When it comes to the popularity of study-abroad destinations for U.S. students, Italy takes second place only to the U.K. – 10% of those who study abroad go to Italy. Why is it so popular? Just take a look at the photos on the tongue-in-cheek Buzzfeed post:  “39 Reasons Studying Abroad In Italy Ruins You For Life.”  

Seriously, though, study abroad can be a great career booster, according to research by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a leader in the field of worldwide study. Two hundred senior-level U.S. and international business executives who responded to an IIE survey reported that most of their HR departments took into consideration their recruits’ international experience when hiring, promoting and determining a new assignment. Thirty percent did so even when deciding on a starting salary. “Students who study abroad understand how to communicate across cultures, work on multinational teams and think in a global context,” according to IIE deputy vice president Daniel Obst.

And in an era of rising higher-education costs, here’s a nice surprise: “Study abroad can cost less than a student’s home university, depending on where they choose to go and what type of program they select,” Obst points out.

What's the Best Program for You?

IIEPassport lists more than 800 study programs in Italy. Abroad101 ranks its 547 listings, from no stars to five stars, based on student evaluations. Three of its 2103 “Top 10 Study Abroad Programs” list are in Italy.

The critical question to ask is: “Which program will best serve my personal and career goals?” Will it be one sponsored by a university or consortium of academic institutions, or by a stand-alone study-abroad organization? Or should you opt to study independently or be an exchange student? For help finding the answer, consult the study abroad counselor at your school, students on your campus who have just returned from studying abroad and the bible of the field, “A Student Guide to Study Abroad,” published by IIE and the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). 

For students who want to pursue a do-it-yourself study plan in Italy, the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research website has a search engine of programs organized by area of study and choice of city.

Whichever program you choose, make sure your U.S. college or university will give you academic credit for your work; your school may not accept every option that's available to you.

How Much Will Study in Italy Cost?

Sponsored programs have wide-ranging price tags; independent study may be cheaper than joining a program but takes lots of fancy footwork and a great deal of time – balancing academic calendars, sorting out credit systems and arranging courses. According to StudyCostCompare, the annual cost of studying for a bachelor’s degree in Italy is about $12,500 including tuition, rent, food, books and so on.

As an example of a sponsored program in Italy, let's take a look at AIFS’s program in Rome, a popular destination for foreign students in Italy. For 2015–2016, each semester costs $14,695, or $15,995 with a meal allowance. This includes tuition for courses taught in English and Italian at the Richmond Study Center in Rome, housing, local excursions and trips to Venice, Naples and Pompeii, a two-week language prep and cultural orientation in Florence, and the 24/7 services of a resident director.

Can You Get Financial Aid?

U.S. universities and colleges are required by federal law to continue dispensing federal funds to students enrolled in approved study abroad programs. Your financial aid officer is the best person to answer your questions about carrying over a scholarship or other financial aid. For information on scholarships and grants specifically for study abroad, consult IIEPassport Study Abroad Funding.

The program you choose may have its own source of scholarships, and more and more aid is being directed to students who have been traditionally underrepresented in education abroad. A leading example of this is the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Is Italy an Expensive Place to Live?

Don’t be frightened off by stories of travelers reporting that they had to pay more than $7 for a cup of coffee in Italy. Prices in tourist hot spots are always higher than in neighborhood spots; live like an Italian and take your cues from local students when you decide where to live, shop and travel.

According to the Big Mac Index, a lighthearted comparison of purchasing power around the world created by The Economist magazine, a Big Mac hamburger in Italy costs $5.18, compared to $4.80 in the United States. Broader cost-of-living comparisons can be found on sites like Numbeo and Expatistan. Numbeo reports that consumer prices, including rent, in Rome are about at par with Chicago – and 10% higher than in Florence and 2.4% higher than in Perugia.

Students in Italy are entitled to more discounts than you may be used to in the United States. Showing an ID from your study abroad site should get you discounts at museums, gyms, bookstores and more. Consider, also, an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) that includes travel and medical insurance as well as access to discounts throughout the world.

Another savings tip: Find a good travel credit card – one that offer generous travel points and/or no foreign transaction fees – with the help of a site like NerdWallet. (Also, see 4 Tips For Using Credit Cards Overseas.)

Some Typical Expenses To Budget For

We asked the resident director of AIFS’s program in Rome, Rosanna Graziani, to help us with a rundown of prices for specific luxuries and necessities in Rome.

[Prices are current as of December 2014, when the U.S. dollar was worth about .80 euros.]

Student Visa: Study in Italy for more than 90 days requires a visa. It’s free, but if your study-abroad sponsor isn't going to process it, you will have to apply in person at the consulate (or honorary consulate) nearest you. Figure the cost of travel to the consulate into your budget, and allow at least eight to nine weeks from the time you book an appointment to receive your visa.

Airfare:  Expect to pay from $600 to $1,475 for a return trip, depending on season and departure city. Start your search with sites such as Kayak, STA Travel and eDreams.

Airfare from Rome to London: Again, season matters but for good deals, compare prices of low-cost airlines such as Easyjet, Ryanair and Vueling. A recent search on Vueling came up with one-way fares starting at $88.84. For more information, see The Cheapest Way To Travel To (And In) Europe.)

Housing: If you’re arranging accommodations on your own, an apartment is best. Rental agencies that specialize in short-term stays advertise in the magazine "Wanted in Rome”; Short Lets Assistance is one that is recommended. A one-bedroom apartment rents for between $984 and $1,230. To find someone who might want to share an apartment with you, check out EasyStanza or roma.bakeca.it.

Cell phones: To keep expenses down, don’t rent or subscribe to any contracts that require credit-card billing; instead, buy prepaid minutes. You can buy a cell phone in Rome or, if you have one that works in Europe, just buy an Italian SIM card with a new number. That way, you will not be charged for incoming calls while you are in Italy. A basic phone will cost about $37 and an Italian SIM card with prepaid minutes as little as $12. Adding minutes is easy to do at phone centers, ATMs, tobacco stores, supermarkets and newsstands. Major Italian phone companies are TIM, Vodafone, Wind and Tre.

Gym membership: In the center of the city, expect to pay $73–­$123 a month, plus $123 for a required medical certificate.

Daily newspaper: The print versions of “La Repubblica” and “Il Messaggero” are $1.50.

Dinner splurge: In the historic center of the city, try Matricianella, $43, and Cul de Sac, $30; in the Jewish Ghetto, Da Gigetto, $50.

A drink with friends: Beer is very popular in Italy, especially during the summer. A beer in an Italian version of a pub will cost from $5 to $10.

Espresso in a café with Wi-Fi:  If you’re going to sit at a table to drink it, $3.60 and up.

Local transportation: A ticket valid for one ride or 100 minutes on the bus or underground costs about $1.85; a monthly unlimited pass is $43. The only student discounts are for students from the EU.

A film or live theater: A film will cost almost $10; a play about $35, with 10% to 20% student discounts for some performances.

A train from Rome to Naples: One-way fares range all the way from $14 to $71, depending on the train you choose. The slow train takes 2 hours and 40 minutes; the fast, 1 hour and 10 minutes. Plan ahead and you can get advance purchase discounts at trenitalia.com.

Pizza: Make it a Margherita pizza (which, according to a probably untrue but often repeated story got its name from a dish made in 1889 by a baker in Naples who replicated the colors of the Italian flag to honor a visit by Queen Margherita), $12 and up.

A picnic with friends: Grab a bottle of Cesanese wine for $7­ to $10, a hunk of pecorino di pienza cheese for $12 and a loaf of organic pane di lariano for $2.50, and head to the Villa Borghese, Villa Ada or Villa Doria Pamphili, all parks in the city center. Invite three or four friends – you’ll have plenty to eat and drink.

A haircut: For men, $25, and for women, twice as much, but you can often get a  student discount of from 10–20%.

Jeans:  Expect to hand over about $50 for a generic version; for Levis 501, more than $100.

A sketchbook: one of the best ways to capture the beauty of the eternal city, $12 to $37.

The Bottom Line

Study abroad is one of the best investments you can make in your future – and one that doesn’t have to break the bank. Italy is a popular choice for U.S. students. Make the most of it by doing your homework and budgeting well ahead of time. Choose a program that will fulfill your career and personal-growth goals (and is acceptable to your college for academic credit). To keep costs down when you get there, live like an Italian, taking cues from local students about where to live, shop and eat. (For more tips on financing your study abroad, see You CAN Afford To Study Abroad.)


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