Tens of thousands of international students study in Switzerland every year due to its low tuition fees, excellent universities and high quality of life
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 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 nine 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.
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.
Three Swiss universities feature in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings 2023, including:
- ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (9th)
- EPFL - École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (16th)
- University of Zurich (83rd).
EU - a triple-accredited, multicampus, international business school offers innovative Bachelor, Master and Doctorate of Business Administration programmes.
Study a specialist postgraduate translation course at this world-renowned Swiss university as you pursue a career as an in-house or freelance translator.
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 international 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.
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 you should check with your prospective institution.
Following the UK's departure from the European Union (EU) the government has announced the Turing Scheme for students looking to secure overseas placements and study abroad at an overseas university.
The scheme is backed by over £100million worth of funding, enabling thousands of students from schools, colleges and universities to gain study and work experience abroad.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in Switzerland. Check that your institution is involved in the programme and offers the scheme.
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, sometimes reaching CHF 42,357 (£37,000) per year. Bachelors or Masters degrees will cost between CHF 394 (£344) and CHF 3,644 (£3,185) per year on average, with PhDs costing CHF 98 (£86) to CHF 886 (£774).
Study in Switzerland claims that your living costs will be at least CHF 1,600 (£1,398) to CHF 2,000 (£1,747).
Bear in mind that you may incur other costs such as registration, examination and student association fees.
Learn more about the cost of living in Switzerland at Study in Switzerland.
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.
Some universities offer an interest-free loan of up to CHF 11,000 (£9,609), which covers approximately 40% of your total fees and living costs. There is also a solidarity fund for foreign students, if you're studying in Zurich.
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're 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.
UK citizens can travel to countries in the Schengen Area (which includes Switzerland) for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. However, if you plan to study in Switzerland for more than three months, you must apply for a student visa before you move to the country.
There are two types of visas for students, depending on the length of their stay:
- C Visa for short stays such as summer schools
- D Visa for extended stays.
Non-EU nationals apply for Swiss student visas at the Swiss Embassy or consulate in their home country. Visas can take several months to process so factor this into your plans and apply early.
Students from the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and the UK do not need a visa to study in the country.
However, all students need to apply for a residence permit and 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.
There are three types of residence permit:
- Permit L for a one-year stay. Can only be renewed once.
- Permit B for a one-year stay but has no renewal limit.
- Permit C is for permanent residence.
Health insurance is mandatory for everyone living in Switzerland. If you intend to live in the country for longer than three months, 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 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.
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
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