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5 Things to Know Before Going to High School in Italy

Sunrise in Italy

Making the transition from middle school to high school can be extremely intimidating. Those glorious, youthful years are often awkward and challenging. Even more intimidating is making the transition in a foreign country. Cultural norms vary from place to place, along with school curriculums, grading scales, class schedules and methods of transportation. Are you heading to high school in Italy? Are you unsure of what to expect? Check out these five facts before you go.

1. Italians Choose What Type of Upper Secondary School They Attend

In America, students flow seamlessly from elementary to middle to high school. There’s a set path every student must take with little to no room for deviation. In Italy, high school is carefully tailored to each student’s specific interests. After two years of general studies in lower secondary school, students are allowed to pick which upper secondary school they would like to attend for the next three years. Overall, students spend five total years in high school. Multiple upper secondary schools are offered, and the curriculum for each is different. Here are some examples below.

  • Classics School: Students take courses in literature, philosophy and history.
  • Science School: Students take courses in physics, chemistry and natural sciences.
  • Fine Arts School: Students take courses in drawing, sculpting and painting.
  • Technical Institute: These schools prepare students for a number of specific vocations, including agriculture and commerce.

The goal of these specialized curriculums is to provide a direct path for students to follow based on their plans for college. For instance, a student wishing to study architecture at the university level would probably attend Artistic School. On the other hand, a student wishing to study medicine would most likely attend Science School. Each student’s decision is based largely on the career they’re working toward. Tailored curriculums play a huge role in preparing the student body for their individual courses of study. Several other countries also use this method of specialized schooling, such as Australia and Scotland.

Of course, if you're studying abroad in Italy with a program like Greenheart Travel, CIEE, SYA, or YFU (all of whom provide direct high school exchanges in Italy) they'll help you make this decision based on your post-high school goals. Just studying in Italy for a summer? Then, no need to worry about this!

2. The Italian Education System is Rigorous

students in italy

If a student wishes to move forward from lower secondary school to upper secondary school, he/she must pass a series of standardized tests. Subjects tested include mathematics, science, history, Italian and foreign language. Each subject requires both an oral and a written exam, and each exam must be passed after lower secondary school and again after upper secondary school. Upon satisfactory completion of each exam, students are awarded an upper secondary school diploma and access to university study.

In addition, Italian students spend six days a week in the classroom. From 8am to 1pm on Monday through Saturday, they listen to various lectures and work diligently on schoolwork. Students return home for an hour to eat lunch with their families, and ten minute breaks are allotted between classes. Approximately 5-6 subjects are taken each day, and each class lasts around one hour. Occasionally, teachers will host classes that end later in the afternoon -- so be prepared to spend your weekends a little differently than you're used to!

3. Italian High Schools Don’t Have Sports Teams

In America, it’s fairly normal for high school students to rally around Friday night football games and various competitive matches throughout the year. Students participate in extracurricular activities such as cross country, tennis, baseball and soccer. Cheerleaders wear their uniforms on game day, and spirited students will occasionally paint their faces with school colors.

High school in Italy is much different in this regard. School is strictly considered a place of learning, and sports teams are not connected with educational establishments. If a student is interested in playing on a team, he/she must go to a private club. Unfortunately, this tends to be very expensive. Location is also a problem. Many students live in the countryside and would be required to drive long distances to attend practices and games. Another option for athletic students is joining a community league. These teams usually consist of various age groups in the community sharing a common interest in sport.

Not sure how to track one of these down? Ask your homestay family, fellow students, or advisors from your program provider about keeping up with a sport while you're studying high school in Italy.

4. Italian High Schools Are Much Smaller Than American Schools

Italian School

High schools in Italy don’t have gymnasiums or athletic fields. This causes each school’s exterior to appear very small. In addition, the student body is extremely close-knit. Each classroom generally holds around twenty students. Students spend every day of the week with the same classmates. This allows very close friendships to develop.

Another interesting Italian twist is the rotation of teachers in different classrooms. American high schools generally require students to get up and change classes multiple times throughout the day. In Italy, students remain in a single classroom during the day and teachers move around from room to room. This type of class schedule remains consistent throughout lower secondary school and upper secondary school.

Since students remain in one classroom throughout the day, they don’t have lockers to store their belongings. This is also an unfamiliar concept to American students, who are usually granted a personal locker from middle school to high school. Since Italian students remain in the same room all day, there is no need for a space to hold their books. Most students carry their personal items in a book bag.

5. Italian Students Must Pay For High School

In America, public education is free. Books are granted by the school system, and bus rides are provided in neighborhoods within each school’s zone. On the contrary, Italian students must pay their way through secondary school.

  • Enrollment Tax: State education is free until the first year of lower secondary school. Starting at that time, an enrollment tax is charged at the beginning of each academic school year. This usually averages around 20 euro.
  • Class Materials: It is up to each student to purchase textbooks and necessary class materials. This is the most expensive aspect of attending high school in Italy. Textbooks can run anywhere from 200-400 euros.
  • Transportation: Italian schools generally do not provide transportation. Exceptions are made for students who live in outlying districts that are 2 miles or more from school. In these circumstances, a small transportation fee is required.

However, if you need some help financing your time abroad, we have a great list of scholarships for high school students who want to study abroad, as well as a list of travel grants for high schoolers. Don't let this little detail get in the way of you living out your dream!

Ready To Study in Italy?

Attending high school in a foreign country may come with a cultural learning curve, but it's an amazing experience that will open your eyes to the world around you. Italy is a thriving hub of art, history and culture, and studying there will be an adventure you'll never forget!

Photo Credits: Bjørn Giesenbauer, Sunrise, and Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of Shelby Ballou

Shelby developed a huge case of wanderlust after traveling to Dublin last August. Residing in Richmond, Virginia, she is constantly planning trips at home and abroad. She loves trying new cuisines, exploring new places and spicing up her daily life with a dose of spontaneity.