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Switzerland Education System - Understand How it Works​

Switzerland is widely recognized for its quality education. Let us find out why.

Education in Switzerland is relatively high. Switzerland ranks ninth out of 65 countries and economies in the OECD/PISA 2012 survey of educational standards amongst 15-year-olds.

The State Secretariat for Education, Research, and Innovation (SERI) is the federal body overseeing education in Switzerland. Each of the 26 cantons has primary responsibility for their education and run their education systems. Each canton has its education department, school calendar, education structure, teaching methods, and curricula.


Higher education includes technical and vocational schools and universities, spread across cantons such as Basel, Berne, Fribourg, Geneva, Neuchatel, Lausanne, Lugano, Zurich, Lucerne, and St Gallen.

Swiss universities offer a wide range of courses at Bachelor, Master, and Doctorate level and in four different languages. University education in Switzerland is very international, the educational standards are high, and tuition fees are comparatively low. All of these factors attract students from around the world looking to learn in the Alpine nation.

Qualifications framework

Swiss degree courses follow the Bologna ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System), which allows student mobility because credits can be accumulated elsewhere and transferred. The system includes:

  • Bachelor’s degrees usually last three full years and earn 180 ECTS.
  • Master’s degree programs require students to earn 90–120 ECTS already.
  • Doctoral degrees are usually only awarded by academic universities, require students to hold already a master’s degree from a doctoral/research university, and last for between three and five years.
  • Swiss universities also offer Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) – earning 60 ECTS for one-year full-time study – to students with a first degree, but MAS does not grant admission to a doctoral degree program.
  • Students at the universities of teacher education graduate with a teaching certificate, allowing them to teach at the various grades within the Swiss education system, from primary to post-compulsory education, and an academic title (bachelor or master).


Most Swiss universities are publicly funded, which makes studying at a Swiss university relatively affordable. Private universities charge higher tuition fees than public universities.

Fees vary between universities, but they are generally lower than many other countries. They range between CHF 500 and CHF 2,000 per semester. Some universities apply a surcharge for international students, for example, CHF 500 per semester for students on an undergraduate program and CHF 100 on a postgraduate program. If you are an exchange student, you do not pay any tuition fees.

You do have to be able to support yourself while you are studying in Switzerland. The cost of living in Switzerland is relatively high. About CHF 10,000 per semester should cover books and materials, health insurance, accommodation, meals, excursions, and other expenses.


Some Swiss universities offer scholarships to international students, such as exchange scholarships with selected partner universities. You must be already enrolled at the partner university abroad and nominated for exchange. You can contact your university’s international office to help transfer between accredited universities.

In response to the Swiss vote to limit immigration, Switzerland is no longer a full member of the EU’s Erasmus + student exchange program. For the time being, the Federal Council is funding its interim solution Erasmus+/Swiss-European Mobility Program (SEMP). Under this program, students from individual foreign universities can get assistance to study at a Swiss university.

The Swiss government also offers Excellence Scholarships to foreign scholars and artists through the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS). These are postgraduate scholarships for doctoral or postdoctoral research in Switzerland. The scholarships are available depending on your nationality. US students may also be able to come and study in Switzerland through the US Fulbright-Swiss Scholarship Program.


You will feel at home in Switzerland. Students who share their studying abroad experience always applaud the people and diverse nationalities the universities accommodate. Also, the distances between the university, campus, library, and so forth can be minimal, considering the country and cities are tiny, but the spaces are beautiful and fit for students. Another point in favor of Switzerland is that the universities here focus more on papers and thesis. The grade is awarded after considering your whole learning process, not just what courses you crammed in the night before.


Swiss universities attract students from all over the world. In 2013/14, more than 229,000 students graduated from Swiss universities and about a quarter of these were international students. Università Della Svizzera Italiana (USI) is the ‘most international’ university, with 65% of its students coming from 100 different countries. Now about a third of undergraduate and around half of the post-graduate students in Swiss universities are abroad.

Bachelor programs are usually taught in the region’s national language (German, French, or Italian and some bilingual courses). Some universities offer English-language programs. For example, at ETH Zurich, some degree courses are in German for the first year and then in English afterward. Master’s programs are being increasingly taught in English. The academic year has two semesters of 14 weeks. The autumn semester runs from week 38 to week 51; the spring semester runs from week 8 to 22.

Bachelor or undergraduate degrees

There are various undergraduate degree courses on offer in Switzerland, and such programs 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 will learn through a combination of lectures, seminars, and practical work. To gain a Bachelors’ program, students need to apply online directly to their chosen university.


Programs are available in various areas, including the arts, engineering, law, medicine, and science. Courses are designed to build on first-degree knowledge and enable students to specialize in a particular field.

When studied full time, programs usually last three to four semesters (one-and-a-half to two years). You will study taught core and elective modules and finish with a dissertation.

 When applying for a master’s program, you will need a bachelors’ degree in a relevant subject. If your course is taught in French, German, or Italian, a good working knowledge of that language will be essential. However, there is an increasing number of master’s courses taught in English.

Entry requirements vary for each university, so contact institutions directly to ensure your application is correct. A Ph.D. 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 will carry out independent research as you work towards a Doctoral thesis. The assessment usually takes the form of an oral examination. To study for a Ph.D. in Switzerland, you will need a master’s degree from an accredited or recognized university.

Pathway programs

The country’s most notable strengths are related to innovation, diversity, precision technology, and education. Switzerland ranks high in economic competitiveness, production, human development, and standard of living. The country offers one of the most attractive places to live and one of Europe’s most suitable locations. It provides a unique multicultural and multilingual approach that brings a distinctly international flavor to the educational experience. The breathtaking landscapes, excellent transportation links, the great variety of cultural and leisure activities, along with the exceptional quality of higher education, all make Switzerland a top location to study.


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.

Learning English

If you are attending a degree program in Switzerland, you will need to prove that your language skills are good enough to participate in the classes and understand the lectures. These courses will also prepare you for any of the English-language tests that universities require.
Switzerland has three official languages: German, French, and Italian. The language in which your degree will be taught depends on where you wish to apply to. Besides, most universities also offer a wide range of programs taught in English.

The certificates of proficiency you will need to provide, depending on the language you wish to study, are:

  • For German: DSH, TestDaF, OSD, telc, and others
  • For French: DELF or DALF
  • For English: IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic

If you do not hold a language certificate, you can take a language test at the university and decide if your level is sufficient to complete your studies.

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