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Education System in Italy

Italian universities are among the oldest universities in the world. Unlike in North America or Northern Europe where discussion-based teaching is highly emphasized, the structure of the higher education system in Italy is more formal, and most teaching in Italy takes place in large lecture halls.  Students are also expected to complete a considerable amount of self-study hours outside the classroom in order to prepare for examinations.

Higher education examinations are held after the teaching period and are mainly oral exams, meaning you’ll be tested through a one-on-one conversation with your professor. Furthermore, examinations take place over a significantly longer period of 4 to 6 weeks, and students can choose when to schedule their exams within the period. Each examination is offered on several dates, and students can choose when to take their exams. Students are also entitled to turn down a mark and re-take the examination if they are not satisfied with their initial result, which is graded on a 30-point scale.

The academic year is made up of two semesters. The first semester starts in September/October and ends in January/February. The second semester starts in February and ends in July. The actual start and finish dates of semesters, degree programs and examination periods in Italy vary in every university, but each academic semester lasts for roughly 20 weeks, made up of a 14-week teaching period and a 6-week examination period.

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Degree and Institution Types

Based on the Bologna Process, the education system in Italy was reformed in 1999 to create a cohesive system of education throughout Europe. Since then, Italy has implemented a 3-cycle system consisting of the following:

  • First Cycle: Bachelor degrees (3 years) and single-cycle degrees 
  • Second Cycle: Master degrees (2 years) and 1st level vocational masters
  • Third Cycle: Doctorate (5-6 years) specialization school and 2nd Level vocational masters.

In terms of types of institutions, there are two broad institutional categories that make up the higher education sector in Italy: the university institutions and non-university institutions which include Higher Education in the Arts and Music (Alta formazione Artistica e Musicale or AFAM).  


The university sector is made up of 89 university institutions (as well as polytechnical institutions) classified within the following categories:  

  • 58 state universities – public entities endowed with scientific, teaching, managerial, financial and book-keeping autonomy
  • 17 non-state universities – legally recognized by the state
  • 2 universities for foreigners – specialized in teaching/ research for development of Italian language, literature, culture
  • 6 higher education schools – specialized in postgraduate university studies
  • 6 distance-learning universities
  • 4 polytechnical schools (politecnico)

You can use this interactive map to locate universities in different cities throughout Italy.


  • AFAM institutions, including State Academies of Fine Arts, Legally recognised Academies of Fine Arts, Higher Schools of Design, State Music Conservatories, Higher Institutes for Musical Studies, National Dance Academy, National Academy of Drama.
  • Higher integrated education (FIS): programs of higher technical education & training (IFTS)
  • Higher education in language mediation: education institutions for language mediators
  • Specific fields (e.g. archiving, military studies, restoration)

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    Learn more about studying abroad in Italy: 

    Overview of Italy

    Over 30,000 international students choose Italy as their study abroad destination every year. Click here to learn why.

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    Student Visas

    Do you need a visa to enter Italy to study? Learn more about the student visa process, and what you need to enter the country, depending on if you're an EU national or not. Discover what you need to stay in Italy to study abroad!

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    Housing & Living Costs

    No matter where you study abroad, it’s important to create a budget in advance so that you’re prepared. Therefore, we’ve detailed average living and housing costs so that you can get a better idea of what you would be paying as an international student in Italy.

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    Tuition Fees & Scholarships

    Tuition fees for degree programs in Italy may vary. Both international and domestic students are expected to pay tuition fees in Italy. To cover the rest of the costs, there are plenty of scholarship opportunities available.

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    Language & Culture

    Italy is a country rich in history and culture. Find out more about what the country offers in terms of language, culture, and more!

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    Application Process

    All countries have specific admissions requirements for students to gain acceptance into a university. Learn more about the ins and outs of admission to programs in Italy, and what you need to apply, depending on your citizenship.

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    Ready to look at education in Italy? Use our search engine to find and compare top programs in Italy today!

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    Last update: 03 Mar 2020

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