Bulgaria also has a strikingly large number of tertiary education institutions relative to its size, which is to the foreign students’ advantage. In 2003/04, 17 of the 51 higher education institutions had fewer than 1000 students and 32 had fewer than 5000; only 7 of the 51 had more than 10,000 students. This concentration of unusually small institutions of higher education is ideal for the student who is attracted to a small school environment.
With its over 98% literacy rate, Bulgaria's education system is one that is held in high regards. This excellence is carried over to the higher education level making Bulgaria a popular location for both Bulgarian students as well as international students who wish to follow through with their studies. Like most countries, the basic types of higher education institutions are universities, colleges, and specialized “higher schools.” There are 42 Universities in Bulgaria and 9 other institutions of higher education.
A pre-university year of study is necessary for non-Bulgarian speaking students. The Institute for Foreign Students administers a Bulgarian language exam required for admission. The one exception is the American University that teaches its courses in English.
Degree programmes are essentially the same that are found in other countries. Bachelor’s degrees (undergraduate) typically take a minimum of four years to complete. They are offered through the major universities as well as by Bulgaria’s colleges. There is a large diversity of majors offered. There are some fields where the bachelor’s degree does not exist. Students are obliged to pursue a six-year master’s degree for these disciplines.
Courses are typically taught in Bulgarian, with the exception of courses taught at the American University, which are taught in English.
Master's degrees take typically 1 to 2 years past a bachelors or five to six years out of high school. The typically require a thesis and pass a state examination. They are offered at Bulgarian universities with a vast majority taught in the Bulgarian language.
Doctor of philosophy (PhD) and other doctoral programmes are available at major Bulgarian universities. This is the third degree in the higher education system and leads to the title of Doctor. It is obtain on the basis of individual research and after the defence of a doctoral thesis.
Bulgaria has five medical universities, four of which offer medical degree programmes in English. Plovdiv Medical University, Sofia Medical University, Medical University of Varna, and Medical University of Pleven all offer medical degrees in English. Plovdiv Medical University, Sofia Medical University and Medical University of Varna also offer dental degrees in English. Trakia University of Starazagora offers medical and dentistry degrees only in the Bulgarian language.
The programmes are typically six years in length; two years preclinical, three years clinical, and one year of internship. They lead to a Masters in Medicine degree, which is sufficient to be licensed as a physician in Bulgaria and many other countries. Postgraduate medical study is also common in Bulgarian universities allowing students to specialize in their chosen field of practice.