Studying in Switzerland

With a prestigious education system, low study fees and high standard of living, students are flocking to picturesque Switzerland.

About Switzerland

Popular with students wanting to study abroad, Switzerland is a small country located at the heart of the Alps, in Western and Central Europe.

Spanning the intersection of Germanic and Romance Europe, Switzerland comprises four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Although the majority of the population are German speaking, Swiss national identity is rooted in a common historical background and shared values, including democracy, armed neutrality and an appreciation of the Alps.

Switzerland is one of the most developed countries in the world, with the highest nominal wealth per adult and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product. Switzerland ranks at or near the top globally in several metrics of national performance, including government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic competitiveness and human development. Zürich and Geneva have each been ranked among the top cities in the world in terms of quality of life.

Switzerland has one of Europe’s most prestigious higher education systems, and is home to some of the best universities in the world. Switzerland is also a great place to study if you want to pick up a second language, thanks to the multilingual Swiss population.

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 a large part of the country’s landscape but you will also be able to enjoy a brimming cultural landscape too. Music festivals, visits to theatres and museums in are commonplace, while in the winter months you'll have the opportunity to participate in sports such as skiing, ice-hockey and skating. Switzerland is also famous for its cuisine, including its coffee, chocolate and cheese.

Cities

Zurich 

As well as being Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich is one of the world’s major financial centres and home to many large international corporations. The city’s mixture of historic and modern buildings is set against an impressive backdrop of hills and mountains, with the stunning Lake Zurich close by. The main language in this part of Switzerland is German.

Universities in Zurich include two of Switzerland’s highest-ranked: ETH Zurich (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the University of Zurich.

Lausanne 

Like Zurich, Lausanne has a stunning lakeside location, being next to Lake Geneva. Lausanne is known for its historic medieval architecture; a grand gothic cathedral at its centre, as well as its close proximity to of ski resorts, and a vibrant arts scene.

Based in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, Lausanne also has a long association with the Olympics, being home to the International Olympic Committee, as well as a museum dedicated to the Olympic Games. It will host the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics. Thanks to the city’s many tourists, as well as a large student population, Lausanne is also renowned for its nightlife.

The best known universities in Lausanne are the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the University of Lausanne.

Geneva 

Geneva is most popularly known as the international stage of diplomacy, with a large United Nations base being present in the city, alongside many international NGOs. Geneva is safe, comfortable and cosmopolitan. It is also at the centre of French-speaking Switzerland.

Geneva’s highest-ranked university is the University of Geneva.

Bern 

If there’s one word to describe Bern, it is: relaxing. This is perhaps most exemplified in the city’s Old Town, with its charming cobbled streets and buildings, some of which date back 600 years. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With plenty of hiking trails in the surrounding hills and mountains, there is still things to do for the more active student.

There are also a good selection of museums and galleries, including the modern art-dedicated Paul Klee Centre, as well as a respectable nightlife scene.

Bern’s highest-ranked institution is the University of Bern.

Basel 

Close to both the French and German borders, near the north of the country, Basel is opportune for those that wish to explore Europe during their stay.

Basel is known for its chemical and pharmaceutical industries and also as a cultural hub, particularly music. It is home to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, a centre dedicated to music from the medieval period through to the baroque.

The highest-ranked university in Basel is the University of Basel, and it is the country’s oldest university.

University System

Switzerland’s university system is based on fundamental research, applied sciences and arts, and teacher education. Each university type serves a specific purpose in the Swiss education, research and innovation sector.

Universities (UNIs)

The educational remit of Switzerland’s universities is to offer degree programmes at a high scientific and theory-based level and to undertake basic research. Many degree programmes are offered only at these traditional universities, such as all humanities degrees, many science degrees, and some engineering degrees. Switzerland’s 12 institutions have around 150,000 students enrolled.

Universities of Applied Sciences and Arts (UASAs)

The remit of the universities of applied sciences and arts is to provide scientific and professional education, to conduct applied research, and to promote cooperation with practice and industry. Some degree programmes, such as landscape architecture and various health sciences, are available only at universities of applied sciences and arts. The same applies to degrees in music, theatre, film, art, and design. The 8 universities of applied sciences and arts account for around 95,000 students.

Universities of Teacher Education (UTEs)

Universities of teacher education offer practice-oriented training such as primary education, secondary education, special needs education or continuing education for teachers. The 20 universities of teacher education count around 21,000 students.

Applications and Scholarships

There is no centralized application procedure for international students, so to apply to study in Switzerland you’ll need to make direct contact with your preferred university. You can apply online, and universities’ international and admissions offices should be available to help you if you have any problems.

Also make sure you check the language requirements of the courses you’re applying to; this is a country with four official languages after all. German, French and English are the most common within higher education.

Scholarship Options

In Switzerland, international students can get scholarships offered by the Swiss government, based on partnerships established with several countries. Most of these scholarships are granted to postgraduate candidates and researchers.

You should check if you are entitled to receive a scholarship by contacting the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country.

Other scholarships are offered by some of the Swiss universities; you can benefit from grants ranging from 9,200 EUR to 13,700 EUR, available only for one year, with the possibility of extension, provided you will be academically successful at the end of your first semester of studies.

In some universities, you can apply for an interest-free loan of up to 11,000 EUR per year, which covers up to 40% of fees and living costs. In Zurich, you can also opt for the solidarity fund for foreign students – available for Bachelor students who have completed their first semester. The amount of the fund can get up to 520 EUR/month, for up to ten semesters.

Entry and Visa Regulations

To be accepted to a university in Switzerland, candidates must possess either a state-recognized Swiss maturity certificate or another foreign certificate recognized as equivalent by the university.

Depending on the course, a good knowledge of the language of instruction is a prerequisite as well. This is likely to be one of English, German or French. You may be asked to take a language test/certificate before being admitted into a program. Applicants should contact their selected university well in time for further information. 

Candidates will typically be expected to hold an upper secondary school leaving certificate that qualifies candidates for university entrance (general higher education entrance qualification).

Gaining admission in the music, theatre and arts degrees require no work experience but individual assessment of the candidate's artistic aptitude will be taken.

Private schools in Switzerland have their own prerequisites. Please contact the school you are interested in for further details.

Student Visas

If you are from an EU/EFTA country, you do not require a visa to study in Switzerland.

You will, however, be required to register with the local Residents’ Registration Office in order to obtain a residence permit. In order to get this, you will need to present a completed application form, passport, proof that you’ve enrolled at a university, evidence that you have enough money to support yourself, proof of your address and two passport size photos. If you have to leave for any reason, you will have to apply for a new residence permit when you return.

Health insurance is mandatory, so make sure that you have purchased cover in Switzerland (unless coverage purchased in your home country is valid in Switzerland).

If you’re from outside of the EU/EFTA, you will need to apply for a multiple entry long stay visa (Visa D) from your local Swiss embassy. You must allow at least three months for your visa to process, so make sure you apply in plenty of time.

The embassy will tell you specifically what you need to provide in order to obtain your visa, but it is likely to be similar to the above list for obtaining a residence permit. You will be allowed six months to find a job in Switzerland after completing your degree, and will be able to get a work visa if you succeed.

Within 14 days of your arrival you must apply for a residence permit. See above for what you’ll need to provide.

Tuition Fees

Public Universities

Swiss public universities receive significant funding which makes tuition fees seem more affordable compared to tuition fees charged by universities from the UK or the United States. Students who come to Switzerland on an exchange programme don’t pay any tuition fee.

In both public and private universities, fees are the same for EU and non-EU students.

Average tuition fees:

Bachelor and Master programmes: 1,600 EUR per year

PhD degrees: 100 – 200 EUR per year.

Certain disciplines may have higher fees, such as medicine, where students can be charged up to around 16,000 EUR/year.

Universities from Fribourg, Lucerne, Neuchatel, St. Gallen, Zurich and Lugano charge extra tuition fees for foreign students.

Private Universities

Private universities usually have higher tuition fees that range from 1,500 and 16,000 EUR per year.

PhDs are very popular in Switzerland not only due to the world’s famous and acknowledged research work made by the most prestigious institutions, but also because candidates that pursue a PhD in Switzerland are also considered employees, thus, they are paid for their work.

Cost of Living

Living costs all over Switzerland are expensive, and managing your monthly expenses without making any compromises can be a tough challenge in Switzerland.

You should plan an average budget of between 1,300 and 1,800 EUR/month to pay for: housing, food, transportation, tuition, supplies and a few leisure activities. However, Geneva and Zurich are the most expensive cities that will require a budget exceeding 1,700 EUR/month.

Here is how much you will spend, on average, in these Swiss cities:

Geneva – around 1,650-2,500 EUR/month

Zurich – between 1,650 and 2,200 EUR/month

Bern – around 1,600 EUR/month

Basel – between 1,400 and 2,000 EUR/month

Check this website to see detailed prices of living in Switzerland.

Working

Foreign students may work a maximum of 15 hours per work during their studies, and up to 100% during semester breaks. This must be reported in all cases to the responsible immigration authorities. Students from outside the EU/EFTA region may only start working six months after the beginning of their studies. In these cases, the employer must submit a corresponding request for taking up employment to ensure that an employment check can be carried out. Following this, the immigration authorities can issue a work permit.

Accommodation

Rates for accommodation in Switzerland are above the typical European range of 300 EUR/month, with the average for any housing option being around 600 EUR/month. Of total monthly expenses for a typical student, this will mean 33% of the budget is spent on accommodation, 7% on transportation and around 8% on tuition fees.

The most common housing choices among international students in Switzerland are student halls of residence and renting/sharing an apartment. Around 68% of students are very satisfied with their accommodation in Switzerland, a higher percentage than the European average.

Next Steps

Studying in Switzerland is a worthwhile endeavour. As ever, challenges are to be had, but with any study abroad experience, the rewards are numerous. Visit the websites of the universities that most interest you and contact them for further information about studying in Switzerland.