Study in ICELAND
What's it like to study in Iceland? The country has rather a dramatic nickname, ‘the land of fire and ice’, which refers to its impressive variety of natural features. Iceland is one of the world’s most active volcanic regions, while also having large areas covered in glaciers.
A sparsely populated island nation in the north west of Europe, Iceland is also known for its hot springs, fishing industry and high quality of life.
The country was hit hard by the 2008 global financial crisis, but has seen steady economic recovery since 2010. Recent years have also seen Iceland become increasingly popular as a tourist destination, with travelers enticed both by the stunning natural scenery and the cultural attractions of capital Reykjavík – celebrated for its colorful buildings, vibrant music scene and nightlife.
There are seven universities in Iceland, of which three are private and four public. The largest are the University of Iceland and Reykjavík University, both in the capital, followed by the University of Akureyri in the northern city of Akureyri. International students make up around 5% of all students in Iceland, and universities in Iceland are generally keen to attract more international and exchange students. Many, especially the larger universities, offer a growing number of courses taught fully or partially in English, and there are good support systems in place for foreign students choosing to study in Iceland.
The Icelandic education system is well-known for its progressiveness. Those who pursue an education in Iceland will discover that the entire structure openly advocates an equal opportunity for all, regardless of one’s background.
Currently, there are around 18,000 students enrolled in the higher education sector, of which about 5% are from other countries. Universities often host “International Days”, where international students are given the opportunity to show off their country’s culture to the native Icelanders.
Read on to learn more about other benefits of pursuing an education in Iceland.
Icelandic króna (ISK)
18,000 (1,000 international)
September - May
Aside from the stunning natural landscapes, another benefit of taking up an education in Iceland is that students will get to live in one of the best countries in the world in terms of quality of life. Iceland consistently ranks high in economic, political and social stability and equality, and is currently placed first on the Global Peace Index.
Iceland has historically placed a huge emphasis on the quality of education, boasting a literacy rate of 99 percent, making it the third most literate nation in the world, behind only Finland and Norway.
Students pursuing an education in Iceland will also fall for the Icelanders’ deep sense of community and togetherness, which is a by-product of the country’s small population and relatively isolated environment.
The study guide sections below offer a more in-depth look on what to expect when undertaking an education in Iceland.
A defining characteristic of the education system in Iceland is its commitment to providing equal opportunities in education for all, regardless of one’s background. Icelandic higher education is also fairly recent, which means that study programmes were formed in a modern context, ensuring that they are relevant, contemporary and innovative.
There are 7 Icelandic universities in total and these are either state-funded or privately-owned.
Icelandic universities offer reputable programs in English within areas such as the Sciences, the Arts, Business and Law. Upper secondary education (which is like High School in the U.S) is not compulsory and has no tuition fee.
On the other hand, public state universities charge a registration fee in place of a tuition, and are open to anyone who has completed their upper secondary education.
Types of higher education programs in the Icelandic Educational System
Bachelor degrees - These programs take three to four years to complete and do not usually result in a professional certification except for nursing (B.S) and compulsory schoolteachers (B.Ed)
Candidatus degrees (kandidatsgráða) – certifies that the holder is eligible for a special office or profession. This program is generally finished after four to six years.
Postgraduate certificates – This is awarded by some subjects after a year of postgraduate study.
Masters degrees (M.A, M.S – meistaragráða) – This degree is granted after successfully completing two years of postgraduate study. A thesis or research project is a fundamental requirement in achieving this qualification.
Doctorate degrees (Ph.D.- doktorsgráða) – This degree is awarded after completing a doctorate program and thesis.
Failing grades are not included in the calculation of a student’s grade-point average. Iceland also follows the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in which 60 study credits amount to a year of full time study, and 30 study credits are equal to one semester’s full-time study.
Culture in IcelandAs an isolated island in the middle of the North Atlantic, majority of Iceland’s traditions have been spared from the influences of the outside world and are still intact up to this day.
The country's unconventional weather and geographical conditions have molded Icelanders into people who have a deep sense of family and community, as well as into a nation with a deep bond with nature.
Icelandic culture is best known for its Icelander sagas in classic literature, as well as in the Arts such as weaving, silversmithing and wood carving.
The Icelandic LanguageThe Icelandic language has also been relatively untouched throughout its history, and is considered as the most carefully preserved out of all its Nordic counterparts. In fact, modern Icelandic is almost entirely similar to Old Norse which was spoken during the Viking Age.
Instead of integrating foreign words into the language’s vocabulary, the Icelandic government has instead opted to construct unique Icelandic terminologies for new, international words. This kind of linguistic purism can trace its roots back to the 18th century, when a preservation movement was launched as Icelandic traditions were under threat from the influence of the Danish.
Entry Requirements for Icelandic UniversitiesEntry requirements for Icelandic universities will differ based on the school and type of program you’ll wish to study in. There is no central admissions system in Iceland, so you will have to visit your chosen university’s website and submit your application and other materials directly from there.
There are, however, a set of basic requirements which you will need for every application:
• A scan of your passport and/or birth certificate
• A scan of your diploma (high school or Bachelor’s)
• Letters of recommendation (between 2-3)
• A transcript/record of previous courses
• Your CV
• Testing scores
• Proof of funding or scholarship
• Portfolio and/or writing samples
In addition, students who wish to study in Iceland will need to submit proof of a completed high school/matriculation examination (Stúdentspróf) or have at least finished one year at a university to be considered eligible for the programmes.
International students whose native language is not English may also be required to submit proof of their English proficiency by submitting TOEFL, IELTS, CAE or CPE scores.
Certain subjects such as those in the field of medical sciences, economics and law may ask for additional entry requirements or exams. You can consult the course catalogues found on your university’s website for a more detailed process regarding admissions.
While an accomplished English-proficiency exam may still be required, there are a wider selection of English-taught programs in postgraduate than in the undergraduate sector.
Universities routinely receive many applications throughout the year, so please try to submit your applications before the deadlines and ensure that you are submitting the correct documents.
What are the admission requirements?
Students who enrol at the University of Iceland shall have completed an Icelandic matriculation examination (stúdentspróf) or the equivalent level of study. If you are an international applicant.
Entrance examinations for the Bachelor programmes in Law is held in March and June. For Medicine and Physical Therapy Sciences it is only in June. Please note that the entrance examinations are only held in Icelandic.
For Icelandic as a second language, BA, applicants must pass a special admission exam held in June. Competitive examinations are held for Dental technology, Odontology and Radiography at the end of the autumn semester in December. See further information on enrolment restrictions and provisions in the course catalogue.
Specific faculty rules apply regarding admission requirements for graduate studies at the Master's and doctoral levels. These rules are published in the course catalogue and on faculty websites. Applicants, whose native language is not English, may need to proof their English proficiency by submitting TOEFL or IELTS scores. See the proof of English proficiency requirements page for further details.
When is the application deadline?
Please note that dates vary depending on your country of residence and whether you are applying for undergraduate or postgraduate studies.
Application deadlines for International Applicants:
• 1 February
• 15 April for Nordic citizens applying for graduate studies
• 5 June for Nordic citizens applying for undergraduate studies
Incoming Exchange Students:
Autumn semester or full academic year:
• 1 March
• 1 May for EEA citizens
• 1 August
• 1 October for EEA citizens
Application deadlines for Icelandic citizens and international applicants that have lived in Iceland for 4 years or longer*
• 15 April for graduate studies
• 5 June for undergraduate studies
Where can I find information on the status of my application?
After applying, you will be sent an application ID number and password by email. You can check the status of your application on the information page for applicants. Enter your application ID number and password.
What is the registration fee and how do I pay?
Students at the University of Iceland do not pay tuition fees, but they do pay an annual registration fee of ISK 75,000. International applicants from countries outside the EEA/EFTA (with the exception of the Faroe Islands and Greenland) also pay a handling and processing fee of ISK 8,000.
Those accepted to the University will be sent information on how to transfer the registration fee from their country of residence. The fee needs to be paid no later than 4 July for the next academic year. Registration for studies at the University of Iceland is confirmed upon payment of the registration fee.
New students who enrol in the middle of the academic year (in January) are charged a reduced registration fee of ISK 55,000.
Is it possible to get a Scholarship?
The University does not offer any scholarships for international students. Grants and funds are only available for students already registered at the University.
How do I access Ugla?
Most international students get their Ugla access at the Service Desk, University Centre upon arrival.
Students from countries outside EEA/EFTA can, after paying the registration fee and having been issued an Icelandic ID number (kennitala), access the applications information page with their ID and web-key and click on "Get username and password". If you lost the web-key, please Students from countries within EEA/EFTA who are only at the University for one semester, and thus do not need an Icelandic ID (kennitala), will receive their access to Ugla at the Service Desk, University Centre, upon arrival.
Along with your Ugla access you will receive a University email address. Your University email can be found in Ugla or on postur.hi.is.
When does teaching start/end?
You find information on teaching and semester dates in the academic calendar but note that dates vary between schools and faculties.
Where can I find my timetable?
You can check your timetable in Ugla, My Ugla → My timetable, and also through the SmáUgla app (currently available in Icelandic only).
How do I register for courses?
You are responsible for your studies and you register for courses in Ugla. Every March you have to choose your courses for the following academic year. You register by clicking on the banner that appears at the top of Ugla. Remember to click on "Submit" at the bottom of the page.
At the beginning of each semester, until 10 September for the autumn semester and 21 January for the spring semester, you can change your course selection in Ugla. After these deadlines have passed, you cannot register for new courses. Registering for a course is the same as registering for an examination and gives you access to all course data. It is, therefore, important that the registration is always correct.
Note that changes in course registrations take three hours to appear in your timetable.
How many credits can I register for?
Full time study for one academic year is 60 ECTS, 30 ECTS per semester.
You can register for up to 40 ECTS per semester. If you want to register for more credits you must apply for that at your faculty.
How do I drop courses?
You are responsible for your studies and you can drop out of courses in Ugla. At the end of each course line, My Ugla → My courses, there is a symbol for withdrawal on which you click. Note that you must confirm (Staðfesta) on the next page for the withdrawal to take effect.
The deadline for dropping autumn semester courses is 1 October; for the spring semester the deadline is 1 February.
Note that changes in course registration take three hours to appear in your timetable.
How do I confirm that I intend to continue my studies next academic year?
Every March, you must register in Ugla for continuing study by selecting courses for both autumn and spring semesters in the following academic year. It is very important to register as that is equivalent to registering at the school next year. You register, and at the same time choose how you will pay the registration fee, by clicking on the banner that appears in Ugla.
Remember to confirm your choices by clicking on "Submit" at the bottom of the page. By paying the registration fee, you confirm that you intend to continue your studies.
At the beginning of each semester, until 10 September for the autumn semester and 21 January for the spring semester, you can change your course selection in Ugla.
If you fail to register, it is assumed that you have dropped out.
Where can I find the course syllabus?
You find the course syllabus on the site of each course in Ugla. Most often you will find the reading list for the course in the syllabus.
The syllabus should also tell you how grading is divided, e.g. the weight of assignments and exams, and if attendance is mandatory, etc.
What is the course catalogue?
The course catalogue contains detailed information on all study programmes and courses offered at the University of Iceland. The course catalogue is therefore extremely important and you would be well advised to fully familiarise yourself with the information provided, as well as details on your particular programme.
Where can I find the reading list for a course?
The University Bookstore (Bóksala stúdenta) publishes reading lists for most courses at the University of Iceland. You can also find reading lists on the course page in Ugla or in the course catalogue.
Most books can be purchased or ordered through the University Bookstore. Second-hand books can often be acquired cheaply through the advertising forum on Ugla or on skiptibokamarkadur.is (currently available in Icelandic only). There are also a few faculties and student organisations that run student bookstores.
In some cases, teaching staff will reserve books and reference material for a course in the textbooks collection of the National and University Library of Iceland. Students can then use these on location or borrow them for a limited time.
Where can I find information on available programmes and courses?
The University offers both undergraduate and graduate programmes.
The course catalogue provides information on all programmes and courses offered at UI. You can look up details on each programme and each specialisation (where applicable), displaying an overview of courses by year and semester.
Is class attendance mandatory?
Generally, attendance is not mandatory. However, when courses are based on the students' participation for example in discussion sessions or hands-on sessions, attendance is required.
If attendance is required, it is marked in the programme composition in the course catalogue and also noted in the course description for each course in the course catalogue.
Is distance education available?
It varies between schools and faculties how many distance study courses are available. In the course catalogue you can find a list of faculties and programmes that offer distance study courses.
In some cases, students can take courses as part of distance education even though they are not marked as such. This must however always be done in consultation with the teacher of the course in question.
How do I apply for evaluation of my previous studies?
Individual faculties can evaluate previously completed courses from another faculty at the University of Iceland or other universities. You apply for such evaluation at your faculty, which in turn determines if a course should be evaluated and for how many credits.