Study in Chile | Top Universities

Stretching from desert land to glaciers, from volcanoes to lush valleys, from dense forests to open plains, Chile is a country of extremes. Bound to attract international students with a taste for adventure and the great outdoors, it also has a rich cultural offering and is home to one of the strongest higher education systems in Latin America. Read on for more on what it’s like to study in Chile, and an overview of the country’s highest ranked universities.

On the map, Chile is easily located as Argentina’s much skinnier neighbor; what it lacks in breadth it more than makes up for in length, extending 4,270km along the western coast of South America. The majority of Chile’s population of 15 million is collected in just a handful of major cities, between which lie long stretches of uninhabited wilderness and vast lengths of deserted coastline. If it wasn’t for the backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Andes in the east, the capital city Santiago would seem a world away from Chile’s untamed wilderness. And although the city sometimes gets a bad press for its loud streets and haze of pollution, Santiago has a shed load of ambition, culture and quirkiness waiting to captivate international students and tourists alike.

Claiming the title of the ‘pais de poetas’, or ‘country of poets’, Chile adds a strong cultural offering to its natural landscape’s visual beauty. Among the country’s poets and literary stars are Nobel laureates Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, as well as international bestsellers Isabel Allende and Roberto Bolano.

Universities in Chile

Chile is home to some of the top universities in Latin America, including two within the top 10 of the QS Latin America University Rankings, while 24 universities in Chile are featured in the QS World University Rankings®.

Although the majority of universities in Chile are based within the capital Santiago, anyone choosing to study in Chile shouldn’t miss out on opportunities to explore the country more widely. The nation’s mountains, valleys and coastal spots all appeal to more than just the eye, with hiking, climbing, horseback riding, skiing and vineyard tours all popular activities.

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Established in 1888 and with a current enrollment of over 22,000 students, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC) is one of two pontifical universities and one of six Catholic universities in Chile. UC climbed from third to first place in the QS Latin America University Rankings 2018, and is currently joint 137th in the world rankings.  A private institution, the school currently has approximately 28,000 students enrolled across four campuses in capital Santiago, as well as one in Villarrica. 

In the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile is ranked among the top 50 universities around the world for architecture, education, social policy, art and design, law and agriculture.

Universidad de Chile

The highest-ranked public university in Chile, the Universidad de Chile is ranked 201st in the latest world rankings and sixth in Latin America in 2018. The oldest university in Chile, having been established in 1843, the Universidad de Chile is located in Santiago across five campuses and over 1,700,000 square meters of land which incorporates museums, theaters, healthcare facilities and sports centers. Around 40,000 students are currently enrolled, of which a quarter are postgraduates.

Of the 28 subjects the Universidad de Chile is internationally ranked for, the school performs particularly well for mineral and mining engineering, featuring in the top 10 in the world.

Other ranked universities in Chile

Also included in both the QS World University Rankings 2018 and QS Latin America University Rankings 2018 are: Universidad de Santiago de ChileUniversidad de ConcepciónPontificia Universidad Católica de ValparaísoUniversidad Adolfo IbáñezUniversidad Austral de ChileUniversity de Talca and Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María. In total, there are around 25 state universities in Chile, as well an additional number of private universities. Many of the latter are growing steadily, having been established in the 1980s following new regulations.

See the results of the QS Latin America University Rankings

Life in Chile

With highly developed infrastructure, sophisticated cities, renowned universities and natural scenery to rival any country in the world, Chile is one of Latin America’s most appealing study abroad destinations. Having emerged from the authoritarian regime of General Augustus Pinochet in 1990, Chile has over the past few decades blazed a trail as one of South America’s most socially and economically progressive nations. It remains among the safest and most politically stable countries in the region, and in 2010 signed up as the first South American nation to join the OECD.


Chile’s vibrant capital, Santiago was included among the world’s top 100 cities for students in the 2017 edition of the QS Best Student Cities. The thriving and unique culture of the city can be found in the gourmet worlds of Bellavista and Providencia, the bohemian gatherings in the old district of Barrio Brazil, and the formal legacy of the nation in a multitude of museums and galleries. The modern day arts scene is also a flourishing aspect of the city, where theater, film and a vibrant café culture combine to create a growing social and cultural energy, making it easy to forget about the smog and noise pollution that comes with such a bustling and heated city.

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the Universidad de Chile, the two highest-ranked universities in Chile, are located here, as well as the Universidad de Santiago de Chile and, just 20 minutes east of the city center by car, the Universidad Adolfo Ibanez.


Heading south of the capital, a whole nine hours’ drive south, is the city of Concepción located on the north bank of the Río Biobío, Chile’s only significant navigable waterway.

Ravaged by the earthquake of 2010 and still healing, ‘Conce’ remains an important part of Chile’s economy due to its port facilities, manufacturing industry, nearby coal deposits and a significant number of universities – one of which, the Universidad de Concepción, is featured in the world rankings. Attractions in Concepción include museums, galleries and parks, as well as the Reserva Nacional Nonguén, which boasts many kilometers of South American deciduous forest.


Valdivia, located on the confluence of the Cau Cau, Calle Calle and Cruces rivers, is particularly scenic, even by Chile’s standards. It is also home to the Universidad Austral de Chile, and therefore the southernmost town in the nation to feature an internationally ranked university. As recently as 2007, Valdivia became the capital of Chile’s newest administrative region (Los Ríos). As a university town, Valdivia offers a strong arts scene as well as highly affordable student accommodation and eateries.


Otherwise known as ‘Valpo’, the city of Valparaíso can be found two hours’ drive northwest of the capital along the coastal bays of central Chile. A somewhat unusual city, influenced heavily by the constant comings and goings of sailors and dockworkers, Valparaíso is more than just its port. With two internationally ranked universities, the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso and the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, Valparaíso represents a major hub for education. Meanwhile those with a taste for both historic and natural beauty will find plenty to explore here; houses which were once vibrantly colored are spread over the hills circling the bays in what seems to be an impenetrable maze, often only to be reached by using the city’s system of lifts, or ‘ascensores’ in Spanish, which offer stunning views over the entire city.

Those wishing to study in Valparaíso should be aware that crime and poverty are relatively high here, and parts of the city can be dangerous at night. This certainly shouldn’t rule the city out, but is important to bear in mind if you plan to spend time here.

Other places to visit in Chile

Perhaps the nation's most iconic site is Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. This island, some 3,500km off the west coast of Chile, is famed for its 887 monolithic human statues or ‘moai’, which are thought to have been carved between AD 1100 and the 1800s. The island became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.

The mountains of Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, the beautifully colored Laguna Verde, and the alternative urban hub of Vina del Mar located above Valparaiso, are also must-see locations.

See where Santiago ranks in the QS Best Student Cities

Applying to study in Chile

The degree structure in Chile corresponds roughly to that used in the EU and US, consisting of Licenciatura (equivalent to a bachelor’s degree), Magister (master’s degree) and Doctor (PhD). The Licentiatura is generally a four-year program, though certain subject areas such as engineering or architecture may require a longer period of study.

Undergraduates applying to state universities in Chile must take a test called the Prueba de Seleccion Universitaria (PSU), similar to the SAT test commonly used in the US. Each university sets its own PSU entry requirement, with ‘traditional’ universities generally requiring higher scores than the newer private universities. In order to study at universities in Chile, international students will also need to demonstrate their ability to study in Spanish.

For more information on applying to study in Chile, students should contact their chosen university directly.

Living costs and tuition fees

While Chile isn’t cheap in comparison to most other Latin American countries, it’s still relatively well-priced by international standards. A standard monthly living budget, including food, transport and residence, can range from approximately US$700 on a strict budget to US$1,100 on a more generous allowance.

In recent years tuition fees at universities in Chile, both public and private, have been rising. Students at private universities now pay US$5,500 on average a year, and, thanks to recent tuition fee hikes, public universities now charge similar prices. Students of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are likely to be charged slightly more, at around US$5,900, while students of medicine can expect to pay more again, with average figures standing at around US$6,300 per year.

Visa information

Those who are studying in Chile for less than 90 days can do so with just a tourist visa. These are issued as stamps upon arrival in the country and cost approximately US$160. Residents from a number of countries, including the UK and the US, do not require tourist visas to enter the country.

If you are planning to study in Chile for longer than 90 days, however, you will need to apply for a student visa through your local Chilean embassy or consulate at least a month before travelling. For this you’ll need to provide a passport which should be valid for at least six months beyond the end of your planned studies, evidence of sufficient funds to cover tuition and living costs, and proof of a return or onward ticket. You’ll also need a letter of acceptance onto an approved university course, a letter of police clearance and a clear bill of health. Student visas are valid for up to one year, but you must be sure to leave the country before the visa expires. This visa costs approximately US$160, but fees vary depending on your country of residence.

It is illegal to gain work in Chile as a tourist or student, so make sure you account for this when figuring out your budget.

See the results of the QS Latin America University Rankings