Briefly about education in Estonia

  • Education in Estonia stands out from the rest of the Baltic states and Eastern Europe in general: there are plenty of programs in English. From 2014 to 2019, the share of foreign students more than doubled: from 5% to 12%. These are mainly students from Finland and Russia.[1]
  • Requirements. You can apply after completing 11 or 12 year school depending on the secondary education system in your home country. The admission committee looks at the GPA of the certificate and the results of the language exam. Many universities have entrance tests in the form of interviews or essays.
  • Translation and legalization. Education documents must be translated into English or Estonian, and also certified in one of the following ways: by a representative of the educational institution, a notary, or with an apostille.
  • Preparatory programs. At the University of Tartu, you can take a one-year Estonian language course and then study in Estonian for free.
  • Prices. Studying in Estonia is more expensive than in neighboring Latvia or Lithuania. The cost can go up to 5,333-6,399 USD per year. However, local universities have grants and state-funded places for talented applicants. Prices are the same for everyone, regardless of citizenship.
  • Visa. To apply, you need to have at least 6,399 USD on your account. If you are an EU/EEA national, you are not required to obtain a visa to study in Estonia.
  • Work after school. All foreign graduates of Estonian universities have 9 months to find work in the country.
Advantages of education in Estonia

  1. Free education. Anyone, regardless of citizenship, with an Estonian proficiency of at least B1 level can apply for a state-funded place in an Estonian university if he demonstrates excellent academic performance and shows himself well during the entrance tests. And doctoral programs are free in both Estonian and English.
  2. Education in English. Foreigners will be able to study comfortably at local universities without knowing Estonian because almost 50% of all programs are conducted in English and their cost is just as affordable. Just over a million people speak Estonian around the globe, that is why English is actively involved in all spheres of the country's life.
  3. Digitalization. Estonia is a truly digital country. It's hard to find a place here without free wi-fi. On a special state portal, you can get sick leave, register your business in 15 minutes and even vote in elections. Everything is also conveniently arranged in the educational system: applications are submitted online to all universities at once, and study materials and assessments are available on the student platform.
  4. Immigration prospects. Estonia is at the forefront of safety[2], and clean air[3]. It is also easy to start a business here. There are 6 times more startups (especially tech startups) per capita than the European average[4]. After graduation, you can stay in the country for 9 months to look for work. Every year more and more foreign students find jobs immediately after graduation: in 2018, 60% of graduates did this[5]. The required experience can be gained while studying since there are no restrictions on the number of work hours for students in Estonia.
Disadvantages of education in Estonia

  1. Entrance tests. Each program has its own additional exams for applicants. This can be an interview, an essay, or a test in specialized subjects. As a rule, they are not distinguished by increased complexity and are often conducted online, but they still complicate the admission process.
  2. Few leisure options. After living in a big city, student life in Estonia can seem boring. The local cities, apart from the capital Tallinn, are really small, and the list of places to visit is very limited. Hiking can be an alternative: there are many picturesque sights in the small territory of the country.
  3. Difficult national language. If you speak Estonian, your chances of finding a job and staying in the country are much higher. And to obtain citizenship or a long-term residence permit, level B1 is required. The Estonian language is considered to be difficult for those people whose native language does not belong to a Finno-Ugric language group.

Tuition fees and education system in Estonia

Type of educationAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costLanguage requirementsExams
Summer Camp7+1-12 weeks123 USD/week213 USD/weekBeginner-
Language schools7+from 1 monthFree1,280 USD/courseBeginner-
Secondary education6+1-12 yearsFree5,333 USD/yearIntermediate (B1)School Testing
College15+1-4 yearsFree2,666 USD/yearIntermediate (B1)IELTS 5.5 / TOEFL IBT 72 / EKT B1
Bachelor's183-4 yearsFree4,266 USD/yearIntermediate (B1)IELTS 5.5 / TOEFL IBT 72 / EKT B1
Master's20+1-2 yearsFree4,266 USD/yearIntermediate (B1)IELTS 5.5 / TOEFL IBT 72 / EKT B1
MBA20+1-2 years5,333 USD/year6,933 USD/yearUpper-Intermediate (B2)IELTS 6.0 / TOEFL IBT 75 / EKT B1
Doctoral20+4 yearsFreeFreeUpper-Intermediate (B2)IELTS 6.0 / TOEFL IBT 75 / EKT B1

The table contains approximate prices. More accurate information can be found on the websites of educational institutions.

Additional expenses

ItemAverage cost
Language examIELTS — 240 USD, EKT — free
Student visa107 USD
Insurance320 USD / year
Registration fee107 USD
Flight107 USD
Rent160 USD/month
Meals213 USD/month
Study materials75 USD/month

Options and schemes for admission to Estonian universities

Options for admission to Estonian universities
Need help with admission?

Admission requirements in Estonian universities

You can enter Estonian universities after graduating from high school (including schools in countries with 11-year secondary education). The average score of the certificate must be at least 60% of the maximum. A high GPA will increase your chances for admission and scholarship.

Enrollment takes place once a year from April to July. A more accurate deadline depends on the specific university and the applicant's citizenship. First, an applicant must submit an online application on the Dream Apply portal, attach scans of the necessary documents and a motivation letter. You can apply to a maximum of 5 universities, and 2 programs in each. Everything is done via a single form. This is followed by an interview via Skype and/or online tests in subjects from the field of the future profession.

If you manage to pass all the steps and the admission committee gives you a positive response, certified paper copies of all documents and their translations into English or Estonian must be sent via mail.

There are many programs in English in Estonia. To study in English you will need an IELTS or TOEFL certificate. Those who decide to study in Estonian must pass the Eesti keele tasemeeksam exam at a level not lower than B1. Testing is free and is carried out 4 times a year in major cities of Estonia.

Documents required for admission

For bachelor's programs:

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • School certificate + final transcript with grades OR a diploma of secondary vocational education + transcript with grades;
  • Copy of a passport;
  • Copy of your passport;
  • Language certificate (IELTS from 5.5 / TOEFL from 72 or EKT from B1);
  • Motivation letter;
  • Passing video interviews and additional tests.

Additionally for master's and doctoral studies:

  • Bachelor's / Master's degree + transcript with grades;
  • CV;
  • Doctoral research project.

The digital application must be accompanied by scans of original documents and their translations into English or Estonian. Translations must be certified in ONE of the following ways:

  1. By an authorized representative of the educational institution;
  2. By a notary;
  3. By an apostille.

Legalization and recognition of a diploma in Estonia

Estonia has concluded agreements on the mutual recognition of education documents with Latvia, Lithuania, China, and Ukraine. Students from these countries do not need to confirm their certificates and diplomas — a translation into Estonian or English is enough. Some institutions also accept documents in Russian, as it is the second most common language in the country.

Students from other countries outside the EU must certify the translations of their documents in one of three ways:

  1. Stamp and signature of the authorized person at the educational institution where the document was issued;
  2. Certification by a notary;
  3. Apostille.

Further, the receiving institution makes a decision on the equivalence of qualifications. In controversial situations, the selection committee has the right to contact the organization responsible for the recognition of foreign documents ENIC/NARIC. Here the consideration of the application can take up to 30 days.

Estonian language courses

Students of all nationalities can study in Estonian at state universities for free with a workload of at least 30 ECTS per semester. To do this, you need to pass the Eesti keele tasemeeksam exam with a level B1 or higher. It is free and is held 4 times a year in Tallinn, Narva, Jõhvi, and Tartu. In addition, upon successful passing of the exam, you can request a refund of your Estonian language courses that were taken at educational institutions of the country.[6]

You can prepare for the exam at one of the many language schools or by taking courses at the University of Tartu. There is a year-long Estonian preparatory course that costs 1,280 USD per semester, as well as shorter summer and online courses. The workload for a one-year course will depend on the student's initial knowledge. Students who learn the language from scratch must gain 60 ECTS per year, which is equal to the full workload of a university student.

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Colleges in Estonia — Vocational education and training

In Estonia, in addition to higher education institutions, there are more than 30 colleges of various kinds, where you can get vocational education and training (VET). These include vocational schools (ametikool) and vocational education centers (kutsehariduskeskus / kutseõppekeskus). A complete list can be found here. Most establishments accept foreigners. There are programs in Estonian and Russian, less often in English. When studying in Estonian, an additional year before the beginning of studies is often devoted to an intensive language course. There are both paid and grant programs.

You can enter Estonian colleges after grade 9 or 11. After grade 9, there are two options:

  • The first is to get a specialty in parallel with the high school program. Training lasts at least 3 years. After graduation, Kutsekeskhariduse lõputunnistus (Certificate of Vocational Secondary Education Level 4) is issued. In essence, it is a high school diploma with a professional inclination. It allows you to enter a bachelor's degree at a university or seek employment in a profession.
  • The second option is to bypass high school subjects and immediately delve into the study of the specialty. Studying lasts from six months to 2.5 years, depending on the specialty. In this case, students earn a Neljanda taseme kutseõppe lõputunnistus (Certificate of Vocational Education Level 4). It does not give access to higher education — you need to go to college for another year and pass the final exams.

If you go to a vocational college after graduating from high school (grade 11 or higher), the program will be slightly shorter or less intense than in case of entering after grade 9. But these can vary depending on the specialty (from one year to 2.5 years). The level of the certificate issued after graduation will be higher: Certificate of Vocational Education Level 5. But such a qualification is still lower than a bachelor's degree at a university (Level 6).

Bachelor's in Estonia

In Estonia, as in most countries of the European Union, higher education is based on the Bologna system. The first stage is bachelor's studies (bakalaureuseõpe). Normally training lasts 3 years, some applied specialties can take 4. During this time, students gain 180-240 ECTS and receive a bachelor's degree (bakalaureus). There are also "integrated training programs" (integreeritud õpe), which last for 5-6 years. As a rule, these are medical and architectural specialties. In this case, graduates immediately receive a master’s degree.

There are almost as many bachelor's programs in English as in Estonian. During bachelor’s studies, students have 3 types of subjects, for each of them you need to collect the required number of ECTS:

  • Compulsory courses in the studied specialty;
  • Optional disciplines related to the studied specialty;
  • Electives from any field.

Also, some universities, in addition to the main specialization (major), offer an additional one (minor). The combination can be anything: for example, engineering + psychology. This tradition is borrowed from American universities.

Documents required for admission

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • Secondary education certificate + transcript with grades OR diploma of secondary vocational education + transcript with grades;
  • Examination results (if any);
  • Copy of the national id document;
  • Copy of the international passport;
  • Language certificate (IELTS from 5.5 / TOEFL from 72 or EKT from B1);
  • Motivation letter;
  • Passing video interviews and additional tests.

Master’s in Estonia

Master's degree (magistriõpe) is the second level of higher education in Estonia. Education here usually lasts for 2 years. However, if before that the student graduated after 4 years of bachelor’s studies, it can be done in a year. The master's degree (magistrikraad) is awarded after earning between 60 and 120 ECTS. It is not necessary to have a bachelor's degree in an identical specialty to enroll in a master's program in Estonia. The main thing is to show that you have the basic knowledge necessary for further training during the interview.

At the end, students can either write a thesis or create a group or individual project and test it. The type of the final work depends on the orientation of the program, theoretical or applied. The main universities of the country work closely with research centers and commercial companies, where master’s students can take an internship.

Documents required for admission

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • Bachelor's degree + transcript with grades;
  • Language certificate (IELTS from 5.5 / TOEFL from 72 or EKT from B1);
  • Motivation letter;
  • Passing video interviews and additional tests (if necessary);
  • Copy of your passport.
Need help with admission?

Doctoral studies in Estonia

All PhD programs in Estonia are free in both Estonian and English. Training lasts for 4 years. 180 out of 240 ECTS are dedicated to writing a dissertation. The number of places in universities is limited, as the research process is fully sponsored by the state. Moreover, PhD candidates often receive a scholarship of 213-640 USD.

Such generous conditions have a downside: when entering a doctoral program at an Estonian university, a person can choose only one of the proposed topics for a thesis on the university's website. The list is compiled according to the topics' relevance to the scientific community and the country. Thus, young researchers are guaranteed to make their contribution to solving socially important issues. Having decided on the topic, the future doctoral student chooses a potential supervisor and then submits an application.

Documents required for admission

  • Completed application form on the university website;
  • Master's degree + transcript with grades;
  • Language certificate (IELTS from 5.5 / TOEFL from 72 or EKT from B1);
  • Motivation letter with reasons to choose this particular research topic and the supervisor;
  • CV;
  • Passing video interviews;
  • Copy of the international passport.
Academic career in Estonia

To work in academic positions in Estonian universities, it is highly desirable to know the Estonian language. However, there are many English-language programs and courses in the country that invite foreign lecturers. It should be noted that salaries in the academic field are low compared to most Western countries.

While studying for a PhD at an Estonian university, young scientists can already start teaching junior students. Then their careers will follow these steps:

  • Assistant. Salary: from 651 USD/month
  • Lecturer. Salary: from 771 USD/month
  • Dotsent / Associate Professor. Salary: from 1,157 USD/month
  • Full Professor. Salary: from 1,542 USD/month

For those who graduated from the master’s and want to engage in scientific activities exclusively, research positions are also available:

  • Research Fellow. Salary: from 771 USD/month
  • Senior Research Fellow. Salary: from 1,157 USD/month
  • Lead Research Fellow. Salary: from 1,542 USD/month.

Scholarships and grants at Estonian universities

  • Compatriots scholarship is a scholarship offered to ethnic Estonians living abroad. Available at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. To get full coverage of tuition and travel expenses, you need to document your Estonian origin and have the highest GPA of your bachelor's degree.
  • Dora Plus is a monthly scholarship for the best foreign master’s students at public universities. Selected candidates receive 373 USD per month for 1 academic year. You can apply during both 1 and 2 years of study.
  • Doctoral allowance is a monthly payment in the amount of 704 USD for all PhD-candidates, regardless of nationality. The grant is offered by all public universities subject to the student's full academic load (60 ECTS per year).
  • Tuition waiver is offered to outstanding applicants. The scholarship covers all tuition fees at the bachelor’s or master’s cycle. As a rule, 3-5 applicants receive it every year. Some universities offer tuition discounts instead of this option. It is necessary to clarify the information on the website of the selected university.
  • Specialty related scholarships from universities. As a rule, they are more common in technical universities. The amount is 171-320 USD every month. It is given to the best bachelor’s and master’s students who study in strategically important specialties for Estonia. They are mainly related to engineering and IT.
  • Scholarship of Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the possibility of additional funding for students from non-EU countries with which Estonia is actively cooperating. In 2020, these were Armenia, Georgia, India, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, as well as several African states. The amount is 427 USD per month. The list of countries and specialties should be checked on the websites of universities.

Student visa to Estonia

To study in Estonia, students from non-EU countries need a visa. For short-term courses up to 3 months, a type C visa is enough. For studies of up to 12 months, a long-term type D visa will be required. Those who plan to stay in the country for more than a year must, upon arrival, exchange their D visa for a temporary residence permit (TRP). You must apply for a long-term visa and get it in person at one of the embassies or consulates of Estonia. A complete list can be found here. The fee is 107 USD. You can only pay by debit/credit card. The application is usually reviewed within 10 business days.

Required documents

  • International passport, valid for 3 months after graduation, which has 2 blank pages;
  • Completed and signed visa application;
  • Photo 35×45 mm;
  • Medical insurance plan that covers the amount of at least 31,997 USD in Estonia and other Schengen countries;
  • Bank statement confirming the availability of funds at the rate of 320 USD per month;
  • Confirmation of accommodation in Estonia;
  • For minors: notarized consent to leave from both parents;
  • Confirmation of admission to the university.

Important! If you are going to spend more than a year in Estonia and there are more than 4 months left before the trip, you can apply for TRP at the embassy or consulate in your country. It will cost 69 USD. The issuance procedure takes 3-4 months. If there is not enough time, a D visa is obtained, and TRP is issued immediately upon arrival in Estonia at the Police and Border Guard Board (Politsei- ja piirivalveamet). In this case, TRP is valid for the entire period of study and costs 37 USD.

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Work while studying in Estonia

Foreign students with a temporary residence permit can work while studying without an additional permit. There are no strict restrictions on the number of work hours — the main requirement is that there are no serious problems with academic performance and the timely passing of exams. According to statistics, almost 50% of foreign students in Estonia combine study and work.[5] To find a permanent job in Estonia, it is advisable to know the national language, therefore, the choice of positions for students of English-language programs is usually limited. However, in large cities like Tallinn and Tartu there are many opportunities for side jobs in tourism and services, where knowledge of English and other languages will be useful. The average salary in the country is 9 USD per hour or 1,387 USD per month. However, students often work part-time or in low-ranking positions, so the rate may vary.

Opportunity to stay and immigration to Estonia

All foreign students without EU citizenship can stay in Estonia for another 9 months (270 days) from the date of expiry of the TRP. You do not need to carry out any additional procedures with documents for this. During this time, you can find a job, conclude a contract, and apply for a new work TRP. This document is issued for the period specified in the contract with the employer, but not more than 2 years. In the future, it can be extended for up to 5 years.

After 5 years of continuous residence in Estonia, a foreigner can obtain a long-term residence permit. To do this, you need to have a permanent official job, registration at the place of residence, insurance, and also pass an exam for knowledge of the Estonian language (at least B1). More information about the immigration process can be found on the website of the police department.

Employment prospects

In Estonia, there are many young developing companies, especially in the IT sector. Newly graduated professionals can find jobs in them if they only speak English. However, it should be kept in mind that the Estonian government is very concerned about the problem of migrants, which compete with local residents for jobs. Most of them are from Ukraine and Russia. HR in a large company is more likely to hire a citizen of the European Union. Nevertheless, the number of foreign students who get a job immediately after graduating from a university in Estonia is constantly growing: in 2018, almost 60% of graduates of master's and doctoral studies were employed in the country[5]. In order to increase their chances, visitors should definitely learn Estonian.

In Europe, diplomas from Estonian universities are recognized on an equal basis with others, so graduates can find work in any country of the European Union.

It is much easier to build an academic career at an Estonian university with knowledge of the Estonian language, but you can try yourself in numerous English-language programs. Students can start teaching while pursuing a PhD, and research positions are available already at the master's cycle.

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