With its prestigious education system, low university fees and high standard of living, studying in Switzerland is a smart choice
Popular with 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 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 different 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 practiced-oriented training such as pre-primary, primary, secondary and special needs education. There are 20 UTEs in Switzerland.
For a full list of Swiss universities, see Study 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.
Four Swiss universities feature in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings 2018, including:
- ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (10th)
- EPFL - Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (12th)
- University of Zurich (73rd)
- University of Geneva (98th).
The University of Zurich is the largest university in Switzerland, while the University of Geneva is the oldest.
Popular student cities include Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne and Zürich.
EU - a triple-accredited, multicampus, international business school offers innovative Bachelor, Master and Doctorate of Business Administration programmes.
A leading institution that provides cutting-edge Swiss quality education. Our programmes are taught 100% in English and our campuses are located in major European cities such as Geneva, Madrid, and Barcelona.
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.
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 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.
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 as a 'partner country', which means it can take part in certain actions under Erasmus+, subject to specific criteria or conditions.
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.
When compared with EU countries, Swiss tuition fees are relatively low. However, at some institutions international students are charged higher rates than Swiss nationals.
StudyinSwitzerland estimates that semester fees at public universities vary between CHF 500 and CHF 2000 (roughly £394 to £1,577). Exact figures vary depending on what and where you study, but expect to pay no less than CHF 1,000 per year (£788) for Masters courses. At the higher end of the scale some institutions charge up to CHF 8,000 per year (£6,310).
Private universities will charge higher fees than public institutions.
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.
If you are from a country other than the UK you may be entitled to a government scholarship. Check to see if your country of origin is eligible by visiting Swiss government excellence scholarships for foreign scholars and artists.
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 health insurance
- proof of address
- two passport photographs.
This visa information is still valid following the UK's decision the leave the EU and will be updated if there are any changes.
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 StudyinSwitzerland - Entry, visa and residence permits.
How to apply
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 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.
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 will need to prove your proficiency as part of your application.
English is widely spoken in the country and an increasing number of courses (especially Masters) are taught in the language. However, while living in Switzerland it would be beneficial for you to learn one of the country's native languages.
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.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in Switzerland.