How to enter an Italian university on a budget

How to enter an Italian university on a budget. Zhanna is a student at the Università degli Studi di Milano in Italy. She completed the first year of the Laurea Magistrale program, a two-year course with an academic focus. In fact, this is a master’s program already known to us, but more theoretical than applied. Typically, after receiving this degree, students continue their education and become doctors of science. 


Zhanna is studying on a budget at the Faculty of Political Science and Sociology entirely in English. She told us how she entered the university and in what aspects the university admission procedure is different now, after the pandemic. 

About the university

Milan State University (Italian Università degli Studi di Milano , English University of Milan ) is a higher education institution in the industrial capital of Italy. It is the largest public university in Milan and Lombardy. The university has as many as 134 buildings throughout the city and in the surrounding region, 10 faculties and 78 departments, and applicants can choose from 140 study programs. In terms of scope and importance for the city, Università degli Studi di Milano is comparable to Moscow State University in Moscow. They even have the same abbreviation.

Main building of the Università degli Studi di Milano

In addition to my university, there are a bunch of universities in Milan with impressive ratings: the Technical University of Milan ( Politecnico di Milano ) or the Bocconi University, which trains economists and lawyers. Separately, it is worth mentioning a whole scattering of design and fashion schools: the European Institute of Design ( Istituto Europeo di Design ) or the Marangoni Institute ( Istituto Marangoni ). Education there will cost a pretty penny – there are no budget places in these universities, and the cost can vary from 5,000 euros per year to infinity. It is possible that due to the coronavirus, some universities have reduced tuition prices or at least moved deadlines to a later time. All information about payments and dates must be checked on the website of the university of interest, because there are no general standards in Italy . However, the admission procedure and the learning process itself are more or less similar in all universities in the country.

About documents for admission

When I still lived in Russia, like many, I liked to complain about the monstrous domestic bureaucracy. The eternal running from authority to authority for the sake of one piece of paper, the “My Documents” portal working every now and then, and the lengthy explanations of department employees, which are more reminiscent of NPC dialogues in Dark Souls, drove me into real Kafkaesque despair. However, all this seemed to me like childish games of being an accountant after I got to know the Italian bureaucracy better. Paper twists and turns in Italy are a real mamma mia, and only true warriors of printing and appointments can make it to the end. However, it is worth it, because at stake is free higher education in one of the most beautiful and pleasant countries in Europe.


Following the Covid-19 outbreak, the admission procedure has changed from what I had to go through. The most important change is that now the Italian Institute of Culture in Moscow does not take part in the process. Previously, he was an inevitable intermediary who, however, did not do anything special: his employees collected the names of all Russian citizens entering Italy, entered them into an Excel file and sent this document to the embassy. Now applicants themselves perform all the necessary actions. Also, due to the pandemic, this year many universities extended the deadline for accepting documents and took entrance exams online. All deadlines and detailed rules can be found on the Studiare in Italia website. They also note that these measures are temporary, but can be extended if the Covid-19 epidemic continues.

Before you start collecting documents, you need to understand two things.

1. You won’t be able to do anything quickly. Italians don’t like to rush. Therefore, it is best to start preparing for admission around January – February with the expectation that you want to start classes in September – October.

2. Depending on the chosen university and program, the deadlines for submitting documents and the start of the semester will vary. Always carefully check all deadlines on the website of the university you want . This will save your nerves and give you an understanding of when and what needs to be sent.

Here is a list of documents that you will definitely need for admission to a master’s program in Italy in 2020–2021 :

  • Bachelor’s or specialist’s diploma with supplement;
  • Apostille is confirmation of the legality of an educational document not only in the country of issue, but throughout the world. It is done at the education department at your place of residence, the service costs 2,500 rubles as of July 2020;
  • Translation of the diploma, its supplement and apostille into Italian by a certified translator. The list of translators can be found on the website of the Consulate General of Italy in Moscow ;
  • Dichiarazione di Valore is the recognition of an educational document in the Italian Republic. It is issued at the Social Department of the Italian Consulate General and takes approximately 10 days. I don’t remember the exact cost of all the work, but it turned out to be around 100 euros;
  • A certificate confirming proficiency in the program language (Italian or English) at a level not lower than B2;
  • Two photographs, one of which must be certified by the Italian consulate. This is done simultaneously with the submission of the diploma to the Dichiarazione di Valore. Along with all the documents, you bring a photograph, the Consulate officer looks at it, then looks at you, certifies the photograph, and you receive it back along with the Dichiarazione di Valore;
  • Application for registration of a preliminary application on the Universitaly website (pre-enrollment), approved by your university. This is only necessary for students who require a visa to stay in the EU.

Depending on the university and the chosen program, the results of entrance exams may be required, as well as other documents – for example, a resume in English or Italian and a motivation letter .

As already mentioned, it is better to start collecting all the documents in advance. One apostille can take from 5 to 45 working days – and this is up to two months of normal time. In addition, the university may also take a long time to respond to you. Personally, I was lucky – I received a letter from the course curator the next day after I sent my request. All my Italian friends were extremely shocked by this fact, because usually the response time can be a week or two if luck smiles on you. And sometimes university representatives may not bother to respond at all. In this case, you will have to call the university. Life hack: by signing up for a free trial period of Skype, you can call Italy from Russia for free. Or you can schedule a personal meeting if you are already in Italy.

Another headache is translating the diploma and apostille into Italian. It cannot be made by a random translator, your friend or you personally, even if you speak the language fluently. You must select a translator from the list approved by the Consulate General. Prices for their services vary, but not much; on average, these specialists charge 4,000–5,000 rubles for translating a diploma with an apostille and insert.

Also, most programs provide an interview with the curator or one of the course teachers. Foreign students can take it via Skype – I spoke with my interviewer in Milan from Moscow. During the conversation, you will have to tell about yourself and your academic achievements, experience and motivation. In addition, it is useful to ask a few questions to your interlocutor – this way you will show your interest in this particular course at this particular university. My interview was easy and stress-free. The curator of the program was a young professor who was very interested in his subject and politics in general. We talked for about an hour, at the end of which the teacher immediately said that he liked everything, and I was accepted into the course. At that moment, out of happiness, I wanted to start running around the apartment, waving my arms, but before starting my studies, I still had a lot to do – apply for a visa and get a residence permit.

An alley next to the Consulate General of Italy in Moscow.

About visa and residence permit

After completing pre-enrollment and preliminary enrollment in a course, students from countries outside the European Union must apply for a visa. Here is a list of documents that you will need to bring to the visa center in two copies – it turns out to be about 60 sheets that look like a small book:

  • Valid passport;
  • Questionnaire ;
  • Documents confirming enrollment at an Italian university (pre-enrollment);
  • Copy of Dichiarazione di Valore;
  • Statement of availability of suitable housing in Italy;
  • Financial guarantee at the rate of 5,953.87 euros for the entire academic year – you need to show the entire amount at once or provide proof of the scholarship;
  • An insurance policy with a minimum coverage of EUR 30,000 can be purchased directly at the visa application center;
  • Passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation and a copy of its first page with personal data and the page with permanent registration;
  • Consent to the processing of personal data.

The Consulate General may request additional documents, but they did not ask me for anything else. The visa was ready in just a week, but these deadlines can also vary, so it is better not to wait until the last minute to apply.

It would seem that you have your visa in hand, you can pick up your passport and relax a little. But no. The paperwork does not end there, because upon arrival in Italy you need to obtain a residence permit. To do this, within a week from the moment of arrival, you need to go to the nearest post office ( Poste Italiane) and pick up an application form for a residence permit. At home, you need to carefully fill it out, and then take it back to the post office with a set of documents, which will be returned to you at the visa agency after receiving your visa, and a Marca da Bollo stamp worth 16 euros – you can buy it at any Tabacchi tobacco kiosk. The department officer will seal the envelope himself and give you a piece of paper with the date of your visit to the questura – the police department at your place of residence. Usually, the review of documents takes about three months from the moment the documents are sent – I sent my application at the end of September, and I had to go to the quest office in mid-December. After this, you can finally breathe out and just wait for your residence permit, enjoying Bella Vita to the fullest. Well, or as far as studies allow.

If you still have questions about applying for a student visa to Italy, sign up for our consultation on visas to Europe . We’ll tell you everything about the documents and help you plan your submission. 

About studying in Italy

The higher education system in Italy is strikingly different from the Russian one. As in many Western countries, students here must earn a certain number of credits each year . In my case, there should be 120 of them over two years of study – 60 per academic year. Different items offer different amounts of credits. The more hours you devote to a subject, the more points you will receive for it. Disciplines are also divided into compulsory and elective, and the student himself chooses which topics he wants to study additionally. Here it is important to carefully calculate the loans and distribute the load evenly throughout the year. In the second trimester, I didn’t take this moment into account, took a lot of additional subjects and almost went crazy while I was taking them all.

Exams in Italy are more difficult than in Russia, but they are easier to pass. It’s paradoxical, but there’s no other way to explain it. There are no tickets or time for preparation that we are used to, and the professor can ask absolutely anything from the program. You must know everything that was taught during the term: read all the books, studies and study the lectures in detail. You won’t be able to cheat either, because if the exam is written, the teacher and, optionally, his assistant will hover around the audience like vultures and watch the students. If any of them notice cheat sheets, they may be removed from the exam altogether, and then do what you want. There was also no motivation to lie because cheating in Italy is simply not accepted, and even such an avid C student like me felt remorse when I wanted to quietly reach for my smartphone.

However, you shouldn’t start panicking and give up your dream of a tower in Italy. In my opinion, it’s easier to pass the exam here than in Russia, because Italian professors evaluate your knowledge, and not how diligently you studied and sucked up during the semester. In addition, during the exam, teachers do not pretend to be prim sages who are full of knowledge, but communicate with you more like a friend over a cup of coffee. If you forgot something and you say it directly, you will not be met with judgmental glances and deep, disappointed sighs, but with a calm, “Okay. Then let’s talk about another topic.” Of course, if you forgot everything, you will have to retake it, having prepared for the subject better. And in an Italian university, retaking is not considered the end of the world, because there is no limit of three attempts. I know stories of Italians who studied in their master’s programs for three, four or even five years, passing one exam every six months. However, it’s unlikely that everyone will want to stretch out their student life like that.

Another important thing to know about studying in Italy: grades matter because employers often look at them when hiring. Here they use a 30-point scale, where 18 is the minimum passing score, and scores from 26 to 30 are various variations of the five. It is normal practice for students to reject a grade they do not like. For example, if the professor gave you a 23 on an exam, and you think that you know the subject at 30, you can refuse the grade and retake it again. I have never done this before, because I am completely satisfied with all the assessments. Somehow, in Italy, I requalified from a C student to an A student, and I think this is due precisely to the fact that teachers judge you on your knowledge and ability to think critically, and not on how hard you laughed at their jokes in class. This is good news for anyone who was “bright but lazy” in school and always got so-so grades due to a lack of subservience to teachers. Come to Italy – here you will shine. Well, if, inspired by the possibility of endless retakes, you don’t neglect your studies, of course.

About the scholarship and expenses

Failure to study can also result in the loss of a scholarship if you apply for one. Personally, I don’t have a scholarship because I was late in submitting documents for funding – this issue needs to be thought through much in advance, preferably in February or March, so that the application can be considered. But I have a friend from Russia who receives a scholarship based on her academic performance. As the name suggests, in this case the university pays based on how well you study and have studied in the past. A friend told me that in order to receive payments, you need to show excellent academic performance in your previous course—bachelor’s or specialist’s degree. The average score is calculated from the diploma, and if it is higher than the passing grade, a scholarship is awarded and tuition is waived. The amount of such a scholarship is 6,000 euros per year . However, it is not paid at once, but in several tranches: it is important not only to show how well you studied in the past, but also to regularly achieve success at an Italian university. If a student fails to earn all credits on time, the scholarship will be canceled. Information about available grants can also be found on the Home Office website .

Applying for a scholarship will be helpful, but it is unlikely to last you a lifetime. Many students work part-time after classes, but to get a part-time job, knowledge of Italian is desirable. For most of the academic year, combining study and work is possible without problems – lectures only last until the middle of the day. There are sessions twice or thrice a year, depending on whether you study in semesters or trimesters, but during the exam period you can negotiate with your employer for a lighter workload or additional days off.

To live comfortably in Milan, you need a minimum of 800–1000 euros per month. It is very expensive to rent housing here – prices for a private room range between 400-600 euros, and for an apartment you will pay from 700 euros per month. The cost depends on the area, condition of the property and size. I also don’t recommend taking a taxi in Milan. The Uber we are used to is represented only by the Black tariff, and city taxi services charge a lot of money for trips. One day I was too lazy to walk 20 minutes after a binge, so I called a car. For a 7-minute trip I paid 10 euros – in Moscow for that kind of money you can get from the airport to the city center. Fortunately, night transport works more or less normally in Milan, and you can always find a route home.

Otherwise, Milan’s cost of living is comparable to Moscow. Groceries in supermarkets cost the same, but the quality of the food is much higher. The fare is a little more expensive, but you can buy a student pass for 20 euros per month. Hanging out is also not as cheap as in Moscow – on average a glass of beer or wine costs 5 euros. But flying to the rest of Europe is much cheaper than flying from Russia, and you can do it at least every weekend. More precisely, it was possible. The Covid-19 pandemic has made adjustments to all aspects of life.

About studying in times of coronavirus

Italy was one of the first countries to be hit hard by the Covid-19 coronavirus. At the beginning of the epidemic, no one took this seriously – just think, some kind of infection in China, where is China and where are we. In early March, our university was closed for a two-week quarantine, and we joked that it was an unscheduled “vacation.”

The leadership of the university – like any other structure – could not give clear instructions on the organization of the educational process. What was happening seemed like a surreal dream that would soon end. But time passed and the situation did not improve. On the contrary, the number of victims grew exponentially, measures became stricter, and in mid-March Italy went into a complete lockdown.

Around the same time, the university realized that they needed to adapt to the situation and transferred all classes online, to Microsoft Teams . A separate room was created for each subject, where professors published materials and taught pairs. Different teachers solved the issue of lecturing in different ways: some recorded videos with slides and uploaded them to the platform, while others conducted live broadcasts. We also took exams in the third trimester online. Some professors also received them via streams, and some asked students to write final studies and prepare presentations, on the basis of which they then based their grades. In my opinion, it’s much easier to learn this way: for example, a video lesson can always be paused if you don’t catch something.

At the moment (the article was written at the end of July 2020) I have already closed the session and am taking a well-deserved rest. I think that from September our university and other educational institutions in Milan will open – already now life in Italy has almost returned to normal. There are still some restrictions : for example, you can only enter bars and restaurants wearing a mask and you must keep your distance. At the entrances to all establishments and shops there are stands with disinfecting gel and gloves, and I notice that almost everyone willingly uses them. According to official statistics, the number of cases in the country is going down thanks to draconian measures and strict quarantine throughout the spring. The country has already opened its borders for EU citizens and, hopefully, will soon open them for everyone else. It is possible that in the near future you will have the opportunity to travel to sunny Italy and get to know life here.

About life in Italy

I don’t want to talk about Italian cuisine for the thousandth time. Moreover, I have enough of such conversations every day – Italians love to discuss national dishes and their exceptional culinary skills. And indeed, no other country in the world, in their opinion, is capable of producing such impeccable food. I cannot agree with this one hundred percent, but having learned from bitter experience, I no longer enter into discussions on the topic. Italians may be deeply offended if you even hint that: “Well, in general, there are other good dishes, for example…” No, there are none. Basta.

Most Italians can confidently be called patriots, not only in gastronomic terms. They love and appreciate the history of their country, but they will unanimously tell you that these are “not the best times” in Italy now. Over the past few years, the right-wing Northern League party led by Matteo Salvini has been gaining more and more approval, and this could significantly undermine the state’s democracy. However, so far I have not noticed any radically agitated moods – although, perhaps, this is also due to Italian indifference.

Here it is not customary to be nervous, rush and devote your whole life to work with endless career races. Although this depends on the field of activity and each individual person, the general mood is: “my working hours are already over, so I won’t do anything now.” As a Muscovite, at first it was difficult for me to get used to such a way of life, and now I myself no longer understand how I could work after work, on weekends and on holidays. After all, it is much better to devote time to hobbies, meeting with friends and walking.

This casual relaxedness permeates all areas of life and is difficult to resist. Well, more precisely, you can try, but sooner or later you will give up and understand that, in general, the Italians are right in their Dolce Vita.

I have a year left to study here. I’m not making long-term plans yet – the coronavirus pandemic has shown that no matter what you set up for yourself, it can all turn into dust. So I don’t know what I’ll do after graduating from university. Maybe I’ll stay to live here, or maybe I’ll go somewhere else. The main thing for me is not to stop in my development and learn as much new things as possible.

If you also want to study and live in the Old World and have not yet decided on the country, sign up for our free consultation on higher education in Europe . We will help you choose a university and draw up a detailed preparation plan. You will succeed, good luck! 

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