Study in Italy

Italy Higher Education System

Italy Higher Education System



Italy is ranked the third country with the largest number of universities in Europe, and its’ higher education system is carried out according to the Bologna system. The universities in Italy are divided into state and non-state universities, with the typical three-cycle degree levels. Although most of the undergraduate degree programs in Italy are taught in Italian, there are around 300 English-taught courses available in various disciplines at all cycles.

Here is what the higher education system in Italy includes:

What Are the Three Types of Higher Education Institutions in Italy?

The Italian higher education system comprises Universities, High-level Arts and Music Education institutions (AFAM), and Higher Technical Institutes. Most of these institutions include the usual three-cycle degree levels and offer various disciplines available at all levels.


Universities are some of Italy's most popular institutions for international students. 98 universities —69 state and 29 non-state universities— offer a wide range of undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degree programs. University studies in Italy are similar to the general higher education system worldwide regarding teaching methodology, grading, admission processes, etc.

There are private and public universities in Italy —including Polytechnic universities— where students specialize in Polytechnic programs at all degree levels.

How does the university system work in Italy?

Italy's higher education system is based on the Bologna Process, meaning that the structure of the university sector is divided into the following degree levels:

  • Undergraduate Degrees (Laurea). According to the European system, an undergraduate university degree is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. The degree is a 3-year program; after graduating with the Laurea degree, graduates can apply to enroll in master’s degree programs.
  • Graduate Degrees (Laurea Magistrale). The Laurea Magistrale diploma is the equivalent of getting a master of science degree, based on the European system. The master’s degree lasts up to two years, and students can choose a variety of degree programs with a focus on gaining professional skills for the job market.
    • The University system in Italy also offers another advanced master’s degree option called Lauree Magistrali a Ciclo Unico, with five to six years of duration. It typically includes the fields of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy, Architecture, Law, etc.
  • Postgraduate Degrees or PhDs (Dottorato di Ricerca). The Dottorato di Ricerca lasts a minimum of three years, depending on the individual Ph.D. students’ learning pace.
  • Specializing in Master's and Continuing Education Programs. Some universities in Italy offer students the opportunity to get another first or second-level master’s degree, most suitable for master's degree graduates, as a specialization diploma.

High-level Arts and Music Education Institutions (AFAM)

Aside from universities, higher education institutions in Italy include Higher Education for Art, Music, and Dance (AFAM). AFAM institutions offer specializations mostly in design, dance, theatre, visual arts, and other artistic disciplines. The AFAM institutions are divided into the following academies:

  • Academies of Fine Arts
  • Higher Schools of Desing (ISIA)
  • State Music Conservatories
  • Higher Institutes for Musical Studies
  • National Dance Academy
  • National Academy of Drama.

There are three cycles available for studying at AFAM institutions. Each of these cycles represents consequent degrees, allowing students to enroll in each level as they advance further in their studies.

Here are the three cycles of the AFAM education system:

  • First Cycle. Also known as the Diploma Accademico Di Primo Livello, the first-level academic degree in the AFAM institutions with a 3-year duration. This first cycle at AFAM institutions is the equivalent of an undergraduate degree.
  • Second Cycle. The second-level academic degree, or Diploma Accademico Di Secondo Livello, is a 2-year long program and is considered a more advanced level of education —typically obtained after completing the first cycle degree level.
  • Third Cycle. The third and final level academic degree, or Diploma Accademico Di Formazione Alla Ricerca of the AFAM institutions, takes at least three years to complete. This cycle is considered the equivalent of a Ph.D. degree.

Higher Technical Institutes

Compared to other higher education institutions in Italy, the Higher Technical Institutes —also known as the Istituti Tecnici Superiori (ITS)— typically prepare students for their professional careers through specialized training courses.

It usually takes two to three years to complete depending on the program. Students of higher technical institutes graduate with a Diploma di Tecnico Superiore, recognized within the European Union.

The Higher Technical Institutes include courses surrounding six main areas of specialization, such as

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Innovation Technologies
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • New Technologies for Life, and
  • Sustainable Mobility.

What Grading System Does Italy Use?

The university grading system in Italy is mostly carried out in the form of oral exams. Students must undertake several so-called regular exams, each having a maximum of 30 points, with 18 being the minimum points a student can get to pass.

After passing all the above-mentioned regular exams, students will get a final grade that decides the grade for the entire degree program. Students must score between 110 being the maximum, and score at least 66 points to pass. If a student gets 110 points as their final grade, they earn the title “Lode,” which translates to “praise,” suggesting that the student passed the degree program with high honors.

The final grade is based on regular exams, presentations, projects, and the final thesis (if applicable).

Here is the grading scale that higher education institutions in Italy use:

30-Point Grade Scale Definition
29.00 - 30.00 Ottimo - Cum Laude (Passed with Honors)
27.00 - 28.99 Molto Bueno (Very Good)
24.00 - 26.99 Buono (Good)
19.00 - 23.99 Soddisfacente (Satisfactory)
18.00 - 18.99 Sufficiente (Sufficient)
0.00 - 17.99 Respinto (Fail)

How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate in Italy?

The grading system in the Italian higher education system also includes credits based on the Bologna process. Italy has two credit systems equivalent to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). The university credits (CFU) for Universities and the Academic Credits (CFA) for AFAM higher education institutions.

The credits represent all the coursework required for a student to pass. Students receive different credits for each course, depending on the workload, attendance, and individual study. The typical university academic year translates to about 60 credits.

All degree levels have different credit requirements, as shown below:

  • Undergraduate Level (Laurea) - 180 ECTS Credits
  • Graduate Degrees (Laurea Magistrale) - 120 ECTS Credits
  • Advanced Graduate Degrees (Laurea Magistrali a Ciclo Unico) - 300 to 360 ECTS Credits

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