Universities in Turkey began to appear back in the 15th century, but the government was able to modernize them and create a centralized educational system only after the state gained independence at the beginning of the 20th century. In 2018, Turkey got into the world’s top 50 strongest systems of higher education, occupying 43rd place[1]. Universities of the country comply with European quality standards, thanks to the introduction of the Bologna system, and occupy places in world university rankings.

List of the top universities in Turkey

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Advantages of universities in Turkey

  • Value for the money. According to THE international ranking, 5 Turkish universities entered the top 100 best universities in developing countries. In the ranking of the best universities in the world QS 2021, there are 9 Turkish educational institutions, 2 of which are in the top 500. This is an impressive result for the relatively young Turkish higher education system. Moreover, some Turkish technical universities are often compared with US universities, and 8 higher education institutions of the country are accredited by ABET[2]. At the same time, state universities in Turkey charge low tuition fees compared to universities in the US and Europe.
  • Scholarships. Turkish universities offer partial scholarships to outstanding students. For example, almost all private universities cover 20-70% of the total tuition fees of high-performance applicants. In addition to financial assistance from universities, other scholarships also exist in Turkey. For example, the state program Türkiye Burslari and grants from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey TÜBİTAK.
  • Exchange studies abroad. Turkish universities provide students with the opportunity to spend a study semester outside the country. Almost all universities implement exchange programs Erasmus, Mevlana, and Farabi. Thus, students get valuable educational experience in foreign educational institutions and travel to other countries.
  • Choice of the language of instruction. Most programs at state universities in Turkey are offered in Turkish, but English programs can also be found. In private universities, there are many more programs in English. If the level of knowledge of English or Turkish languages ​​of students is insufficient for admission, universities will still accept candidates. In this case, universities offer one-year preparatory programs in English/Turkish before starting the course.
  • Full student life. Each university in Turkey has different sports clubs (diving, camping, volleyball, basketball, and football) and interest communities (business, photography, biology, cooking). Every year, universities organize festivals, concerts, and sporting events. For example, Bilkent University holds annual spring festivals and regular symphonic orchestra performances, and the Middle East Technical University organizes a large number of events, in 2018 there were 863.

Disadvantages of universities in Turkey

  • Centralized system. The Turkish government regulates both private and public universities at the legislative level. Universities are not given the freedom to self-manage: all decisions are made with the approval of the Higher Education Council, as a result of many bureaucratic procedures. Thus, the lack of autonomy hinders the development and improvement of educational institutions.
  • Dormitories. Many students complain about dormitories. Often the rooms are crowded: up to 8 people can live together. Alternatively, students can choose a private dormitory or a separate apartment. At the same time, the issue of housing is also relevant for those who go to Turkey for short-term programs and courses. As a rule, international students do not live in host families, because in Turkish culture the idea of ​​living together in the same house with a “foreigner” is not accepted[3]. They may be provided with a dormitory, but in order to avoid problems, they should be aware of all the conditions in advance.
  • Lack of experience. Despite the increase in the number of international students in Turkey, foreigners often face a lack of information and assistance from universities. It begins even before arriving in the country and continues while studying. Students complain that universities may forget to mention important documents for admission or not know what procedures must be followed upon arrival. This is mainly due to the lack of staff training[4]. But a lot depends on the university. Therefore, it is possible to determine whether a university is suitable for you at the stage of submitting documents.
  • The difficulty of communication. Many students of Turkish universities are faced with the problem of misunderstanding teachers due to poor knowledge of Turkish or English. Some students even emphasize that language training at the university is insufficient for academic studies[4]. Therefore, the applicant must take a responsible approach to the choice of language courses and independently make efforts to learn a foreign language.

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Requirements for admission to universities in Turkey

ProgramAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costMin. language proficiencyExams
Foundation16+1-2 yearsFree8,100 USD/monthA1Placement exams
Bachelor's18+4-6 years450 USD/year7,000 USD/yearB2TOEFL IBT 75
MBA20+1-2 years2,000 USD/year15,000 USD/yearC1TOEFL IBT 92
Master's20+1-3 years600 USD/year8,000 USD/yearC1TOEFL IBT 92
Doctoral20+2-4 years500 USD/year9,000 USD/yearC1TOEFL IBT 92

To enter Turkish universities, the applicant must provide:

  • Bachelor's / master's degree or a high school diploma;
  • Language certificate of English / Turkish (TOEFL/CAE/TÖMER);
  • SAT/ACT/GMAT/GRE exam results (or YÖS);
  • Copies of passport and photo.

Document and exam requirements depend on the type of program, university, and degree. For example, not all universities require TOEFL, since entrance exams (SAT, etc.) already confirm the language proficiency of the candidate. The application form and documents are submitted through the website of the selected university.

All prices must be clarified on the websites of universities.

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Types of educational institutions in Turkey

Higher education in Turkey was unified in 1982 by a single law that established three types of higher education institutions:

  • State universities;
  • Foundation/private universities;
  • Two-year vocational schools.

Also in Turkey, there is the University of National Defense and the Police Academy.

There are about 200 higher educational institutions in the country. State universities account for 62% of the total amount. There are 129 of them, including 8 technical universities, İzmir Institute of Technology and Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University[5].

Since Turkey joined the Bologna process, all universities implement bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs.

Colleges in Turkey

Higher vocational education after high school lasts two years at Meslek Yüksek Okulları (Higher vocational colleges). Both public universities and private universities have their own vocational colleges. Universities are constantly creating new branches and directions so that education does not lag behind the dynamics of the labor market. Meslek Yüksek Okulları prepares future professionals in various paths, for example, law, design, computer technology, trade, finance, banking and insurance, media, construction, architecture, hotel and restaurant business, marketing, and advertising.

Graduates receive an Ön Lisans Diplomasi or associate's degree. With this document, you can immediately go seek employment or continue your education at the university level by entering the 3rd year of bachelor’s studies.

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State and private universities

State universities charge a low tuition fee but are harder to enter. High standards and requirements are set here. A foreign student needs to prepare a package of documents and pass the language and entrance exams. Many international applicants come to the country a year earlier in order to spend this extra year on improving or learning Turkish / English in the Foundation program. This is especially true for those wishing to enter the best universities in the country.

State universities are funded from the government budget. Thus, universities do not manage their own finances, for example, do not determine the salaries of professors. The teaching staff elects 3 candidates for the position of rector, and the President of the Republic makes the final decision.

In demand programs in state universities are in the fields of applied sciences, education, engineering, art, and social sciences. Examples of state universities: Bogazici University, Middle East Technical University, Istanbul University, Istanbul Technical University, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and others.

Private universities (Foundation) established by large private foundations. Most of them are created by wealthy Turkish families, and the rest is funded by other countries (mainly the USA). One of the main goals of such financing is the development of higher education in the country. Therefore, it is not surprising that private universities are more likely to be on the ranking lists than state universities. Nevertheless, several public universities compete with private ones for the title of the best higher educational institution in Turkey.

Over the past 15 years, about 75 private universities have been opened in the country[5]. More than half are located in Istanbul, the rest — in Ankara, Izmir and other cities. Universities gather a strong teaching staff, carefully monitor the quality of curricula, and maintain international standards. To do this, they collaborate with foreign universities and offer joint and exchange programs.

Tuition fees are generally higher than in state educational institutions. However, private universities help students pay for tuition: usually, almost 40% of all students receive some financial support[6].

Most private universities have dormitories, small shopping centers, banks, and post offices on campus. The leadership of universities also builds sports facilities: tennis courts, gyms, basketball and football fields, and even swimming pools.

Foundation universities operate freely under the supervision of a board of trustees. The Council appoints deans and rectors independently with CoHE consent. Universities have three different sources of funding:

  • Equity deposits;
  • Student tuition fees;
  • State aid.

Some of the private universities in Turkey are included in the world ranking of the best universities QS. For example, Koç University (451st place), Bilkent University (501st place), Sabanci University (521st place).

To enter these universities, an entrance exam is not required, but GPA requirements are quite high, on average — 80%. The language of instruction is English, so universities require a high TOEFL score or one year of a language training program. In addition to top private universities, there are universities with more flexible entry criteria. They conduct studies in English and Turkish, and the required GPA is about 60%.

Groups and associations of educational institutions

International Student Services Association (ISSA TURKEY) is the first NGO created to promote Turkish universities abroad. ISSA was founded in Ankara in 2015. Its goals and responsibilities include:

  • Attracting foreign students to Turkey;
  • Promoting Turkish universities abroad;
  • Defending the rights of foreign students in Turkey;
  • Advising international students;
  • Assisting foreign graduates in finding employment;
  • Organizing training and sports events for international students and graduates.

The association includes 10 state and 10 foundation universities.

Turkish Education Association (Türk Eğitim Derneği) was founded on January 1, 1928, in accordance with the vision and leadership of Ataturk. He always believed in the important role of education in the modernization of Turkey. On December 12, 1939, the organization received the status of "Association for the Public Good" and has since been active in the field of education.

The mission of the association includes:

  • To create schools offering quality education in Turkish and foreign languages;
  • Provide housing and scholarships to students;
  • Take an active part in the development of Turkish educational policy.

Association founded TED University.

Turkish universities are also members of various international associations:

AssociationBriefly about the associationNumber of Turkish universities
Caucasus University AssociationUnites universities in the Caucasus countries, organizes seminars, cultural and educational events, and oversees the Mevlana Exchange Program.53
International Association of UniversitiesUnites universities from more than 130 countries. Acts as the voice of higher education for UNESCO and other international organizations and provides a global forum for heads of institutions and associations.18
European University AssociationUnites more than 800 universities in 48 European countries. It plays a decisive role in the Bologna process and influences the EU policy in the field of higher education, research, and innovation.57
Mediterranean Universities UnionUnites 130 universities from 23 countries on both sides of the Mediterranean. Develops education in the Euro-Mediterranean region.4

This is not an exhaustive list.

Top Turkish universities

According to the QS ranking 2020, 5 universities in Turkey entered the world’s top 700 best universities: Koç University, Sabancı University, Bilkent University, Middle East Technical University, and Bogazici University. In addition, QS ranked 12 Turkish universities among the top 100 best universities in Developing Europe and Central Asia. These universities were opened only at the end of the 20th century, so over time, their positions will only grow.

  • Koch University (Koç Üniversitesi). Established in 1993 by one of the richest people in Turkey — Vehbi Kochem, Koch University quickly took top positions. Many university research projects are supported by the European Research Council. The best areas are biology and pharmacology: young scientists from these fields became laureates of the TÜBA GEBİP Turkish Science Award in 2016.
  • Sabancı University (Sabancı Üniversitesi) is the creation of the Sabancı Foundation, which is engaged in educational projects in Turkey. The Sabanci Foundation has created more than 40 educational institutions, cultural centers, and libraries throughout the country. Sabanci University boasts multidisciplinary research centers. Most of them are engaged in research in the field of economics and finance.
  • Bilkent University (Bilkent Üniversitesi). It was founded in 1984 by Ihsan Dogramaci, a Turkish pediatrician and public figure. Bilkent Üniversitesi is the first private higher education institution in Turkey. It provides scholarship programs in which about 47% of students participate. Bilkent University is famous for training specialists in public administration and political science.
  • Middle East Technical University (Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi) opened in 1956 and became the first European-style university in Turkey. Since its inception, Middle East Technical University has focused on international cooperation, so all training programs are taught in English. The university participates in international projects and interacts with organizations such as NASA and NATO. The main advantage of the educational institution is the Faculty of Engineering and its development in the field of structural and engineering material.
  • Bosphorus University (Boğaziçi Üniversitesi). The history of the university is closely connected with the American enlighteners K.Robert and S.Hamlin. In 1863, they formed an American higher school in Istanbul, which later became a Turkish state university. It was renamed the Bosphorus University and to this day maintains a teaching system in English. The university offers various educational programs, among which the faculty of computer technology particularly stands out.

The best state universities in Turkey

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The best private universities in Turkey

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Best English-speaking universities in Turkey

Many universities in Turkey teach exclusively in English. Here programs are much cheaper than in European countries. Most English-speaking universities are either financially supported by American and European research centers, or were originally created as foreign schools.

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Free universities in Turkey

There are no absolutely free universities, but state universities charge a low fee. For foreigners bachelor’s programs in Turkish cost about 500 USD. Prices at state universities on English-language programs will cost between 600 and 1,500 USD per year on average. The cost of living and expenses for everyday life usually does not exceed 500 USD. The government also offers a scholarship Turkiye Burslari, which covers 100% of the cost of education at all levels of education and provides for a monthly scholarship.

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Interesting facts about universities in Turkey

  • Bilkent University has its own symphonic orchestra, which gives more than 50 concerts each year. It also travels to other cities in Turkey[7].
  • Koch University is located on the territory of the former recreation area of ​​the Turkish nobility. This is probably why the centralized campus of the university creates an atmosphere of privacy, and the square in front of the university is a favorite place of students[8].
  • At a ceremony sponsored by the United Nations, Enver Yucel, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Bahçeşehir, received the Contribution to Global Education award. He became the first Turk in the world to receive an award in this area[9].
  • Bosphorus University was the first American higher education institution based outside the United States. It opened in 1863 as Robert College. Today, the university is completely controlled by the Turkish administration but is still firmly connected with the American education system.
  • Approximately 63% of the total student body receive scholarships at theBilkent University.[7]
  • The Turkish Police Academy trains not only future law enforcement officers but also prepares the Qatar police squad for the 2022 World Cup. Already, 960 Qatar police units have been trained in 58 different courses at the Academy. In addition to training services, Turkey will also provide its personnel, bomb disposal units, and police dogs[10].
  • In 2019, the Zero Waste movement was launched in Turkey. Its goal is to reduce the amount of waste produced in the country. It was found that by December 31, 2020, universities would have to join Zero Waste. In the same year, on April 20, Bilkent University became the first university in Turkey to achieve significant results in this movement[11].
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