Brief Background: Art and culture play a very
important role in a country where beauty, design, good taste, and
fashion are an everyday imperative. Italy’s charms—a diverse landscape,
an immense cultural and historical legacy, iconic and historic sites,
incomparable cuisine, an impressive history of inventions and
discoveries—are attractive to tourists and international students. It
boasts the greatest number of UNESCO world heritage sites of any country
and is also home of the oldest European university—the University of
Bologna, which was established in 1088. This, coupled with high quality
university education, makes Italy an ideal place for living and
The Italian education system is composed of 97 universities, 12
national research centers, and 145 higher education institutions in
arts, dance, and music (referred to as alta formazione artistica e musicale or AFAM). The 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings
ranked 33 Italian universities among the top 500 universities in the
world. According to the Italian Ministry of Education, University and
Research, approximately 90,000 international students were pursuing
degree programs in 2017-2018. Italy is the second leading destination
country in the world for US students studying abroad, only after the UK,
according to IIE’s 2018 Open Doors Report. In 2016-17, 35,000 US
students studied in Italy for academic credit.
Italian universities use the European Credit Transfer and
Accumulation System (ECTS), which is designed to facilitate
international mobility within different educational systems. It is a
central tool in the Bologna Process, which aims to make academic credits
more easily transferable between different national education systems.
Italy is also part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the
result of collaborative efforts of 48 countries to reform higher
education on the basis of common key values.
For participating countries, the main goal is to increase staff and
students’ mobility and to facilitate employability. International
students enrolled in Italian universities benefit from these policies.
Good to Know: Bachelor’s degrees are known as laurea triennale,
or first cycle degrees, and last three years. A high school diploma is
the common requirement for admission to a first cycle degree. Students
who are interested in continuing their studies can pursue a master’s
degree or laurea magistrale, which may be required for work in certain fields. These programs typically last two years.
For some subjects (i.e., law, medicine and surgery, veterinary
science, dentistry and dental prostheses, pharmacy, chemistry and
pharmaceutical technology, architecture, building engineering, and
primary education sciences) there is a common study path without
division between bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Called a single cycle
master’s degree (laurea magistrale a ciclo unico), such
programs can last from five to six years depending on the subject. To be
admitted, students need to have a high school diploma and meet other
subject-specific criteria. For example, applicants for medicine,
veterinary science, and dentistry (which are numerus clausus
programs—a process used to manage enrollment size), must pass a national
exam that can be in Italian or English, and which takes place on the
same day and time at all Italian universities. The results are valid at
the national level.
Students interested in arts, music, dance, and theater can apply to
AFAM institutions to acquire knowledge of artistic methods and
techniques. As at universities, AFAM students spend three years to get a
first level academic diploma and two years for a second level academic
Most courses are taught in Italian, but many courses are also offered
in English. An international student can choose to apply to a course
fully taught in English or fully taught in Italian. Applicants to
English courses may be required to submit an English proficiency
certificate. For courses taught in Italian, international students have
to pass an Italian language exam to be admitted. Visit the Lingua Italiana website for additional information on language certification.
Academic Calendar: Depending on the institution and
program, the academic year is generally divided into two semesters: the
first one starts in October and ends in February (with a break for
Christmas and New Year’s), and the second one starts in March and ends
in September (with a break in August for summer holidays). Each
semester, a certain number of weeks are devoted to lessons and the other
weeks are dedicated to exams. Students are required to take an exam at
the end of each course, which may be written and/or oral. The length of
exam sessions may vary among universities, but they are usually held in
the months of January-February, June-July, and September.
Search: For more information about the availability
of university courses taught fully in English, enrollment requirements,
and visa information, please visit the following websites:
Apply: Applications are made directly to each
institution. Deadlines, required documents, language certificates, etc.,
can vary across Italian institutions. Some may require students to
participate in an interview using Skype or another online communication
Medicine, veterinary science, architecture, health care professions,
and primary education sciences are courses of study with restricted
admission because the number of applicants is greater than the number of
spots available in the course of study. Each year, the Italian Ministry
of Education establishes a quota for the number of international
students who can be admitted.
Deadlines: Each institution/program sets its own deadlines, so students should check each university’s website.
Application Fees: It is common for higher education
institutions to charge an application fee—typically several dozen euros.
The amount varies by institution.
Admission Requirements: To be admitted to an Italian
university, international students have to demonstrate academic
eligibility for university study in their country of origin. Examples
include a US high school diploma or an IB diploma. Students can apply
before completing high school, but will need to submit the official,
original documents once they are received.
Demonstration of Italian language skills is mandatory for enrolling
in courses taught in Italian. If a course is entirely taught in English,
students will be required to prove their command of the English
language. Always check with Italian institutions as to whether a
student’s English studies are sufficient to meet this requirement. In
these cases, an Italian language test is not required. Lingua Italiana provides additional information.
Upon Acceptance: Each higher education institution
will provide admitted students with useful information about next steps,
such as documents to translate or to have authenticated through Italian
diplomatic representatives at their local consulate or embassy. Once
students arrive in Italy, they need to bring all the documents released
and sealed by the Italian representatives to their university to
Before enrolling in an Italian university, international students
pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree must complete a pre-enrollment
process through the Italian diplomatic representatives in the student’s
home country. This is different from having a letter of acceptance and
enrolling at the university. This process must be completed before
applying for a student visa. Usually this procedure starts in March and
finishes in July. For more detailed information, US students can use the
embassy’s website to find out which Italian consulate serves their area.
Tuition and Fees: Regular tuition fees for EU and
non-EU students depend on the student’s family income and on the
program. On average, public institutions charge 900 to 4,000 euros per
year; private institutions charge 6,000 to 20,000 euros per year, not
including living expenses and books. In some cases, students need to pay
the first installment in advance. The tuition fees may be covered by
institutional merit-based scholarships offered annually to talented
Housing: Students are encouraged to rent a place to
live before leaving for Italy. Many higher education institutions have
an office that can help international students find housing.
Renting a private room in an apartment with shared facilities
(bathroom, kitchen, etc.) is a popular option for students because the
price is more affordable compared to renting an individual apartment.
The price for a private room in a shared apartment is around 300 to 600
euros; the price for an entire apartment could be more than 800 euros.
Prices will vary depending on size, location, and city, as well as other
factors, such as the apartment’s proximity to public transportation and
Depending on a student’s financial status and academic merit, students may be eligible for university housing.
“There are three reasons I always give when people ask me
[why I decided to pursue an undergraduate degree outside the United
States]: it’s more affordable, it’s only three years, and it’s Italy!
Though my university is one of the more expensive in Italy, my entire
three-year degree will cost less than one year of tuition at some of the
US universities I was considering.”
—Carly Cornell, Pennsylvania, Bocconi University
Visa and Other Permits: US citizens are eligible to
enter Italy without a visa for study reasons and for a period of time
shorter than 90 days. If students are applying for a study course that
is more than 90 days, they need to apply for a student visa through the
Italian embassy or consulate in the US prior to departing for Italy. The
student visa, called National Visa Type D, is needed to apply for a
student residence permit.
To get a student visa, several documents have to be submitted to the
Italian diplomatic or consular representatives, which include evidence
of the ability to cover living expenses in Italy (5,953 euros per year)
plus the amount of money needed to rent a room/apartment.
Students must apply for a residence permit (which costs about 120
euros) within eight working days of their arrival in Italy. Before
applying for a residence permit, which is valid for one year, students
need to get a fiscal code (codice fiscale) at Italy’s Revenue Agency (Agenzia delle Entrate) and obtain health insurance.
International students who apply for a residence permit may take out
private health insurance with Ina-Assitalia, which is very limited and
only covers urgent medical assistance. If students prefer to have wider
coverage, they can sign up with the national health service (servizio sanitario nazionale).
This guarantees full health care and ensures students receive the same
treatment as Italian citizens. Registration lasts for a year (from Jan. 1
to Dec. 31), is not divisible, and costs about 150 euros. US students
who already have private health insurance should check with the Italian
diplomatic representatives at their local embassy or consulate as to
whether it provides coverage in Italy.
Non-EU students who have a residence permit for study purposes can
work part-time for a total of 20 hours a week. Work does not have to be
related to students’ academic program, but should students work in a
related field, they are eligible to gain credits through the ECTS Photo
Advice from the Field: Students can send questions
to Uni-Italia, a nonprofit organization that supports
internationalization of Italian higher education institutions, with
offices located at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
International Cooperation. The Uni-Italia association—founded jointly by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; the
Ministry of Education, University and Research; and the Ministry of
Interior—has the aim of promoting Italian higher to foreign students and
researchers and encouraging academic cooperation between Italy and
other foreign countries. Uni-Italia works closely with Italian
diplomatic offices across the globe and cooperates with the Italian
cultural institutes and the Italian consulates abroad.
Uni-Italia also assists students for the length of their stay. Their
aim is to facilitate integration into the new social, academic, and
cultural environment. Counselors can reach out to Uni-Italia using the
“Classes here are very theoretical. They may take some
getting used to at first, but in the end, it is interesting to be
exposed to a new approach to university education. Academics can be
difficult at any of the world’s top universities, but if you attend
university in Italy, at least you’ll be living the dolce vita in the
Though English is spoken widely at universities, Italian is the
common language outside the campuses. To enjoy the Italian lifestyle,
students are encouraged to learn some Italian before and during their
Graduates of Italian higher education institutions in fields strongly
associated with Italy and Italian culture—such as engineering, music,
arts, medicine, design, architecture, fashion, economy, and
gastronomy—may have an edge over other competitors in the job market.