Conservatorio explained: the Italian music university and how to apply for it

By Go! Go! Italia staff
04 Apr 2024
Reading Time: 8 minutes
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In this article we aim to assist aspiring musicians looking to study music in Italy, by providing guidance on navigating everything from the Conservatorio, the Italian music university, entrance exam to understanding degree structures. 

In the world of music, where words often fall short, Italian emerges as a universal language of musical expression. From piano (meaning soft) to the powerful forte (meaning strong or loud), and staccato (meaning to detach each note) to crescendo (meaning to gradually increase the volume), these terms are integral to musical communication, transcending cultural and genre boundaries.

Exploring the Italian language can deepen your understanding of classical music and opera. Notable Italian composers like Verdi, Puccini, and Rossini, and even Austrian composer Mozart, composed numerous operas with Italian librettos, such as Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, penned by librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. This underscores the inherent connection between the Italian language and classical music.

Understanding and appreciating the Italian language can enhance the experience of classical music and opera for listeners and performers alike. For students and of music, studying Italian can open up new dimensions of interpretation, allowing for a deeper connection with the works of great Italian composers and a more nuanced understanding of musical expression.

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Origin of the Conservatorio

The origins of the Conservatorio in Italy are intimately tied to the concept of orphanages and charitable institutions during the Renaissance period. In the 16th century, these institutions served as centers for social welfare, providing shelter, education, and vocational training for orphaned or abandoned children.

The idea behind integrating musical education into orphanages was multifaceted. Firstly, music was seen as a means of moral and spiritual upliftment for the children, offering them a sense of purpose, discipline, and cultural enrichment. Secondly, it provided practical vocational training, equipping them with valuable skills for potential future employment as musicians, singers, or music teachers.

Nowadays, Conservatories operate like regular Italian music universities, offering official degrees recognized by Alta Formazione Artistica, Musicale e Coreutica (Higher education in art, music and dance), in short AFAM, guaranteeing the quality of education they provide. Importantly, they are now independent entities and not affiliated with religious institutions.

Conservatories have diversified programs to include not only classical music but also baroque, jazz, and contemporary music. They serve as gathering places for talents from around the world, fostering networks and inspiration among students.

Conservatorio degree program structure

The Conservatory follows a 3 + 2 years path, meaning the attainment of a Bachelor’s degree after 3 years of study, followed by a Master’s degree, which concludes the graduate cycle. In some cases, you can also complete a third cycle of research training, in line with the Bologna Process, which determines the international organization of higher education.

Triennio, diploma accademico di I livello (Bachelor’s Degree)

The bachelor’s course spans over 3 years, during which students must complete 180 academic credits. Admission typically requires a high school diploma or equivalent (in Italian, maturità) and 12 years of education. Applicants are generally expected to be at least 18 years old.

To enroll, students must pass an aptitude test or audition to demonstrate their musical ability. Additionally, they may need to pass a language proficiency test administered by the conservatory, which can be substituted with official exams like CELI and CILS.

Biennio, diploma accademico di II livello (Master’s Degree)

The master’s course spans over 2 years, requiring students to complete 120 academic credits. Admission typically necessitates a bachelor’s degree or equivalent (proof of laurea or Diploma Accademico di I Livello). To enroll, students must pass an aptitude test or audition to demonstrate their advanced musical ability. Additionally, they may need to pass a language proficiency test administered by the conservatory, which can be substituted with official exams.

Pre-accademico (Pre-Academy)

Joining degree programs at Conservatorio requires having a high school diploma, proving 12 years of education history, making it unavailable for teenagers or children to take entrance exams. However, prospective students have the option to participate in pre-academic courses aimed at preparing them for the official degree program in their specialized subjects.

During these courses, students will also work towards obtaining a Licenza (literally, license) in various music-related subjects such as harmony, music theory, and music history. This foundation will provide them with advantages when they advance to the degree program.

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How to apply for Conservatory as an international student

Non EU students 

If you’re planning to live and study in Italy for more than 3 months, you’ll need a student visa. If you take the in-person entrance exam while on your tourist visa or during the 90-day visa-free period, you’ll have to return to your home country to apply for the student visa, after successfully passing the exam.

Most conservatories hold their entrance exams in the summer or autumn, just before the academic year begins. This leaves little time for you to return home for visa processing between your exam and the start of your course.

The Italian embassy recommends obtaining a visa, before the entrance exam, which can be converted to a student visa while you’re in Italy. This allows you to plan ahead and secure your legal status to remain in the country. Here are two strategies to achieve this:

1. Pre-enrollment Visa

This visa allows prospective students to enter Italy for the specific purpose of enrolling in an educational institution. It is typically required for students who are not citizens of the European Union or the European Economic Area. To obtain this visa, students must first register online with their chosen Italian Conservatorio or university. Then, students can apply for the pre-enrollment visa at the Italian consulate or embassy in their home country.

2. Enrollment in language schools

Some conservatories in Italy offer the flexibility for students enrolled in language schools on language learning visas to take auditions without needing an additional special visa.

This flexibility is advantageous for international students, allowing them to pursue entrance exams without the need for additional visa arrangements. Moreover, this visa typically allows students to stay longer in Italy compared to the pre-enrollment visa, providing them with more time to prepare for both the language test required for admission and the conservatory audition. Go! Go! Italia can assist you in finding the ideal language school to prepare for the conservatory entrance exam, contact us for more info.

EU students

If you’re an EU citizen from a country other than Italy and wish to apply to a Conservatorio in Italy, you won’t need to apply for a visa for the entrance exam or your studies. However, if Italian is not your mother tongue, you might need to demonstrate your proficiency in the language. It’s advisable to start studying Italian in advance to avoid any potential challenges. You can find detailed information about the entrance audition and language requirements below.

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Prova d’ammissione – Entrance audition

The entrance audition, known as “prova d’ammissione” in Italian, is a crucial step for prospective students aiming to gain admission to the Conservatorio. During this assessment, candidates present their musical skills and talents to the admissions committee. The requirements for the audition can vary depending on the chosen field of study. Candidates may be asked to perform prepared pieces on their instrument or vocally, and they may need to demonstrate proficiency in music theory, sight-reading, and ear training.

Additionally, candidates might participate in a brief interview to discuss their musical background and aspirations. Audition pieces and criteria can differ based on the institution and chosen major.

Language requirements

Students have the option to either take the language proficiency test for Conservatorio admission administered by each music school or provide official language certificates such as CELI and CILS

Language requirement may differ from one school to another, our language school partners can guide you through the requirements for your selected Conservatorio, as well as assist you in preparing for the language and entrance exams. Feel free to reach out to us if you need more information about this. 


Tuition fees at public schools such as Conservatorio in Italy can vary based on different factors. Let’s go over the them and take a look at the indicator used by the Italian government

The ISEE system

It translates to “Equivalent Economic Situation Indicator” in English. The Italian government primarily uses the ISEE system to assess the economic situation of individuals and households, determining eligibility for various forms of financial assistance and support. This system considers factors such as income, assets, family composition, and housing situation to calculate an equivalent economic indicator for each applicant. The ISEE score helps ensure that tuition fees and other educational costs are adjusted based on the financial needs of students and their families, promoting great accessibility and affordability in higher education.

In some cases, your nationality might play a role

If you are a citizen of a Non-EU country with a high GDP per capita, you may be required to pay the annual comprehensive fee, regardless of your personal financial status. This policy may vary depending on the Conservatorio.

Here is the list of paesi qualificati con PIL (PPA) pro capite alto (high GDP per capita (PPP) countries ) approved by the World Bank: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Botswana, Brunei, Canada, China, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, New Zealand, Oman, Palau, Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the United States, and Thailand.

Which Conservatorio should I choose?

Here are some renowned conservatories in Italy where you can explore your artistic talents.


Milan’s Conservatorio di Musica “Giuseppe Verdi” has a long history dating back to 1807. It’s located in Milan, a lively city known for its arts scene and landmarks like the Duomo. The conservatory offers various music programs, from classical to contemporary.


In Rome, the Conservatorio di Musica “Santa Cecilia” was founded in 1874. It’s famous for classical music education and is surrounded by Rome’s rich history, with ancient ruins and famous sites like the Colosseum.


Parma’s Conservatorio di Musica “Arrigo Boito” has been around since 1804. Parma is known for its food and landmarks like the Teatro Regio. The conservatory offers classical and contemporary music programs.


Venice’s Conservatorio di Musica “Benedetto Marcello” was established in 1876. Venice is famous for its canals and festivals. The conservatory offers beautiful architecture, which has been featured many times in movies, and is especially known for baroque music education.


Florence’s Conservatorio di Musica “Luigi Cherubini” was founded in 1869. Florence is known for its art and architecture. The conservatory is named after a famous composer and offers a blend of musical heritage and artistic inspiration.


Genova’s Conservatorio di Musica “Niccolò Paganini” dates back to 1821. Genoa is on the Italian Riviera and offers a picturesque setting. The conservatory is known for its string instrument education.


Salerno’s Conservatorio di Musica “Giuseppe Martucci” was established in 1967. Salerno is on the Amalfi Coast and offers stunning views. The conservatory is named after a composer and provides a unique musical education experience.

The option of transfer : avoiding overheated competition

Top music schools in major Italian cities like Milan, Rome, or Parma are renowned for their rigorous entrance competitions. They often have strict requirements for aptitude tests and language proficiency.

Depending on the institution and year, you may be limited to auditioning for only one school, closing off opportunities elsewhere. To streamline preparation time, it could be strategic to consider entering a conservatory in a smaller city or enrolling in a degree program at a lesser-known Conservatorio. Then, after a year, transferring to a larger and more prestigious institution with potentially simplified entrance and visa requirements, as well as transferable credits.

Starting your musical journey in Italy might seem daunting with all the conservatory admissions, language tests, and visa requirements. But fear not! Go! Go! Italia is here to simplify the process for you. Don’t let bureaucracy hinder your dreams. Contact us today and kickstart your musical adventure in Italy with confidence.

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