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Want to 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 northwest 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 is 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.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Iceland is similar to most western cultures. It is an affordable place to live if you live modestly. Because it is not a large country, though, anything imported is high cost. The capital city is the most expensive place to live, where you can count on higher prices. In fact, compared to European countries, living in Reykjavik is almost like living in Switzerland. Students are not likely to need a significant amount of money, though some schools recommend at least $1000 USD per month for students to have access accommodations.

Education in Iceland

With green mountains just around the corner and snow-capped glaciers in the next, Iceland’s unique geological makeup has transformed the country into a popular destination for millions of people from across the globe. This, coupled with active and exciting student life, has also made education in Iceland a highly coveted academic opportunity for those who wish to study abroad.
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.

Iceland – Facts & Figures

  • Capital: Reykjavík
  • Area Size: 103,000 km²
  • Currency: Icelandic króna (ISK)
  • Language: Icelandic
  • Students: 18,000 (1,000 international)
  • Calling Code: +354
  • Population: 334 252
  • Academic Year: September – May
  • Time Zone: WET(UTC+0)

Located in the junction between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, “The Land of Ice and Fire” is a geological marvel, where green mountains, active volcanoes, and gigantic glaciers seamlessly co-exist within the same environment.

Aside from the stunning natural landscapes, another benefit of taking up 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 at what to expect when undertaking education in Iceland.

The Education System in Iceland

Icelandic education can be traced as far back as the 11th century, with one of its oldest gymnasiums having been founded in the year 1056. A globally-renowned research institution, The University of Iceland was established in 1911, making it the country’s oldest university. It is home to around 1,100 international students today. Currently, the development and execution of the education system in Iceland is handled by The Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture.

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 programs 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 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.
Grading System

The grading system in Iceland generally uses a grading scale of 0 – 10 where the passing grade is 5 and above. In the majority of the higher academic institutions, an average score of 5 across all subjects, or a minimum mark of 5 for each subject is a requirement to pass.

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.

The Icelandic Academic Year

The traditional Icelandic academic year runs from September to May and is split into two semesters; Autumn and Spring. The Autumn semester typically runs from the start of September until late December while the Spring semester often begins from January until May.
Language & Culture of Iceland
The language & culture of Iceland has been largely influenced by the country’s geographical location and volatile environment. Icelanders are firm advocates of their Viking heritage, as they place a huge emphasis on the preservation of the country’s customs.

Culture in Iceland

As an isolated island in the middle of the North Atlantic, the 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 Language

The 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 Universities

Entry 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 Bachelors)
  • 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

Undergraduate Programs

While admission requirements may vary depending on your chosen university and program, there are a few documents which the universities commonly look for: Since a majority of undergraduate programs are taught in Icelandic, prospective students will have to undergo courses dedicated to developing skills in speaking, writing and understanding the Icelandic language.
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 programs.
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 catalogs found on your university’s website for a more detailed process regarding admissions.
Postgraduate Programs

Similar to undergraduate programs, entry requirements for postgraduate studies will depend on the university and the field of study which you are applying to. The general rule is that prospective students should possess a good bachelor’s degree in a course which is closely associated to the post-graduate program that is being applied for.
While an accomplished English-proficiency exam may still be required, there is 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.

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