Despite not being under the spotlight as one of the major Masters study destinations in Europe, Bulgaria certainly has a lot to offer. And most importantly, that is in terms of higher education – as the country is home to some of the most respected universities on the Balkans. Finally, considering the overall good quality of studies together with a quite reasonable level of tuition fees, one would think that Bulgaria deserves some credit – and it is time for the MASTER AND MORE team to deliver it!
Established as a country back in the 7th century, Bulgarians, more than anything, share a unique culture and history. Controversially, the Republic of Bulgaria has experienced massive ups and downs during specific periods of time – from becoming a great power under Tsar Simeon I the Great to falling under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century. Later, shortly after the Second World War, the Bulgarian country transformed into a socialist state before finally transitioning into a democratic republic in 1991. Since then, rapid development started taking place, with Bulgaria joining the European Union in 2007.
Bordered by Romania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, as well as the Black Sea from the east, Bulgarians are now expanding a services-based economy, with the capital of Sofia along with the cities Burgas, Varna and Plovdiv labelled as driving centers. Bulgaria also benefits from strong tourism, with the climate allowing both a winter ski season in the mountains and long, relaxing holidays by the beach during the summer. Alright then, but what about higher education?
After a quick glimpse at the rankings provided by Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings and QS Top Universities, both for 2020, we can see that the Sofia University is placed in the category 1001+ and Top 751-800, respectively. Unfortunately, no other Bulgarian universities seem to have fallen under the radar of these ranking sources – but there are many more, with some specialised in specific disciplines and other running as a private entity:
In most cases, Masters degrees take between one and two years to complete, with the academic year generally starting in September/October, which brings us to our next focus point – admission.
Depending on your previous educational qualification, Masters opportunities at some Bulgarian universities can be limited. Additionally, there is no centralised system allowing online application or some sort of admission standard for any level of higher education in Bulgaria.
For this reason alone, we highly recommend that international students – including those arriving from member states of the European Union or the EEA – proceed to contact the admission office of a chosen Bulgarian university directly for accurate and detailed information regarding each step for application, acquiring a residence permit and sorting out health insurance status.
And so as to pinpoint some typical example cases, Bulgarian students looking to continue with a Masters degree are expected to present a strong Bachelor degree and also attend an admission test. For programmes delivered in a foreign language, there is the possibility of either providing a language certificate or attending a second admission exam in that same language.
Examination for Masters application is often possible during the spring and afterwards in the autumn, just before the start of the academic year. Finally, after a combined score including the Bachelor diploma grade, state exam/dissertation thesis grade and results from admission exams, a student is either accepted or denied after contesting other fellow Masters applicants. Deadlines, on the other hand, are different for each university and set individually.
Finally, a large number of Masters degree opportunities are available in foreign languages, mostly in English, French and German. Given that you would prefer not to attend any academic language examination, you can simply make use of your Bachelor diploma based on the study of one of these languages, or previously acquired, recognised certificates – as long as they pass or exceed the minimum requirements:
In Bulgaria, there is a separate organisation called the National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency which is fully responsible for the accreditation and quality of university studies. Additionally, the ECTS standard is applied whereas a large number of awarded Masters degrees are also internationally recognised.
In Bulgaria, tuition fees are comparatively low and are paid per semester. Their level depends on nationality and the subject area, with national and EU/EEA students being able to find Masters courses costing as much as EUR 116 and up to EUR 1000 for a semester worth of study.
For other international students, these figures mostly revolve around EUR 1500 – 2000 at most universities. And perhaps the best part of all, there is a catalogue of ways to experience the Bulgarian higher education system with the help of grants, scholarships and exchange programmes!
The Fulbright Graduate Study Grants are a good example of a funding option allowing U.S. students to come to Bulgaria for a Masters study. German Masters applicants have a look at the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholarship database for the Republic of Bulgaria and shortlist any suitable options.
Erasmus+, on the other hand, is an exchange possibility at a variety of Bulgarian universities. Last but not least, higher education institutions in Bulgaria award their best-performing students with monthly scholarships. However, note that the grading system is quite particular, ranging from poor (2) to excellent (6).
As a student in Bulgaria, you are likely to stumble upon some unique aspects regarding everyday life. For instance, given that you choose to study at a university in Sofia offering public accommodation, chances are that you will be assigned to a dormitory located in the popular district Studentski grad, or “students’ city” in English.
During the night, the area becomes a center of night life while daytime is mostly marked by moderate business. Even more interestingly, there is a dedicated national holiday on the 8th December called “Student’s Day” when students are free from university and usually plan celebration meetings!
But on a serious note, the majority of Bulgarian universities that are publicly funded indeed offer student halls of residence – with no online application system available. Instead, students have to contact the responsible accommodation office of their institution and submit their documents within announced periods of the year. In most cases, the rooms consist of a bathroom and an average-sized living hall with beds and basic furniture included. For each room there are at least 2 students from the same sex assigned, with no provided Internet or TV access. By average, rent prices revolve around EUR 20-30 per month, with utilities included.
Alternatively, the private housing market is an excellent opportunity for those looking for another option, especially within university cities where supply for public accommodation is scarce or simply not provided. Many Masters students enrolled in Sofia choose to look for rent opportunities in the neighbouring districts – Mladost and Vitosha, with pricing relatively high and in the area of EUR 300 per month for a furnished, 50m2 apartment.
Moving on to costs for everyday life, it is helpful to point out that there is a national currency operating within the Republic of Bulgaria – and that is the Bulgarian lev, with 1 BGN equaling approximately EUR 0.51. With that being said, you can expect to safely go through a month with as much as EUR 200 in economy mode or EUR 300 with more room for diversity:
Then there is public transport which mostly consists of trolleys and buses within cities different from the capital. In Sofia, however, there is also an expanding underground network while some trams still run throughout certain parts of the city. From a financial point of view, a student card costs a little over EUR 10 – allowing easy and fast access to all available types of public transport.
Generally speaking, most enrolled Bulgarian Masters students are already employed part-time or full-time and combine their career development with postgraduate studies. What is more, many Masters courses have lectures set during the evening as a method of aiding each student with their time management.
Regardless, depending on your residence status, it is highly recommended that you pay a visit to your university career center for more legal details. The best methods of looking for employment, however, are not only online-based – there is a large number of career events that take place within universities each year, allowing students to meet thousands of local and international companies and their latest job opportunities.