Home to one of Europe's most prestigious higher education systems, Switzerland is a picturesque country that offers low tuition fees, a high standard of living and plenty of opportunities
A popular choice for students and graduates wanting to study abroad, Switzerland is a small country located at the heart of the Alps, in Western Europe. Bordered by France, Germany and Italy it gives you ample opportunity to visit these 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. In the summer you'll be able to enjoy arts and music festivals in Swiss meadows, while in the chillier months you'll have the opportunity to participate in winter sports such as skiing, ice-hockey and skating.
You'll also be able to sample some of the famous Swiss cuisine - coffee, chocolate and cheese or perhaps buy yourself a fancy new watch.
Due to the requirements of the Bologna Process, institutions in Switzerland now follow the cycle of:
- Bachelors degrees;
- Masters degrees;
- Doctoral (PhD) degrees.
The Swiss higher education sector is made up of:
- Doctoral/research universities - of which there are 12. At these institutions you can study all three cycles.
- Universities of applied sciences and arts - of which there are eight, including one private institution.
- Universities of teacher education - there are 20 teaching universities where you can study both Bachelors and Masters courses.
Three Swiss universities currently feature in the top 100 of The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-17:
- ETH Zurich is the highest entry at number nine;
- École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is 30th;
- and the University of Basel features is 98th.
Other notable institutions include the University of Zurich, which is the largest university in Switzerland, and the University of Geneva, which is the oldest.
The Swiss academic year is split into two semesters: autumn and spring.
For a full list of accredited universities in Switzerland see SwissUniversities recognised higher education institutions.
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UK students can study in Switzerland by taking part in the European Union's (EU) education, training and youth support programme Erasmus+. As a non-member of the EU, Switzerland is taking part in the Erasmus programme as a 'partner country'. The scheme offers study, training and work experience placements to help you develop personally and professionally.
Opportunities are open to students at Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate level. Placements can last from three months to one academic year.
Degree courses in Switzerland
There are a variety of undergraduate degree courses on offer in Switzerland and such programmes can be studied at doctoral/research 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).
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.
Masters 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 conclude your studies with a dissertation.
When applying for a Masters programme, you will 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.
You can search for postgraduate programmes in Switzerland at SwissUniversities - Course offerings.
A PhD is the highest level of qualification for postgraduate students in Switzerland. Offered by doctoral/research 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 it would be wise to check with your prospective institution.
EU citizens are entitled to attend a university in Switzerland, even though it is not currently a member.
When compared to other EU countries Swiss tuition fees are relatively low. However, international students are charged higher rates than Swiss nationals at some universities. Swiss Universities estimates that semester fees at public universities in 2016/17 vary between CHF 500 and CHF 2000 (roughly £415 to £1,662).
Exact figures will vary depending on what and where you study, but expect to pay no less than CHF 1,000 per year (£831) for Masters courses. Some institutions charge up to CHF 8,000 per year (£6,650).
Private universities will charge higher fees than public institutions.
To see an up-to-date list of all the current university fees, go to SwissUniversities - Studying in Switzerland 2016/17.
Funding to study in Switzerland
The Swiss government does not offer scholarships to students who are from the UK so be prepared to find your own method of funding. Bear in mind that the cost of living is high, though this should be counterbalanced by the reasonable tuition fees.
If you are from another country, then you may be eligible for a government scholarship. Check to see if your country of origin is eligible by visiting Swiss government excellence scholarships for foreign scholars and artists.
To find out if particular universities offer scholarships to international students, check individual institutions websites.
How to apply
Most applications to Swiss universities are made online directly to your chosen institution.
On the application form you need to indicate your chosen faculty and degree programme, and submit it by the appropriate deadline. You'll then receive a written confirmation of your application along with an application fee invoice and a list of supporting documents required.
After submitting the requested documents, and upon receipt of the application fee, you will be sent a formal confirmation of your place.
For more details on the application process check with your chosen university. Procedures and application costs may vary.
As Switzerland is a multilingual country, the languages spoken at universities will differ. 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 a Bachelors in one of the above languages you will need to prove your proficiency as part of your application.
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 will need:
- a valid passport;
- proof of university registration;
- a bank statement to provide evidence of funds;
- proof of address;
- two passport photographs.
Non EU, EEA or UK students must apply for a visa before traveling 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.
Health insurance is mandatory for everyone living in Switzerland. If you intend to live in the country for longer than three months then you must purchase your own health insurance. For more information, visit SwissUniversities - Information on studying in Switzerland.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Due to the Bologna Process Swiss higher education courses follow the same pattern as those in the UK. Therefore, the qualifications gained are directly comparable to those achieved in the UK and should be recognised by UK employers.