If you have ever considered studying abroad, you have likely thought of Switzerland. With its stunning landscape, diverse culture, and endless opportunities to explore, it is no wonder that thousands of students flock to this beautiful country every year.
Not only is this natural beauty a draw, but its education system has also been consistently praised for its high quality of instruction and holistic approach to learning. Swiss universities are known for fostering an environment of multidisciplinary learning, creativity, and innovation. But studying in Switzerland isn’t just about hitting the books. It is also about discovering all the country has to offer.
If you want to further your studies abroad, this ultimate guide to studying in Switzerland is here to help. We will cover everything from understanding the Swiss education system and culture and navigating visa regulations to finding a job and planning your everyday life as an international student.
How to Plan for Your Studies in Switzerland
Planning for your studies in Switzerland is no small feat. It can be overwhelming to try to determine what is the best route to take to make your dream of studying abroad come true. Find below a detailed breakdown of what you need to know about the education system, universities, and programs in Switzerland.
Education System in Switzerland
The Switzerland education system is unlike any other. Higher education in Switzerland is categorized into;
- Traditional universities. There are ten cantonal universities and two federal institutes of technology.
- Universities of applied sciences. 10 universities in Switzerland fall into this category.
- Pedagogical universities. These are also known as Teacher Training Universities specializing in training school teachers.
With the 12 accredited traditional universities and several other cantonal universities in the country, there’s a wealth of choices for getting your education abroad.
According to 2022 stats from the Federal Statistical Office, 82,600 international students in Switzerland enrolled at the tertiary level. According to the statistics, more international students enroll in Universities and Institutes of technology when compared to those enrolled in Universities of Applied Sciences and Universities of Teacher Education.
- Total number of international students – 82,600
- Total number of universities – 12 Traditional Universities, 10 Universities of Applied Sciences, and several Teacher Training Institutes
Choosing University in Switzerland
When it comes to studying in Switzerland, the caliber of its education system is impressive. The country is home to some of the world’s top universities, with many boasting international rankings and some even having been around for centuries.
At the top of the list is ETH Zurich, ranked first in Switzerland and 29th globally according to the US News and World Report on the global ranking of universities. Other top-ranking universities in Switzerland include the University of Zurich, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the University of Geneva, and the University of Bern.
It can be daunting to choose from these top universities. However, to make the right decision, you can check which university stands out in the program you want to study. For example, ETH Zurich is known for having the best programs in Geosciences, Ecology, and Computer Science.
Other factors to look at include the tuition fees, availability of financial aid opportunities, proximity to a town or city, language requirements, and the number of international students.
Lastly, you can check if the university of choice has international students support services. These include job placement assistance after graduation, mental health counseling services, student housing availability, etc.
Choosing a Study Program in Switzerland
Whether you are considering a full degree or part-time studies, there are options available in Switzerland for higher education. Some of the most popular academic programs in Switzerland include Biomedical Sciences, Physics, Finance, and Computer Science.
Depending on your goals and interest, you should look into various factors before deciding on a university program. Here are some tips for how to choose a university program in Switzerland:
- Research which university offers your program of interest, the focus areas, teaching methods, cost of tuition for that program, available facilities like laboratories or libraries to support your degree program, and if there are any departmental financial aid opportunities.
- Explore Language Requirements: Since many Swiss universities offer English-taught degree programs, as well as French and German, many programs require students to submit language proficiency exams such as TOEFL or IELTS in order to be admitted into the program. It is important to research what language requirements each school has prior to applying if you plan on attending classes in English or need any certifications prior to admission.
- Check Course Length: Most university courses in Switzerland range from 3-4 years for a bachelor’s degree and 1-2 years for a master’s degree; however, some courses may vary depending on your field of study and research project duration.
Here is an overview of how long the different degree programs take and what you can expect at each program level:
- Bachelor’s takes 3 to 4 years to complete, including lectures, practical work, and independent study. To obtain the degree, you must complete 180 ECTS credits.
- Master’s degrees take 1 to 2 academic years equivalent to complete. However, Computer Science, Engineering, and Medical degree programs could take 3-6 years to complete.
- Ph.D. programs take 2 to 7 years to complete depending on your program. This involves coursework and working on your doctoral thesis.
Not yet sure what to study field to pursue in Switzerland? Check out our list of Best Programs to Study in Switzerland.
How to Finance Your Education in Switzerland
If you are looking to study in Switzerland, one of the things you will have to consider is tuition fees. Let us look at the tuition fees for various institutions, including the different degree levels and programs.
Tuition Fees in Switzerland
It is no secret that tuition fees and living costs in Switzerland can be high, but this varies depending on the city, institution, and degree program. Public universities are also cheaper when compared with private universities. You can expect to pay between USD 700 to USD 1050 per semester at some of the cheap universities, like ETH Zurich and Bern.
However, expect to pay around 2,500 CHF per semester for public institutions and up to 18,500 CHF per semester for private universities. For example, the tuition fee at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland for international students is USD 5500 per semester.
Note that some universities may also charge additional fees for international students, so it is best to check with your chosen university before enrolling.
Additionally, different degree programs have varying tuition costs. For example, a Bachelor of Science in Data Science at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland is USD 1100 per semester, while a Bachelor in Business Artificial Intelligence is USD 780 per semester.
Cost of Living in Switzerland
The cost of living in Switzerland for students varies widely depending on where you live. For example, larger cities tend to be more expensive than smaller towns and villages. The most expensive cities in Switzerland are Zurich and Geneva, while Bern and Basel are cheaper. Generally, you should budget around CHF 1,500-2,500 monthly for rent and living costs. Health insurance for international students in Switzerland is compulsory and will set you back around CHF 90 -110 per month.
Let us break down the costs you will incur during your stay in Switzerland.
Housing for international students in Switzerland consists of various options to choose from. You can rent a room at the hostels, which costs around CHF 850 monthly. Additionally, you could opt to share an apartment and cost-share the rent with other students.
Meals should cost around CHF 560 per month if eating from the school cafeteria/refectory. However, you can buy food from the malls or eat in a restaurant. A restaurant meal costs around CHF 12 to CHF 20. The total cost will depend on where you eat and your lifestyle.
Switzerland has an extensive transport network, with options ranging from bicycles, trains, trams, ships, and buses. Public transport will cost you around CHF 50 per month. You could also opt to walk around the city as you enjoy the beauty of Swiss cities. Additionally, you could pay around CHF 150 for a one-week ticket allowing you to visit other Swiss cities.
Books and other school-related expenses
You should expect to pay around CHF 85 monthly for study materials, including books, scripts, and course-related materials.
You should have at least CHF 160 per month to spend on other miscellaneous expenses, like internet subscriptions, phone bills, gym, cinema tickets, and other leisure activities.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Scholarships are available for international students studying abroad in Switzerland. However, they are competitive and sometimes quite difficult to get. So, if you are planning on applying for a scholarship, ensure you start your research early and prepare all your documents well ahead of time.
There are several scholarships ranging from university-specific scholarships, like the University of Geneva scholarships, and government scholarships, like the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for foreign scholars and artists.
And yes, international students can get fully-funded scholarships to study in Switzerland. There are various options, including the Master Excellence Fellowships at EPFL, offering CHF 10,000 per semester to outstanding students to pursue a master’s degree program.
To apply for the scholarships, ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria and provide all the required documentation like;
- Academic Transcripts
- Recommendation Letters
- Pre-proposal for master’s thesis if applying for a master’s
- Proof of language proficiency
- Personal identification details
Looking to further your scholarship options? Check out our list of top scholarships in Switzerland for international students.
How to Apply to Swiss Universities
If you are looking to apply to Switzerland universities, check out the steps below and find out what is required to gain admission at the university.
So, you think you are ready to take the plunge and study in Switzerland? Before you leap, make sure to meet the admission requirements highlighted below.
Most universities in Switzerland require you to have a high school diploma (or equivalent). International students from non-EU/EFTA countries must provide their certificate of equivalence from the Swiss Embassy in their home country. Depending on your course of study, you may also be required to provide language proficiency results or your transcript from any prior education.
Good news! To study in Switzerland, you don’t necessarily need to know Swiss, German, or French. English is becoming increasingly accepted as a language for instruction at many universities in Switzerland and a lot of universities offer degree programs and entire courses taught in English. You might therefore need to take English Language proficiency exams. In addition, some courses may require proficiency in German or French too, so check with the university before applying.
While each institution outlines the required documentation for admission, you will generally need the following documents:
- A fully-filled application form
- Academic Transcripts from previous school/s
- Identification documents like passport
- Proof of language proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOEFL if applicable
- Recommendation Letters
- A receipt or evidence of application fee payment
- A Letter indicating why you chose Switzerland for your studies
Ensure you research and collect all the required documentation for admission at the university of your choice. You can always contact the university support team if you are unsure of anything.
An academic year in Switzerland consists of two semesters, one in autumn and another in spring. Some universities also have the fall intake for certain programs which run from December to April. While the intakes vary with the university, the majority of them start their academic year in October, meaning that you need to make your application between May and September.
For intakes during the spring academic year running from February to June, ensure you apply by January to be guaranteed a spot at the university. Late applications are postponed to the following semester.
General Admission Steps
Before applying to a university in Switzerland, here are the general admission steps for planning purposes:
- Research and choose a university offering your program of study
- Check the requirements needed for admission and the deadlines
- Prepare the documents and submit your application
- Pay application fees for your program
- Pass the entrance examination (some universities)
- Wait for confirmation and acceptance
Note that admission requirements may differ depending on your program level, so check out our guide to study bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Switzerland.
How to Obtain a Student Visa in Switzerland
Once you receive your university acceptance letter, you can now proceed to apply for your student visa. To obtain a Switzerland student visa, follow the steps below:
- Make an appointment with a Swiss consulate or Embassy for a visa interview
- Fill out and sign the visa application form
- Gather all the required documentation
- Pay the student visa fees
- Submit the documents at the Swiss Embassy or consulate
- Wait for a decision on your visa
The processing time for study permits for international students can take several months, so make sure you plan accordingly. You can find more details about Switzerland visas and permits on the State Secretariat for Migration website.
While the process may seem straightforward, availing the right documents and answering questions honestly will enhance your chances of getting your student visa. To help you out, you will need to submit the following visa requirements for studying in Switzerland:
- A valid passport that will be valid for the entire duration of your stay in Switzerland
- A completed application form, including your biodata and passport-size photos
- Proof of health insurance
- Proof of your financial resources
- Proof of language proficiency
- Acceptance letter from a Swiss university or college
- Official transcripts from previous studies
- An authenticated certificate of good conduct from your home country
- Documentation about your accommodation arrangements in Switzerland
- A letter of motivation outlining why you chose Switzerland and that you will return to your home country after your studies
How to Prepare for Your Arrival in Switzerland
Congratulations on getting a spot at a Swiss university. To have a smooth transition, you will need to prepare adequately for your arrival. Here are some things you should keep in mind as you plan your arrival in Switzerland:
Language and Cultural Requirements
Most universities and higher education institutions expect international students to be fluent in either English, German, French, or Italian depending on the region and the language of instruction. You may be required to take a language test on arrival, so it is wise to brush up on your local language skills beforehand.
With over 1000 museums and a love for folk music and crafts, you will find Swiss culture interesting and worth immersing yourself in.
Student life in Switzerland can be tough if you are not careful with your finances. It is important that you prepare financially before packing your bags to Switzerland. Apart from tuition fees, you also need to plan for other living expenses like food, health insurance, accommodation, and transportation. If you’re looking to study for minimal costs, check out our guide on how to study in Switzerland for free.
Pack Essential Items
Ensure you pack all the essential items you will need during your stay in Switzerland, like clothing for the different seasons, any prescribed medication, or any equipment you must have or cherish and are allowed to carry abroad.
Essential tips on how to adjust to life in Switzerland
It’s important to remember that while it might take time to start feeling at home in your new country, there are some essential tips that will help you adjust more quickly.
Connect with the locals
Making connections with locals is one of the most important things you can do to adjust to life in Switzerland. From joining a sports club or hobby group to attending town festivals and concerts, look for opportunities where you can meet people and learn about the culture firsthand.
Respect language and culture
As Switzerland is made up of many distinct cultures, it’s important to respect each region’s traditions when traveling around the country so as not to appear disrespectful or entitled. Remember that most Swiss people value politeness and courtesy when interacting with strangers, so try not to be too loud or boisterous if out in public places like restaurants and bars.
Explore your surroundings
Exploring and experiencing new things can help ease the transition into a new life abroad. Why not use them productively by going sightseeing on weekends or on your days off? Make sure to visit both popular tourist attractions as well as some hidden gems that perhaps locals know about and don’t realize how special they are.
How to Study and Live in Switzerland
Studying in Switzerland isn’t a walk in the park. While it may sound like an ideal destination for international students, with its beautiful scenery and stunning cities, there are a few challenges you should keep in mind before settling down.
Challenge 1: Language Barrier
As with many countries, one of the biggest challenges international students face is the language barrier. While English is widely spoken in Switzerland, it is not the official language, and many universities also teach in German or French.
Depending on the language of instruction at your university or for your program, it will be easier to learn it to enable you to take classes and exams. Additionally, learning a new language will help you make friends and valuable connections with people from different countries.
Challenge 2: Cultural Differences
Although many Swiss cities are cosmopolitan with plenty of foreigners from around the world, Switzerland culture and diversity can still be challenging for some international students to navigate or adapt to. It’s important to remember that different countries have different customs and traditions that you may not be used to when first arriving in Switzerland.
Be open-minded and take time to learn about Swiss culture. You can get a local to help you learn about the culture and take you around the various Swiss cities to get the experience.
Challenge 3: Cost of Living
Living expenses can be quite high in Switzerland due to its small size and limited resources. Additionally, as an international student studying at a Swiss university, you may have to pay higher tuition fees than domestic students do.
To help you manage the cost of studying and living in Switzerland, you can apply for scholarship opportunities like those listed above to lessen your financial burden. Additionally, you can avoid unnecessary spending like eating out regularly or frequent entertainment and only spend on essential things.
Can You Work in Switzerland After Graduation
Swiss labor laws allow international students to look for work after graduation. Plus, many companies are happy to hire foreign workers because they bring new skills and experience from different countries. There are various employment opportunities for international students in Switzerland that are in demand like caregivers, teachers, and software engineering professionals.
When you are still a student, you can work part-time up to 15 hours per week or full-time during holidays. After graduation, you can apply for Switzerland work permits for students that allow you to stay for six months, during which you can look for employment. You can work as self-employed or employed by a Swiss employer who must obtain a work permit. In this case, your permit will be valid for as long as you are in employment.
Before being allowed to work, you must prove that you have finished your program of study by providing a letter from your university. Additionally, you must prove that you have accommodation and have enough finances during your extension.
Here are some tips to help you get started on your job search:
- Use online job search sites or the job board at your university.
- Network with alumni and local professionals – they can give you insider information on different industries and even offer help with getting your foot in the door at companies.
- Contact employers directly – it never hurts to reach out to companies that interest you and ask about employment opportunities!
- Attend career fairs or job-search workshops – these events are great ways to meet potential employers, learn more about different industries, and hear what recruiters look for in candidates.
- If necessary, consider applying for a work permit – depending on your country of citizenship, you may need to apply for a work permit before being hired by an employer in Switzerland.
If you’re willing to put in the effort and do your research, there is no doubt that there is plenty of potential when it comes to finding work after graduation in Switzerland.
If you’re looking for an educational experience that mixes cultural immersion with world-class education, then consider studying in Switzerland. Switzerland education rankings coupled with an abundance of universities and institutes, you can rest assured that you’ll gain invaluable knowledge and experience in this beautiful country. Whether you’re applying for undergraduate or graduate studies in Switzerland, you want to understand the cost of studying and living in Switzerland, or looking for ways to make the most of your experience, this guide provides invaluable insight into the process.