Study in Switzerland

Brief information mainly applicable to foreign students.

Higher Education in Switzerland

1. Preliminary Remarks

Despite a continuous rise in student numbers, Switzerland's universities have not as yet had to restrict admissions to studies other than to those in medical subjects. Based on the number of applicants for these subjects, a decision is taken from year to year as to whether an entry examination needs to be held for Swiss students. Therefore, apart from a few special exceptions, foreign students are not admitted to medical studies.

2. Types of university & Type of courses

Currently, Switzerland has 12 recognised traditional universities (10 cantonal universities and 2 federal institutes of technology), 8 universities of applied sciences, 14 universities of teacher education, and further university-level institutions supported by the Confederation.

The institutions supported by the Confederation are principally the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva (Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)), the Graduate Institute for Advanced Public Administration (Institut de hautes études en administration publique (IDHEAP)) in Lausanne, the Graduate Institute Kurt Bösch (Institut universitaire Kurt Bösch (IUKB)) in Sion and the Distance Learning University Switzerland FS-CH.

In addition to the institutions of higher learning named above, there are also a number of private universities and educational institutes in Switzerland. However, the courses and degrees offered at such universities are not recognised here. Among the courses and qualifications offered many are of dubious value, for which reason students are advised to clarify in advance precisely whether such are recognised or not.

Swiss universities offer various type of courses and programmes which you can access from the Swissuniversity website. The types of courses may be summarized as follows:

  • University preparatory courses and language courses:
  • Bachelor courses
  • Master courses
  • PhD program courses
  • Continuing education: Executive Master / Master of Advanced Studies, Diploma of Advanced Studies, Certificate of Advanced Studies:

According to each university, courses may be run as a block, or spread along the semesters.


The following information refers solely to the universities.

3. Language of instruction

The universities of Basle (BS), Bern (BE), Lucerne (LU), St Gall (SG), Zurich (ZH) and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) are located in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

The universities of Geneva (GE), Lausanne (LA) and Neuchâtel (NE), as well as the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) are in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

The University of Fribourg (FR) is situated in a bilingual canton. Therefore the courses are offered in German and / or French.

Since the founding of the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in Lugano in 1996 the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland has also had its own university.

4. Academic year

The academic year is divided into two semesters: the lectures last in autumn semester from calendar week 38 to 51 and in spring semester from calendar week 8 to 22. 

5. Academic degrees and duration of studies

Since the 2001/02 winter semester, Swiss universities have been busy adjusting their curricula to comply with the Bologna Declaration. Under this new two-tiered system, the first grade awarded is the Bachelor's degree (180 ECTS credits or three years full-time study) and the second one the Master's degree (90 - 120 ECTS credits or 1.5 up to 2 years full-time study). A Bachelor's degree is the pre-requisite for admittance to studies at Master's level. A Master's degree and good grades are the pre-requisite for undertaking a doctorate.

Furthermore, the universities can confer Master's degrees in further education, the so-called Masters of Advanced Studies - MAS (a minimum of 60 ECTS credits or one year of full-time study). A MAS does not give access to doctoral studies.

Since implementation of the new two-tiered study system has not been completed yet, degrees according to the former system are still being awarded. The first grade awarded is the Lizentiat/Licence or Diploma with a total length of full-time studies of 4 to 5 years and 6 years for medical studies (no ECTS credits). However, experience shows that they usually last 1 or 2 years longer. The Lizentiat/Licence and Diploma correspond to a Masters' degree level in the United States; at most Swiss universities, they are the pre-requisite for undertaking a doctorate.

It is expected that by 2011 only grades according to the new two-tiered system will be awarded.


6.  Admission requirements

Language ability

A good knowledge of the language of instruction (German, French or Italian) is required. Which universities teach in which languages can be found in the section "Language of instruction". Further details concerning the language requirements of the respective universities can be found here.

In the meantime, universities are offering more and more study courses in English, in particular Master level studies (see Postgraduate Studies).

Foreign school or college certificates

To be admitted to a university, candidates must possess either a state-recognised Swiss maturity certificate or another foreign certificate recognised as equivalent by the university. The university in question decides whether to recognise the certificate and whether the holder is entitled to be admitted to studies.

Candidates should possess a state-recognized Swiss matriculation certificate or a foreign certificate recognized by the university as being equivalent. More information on the assessment of your certificate can be found in the list compiled by the Committee for Admissions.

Master studies

As a precondition for admission to master studies candidates must in any case hold a bachelor degree in the same subject. The university itself will inform applicants about further specific admission requirements to master, specialized master or executive master studies.

Doctoral studies

To be admitted to doctoral studies candidates must have at least already successfully completed a master’s degree course. The university in question decides in its own right whether the bearer of a foreign degree is entitled to be admitted to doctoral studies.

All universities publish the information about the admission requirements and application on their websites. Application forms are often electronically submitted. Some institutions require the application form only in English, others in the regional language and/ or in English.

7. Entrance examination to Swiss universities 

Central entrance examinations:

Candidates who either hold certificates which are only partly recognized for admission or who are asked by the university to take an entrance examination have to pass the examination in Fribourg. These examinations are held twice a year (summer session 2008: 11 June - 20 June 08; autumn session 2008: 27 August - 5 September 08; summer session 2009: 10 June - 19 June).

It is possible to follow a preparation course for this exam. This course is also held in Fribourg. To be admitted you have to have  among other things sufficient language proficiency in either German or French and a provisional confirmation of admission of a Swiss university. The course lasts from September to the begin of June and costs Sfr. 4'950.-.

Contact Cours préparatoires de Fribourg (Preparatory courses)
Rue de Rome 1, CH-1700 Fribourg, tel.
+41 (0)26 347 16 16, Fax +41 (0)26 347 16 17,
Email: info(at), Internet:

Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology:

Candidates who hold certificates which are only partly recognized have to pass an entrance examination at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (Zurich and Lausanne).

Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ)

Registration entrance examination until:
10th July 2008 for the August examination session
ETH Zürich
Rämistrasse 101
HG F 21.4 - 5
CH-8092 Zürich
Tel.: +41 (0)44 632 56 53

Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL)

Registration entrance examination until: 
31st May 2008 for the summer and autumn examination session
EPFL, AA-EBM CMS, Station 4
CH-1015 Lausanne
Tel.: +41 (0)21 693 22 95
Fax: +41 (0)21 693 62 90

There is a one-year course at Lausanne which prepares candidates for the examination.

Entrance examination for the University of St Gall:

The University of St Gall accepts only a restricted number of foreign students, all of whom have to sit for an entrance examination. Candidates holding a matriculation certificate which is recognized for admission at the University of St Gall additionally have to pass the entrance examination for foreign students in St Gall. The exams are held about 2 months before the autumn semester starts. Candidates who hold matriculation certificates which are only partly accepted must pass the examination in Fribourg (see above).

8. Yearly cost of studies

Tuition fees per year 2008/2009 (in CHF) 














For Swiss stu-dents













Addi-tional fees

 for foreign stu-dents













For foreign stu-dents













 Living expenses: between CHF 18'000.- and 28'000.- per year (depending on the location of the university and personal demands)

9. Scholarships

Governmental scholarships

The Swiss Government offers scholarships to foreign students and artists on the basis of reciprocity or within the frame of a scholarship pool to several countries. Scholarships are granted to postgraduate candidates from both industrial and developing countries.

Candidates should, in the first instance, find out from their own country's authorities whether they are entitled to a governmental scholarship or should approach the Swiss embassy or consulate ( in their home country. A list of the relevant countries and further information on the governmental scholarships, such as application requirements, duration of scholarship, scholarship amount, application procedure etc. are available at

Before applying, candidates (who must be under 35 of age and proficient in English, German, French or Italian) should get in touch with a professor ( or with the responsible service of the program at the chosen Swiss higher education institution in order to get a written confirmation of acceptance.

University scholarships

To find out whether Swiss universities offer scholarships to foreign students, candidates are adviced to check with the mobility centers of the Swiss universities at ; ; or to visit (International Cooperations).

10. Health insurance

Foreign students who intend staying in Switzerland for longer than three months must take out health insurance; this is obligatory. Students from states which provide international mutual aid are exempted from this obligation. Other students can be exempted if they have equivalent insurance cover in their home country.

11. How to proceed if you want to study in Switzerland

Application procedure

Contact the university of your choise within the specified time. The pre-application procedure for some universities can be done online. For the application you will need inter alia:

§ the original or a certified copy of the secondary school leaving certificate

§ photo

Immigration formalities

When you have received confirmation of acceptance by a Swiss university, please contact the Swiss embassy in your country for information on entry formalities for Switzerland. You will have to show proof that you have adequate financial means to support yourself during your studies.

Residence permit

You will have to apply to the police department dealing with aliens after your arrival in Switzerland to obtain a residence permit. You will have to present the following documents:

§ a valid passport, if necessary with a visa

§ confirmation that you have been accepted by a Swiss university

§ a guarantee of sufficient financial means to support yourself during your studies (e.g. bank statement)

§ statement concerning your address in Switzerland

The residence permit will only be issued if your financial means are guaranteed. In addition, you will have to renew the residence permit annually. Foreign students are allowed to work up to 15 hours a week as long as the duration of the studies is not prolonged.


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