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The Education System in Italy

Figure A-10. Levels of education in Italy, by age and year of schooling: 2013

Levels of education in Italy, by age and year of schooling: 2013

NOTE: Education levels are defined according to the 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97). Ages represent the typical age at the beginning of the school year.
Numbers in bold print indicate ages of universal enrollment (i.e., an enrollment rate of over 90 percent). Numbers highlighted represent the age at which compulsory enrollment begins through the age at which compulsory enrollment ends. No meaning should be inferred from width of subdivisions. Duration of first university degree program is generally 5 years in Italy.
SOURCE: Miller, D.C. and Warren L.K. (2011). Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011 (NCES 2012-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


  • Common name: Scuola dell'infanzia
  • Ages of attendance: As early as age 3 through age 5
  • Number of years: 1 to 3
  • Start of universal enrollment: Age 3
  • Compulsory: No


  • Common name: Scuola primaria
  • Ages of attendance: 6 through 10
  • Number of years: 5
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes, begins at 6

Lower secondary:

  • Common name: Scuola secondaria di primo grado
  • ges of attendance: 11 through 13
  • Number of years: 3
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes
  • Entrance/exit criteria: Students must pass a national exit examination to obtain the diploma di esame di stato conclusivo del primo ciclo di istruzione and enter upper secondary school.

Upper secondary:

  • Common name: Scuola secondaria di secondo grado
    • Liceo, including
      • Liceo classico, scientifico, linguistico, delle scienze umane—Academic upper secondary schools
      • Istituti d'arte, liceo artistic, liceo musicale e coreutico— Fine arts schools and institutes
    • Istituti professionali—Vocational schools
    • Istituti tecnici—Technical schools
    • Istruzione e formazione professionale (IFP)—3-year vocational education and training program
  • Ages of attendance: 14 through 18 (graduation generally at
    age 19)
  • Number of years: 5 (except for the 3-year IFP programs)
  • Universal enrollment: Through age 16
  • Compulsory: Through age 15
  • Entrance/exit criteria: Students must possess the diploma di esame di stato conclusivo del primo ciclo di istruzione from lower secondary school to enter upper secondary school. At the end of 5 years of instruction, students must pass a national examination in order to obtain a diploma di superamento dell'esame di stato.

NOTE: Every student who has completed 5 years of upper secondary school and has obtained a diploma di superamento dell'esame di stato may attend university and other forms of higher education. Students are tracked in academic as well as technical and vocational schools in Italy. Students in Italy may attend specialized art schools, such as istituti d'arte and liceo artistico at the upper secondary level. Students attending vocational schools may attend 3- or 5-year training or apprenticeship programs in applied fields, after which they often enter the labor force. Liceo linguistico focuses on modern foreign languages and cultures. The liceo classico and scientifico prepare students for university studies. Liceo classico focuses on literature, philosophy, and Latin and Greek languages. Liceo scientifico focuses on mathematics and science. Liceo socio-psico-pedagogico has a sociological, psychological, and pedagogical orientation.

Postsecondary and tertiary:

  • Common name: Accademia, scuola diretta a fini speciali, università Alta formazione artistica e musicale—Arts and music
  • Scuole superiori per la mediazione linguistica—School for interpreters
  • Istruzione e formazione tecnica superiore—Technical education and training
  • Laurea, laurea specialistica, dottorato di ricerca, diploma di specializzione—Academic higher education, university
  • Ages of attendance: Varies
  • Number of years: Varies according to degree program
  • Universal enrollment: No
  • Entrance criteria: In order to enter university, students must possess a diploma di superamento dell'esame di stato, a second-ary school diploma obtained after passing a national exam.

NOTE: The higher education system in Italy underwent a reform process to make it more compatible with the higher education systems of other European countries. University degree programs are now based on two main cycles—the 3-year foundation degree, or laurea, followed by a 2 year specialist degree, or laurea specialistica/magistrale—with third-cycle degree options (dottorato di ricerca and diploma di specializzazione), which are similar to a doctorate in the United States. These changes were made to increase educational exchange between Italy and other European Union countries.

Common degree programs:

  • Accademia degrees: Fine arts, restoration, and music degrees. Accademia degrees have been divided into two cycles according to the recent reforms, the first one taking 3 years to complete and the second one taking 2 years to complete. The diploma accademico di primo livello is awarded after the first cycle, and the diploma accademico di secondo livello is awarded after the second cycle.
  • Laurea: A first-level university degree taking 3 years from university entry to complete. It is characterized by both theoretical and applied studies, similar to a bachelor's degree in the United States.
  • Laurea specialistica/magistrale: Graduate specialized degree requiring 2 years of university study after a first-level degree, similar to a master's degree in the United States.
  • Master universitario di primo livello: A professional graduate program requiring at least 1 year of study after obtaining a laurea.
  • Master universitario di secondo livello: A professional graduate program requiring at least 1 year of study after obtaining a laurea specialistica/magistrale.
  • Dottorato di ricerca: Doctoral degree program focusing on research and taken at a university. Typically requires 3 years of instruction after the laurea specialistica/magistrale.
  • Diploma di specializzazione: Doctoral degree program for a specialized professional degree, such as medicine or law. Typically requires 2–6 years after the laurea specialistica/magistrale.


Eurydice. (2013). Eurydice Highlights: The Structure of the European Education Systems 2012/13. Brussels: Eurydice. Retrieved March 22, 2013, from

Marlow-Ferguson, R. (Ed.) (2002). World Education Encyclopedia: A Survey of Educational Systems Worldwide, Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1996). Education at a Glance 1996: OECD Indicators. Paris: Author.

ReferNet Italy. (2010). Italy. VET in Europe—Country Report. Thessaloniki: Cedefop. Retrieved April 22, 2013 from

Robitaille, D.F. (1997). National Contexts for Mathematics and Science Education: An Encyclopedia of the Education Systems Participating in TIMSS. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.