Studying in Switzerland

Studying in Switzerland

Higher education in Switzerland is made up of ten cantonal universities, two federal institutes of technology, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education.

Swiss universities comply with the Bologna Declaration, which aims to standardise the duration and structure of degrees within a European area. As a result, institutions in Switzerland offer:

  • bachelor degrees (generally three years of full-time study)
  • masters degrees (one-and-a-half to two years of full-time study)
  • doctorate-level qualifications (typically three to five years to complete).

The universities in Switzerland have founded the association Swissuniversities which comes into force in 2015. It will unite the three existing conferences of the Rectors' Conference of the Swiss Universities, Rectors' Conference of Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences and the Swiss Conference of Rectors of Universities of Teacher Education. For more information and details of all universities in Switzerland see Studying in Switzerland.

What courses can you study?

The traditional cantonal universities offer courses in a wide range of disciplines including law, social science, mathematics, natural sciences and a range of arts subjects. Some also have a faculty of medicine. Courses at the federal institutes of technology generally relate to science, engineering and architecture. PhDs can only be awarded by the cantonal universities and institutes of technology.

The universities of applied sciences in Switzerland are more professionally orientated and tend to offer courses that provide students with practical skills in areas such as engineering, IT, architecture, construction and planning, chemistry, business, health, social work, music and physical education. The universities of teacher education train future teachers to teach within the Swiss education system.

Universities are offering an increasing number of study programmes in English, particularly at masters level, check with individual institutions for details. You can carry out a course search at Studying in Switzerland.

How do you apply for postgraduate study?

For admission to a masters programme, you need to have successfully completed a first degree programme. It's up to the individual universities to decide if your first degree is adequate and can be recognised. Some may have additional requirements such as entrance exams.

Although an increasing number of universities are offering masters level programmes in English, a good knowledge of the language of the university can also help. If you want to study in French, German or Italian, you'll need to be able to demonstrate a good knowledge of the language and may have to sit language tests.

Each university sets their own application deadlines. Contact the universities that you would like to apply to well before the admissions deadline. Applications are usually made online.

To be admitted to doctoral studies, you need to have a masters degree and have achieved a high grade average throughout the course. You also need to have a thesis proposal accepted and find a professor willing to be your supervisor. The application process for international students can take a long time so apply as early as possible.

Fees and scholarships

Tuition fees are generally reasonably low as there is generous funding from the federal and cantonal governments. They vary depending on the university, but typically range from 1,000 to 2,220 CHF per academic year. There are some courses that are much more expensive, up to 8,000 CHF per academic year.

Although some universities charge more for foreign students, others charge the same fees for domestic and foreign students.

Living expenses range from between 18,000 and 28,000 CHF per year, depending on the location of the university and personal expenditure. This covers costs of accommodation, health insurance, food, transportation and educational material. The Swiss government awards a range of scholarships to foreign students.

Check the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation website to see whether your country of origin is part of the Swiss government's scholarship scheme.

Contact individual universities to find out whether they offer scholarships to foreign students.

Are there any exchange programmes?

UK students on both under and postgraduate degree programmes may be interested in studying in Switzerland through Erasmus+. This programme is open to all subject areas, but check with your institution's study abroad/exchange coordinator to see which countries they have links with and in what subject areas.

Will your qualifications be recognised in the UK?

Following the Bologna Process and the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), a postgraduate course from Switzerland is directly comparable to the UK equivalent.

Do you need a visa to study in Switzerland?

Students from EU and European Free Trade Area (EFTA) countries must register with the appropriate local or cantonal authorities within 14 days of arriving in Switzerland and apply for a residence permit. You need to have:

  • your application for a residence permit
  • a valid passport or identity card
  • proof of registration at the university you will be attending
  • evidence of sufficient funds (for example, a bank certificate)
  • proof of your address
  • two passport-size photographs.

If you're from a non-EU country, contact the Swiss embassy in the country where you are currently residing to find about visas for studying. If you're living in the UK, contact the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK. Applications for a visa generally take several months to process.

AGCAS editors, November 2014