Universities of Italy are among the most attractive and accessible for those who want to study design, architecture, and art in Europe. Of the 45 universities founded in the Middle Ages, 15 are located on the Apennine Peninsula. Bologna University is the oldest in Europe and supposedly in the world. It was founded at the beginning of the 11th century and is in the top 200 universities according to QS Rankings. It is also the second most popular choice among the members of ERASMUS international exchange program.

List of the best universities in Italy

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Advantages of Italian Universities

  • Low tuition fees. The average price at Italian public universities for a foreign student is about 4,343 USD per year. In private universities, the price for the course can be higher and reach 16,287 USD — 21,715 USD.
  • Scholarships and grants. All students in Italy are eligible for financial assistance from the state. Especially for foreign students, there are several financial assistance programs that allow a foreigner to study in Italy almost for free. The amount of assistance depends on the student’s family income.
  • Low entry requirements. Italian universities are quite loyal to foreign applicants and do not set excessive requirements for GPA. It is worth noting that this does not apply to the best Italian universities: La Sapienza, Polytechnic Institute of Milan and the University of Turin which accept only remarkable students. For admission to Bachelor’s, it is enough to have a certificate of completed secondary education (12 years of school or it’s equivalent). Alternatively, one may consider enrolling in the Foundation program immediately after eleven years of secondary school. There are few such programs, but they are gradually appearing, for example, at the universities of Pisa and Siena.

Disadvantages of Italian Universities

  • Inconsistent level of English. The ever-increasing number of programs in English does not mean that it is widely spread among the local populace. Many international students often complain about the inconsistent level of English proficiency among professors and lecturers. And if residents of central cities can still help an English-speaking student, almost no one speaks English in small towns and villages.
  • Lack of practical training. A serious drawback of Italian education and the main reason for concerning youth unemployment rates is the lack of practical training at universities. Even medical schools here teach mainly theory. This leads to a lack of needed skills and complicates employment for graduates of Italian universities in a major way.
  • Entrance exams. The main requirement for admission to undergraduate programs (and some master's programs) is a successful pass of the entrance examinations. Normally they check English/Italian language proficiency, as well as knowledge in the selected field.
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Requirements for admission to universities in Italy

ProgramMin. ageDurationMin. cost/yearAvg. cost/yearMin. language levelExams
Foundation16+1-3 years3,257 USD5,429 USDA1
College16+1-3 years1,303 USD4,126 USDB1IELTS/CILS
Bachelor’s17+3 years1,846 USD4,343 USDB2IELTS/CILS
MBA20+2 years8,686 USD27,144 USDB2IELTS/CILS
Master's20+1-2 years5,429 USD7,600 USDB2IELTS/CILS
Doctoral20+3-5 years923 USD1,086 USDC1IELTS/CILS

In order to enter an Italian university, applicants must first complete 12 years of high school. Because of this, students must either graduate from their first year at a university in their native country, or complete an International baccalaureate (IB) / A-levels, or a year-long Foundation program in Italy.

Foundation courses include English and Italian classes, as well as disciplines related to the chosen discipline. Students who complete such courses receive special certificates and are able to enter the university.

For non-EU students applying for Laurea (Bachelor’s) or Laurea Magistrale (Master’s) degree courses is preceded by pre-enrollment[1]. It includes the submission of an application (in Italian or English ) and a package of necessary documents to the Italian consulate. Please note that the applicant has the right to choose only one university and only one area of ​​study.

European students can directly apply to the universities of interest without any special procedures/

Application documents
  • Application;
  • Passport;
  • Certificate of completed secondary education and transcript with grades;
  • Certificate of validity (Dichiarazione di valore) of educational documents;
  • Graduation certificate of Italian Foundation or another program covering the missing years of school (if applicable); ;
  • Registration fee receipt (33-217 USD);
  • English or Italian language proficiency level confirmation;
  • CV / Resume;
  • Motivation letter.
All educational documents must be translated into Italian and notarized (with a transcript).

Almost all Italian universities conduct their own entrance tests, assessing knowledge of languages ​​(English and / or Italian) and the level of preliminary training in specialized subjects.

The top 5 universities of Italy

  • Sapienza University of Rome (Sapienza Università di Roma). Not only it is one of the oldest educational institutions in the world, but also considered the leading university in Europe by the amount of applicant admissions: annually the admissions committee considers about 148,000 applications. Famous people from various fields studied here, for example, teacher M. Montessori, film director F. Fellini and Nobel laureate in physics E. Fermi. The University of Rome is the best research center in Italy, especially in the field of archeology and anthropology.
  • The Polytechnic Institute of Milan (Politecnico di Milano) is a renowned technical university not only in it’s home country, but throughout the world: it is in the top 50 best international polytechnic universities. It is a member of the MEDes (Master of European Design) program, which brings together leading European design schools. As a part of this program, students are studying at several foreign universities.
  • The University of Bologna (Università di Bologna), as historians suggest, was founded in 1088. This makes it the oldest institution of higher education in the world. It is also one of the largest universities in Europe: in addition to the main building in Bologna, the university has campuses in 4 cities of Italy and one in Argentina. The University of Bologna occupies a leading position in many scientific fields, but archeology is the main direction.
  • University of Milan (Università degli Studi di Milano), founded in 1928, is part of the LERU group (League of European Research Universities), which brings together research universities and provides them with financial support. Therefore, those students who are interested in science should take this university into consideration. The programs in the fields of pharmaceuticals and political science are the most popular here.
  • The University of Padova (Università degli Studi di Padova) was created in 1222 by professors and students who left the University of Bologna seeking academic freedom. This university became famous for its anatomical theater, where the first autopsies of the human body took place. To this day, anatomy and physiology, remain the core disciplines.

Types of educational institutions in Italy

Italian system of higher education includes several types of institutions:

  • Universities (Università) and polytechnics (politecnici) are autonomous organizations that independently establish their own status and internal structure, including teaching methods and techniques. Education at universities is divided into three main levels: bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies. In addition, universities have the right to organize year-long Master programs for those who continue education.
  • Higher schools of the Arts (Istituzioni AFAM — Alta Formazione Artistica e Musicale) is a collective term that includes academies of fine arts, national drama academies, higher institutes of the art industry, conservatories, national dance academies and other official art-related educational organizations. At the higher schools of arts, students can also complete three-stage programs.
  • Higher technical institutes (Istituti Tecnici Superiori) are highly specialized technical universities created to meet the needs of the labor market for qualified professionals. ITS programs are available to students with completed secondary education (unlike IFTS programs — professional courses for adolescents and adults which do not require preliminary education).
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Colleges in Italy

2008 was a year of major reforms in Italian vocational education. They aimed at improving the quality of training and increasing the compliance of educational standards with labor market requirements.

At the moment, there are two training options:

  • Higher technical training and education programs (istruzione e formazione tecnica superiore, IFTS),
  • Higher technical institutes(istituti tecnici superiori, ITS).

Curriculum of such courses is developed by each region individually, and changed every three years, depending on the shortage of specialists in the region.

Higher technical institutes (ITS) are specialized technical universities that provide training in the following areas: energy efficiency, sustainable mobility, new technologies for life, new technologies for industries, innovation technologies for cultural activities and, information and communication technologies. On average the education lasts from 4 to 6 semesters (2-3 years), while 30% of this time students must attend internships. At least 50% of teachers must be practising professionals. ITS graduates receive a diploma of higher technician.

Higher technical training and Education programs (IFTS) are presented in 20 different technical areas (mainly manufacturing, tourism, IT). To study here, it is not necessary to have a diploma or certificate of completed secondary education, but in that case, you may need to pass the entrance exams. At the end of such courses, students receive a certificate of professional education, which allows them to continue their education or to seek employment.

Public and private universities in Italy

Public and private universities in Italy are regulated by the Ministry of Education, which sets and monitors educational standards. This system exists so that graduates of all post-secondary educational institutions (regardless of the source of funding) have the same knowledge and skills required for successful work in the chosen field. Private universities need to undergo accreditation in order to issue valid diplomas.

D. Levy in his study of the Italian education system[2] suggests defining four groups of private institutions: elite, semielite, nonelite and online institutions.

Four universities are considered elite — two in Rome and two in Milan: Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, L'Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, Università Vita Salute San Raffaele and LUISS Guido Carli. They are large research centers with a developed network of international partnerships. Semi-elite universities (Università di Bolzano, LIUC C. Cattaneo, Scienze Gastronomiche, etc.) are concentrated in the northern regions, and non-elite universities are located in the center (Valle d'Aosta, LUMSA, Koré, Università Europea, etc). The headquarters of almost all online universities (G. Marconi, Pegaso, Unitelma Sapienza, etc.) are located in Rome and its environs.

The highest tuition prices are set by the University of Bocconi — an average of 16,287 USD/year. Studying at online universities costs the least ranging from 850 to 3,257 USD/year.

Groups and associations of educational institutions

In addition to the usual universities and institutes, in Italy there are Superior Graduate Schools (Scuola Superiore Universitaria), which organize educational programs at the level of doctoral and postdoctoral studies.

Superior graduate schools are autonomous educational institutions fully recognized by the Ministry of Education. Four of them have the status of universities, another three have the status of doctoral colleges, and the remaining eleven are direct branches of universities that are not independent.

Superior graduate schools — Universities
Superior graduate schools — Doctoral Colleges
Superior graduate schools — University Branches
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Free universities in Italy

There is no free education in Italy, but international students (no matter European or not) are subject to the same generous support from the universities as the Italians themselves. Almost all public universities have financial assistance programs, most of which fully cover tuition fees. It is worth noting that scholarships are mainly given to master's and doctoral programs. Additional requirements usually relate to high academic performance, knowledge of the Italian language (at least A2 for government grants) and / or the relevance of scientific research (in case of grants for doctoral studies).

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Interesting facts about Italian universities

  • The logo of the Milan Polytechnic Institute (Politecnico di Milano) is a fragment of Raphael's fresco “School of Athens”, which depicts Euclid surrounded by students explaining the theorem using a compass.
  • Many prominent figures studied and taught at the University of Pisa (Università di Pisa) throughout the centuries: A. Bartoli, E. Fermi, M. Malpigi, J. Pascoli, as well as more than a dozen cardinals and popes.
  • The museum complex of the Roman University of Sapienza (Sapienza — Università di Roma) is a real tourist attraction of Italy. It includes almost two dozen divisions: for example, in the Museum of Pathology you can see more than 2,000 real exhibits acquired during various operations, and in the Museum of Comparative Anatomy a skeleton of a 20-meter whale hangs from the ceiling.
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