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Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher education

7.3Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Branches of study

In Poland, academic areas are specified in the Regulation of the Minister of Education and Science of 11 October 2022 on the fields of science, scientific disciplines and artistic disciplines (Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji i Nauki z dnia 11 października 2022 r. w sprawie dziedzin nauki i dyscyplin naukowych oraz dyscyplin artystycznych).

Each second-cycle programme is provided in a specific area of study and at a specific level of study and has a specific orientation (‘profile’). An HEI assigns an area of study to at least 1 discipline.

  1. Field of science: Humanities
    1. Archaeology
    2. Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology
    3. Philosophy
    4. History
    5. Linguistics
    6. Literary Sciences
    7. Cultural and Religious Studies
    8. Artistic Sciences
    9. Polish Philology
  2. Field of science: Engineering and Technology
    1. Architecture and Urban Planning
    2. Automation Engineering, Electronic Engineering and Electric Engineering, and Space Technologies
    3. Information Engineering and Telecommunications
    4. Biomedical Engineering
    5. Chemical Engineering
    6. Civil Engineering, Geodesy and Transport Engineering
    7. Materials Engineering
    8. Mechanical Engineering
    9. Environmental Engineering, Mining and Energy Engineering
    10. Heritage Engineering and Art Conservation
  3. Field of Science: Medical and Health Sciences
    1. Medical Biology
    2. Pharmaceutical Sciences
    3. Medical Sciences
    4. Physical Culture Sciences
    5. Health Sciences
  4. Field of Science: Family Sciences
    1. Family Sciences
  5. Field of Science: Agricultural Sciences
    1. Forestry
    2. Agriculture and Horticulture
    3. Food and Nutrition Technology
    4. Animal Husbandry and Fishery
  6. Field of Science: Social Sciences
    1. Economics and Finance
    2. Social and Economic Geography, and Land Management
    3. Security Studies
    4. Social Communication and Media
    5. Political Science and Administration
    6. Management and Quality Sciences
    7. Law
    8. Sociology
    9. Educational Sciences
    10. Canon Law
    11. Psychology
    12. International Relations
  7. Field of Science: Natural Sciences
    1. Astronomy
    2. Biotechnology
    3. Computer Science
    4. Mathematics
    5. Biological Sciences
    6. Chemical Sciences
    7. Physical Sciences
    8. Earth and Environmental Sciences
  8. Field of Science: Theological Sciences
    1. Biblical Sciences
    2. Theological Science
  9. Field of Science: Veterinary Sciences
    1. Veterinary Medicine
  10. Field of Science: Arts
    1. Theatre and Film Arts
    2. Musicology
    3. Plastic Arts, and Art Conservation and Restoration

Second-cycle programmes are divided into practically oriented and academically oriented programmes (a so-called practical and general academic orientation / ‘profile’), and this is reflected in curriculum design. A curriculum for a practically oriented programme includes classes / courses developing practical skills which represent more than 50% of the total number of ECTS credits. In a curriculum for an academically oriented programme, more than 50% of the total number of ECTS credits are allocated to classes / courses related to an HEI’s research activities in (a) discipline(s) to which a given area of study is assigned.

Public HEIs most often offer programmes in the following groups of areas of study:

  • Universities: humanities, social sciences, economics and administration, law, journalism and information, natural sciences, education;
  • Technical HEIs: engineering and technology, architecture and construction, transport, environmental protection, economics and administration;
  • Agricultural HEIs: agriculture, environmental protection, veterinary medicine;
  • HEIs specialising in economic sciences / schools of economics: economics and administration;
  • Pedagogical HEIs: education, social sciences, humanities;
  • Medical higher education institutions: medicine, dentistry, nursing, midwifery, pharmacy;
  • HEIs of maritime studies / specialising in maritime studies: engineering and technology, navigation, economics and administration;
  • Academies of physical education: physical education, sport, physiotherapy;
  • HEIs of art studies / specialising in fine arts: fine arts, music, theatre and film studies;
  • Military HEIs: fields relevant to military service, engineering and technology, navigation;
  • Government service HEIs: fields relevant to the police and fire services, engineering and technology.

According to the POL-on database, HEIs currently offer second-cycle programmes in 3,198 fields of study, with the largest number assigned to Management and Quality Sciences (276 fields), Linguistics (219 fields) and Educational Sciences (202 fields), and the smallest number to Astronomy (5 fields).

The official duration of second-cycle programmes, which lead to a Master’s (magister or magister inżynier) degree, in both university-type and non-university HEIs, is 3 to 5 semesters, depending on the area of study. 

A part-time programme may last longer than the corresponding full-time programme.

HEIs are required to obtain a permit from the Minister of Education and Science to establish a programme. Such a permit is not required for an HEI which intends to establish a programme in an area of study assigned to a discipline where it has the A+, A or B+ research rating. (Ratings are awarded based on an external evaluation of the quality of research).

Admission requirements

Access to second-cycle programmes is open to applicants who hold a Bachelor's (licencjat or inżynier) degree or a Master's (magister) degree or an equivalent degree.

While respecting the general admission requirements set by law, each HEI may lay down its own additional admission requirements and procedures, including the number of places available to students, except in medical areas of study. Admission requirements and procedures may be similar across an HEI or may vary according to the area of study. Different requirements and procedures may be applied by different HEIs for the same areas of study. Admission requirements and procedures should be published by each HEI not later than by 31 May of the year preceding the academic year to which they refer.

The maximum number of students to be enrolled in a medical area of study by the individual HEIs concerned is specified in a Regulation by the Minister of Health, in consultation with the Minister of Education and Science. The maximum enrolment levels take into account the teaching capacity of the HEIs concerned and the demand for graduates in these areas of study.

Student enrolment is the responsibility of admissions committees which take decisions in all matters related to enrolment. Applicants may appeal against decisions of an admissions committee to the institutional admissions committee and the rector; decisions taken by the rector are final.


University-type and non-university HEIs should meet the same requirements to provide programmes. The requirements are laid down in the Regulation of the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 27 September 2018 on degree programmes (Rozporządzenie Ministra Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego z dnia 27 września 2018 r. w sprawie studiów).

The Regulation defines:

  1. requirements to be fulfilled by a curriculum;
  2. the range of information to be provided in an application for a permit to establish a programme;
  3. areas of study in which long-cycle programmes are offered;
  4. requirements for courses / classes delivered using distance learning methods and techniques, and the maximum number of ECTS credits to be awarded for such courses / classes;
  5. requirements for documentation on student progression, identity cards and diplomas.

A curriculum should specify, among other things, the form or mode of study; number of semesters and ECTS credits necessary to complete each semester, and the degree awarded to graduates. It should also identify classes / courses (groups of classes), regardless of the form or mode in which they are conducted, together with the related learning outcomes (LOs) and curricular contents for achieving the LOs; the total number of class hours; methods for verification and assessment of the LOs achieved by students during the entire programme; and the total number of ECTS credits which students should earn as part of classes / activities directly involving teachers. Furthermore, a curriculum should specify the length and arrangements for practical placements and the number of ECTS credits which students are required to earn for such placements. As a rule, a curriculum should enable students to choose classes (courses) which are allocated at least 30% of the total number of ECTS credits.

A curriculum may not be changed during a given programme cycle.

A curriculum may provide for selected or all courses as part of a given programme to be taught in a language other than Polish.

National standards for programmes for the professions of Nurse and Midwife are laid down in the Regulation of the Minister of Science and Higher Education of 26 July 2019 on the national standards for initial training programmes for the professions of Doctor, Dentist, Pharmacist, Nurse, Midwife, Bio-medical analyst, Physiotherapist and Paramedic (Rozporządzenie Ministra Nauki I Szkolnictwa Wyższego z dnia 26 lipca 2019 r. w sprawie standardów kształcenia przygotowującego do wykonywania zawodu lekarza, lekarza dentysty, farmaceuty, pielęgniarki, położnej, diagnosty laboratoryjnego, fizjoterapeuty i ratownika medycznego). Similar regulations on national standards are in force for programmes where students are trained for other regulated professions.

Teaching methods

There are no general national regulations or guidelines on teaching methods. Teaching is organised in the form of lectures, classes, workshops, seminars, projects and/or practical training / placements, depending on the content of the curriculum for a given area of study. Teachers use a wide variety of teaching methods and resources, ranging from traditional ones to those based on ICT, including multimedia tools.

Progression of students

Detailed arrangements for taking examinations, progressing to the next semester and year, repeating a year and for admission to the final (diploma) examination are laid down in the study regulations by each HEI. However, all students can take a resit exam, including the final resit exam; if they fail a resit exam, they can take a so-called board resit exam which is conducted by an examination review board after an appeal made by a student to such a board. To be admitted to the final exam, students are required to complete all courses and practical placements included in the curriculum, obtain a required number of ECTS credits (at least 90 ECTS for a second-cycle programme) and submit their final thesis, prepared independently, which should then receive a positive assessment. Where a curriculum does not provide for the final thesis and the final exam, students are only required to complete all courses and practical placements included in the curriculum.

A student may be struck from the register of students in case he / she has not taken up or has withdrawn from study, has not submitted the final thesis or has not taken the final exam within the timeframe specified in the study regulations. A student may also be struck from the register in case he / she has made no progress in learning or has failed to complete a semester or academic year within the timeframe specified in the study regulations. 


Practical placements for students are an integral part of programmes in most areas of study.


An HEI may recognise towards or as a practical placement activities carried out by the student, in particular, as part of their employment, internship or voluntary service if they have enabled the student to achieve the learning outcomes defined for a practical placement in the curriculum. This can take place in the cases and under the conditions specified in the HEI's study regulations and at the student's request.


If in the academic year 2021/2022 students carried out activities for entities supporting citizens of Ukraine in connection with the armed conflict in this country, they may apply to their HEIs to recognise such activities as (part of) practical training. This can include practical training and placements for which the curriculum sets learning outcomes covering the practical skills that students have acquired during such activities.

Many HEIs have established careers services which provide, among other things, career guidance. Careers services provide information about available jobs and help students and graduates as prospective job applicants in the choice of career paths and further training.

Students and graduates can also obtain information and guidance from careers advisors in public employment services and private employment agencies on how to prepare a CV and a motivation letter, how to behave in an interview, etc. (such meetings are frequently organised as group training sessions by careers services).

Cooperation between the higher education sector and the labour market is also supported by job fairs organised in many HEIs, where employers present their job offers.

HEIs are required to monitor graduate careers so as to adapt their programmes and curricula to the needs of the labour market. This should take place, in particular, 3 and 5 years after graduation.

Additionally, basic organisational units of HEIs should integrate into curricula findings from an analysis of labour-market relevance of learning outcomes and findings from graduate career monitoring.

Information on graduate careers is also publicly available through the Polish Graduate Tracking System (Ogólnopolski system monitorowania Ekonomicznych Losów Absolwentów szkół wyższych) managed by the Ministry of Education and Science.

Student assessment

In the Polish higher education system, learning outcomes (LOs) achieved by students are usually verified within the home HEI by the academic teacher responsible for a given course. Assessment arrangements are laid down at the level of an HEI (basic organisational unit) as part of its internal quality assurance system.

The most common internal assessment methods include:

  • tests,
  • written (narrative) examination,
  • oral examination,
  • papers / midterm essays,
  • research / laboratory class reports,
  • students’ presentations,
  • individual and group projects,
  • active participation in classes,
  • class attendance,
  • portfolio,
  • peer assessment,
  • short entry tests before the laboratory classes,
  • self-assessment.

To verify the LOs achieved, teachers can use one or more of the above-mentioned methods (for example, active participation combined with a midterm paper and a final test).

As part of many programmes, students undertake a compulsory practical placement or internship. The final assessment is often descriptive and covers, in fact, not only the ‘knowledge’ group of LOs, but also ‘skills’ and ‘social competences’. Practical placements are particularly important for the assessment of the latter two groups of LOs. By performing their duties, students can demonstrate that they have specific professional skills which are verified in a practical way in a suitable working environment. The descriptive assessment often also includes the student’s personal characteristics such as: teamwork skills, critical thinking skills, etc.

The final (diploma) examination has a specific role in the verification of LOs as it assesses competencies acquired during the entire programme. In particular, it should demonstrate whether students understand the knowledge imparted to them and are able to use the knowledge acquired, for example, in various courses. Thus, aside from the acquired knowledge, the final exam also verifies to some extent students’ social competences. Detailed arrangements for the final exam are laid down at the level of an HEI and its basic organisational units. The final mark, which appears on the diploma, is determined by the mark for the final thesis, which is assessed by the supervisor and reviewer, the mark for the final exam (during which a student may be asked questions about the thesis or other questions), and the average mark for the entire programme. The review of the thesis is multifaceted and covers elements such as:

  • relevance to the topic,
  • arrangement of the contents,
  • use of references, indexes, etc.,
  • correctness in language,
  • general assessment of the content,
  • a new approach to the issues addressed,
  • general assessment of the thesis based on the following grading scale: 2/ 3/ 3,5/ 4/ 4,5/ 5/ 5!.

The verification of LOs ends with an overall mark which can be a pass / fail or a numeric mark from a set of possible marks (for example, 2/ 3/ 3,5/ 4/ 4,5/ 5/ 5!).

In some cases, the procedure for the verification of LOs involves an external entity. This is the case, in particular, in foreign language exams.

In some cases, LOs in a foreign language are verified externally, even though the learning process takes place within an HEI. It makes the assessment more objective. Moreover, if students fail to complete a semester or fail an exam, there are no grounds to claim that they have not been awarded credits for financial reasons (an additional fee to be charged from a student).


Second-cycle programmes offered by both university-type and non-university HEIs end with the final (diploma) examination (egzamin dyplomowy), except in medical areas. It is conducted by an examination board composed of academic teachers of the organisational unit of an HEI (for example, faculty or department) which provides the programme concerned.

Students who have passed the final exam are awarded a higher education diploma (dyplom ukończenia studiów wyższych) which confirms the completion of a given programme and the award of the relevant degree in a given area. If a programme does not provide for the final exam, students are only required to complete all courses and practical placements to obtain a diploma confirming the award of the relevant degree (the overall mark equals the average of all marks received as part of the programme). The same diplomas and degrees are awarded by university-type and non-university HEIs. Diplomas are based on specimens established by a regulation of the minister responsible for higher education and are officially recognised documents. At the graduate's request, the HEI is required to issue a copy of the diploma in one of the following foreign languages: English, French, Spanish, German or Russian.

The following types of Master's degrees are awarded to students upon completion of second-cycle programmes (and long-cycle programmes):

  • magister: in the areas of humanities, natural sciences, incl. mathematics, economics, social sciences, law, medical areas (except medicine, dentistry, nursing and midwifery) and physical education;
  • magister inżynier: in the fields of engineering and technology (except architecture and urban planning), agriculture and other areas where 50% of courses cover engineering, technology, agriculture or forestry;
  • magister inżynier architekt: where a student has achieved the LOs defined for a programme in the area of Architecture;
  • magister inżynier pożarnictwa: where a student has achieved the LOs defined for a programme in the area of Safety Engineering provided at the Central School of Fire Service to those holding the degree of inżynier pożarnictwa;
  • magister pielęgniarstwa: where a student has achieved the LOs defined for a programme in the area of Nursing;
  • magister położnictwa: where a student has achieved the LOs defined for a programme in the area of Midwifery.

A Master's degree (magister) or equivalent degree entitles its holder to practise a given profession and provides access to doctoral training.