With its prestigious education system, low university fees and high standard of living, studying in Switzerland is a smart choice
A small country located at the heart of the Alps in Western Europe, Switzerland is popular with students and graduates wanting to study abroad. Bordered by France, Germany and Italy, it gives you ample opportunity to visit other culturally diverse countries.
While known for academic excellence, Switzerland is also a great place to study if you want to pick up a second language, thanks to the multilingual Swiss population. Depending on where you study you could get to grips with German, French, Italian or Romansh. Each linguistic area has its own institutions, traditions and cultures, so do your research before you go.
In your study-free hours you’ll be able to explore what is widely thought of as one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The Alps dominate 60% of the country, but the striking scenery isn’t all that’s on offer. You’ll be able to enjoy arts and music festivals in Swiss meadows and visits to theatres and museums in metropolitan cities. In the winter months you’ll have the opportunity to participate in sports such as skiing, ice-hockey and skating.
You’ll also be able to sample famous Swiss cuisine such as coffee, chocolate and cheese.
Switzerland has three types of university:
- Universities (UNIs) – of which there are 12. Offering degree programmes at a high scientific and theory-based level, you can study humanities, science and some engineering courses.
- Universities of Applied Sciences and the Arts (UASAs) – provide scientific and professional education. These eight institutions run courses in landscape architecture, health sciences, music, art, theatre, film and design.
- Universities of Teacher Education (UTEs) – offer practice-oriented training such as pre-primary, primary, secondary and special needs education. There are 20 UTEs in Switzerland
Due to the requirements of the Bologna Process, higher education institutions in Switzerland follow the cycle of:
- Bachelors degrees
- Masters degrees
- Doctoral (PhD) degrees.
The Swiss academic year is split into two semesters – autumn and spring. The autumn semester usually runs from September to December, and the spring semester from February to May.
Three Swiss universities feature in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings 2020, including:
- ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute ofTechnology (6th)
- EPFL – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (18th)
- University of Zurich (76th)
Degree courses in Switzerland
There are a variety of undergraduate degree courses on offer in Switzerland and such programmes can be studied at universities, universities of applied sciences and arts, and universities of teacher education.
Bachelors courses typically take three years to complete full time and are open to all foreign students who have a secondary/high-school-leaving certificate and a good command of the tuition language (this could be French, German or Italian depending on where you study). You’ll learn through a combination of lectures, seminars and practical work.
To gain a place on a Bachelors programme, students need to apply online directly to their chosen university.
Search for undergraduate courses in Switzerland at SwissUniversities – Course offerings.
Programmes are available in a range of areas including the arts, engineering, law, medicine and science. Courses are designed to build on first-degree knowledge and enable students to specialise in a particular field.
When studied full time, programmes usually last three to four semesters (one-and-a-half to two years). You’ll study taught core and elective modules and finish with a dissertation.
When applying for a Masters programme, you’ll need a Bachelors degree in a relevant subject. If your course is taught in French, German or Italian, a good working knowledge of that particular language will be essential. However, there are an increasing number of Masters courses taught in English.
Entry requirements vary for each university, so contact institutions directly to ensure your application is correct.
A PhD is the highest level of qualification for postgraduate students in Switzerland. Offered by universities, subjects cover a variety of areas. Courses can take around three to five years to complete, and during this time you’ll carry out independent research as you work towards a Doctoral thesis.
Assessment usually takes the form of an oral examination.
To study for a PhD in Switzerland, you’ll need a Masters degree from an accredited or recognised university. Again, entry conditions vary so you should check with your prospective institution.
When compared with EU countries, Swiss tuition fees are relatively low. However, at some institutions international students are charged higher rates than Swiss nationals.
Private universities will charge higher fees than public institutions. Study in Switzerland estimates that a Masters degree will cost between CHF 3,000 (£2,563) and CHF 13,000 (£11,130). The most well-known public universities will charge less than CHF 1,000 depending on the course.
Bear in mind that you may incur other costs such as registration, examination and student association fees
Funding to study in Switzerland
Swiss scholarships, grants and bursaries are few and far between and available opportunities are difficult to secure.
The Swiss government does not offer scholarships to students from the UK, so be prepared to find your own method of funding. While the cost of living is high, this should be counterbalanced by the reasonable tuition fees.
UK students may be eligible for university/department scholarships, so check individual institution websites to see what they offer.
International students in Switzerland are also allowed to work part time for up to 15 hours a week during term time. During holiday periods foreign students can work full time, but you’ll need to make the relevant immigration authorities aware of this.
Whether you need a visa to study in Switzerland depends on where you come from.
Students from the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and the UK do not need a visa to study in the country. However, students from these countries still need to register as a foreign resident within 14 days of arrival. You can do this at your local Residents Registration Office and you’ll need:
- a valid passport
- proof of university registration
- a bank statement to provide evidence of funds
- proof of health insurance
- proof of address
- two passport photographs.
Non EU, EEA or UK students must apply for a visa before travelling to Switzerland – you can do this from the Swiss embassy in your home country. Visas can take several months to process so factor this into your plans and apply early.
The country does not have a centralised admissions procedure. Most applications to Swiss universities are made online directly to institutions. For specific information and admission deadlines, contact the admissions office of your chosen university.
On your application form you’ll need to indicate the faculty and degree programme you’re interested in. You’ll then receive written confirmation of your application along with an application fee invoice and a list of the supporting documents required.
After submitting the requested documents, and upon receipt of the application fee, you’ll be sent formal confirmation of your place.
As Switzerland is a multilingual country, the languages spoken at different universities will vary. The majority of the country speaks German, but French is used in the west and Italian in some areas in the south. Romansh is also spoken by a small minority
If you wish to study for a Bachelors or Masters in one of the above languages, you’ll need to prove your proficiency as part of your application.
English is widely spoken and an increasing number of courses (especially Masters) are taught in the language. However, while living in Switzerland it would be beneficial to learn one of the country’s native languages.
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