Country Guide : Study in Italy

Italy certainly has plenty of charms to tempt tourists and international students alike: a diverse landscape including mountains, islands and active volcanoes; an immense cultural and historical legacy; iconic historic and architectural sites including Rome’s Colosseum and the Pisa’s Leaning Tower; incomparable cuisine; an impressive history of inventions and discoveries… and, of course,universities in Italy include some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious.

Aside from the monumental legacy of the Roman civilization, Italy has a long history of being ahead of the game, with many significant discoveries, inventions and innovations originating in Italy. Notable Italians include explorers Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Giovanni da Verrazzano and Marco Polo; Leonardo da Vinci, who proved the world is round and not flat; Alessandro Volta, who studied electricity (recognize the term ‘Volt’?); and Galileo Galilei, who discovered four moons around Jupiter and invented the thermometer.

Other famous Italian inventors include: Angelo Moriondo (espresso machine), Johann Maria Farina (eau de cologne), Francesco Di Giorgio Martini (automobile), Salvino Armati (eyeglasses), Bartolomeo Cristofori (piano) and Ambrogio Calepino (the first widely translated dictionary). The origin of the word ‘university’ is also attributed to Italy, and the University of Bologna is believed to be one of the very oldest in the world.

Italy is also known for famous fashion houses such as Gucci, Benetton, Armani, Prada, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, and its luxury car brands, including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. Oh, and did we mention the food…?

Universities in Italy

The Università di Bologna (UNIBO) is Italy’s top ranked university in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15, at 182nd in the world. It lays claim to being one of the first universities ever established, although the actual date of its founding is uncertain. If the name sounds familiar, that may be due to Italy’s continued leadership in higher education; the University of Bologna gives its name to the Bologna Process, a project that aims to make academic systems and qualifications more compatible across Europe.

A total of 26 universities in Italy feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15, of which 15 make it into the world’s top 500. After the University of Bologna, the next Italian entries are: Sapienza - Università di Roma, Politecnico di Milano, Università degli Studi di Milano, Università di Pisa, Università degli Studi di Padova (UNIPD), Universitá degli Studi di Roma - Tor Vergata, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II,Università degli Studi di Firenze (UNIFI), Politecnico di Torino, Università degli Studi di Pavia (UNIPV), Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Università degli Studi di Torino (UNITO), Università degli Studi di Trento and Università degli Studi di Siena.

Overall, there are around 90 universities in Italy, of which the majority are publicly funded. There are also a number of specialized postgraduate centers, polytechnics and other academies that form part of the higher education sector.

Under the Bologna Process, Italy has implemented the nuovo ordinamento system, replacing the former vecchio ordinamento. Higher education in Italy now consists of a three-year bachelor’s degree called the laurea triennale, which can be followed by the two-year master’s degree (laurea magistrale, previously the laurea specialistica). There is a credit system in place to quantify the amount of work needed to pass each course (eg. 25 work hours = 1 credit), as well as an opportunity for students to change their course or continue their studies abroad after three years. Students wishing to study law must take the five-year Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico, while medicine students must take a six-year degree.

With beautiful landscapes and cities, friendly and vibrant people, a truly rich history and culture, and world-class universities specialized in a variety of subjects, it’s no surprise that there’s always a steady stream of Italophiles wishing to live and study in Italy.

Much like the country’s other attractions, the top universities in Italy are spread across a wide area. Find out more about some of Italy’s top cities for students…


Where to start with Italian capital Rome? Well, most people probably start with the main sights – the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Forum, the Spanish Steps or the catacombs. But as a student in Rome, the fun lies in discovering new sides to the “Eternal City”. Just walking around can be a great way to feel the energy of the city – at once reminiscent of ancient Roman history and thriving with a modern, cosmopolitan energy.

You might also want to take in a show in one of Rome’s many theaters, or enjoy a large outdoor performance at the Stadio Falminio or Olympic Stadium. If you’re keen on literature, why not enjoy a night out at a ‘book bar’ – a sort of stylish fusion of bar, library and book club. For bargain hunters, Rome’s antique fairs and flea markets offer plenty of vintage and second-hand goodies waiting to be discovered. If you’re brave enough, you might even rent a scooter and try to navigate the notoriously chaotic Roman traffic.

There are a range of excellent universities in Rome, particularly the Sapienza - Università di Roma which is ranked 202nd in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15 and is Italy’s second-highest ranked university. Other notable universities in Rome include the Universitá degli Studi di Roma - Tor Vergata (ranked 320 in the world) and the Università degli Studi Roma Tre (701+).


Ranked among the world’s best cities for students, Milan offers the full package: world-class universities, high standard of living, and a large and diverse student population. Milan retains a strong sense of its past history, while simultaneously representing modern urban Italian life. Its cosmopolitan population coexists alongside a wealth of historical sites such as the Duomo di Milano, La Scala, the Brera, the Pirelli tower, the San Siro, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (an ancient and glamorous arcaded shopping gallery) and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Santa Maria alle Grazie Basilica which contains the famous painting The Last Supper.

As well as being Italy’s leading financial hub, Milan is also recognized as a world leader in the fashion and design industries, designated a ‘Fashion Capital of the World’ alongside London, Paris and New York. If sports are more your thing, you’ll probably know Milan as the home of two of Italy’s biggest football teams, AC Milan and Internazionale.

With eight universities in Milan, the city has the largest student community in Italy. Its highest ranking entry in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15 is the Politecnico di Milano (ranked 229th in the world), followed closely by the Università degli Studi di Milano (238). Other internationally ranked universities in Milan include the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (377) and the University of Milano-Bicocca (501), while the Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi is known as one of Europe’s top business-focused universities and a favorite of employers seeking out graduates in this sector.

The Università degli Studi di Pavia (UNIPV), ranked 371st in the world rankings, is also located just north of the city of Milan and offers a range of international programs taught in English.


Once you’ve climbed the famous Leaning Tower and taken one of those photos where you pretend to be holding it up, you’ll find there’s a lot more to Pisa than this one iconic landmark! Pisa has more than 20 historic churches, several palaces and a series of stunning bridges across the River Arno. During the summer, it’s popular to relax along the banks of the river, sipping drinks bought from one of the area’s good wine bars. Must-see places include the Piazza dei Miracoli, the Pisa Baptistry, the Camposanto Monumentale, the Borgo Stretto (with strolling arcades and a Gothic-Romanesque church), Medici Palace, the Royal Palace and the Palazzos Gambarcorti and Agostini (and you’re bound to discover plenty more for yourself).

While you might not find so many clubs or live music venues in Pisa, the city does offer some alternative music venues, disco bars and karaoke bars. Meanwhile, you can enjoy a leisurely dinner or drink at one of the city’s restaurants and bars, have a walk in Piazza Garibaldi and the riverside Lungarni, or treat yourself at one of Pisa’s spas.

The city gets much of its life from its student population, who organize all kinds of parties, shows and cultural events. In terms of universities in Pisa, the main one is the Università di Pisa, ranked 245th in the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings. The university’s most famous past student is Galileo Galilei, who studied there in the 16th century and went on to become one of the world’s most famous astronomers, physicists and inventors. Along with the University of Pisa, the Scuola Normale Superiore and the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa make up the Pisa University System, which is recognized as one of Europe’s leading education hubs.


Although less familiar to foreign visitors, Bologna is well known among Italians, and not just because it is the largest city and capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Bologna is known as the culinary capital of Italy, famous for its cuisine (la cucina Bolognese). With a rich musical history, Bologna has also been named a Creative City for Music by UNESCO, and music lovers can enjoy open-air concerts held at the Conservatory, the Opera School, the Theatro Comunale (the Opera Theater) or the hundreds of other music associations operating in the city and surrounding area.

Bologna also has one of Italy’s largest and best preserved historic centers, known for its vibrant red-brick buildings, iconic Due Torri towers, and almost 40km of arcaded porticoes – sheltered corridors which make it possible to walk long distances in all weathers. The city’s pervasive shades of red, from terracotta to burnt oranges and warm yellows, have given it the nickname Bologna la rossa (Bologna the red).

Having grown up around one of the world’s oldest universities, Bologna remains very much a university town, with a large and diverse student population. There is also a thriving nightlife, an active gay scene, a good live music scene, and almost a hundred concerts every year featuring international rock, electronic and alternative bands. Other study-break activity options include a restored silent and sound films festival in July in the Piazza Maggiore, three major car museums (Ducati, Lamborghini and Ferrari), and a Formula One collection.

Of universities in Bologna, the highest ranked is the Università di Bologna (UNIBO) – which is Italy’s top entry in the latest QS World University Rankings, at 182nd. Other higher education institutes here include the Collegio di Spagna within the University of Bologna for Spanish students; a branch campus of the US’s Johns Hopkins University; the Academy of Fine Arts of Bologna and the Collegio Superiore di Bologna. You might also consider taking some classes at the Carpigiani Gelato University, where you can learn to make authentic Italian ice cream.

Applying to universities in Italy

University application procedures in Italy vary depending on whether you are an EU or a non-EU student, and whether you’re applying at undergraduate (referred to as ‘first cycle’) or graduate level (second and third cycle). The Study in Italy website run by the Italian Ministry of Education has all the information you’ll need about applying to universities in Italy – but keep reading for an overview of what you need to know.

In general, the first step is to contact the university of your choice to check the entry requirements for your chosen degree program. Once your eligibility is confirmed, you must submit a pre-application request form to the Italian embassy or consulate in your country of origin along with the relevant documentation (see below). You will need to get your documents translated into Italian by an approved translator. The form you need to fill out will vary depending on whether you are an EU or non-EU student and your degree subject. For example, non-EU students applying to study at institutions for arts, design, music and dance will need to fill in the form Model A-bis, while other students will need to fill the form Model A.

Documents you may need to provide include:

  • Completed application form to receive a Letter of Academic Eligibility and Suitability (Dichiarazione di Valoro in Loco/ DV);
  • Completed relevant pre-enrolment form
  • Copy of your school leaving qualification/certificate of completion of high school education if you are an undergraduate applicant, or copy of your undergraduate qualification certificate if you are a postgraduate applicant
  • Transcript of exams, including name of each passed exam and detailed syllabi of each course attended;
  • Two passport-sized photographs, one of which you must sign;
  • Any other documentation that can support your application (which must all be translated into Italian);
  • You may also need to provide proof of proficiency in italian by passing and presenting the results of an Italian language exam.

If you are an EU student, the embassy through which you are applying will send you a Letter of Academic Eligibility and Suitability (Dichiarazione di Valoro in Loco/ DV), which acknowledges your foreign studies prior to applying to universities in Italy. The embassy will then send your documents to your chosen university and you will receive confirmation of acceptance (or rejection) directly from then university. If you are a non-EU student, the Italian embassy or consulate will find out if your application meets the criteria for a visa to study in Italy.

Applying for a visa to study in Italy

You will only be issued a visa to study in Italy if you can demonstrate that you:

  • Have suitable accommodation in Italy;
  • Have sufficient funds to cover all costs you might incur during your studies in Italy (including tuition, accommodation, transport, textbooks and living costs);
  • Have sufficient funds to be able to travel back to your country of origin at the end of your studies, or proof that you have already purchased a return ticket;
  • Are entitled to medical care in Italy, either through private health insurance or an agreement between Italy and your native country;
  • You might also need to show proof of certificate of payment in full for your degree program.

You can find out if you will need a visa to study in Italy using this handy tool offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministero degli Affari Esteri). Most of the time, the visa is free; however, some candidates may need to pay a visa processing fee. You will also need to present all necessary documents giving evidence of the requirements outlined above, as well as:

  • Completed visa application form;
  • Evidence of having paid the visa application fee (if applicable);
  • Passport valid for at least three months after your course ends;
  • Two passport-sized photographs, one of which you must sign.

Tuition fees and financial aid in Italy

Tuition fees at universities in Italy differ depending on the institution and course, as institutions set their own rates. According to government guidelines, average fees are between €850 (US$1,160) and €1,000 (US$1,364) per year at public universities, while private universities will be more expensive. Some specialized courses may also charge higher fees, while doctoral students receiving a grant from their university of choice will not need to pay fees.

International students are eligible for the same scholarships and grants as local students, assessed by academic merit or financial need. This applies to scholarships, student loans, housing assistance, meal tickets and fee waivers. These services are managed by the university’s DSU Office (Diritto allo Studio Universitario – Right to Education), which also provides useful information and services for students including counseling, extra-curricular activities, sports, transport and other practical matters.

Arrival in Italy

Having arrived in Italy, all students (including those from within the EU) must apply for a residence permit (Permesso di Soggiorno) by registering with the local police within three months of arrival. International students on a long-stay student visa (more than 90 days) must apply for a residence permit at the local post office and may have only eight working days from arrival in which to register; check with the international office in your chosen institution to make sure. International students on a short-stay student visa (up to 90 days) must make a declaration of presence (Dichiarazione di Presenza) to the local police (Questura). You should carry the declaration of presence or residence permit with you, as you may be asked to show it to police or public safety officers.