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If you're looking to study abroad in a true higher education powerhouse, then you might want to consider Switzerland. Read our guide to find out everything you need to know about studying in Europe's elite study destination.
Seven Swiss universities make the world’s top 150 (eight in total make the rankings), which given the population of the entire country is smaller than that of the US state of Virginia is no mean feat.
Switzerland’s system of higher education is extremely international in nature. Four of the eight ranked universities make the world’s top 30 in terms of international students, with EPFL finishing sixth in the world in this indicator. They perform similarly well in terms of international staff.
But it’s not just universities that inspired 50,000 international students to study in Switzerland. For one thing, you won’t find many more beautiful countries. From its postcard-perfect lakes and mountains, to its picturesque and charming towns, which sometimes look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a Disney film, Switzerland is pretty easy on the eye!
Then there is its status as a true European melting pot, which can offer some of best quality of life anywhere in the world. Sound good? If so, then maybe Switzerland is the study abroad destination for you…
Studying at master's or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to Switzerland >
Find out about Switzerland's top cities for students...
Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city, and also its financial hub. The predominantly German speaking city is home to two universities in the QS World University Rankings: continental Europe’s highest ranking institution, ETH Zurich (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the University of Zurich, ranked 13 and 90= respectively. Situated on the banks of Lake Zurich, there is plenty of natural beauty close at hand, and the well preserved old town means that there’s some manmade charm too. It’s not cheap, but like any city, you can certainly find ways around this…
See where Zurich ranks in the latest QS Best Student Cities >
Based in the French speaking region of Switzerland, Lausanne is a culturally rich city, which boasts a museum dedicated to the Olympic Games – the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. The medieval centre, as well as its proximity to magnificent Lake Geneva and numerous ski resorts make it a big draw for tourists, and the large student population ensures that it enjoys a vibrant nightlife. Lausanne’s two main universities, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (29 in the QS World University Rankings) and the University of Lausanne (115) are two of Switzerland’s most prestigious.
Lying between the lake with which it shares its name and the French border, Geneva is the centre of the Francophone Switzerland. It is known on the international stage as one of the world’s main centers of diplomacy, home to the second largest base of the United Nations and an impressive number of NGOs. One consequence of this is that Geneva is one of the pricier study abroad destinations out there – but in return you’ll get to enjoy a comfortable, safe and cosmopolitan existence, while studying at one of the world’s top 100 universities, the University of Geneva (74).
Switzerland’s capital is the home of one of the world’s top 150 universities: the University of Bern (149). Known as the ‘Slow City’ due to its relaxed pace of life, its center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This does mean, however, that it is not the best city for party animals. But, if you’re looking for a more chilled out experience, then Bern can deliver. You can go swimming in the river, visit one of the city’s renowned museums, or even hang out with some of the captive bears – the city’s symbol – who live just outside the city (in good conditions!).
Situated towards the north of the country near the French and German borders, Basel is perhaps the ideal city to experience the Swiss melting pot in action – or to make a jaunt over the border to visit Switzerland’s bigger European siblings. It is the centre of the Swiss chemical industry, and is also known for being a cultural hub. It is home to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, an institute dedicated to the study of music from the medieval period through to the baroque. The University of Basel, which comes in at 121 in the QS World University Rankings, is the country’s oldest university.
Admission, entry and visa requirements
Switzerland is not a cheap place to live. However, this is massively counterbalanced by low fees. In most cases, international students pay no more than local students (some universities operate a slight mark-up). The exact sum varies but the average fee in 2010 was US$1,190, making Switzerland one of the cheapest places to study, in terms of tuition, in the world.
There is no centralized application procedure for foreign students, so contact any institution to which you’re thinking of applying directly. You will be able to apply online, and universities’ international offices should be able to help you if you have any problems. Make sure you check the language requirements of the courses you’re applying to – this is a country with four official languages after all. German, French and English (particularly at graduate level) predominate.
The process you will have to follow to get a visa will depend on whether you are from an EU/EFTA country or not.more
If you are from an EU/EFTA country:
• You do not require a visa to study in Switzerland.• You will however be required to register with the local Residents’ Registration Office in order to obtain a residence permit. In order to get this you will need to present a completed application form, your passport, proof that you’ve enrolled at a university, evidence that you have enough money to support yourself (deemed to be around CHF2,000 a month, which is around US$2,195, on top of what you pay for rent), proof of your address and two passport size photos. If you have to leave for any reason, you will have to apply for a new residence permit when you return.• Health insurance is mandatory, so make sure that you have purchased cover in Switzerland (unless coverage purchased in your home country is valid in Switzerland).
If you’re from outside of the EU/EFTA:
• You will need to apply for a multiple entry long stay visa (Visa D) from your local Swiss embassy. You must allow at least three months for your visa to process, so make sure you apply in plenty of time.• The embassy will tell you specifically what you need to provide in order to obtain your visa, but it is likely to be similar to the above list for obtaining a residence permit. You will be allowed six months to find a job in Switzerland after completing your degree, and will be able to get a work visa if you succeed.• Within 14 days of your arrival you must apply for a residence permit. See above for what you’ll need to provide.
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