagiellonian University.
The third largest city in Poland, Łódź is in the center of Poland, about 130km to the south-west of Warsaw. An important industrial center, particularly during the textiles boom of the 19th century, it’s sometimes nicknamed the “Polish Manchester”, in comparison to the UK’s textiles hub. Today, Łódź has lost its former industrial buzz, but continues to be an attractive business center, due to its central location, good connections and proximity to the capital. Attractions enjoyed by visitors and residents include a good selection of galleries and entertainment venues, and one of the longest commercial high streets in the world. The city is also home to a good selection of higher education institutions, including Poland’s fourth entry in the QS World University Rankings, Lodz University.
Polish higher education lasts for three years at undergraduate (bachelor’s) level and one and a half or two years at master’s level. In order to apply, you need to provide proof of having successfully completed the previous level of studies, along with proof of English language proficiency (unless you are a native speaker). Some courses may require that you sit an entrance exam or present a portfolio of work. You can also choose to study in Polish, in which case you’ll either need to submit proof of proficiency in the language or enroll in a year-long language course to prepare.
Students who are residents of the countries within the European Union do not need a visa to study in Poland. However, upon arrival in the country, EU citizens need to apply for a temporary residence permit. International students from non-EU countries will need to obtain a student visa before arrival. On arrival, they will also need to apply for a residence permit, which will be valid for two years. For further assistance and information contact the Polish embassy in your country or visit the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
Higher education in Poland is free for Polish citizens. If you wish to benefit from this as well, you will need to sit the same entrance exams as Polish students and study a course taught in the Polish language. Otherwise, international students are required to pay tuition fees, which are typically in the range of US$2,300-4,530 per year at public universities in Poland. Fees at private universities in Poland will be slightly higher; depending on your course and the institution, the fees could be up to US$6,800 a year. Universities in Poland have recently stopped charging these fees in full up-front, in order to ensure that fees do not present too much of a barrier for international students.
Note that there are relatively few scholarships available for foreign students, so it’s likely that you’ll need to cover your own costs. However, it may be worth checking with the universities to which you are applying, to see whether any funding opportunities are available.
Costs of living in Poland are relatively low, though the amount of money you need will vary depending on your lifestyle and the city you’re based in. You will probably need at least 1,200-2,500 PLN (~US$320-670) per month to cover living costs, including accommodation. Accommodation in student halls of residence is usually cheaper at around 400-600 PLN (~US$110-160) per month, whereas a shared rented flat could cost around 1,000 to 1,600 PLN (~US$270-430) per month.
Health insurance is compulsory for all students for the entire length of their stay in Poland. Students from the EU are eligible for free or discounted health care if they can present a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), while it’s recommended that non-EU students buy health insurance either before or as soon as possible after their arrival in Poland.