Briefly about the secondary education in Switzerland
Compulsory education in Switzerland starts at primary school (Primarschule). In most cantons this stage includes a kindergarten (Kindergarten) lasting 1-2 years, to which children of ages 5-6 are taken. At the age of 11-12, students transfer to secondary schools (Sekundarschule I). By the standards of the state curriculum, secondary school graduates are required to speak three languages: two national languages ​​to choose from and English. At the age of 15, students transition to high school (Sekundarschule II), and are divided into 3 educational tracks. Exam results, recommendations of teachers, and opinions of parents are taken into account. The student can continue their studies in:
  • VET (Vocational Education and Training). In such vocational schools, teenagers from the age of 15 can get one of the 250 demanded applied specialties. After 2 years, Federal VET Certificate is issued which gives the right to work in a low-skilled job. In 3-4 years students can get a Federal VET Diploma with access to certain professions. After the VET, higher education is open to students in colleges and any non-university-type institutions. If you finish an addition of 2 semesters, then a Baccalaureate supplement is issued. This document allows you to continue your studies in your specialty at the university of applied sciences.
  • Upper secondary specialized schools. They provide general secondary education and prepare students to continue mastering their chosen specialty in colleges, universities of applied sciences, and teacher education universities.
  • Baccalaureate schools. They purposefully prepare students for admission to universities. Studying here lasts for 4 years. Some German-speaking cantons offer a long-cycle Baccalaureate, which can be applied to right after primary school. Academic performance is the main admission criterion, but each canton can set its own additional requirements. Graduates of such schools receive, among other things, the International Baccalaureate (IB) certificate, which allows them to enter most universities in the world.

Education in Switzerland is associated with prestige and elitism. Thanks to public and private investments, the country is a leading center for scientific research, in which students are involved from the first years of study at the university. A Swiss diploma is a seal of quality for an employer in any country in the world, and studying here is not always as expensive as many assume.

Advantages of education in Switzerland
  1. Tuition prices. It is generally believed that higher education in Switzerland is incredibly expensive. This is true when it comes to private universities. State and cantonal universities, however, offer an attractive cost starting from 1,645 USD per year, regardless of the student's citizenship. At the same time, these institutions are one of the most prestigious in the world, especially in the fields of engineering and natural sciences.
  2. Broad choice. Switzerland has 26 cantons — independent administrative regions, which have the right to create their own educational systems. The applicant can choose between the languages of instruction (English, German, French, or Italian) and the most suitable admission requirements.
  3. Research and innovation. Swiss universities not only offer quality educational programs, but they are also the strongest research centers in Europe. The country's universities are sponsored by large international companies, which often employ students from these universities. Thanks to this, students use the most modern research equipment and can usually find a dream internship.
  4. Openness to foreigners. About 25% of Switzerland's residents come from abroad. The teaching staff of universities may be half foreign. Finally, speakers of four languages ​​peacefully coexist in the country. A foreign student will definitely not feel like a stranger upon arrival.
Disadvantages of education in Switzerland
  1. High cost of living. Even if the student is attending an affordable public university, the costs of rent, food, and transportation can be quite steep. Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. Many try to earn extra money by working part-time, but due to the high study workload, it is not always possible to combine the two.
  2. Complex admission process. It is impossible to enter the majority of universities immediately after the 11th grade if that is what the school system of your country is limited to. First, you need to study for 2 years at a university in your home country, and then pass a few difficult entrance exams.
  3. Different types of universities. There are 3 types of universities in Switzerland: traditional universities, universities of applied sciences, and universities of teacher education. The criteria for admission to each institution may vary significantly. Also, the transition between different universities can be difficult, for example, it is rarely possible to enroll in a master's program at traditional universities after an applied bachelor's degree.

Cost and structure of study in Switzerland

Type of studyAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costLanguage requirements
Summer camp6+1-4 weeks1,645 USD/week2,742 USD/weekA1
Language courses12+1-12 weeks2,194 USD/week3,291 USD/weekA1
Secondary education6+6-13 yearsFree54,846 USD/yearB1
Foundation17+1-2 semesters1,865 USD/year4,388 USD/yearB1
Bachelor's18+3-4 years768 USD/year16,454 USD/yearTest DAF 4 / DELF / CELI B2 / IELTS 6.0
Master's20+2 years768 USD/year8,775 USD/yearTest DAF 4 / DELF / CELI C1 / IELTS 6.0
MBA20+1-1.5 years25000 СHF/year50000 СHF/yearIELTS 6.5
Doctoral20+3 years100 СHF/year2000 СHF/yearTest DAF 4 / DELF / CELIitem C1 / IELTS 6.5

Foundation programs in Switzerland

Some Swiss universities offer applicants to take pre-Bachelor and pre-Master training programs. Such year long courses are usually aimed at studying the language and/or complex mathematics or other professional disciplines, but do not guarantee further admission to the university. In private universities, a Foundation Year is sometimes a mandatory part of the curriculum for foreigners. If you show a high level of knowledge during the entrance exams, you can shorten the duration of your studies by skipping the preparatory year.

Perhaps the best preparation for a Swiss university would be passing one of the international high school programs:

  • Swiss National Program (Swiss Matura);
  • British program (GCSE, A-level);
  • French program (Diplome National du Brevet, French Baccalaureate);
  • German school curriculum (Abitur);
  • Italian program (Esame di Maturity);
  • American high school program (High School Diploma, Advanced placement);
  • International program (IGCSE, International Baccalaureate).

Some of them are taught in large cities around the world. Having one of the above certificates will greatly simplify admission and adaptation to a Swiss university.

Colleges in Switzerland

Colleges of secondary and higher vocational education in Switzerland (Berufsbildung) are practically inaccessible to foreigners. To enter there, you must have good reasons for moving, living and working in the country[1]. Colleges train specialists for blue-collar occupations most in demand in the labor market, as well as offer advanced training (Swiss Federal PET Diploma Examinations). First of all, such programs are designed for local residents in order to raise the level of education and reduce unemployment.

The title college in Switzerland is also used for prestigious private schools, where children from all over the world receive an elite secondary education. From the age of 16, you can enter the high school level program in order to receive the Swiss, British or American equivalent of the certificate (IB, A-level, and etc.). This will allow you to freely enroll in universities in Switzerland and almost any country in the world, but it will cost at least 43,877 USD per year.

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Bachelor’s in Switzerland

Bachelor's degree in Switzerland is the first cycle in the traditional Bologna system. After completing the program, the student earns 180 ECTS. Is it possible to study full-time (3 years) or combine studies with work or caring for a small child — part-time (4 years). The language of instruction depends on the canton in which the university is located: German, French or Italian. A relatively small number of courses are taught in English, if it is not a private university.

Typically, students have compulsory subjects in their specialisation (major), additional qualifications in another field of choice (minor) and free electives. The last year of studies is usually dedicated to writing a thesis: not only the theoretical component is important, but also the practical application of the research done.

Master's in Switzerland

Master's degree in Switzerland lasts for 1-2 years, depending on the specialty and allows you to earn 90-120 ECTS credits. At this cycle, the choice of English-language programs is much wider compared to the bachelor's cycle, but in most cases, knowledge of one of the state languages ​​is still required. The only exceptions are private universities and MBAs. The main condition for admission is a bachelor's degree in the same or related specialty.

Each university can set its own admission requirements when it comes to the previous education of the future master’s students. Traditional universities in most cases do not accept bachelor's graduates of the universities of applied sciences (UAS) into their master's programs, but some make exceptions for certain faculties. UAS, in turn, may require experience in your field. In universities of this type, studies are often combined with compulsory internships at companies.

Salaries in Switzerland increase in proportion to the level of education, for that reason, not only those who wish to get a PhD and build an academic career apply to master’s programs.

Doctoral studies in Switzerland

In Switzerland, only traditional universities (Université / Universität) are eligible to award PhD degrees, and there are only 12 such institutions in the country. For admission to doctoral studies, you must provide a master’s degree in a related specialty from an accredited university, Research Proposal, and a language certificate or other confirmation of language proficiency. The duration of study including the writing of a doctoral dissertation is at least 3 years, maximum 8 years. However, it is worth remembering that the period of study for foreigners in Switzerland cannot exceed 8 years in total, taking into account all levels of education.

Some universities offer PhD students to take a field of study from the proposed list, and some give complete freedom in choosing a topic. Many doctoral students combine dissertation writing with work in junior academic positions.

Academic career in Switzerland
Academic positions in Switzerland differ somewhat from the most common American equivalents. There are two career paths in the country, depending on which canton the educational institution is located in. Switzerland has the highest academic salaries in the world[2]. The most common career scheme is described below.
  • PhD student / Assistent / Maître-assistant. The topic of a student's doctoral dissertation in Switzerland, as a rule, is closely related to the field of research of the supervising professor, therefore, while writing the thesis, doctoral students often earn extra money as teaching assistants. The salary most often corresponds to the minimum in the country: 2,742-4,936 USD/month.
  • Postdoctoral Researcher / Fellow / Maître d'enseignement et de recherche. The next step in an academic career after completing a PhD is postdoctoral studies. During this period, the young scientist continues to work and develop their expertise in the chosen research area as well as begins to give lectures for undergraduate students. Salary: 6,801-8,775 USD/month.
  • Habilitation. At this stage, the academic must prove that he is worthy of the professorship. During this time, the scientist is engaged in independent research, teaching, writing a monograph, and administrative work. Upon completion of the habilitation, the position of Oberassistent may also be awarded. Salary: 8,995-10,969 USD/month.
  • Assistenzprofessor / Professeur assistant. This position gives researchers (usually under 35 years of age) the opportunity to pursue additional qualifications before they are promoted to a serious academic position. They are provided with the team and equipment for research. The work can be limited by a temporary contract (4-5 years) or an open-ended contract. In the latter case, after 6 years, the employee is promoted to Associate Professor (Adjunct Professor). Salary: 15,905-17,222 USD/month.
  • Associate Professor / Professor (FR: Professeur associé / Professeur ordinaire). Employees in these two positions in Switzerland have almost the same rights, apart from some administrative formalities. In both cases, it implies constant research and teaching activities. After 2-6 years of successful work, the adjunct professor candidat can be promoted to professor by his colleagues in the department. Salary: 13,163-18,099 USD/month for Associate Professor, 18,319-24,132 USD/month for Professor.
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Opportunity to work while studying

International students from any country are eligible to work a maximum of 15 hours per week. Additional limitation is applicable to non-EU/EFTA students: they can work only starting from the second semester, that is, 6 months after the beginning of study. Master’s students in some cantons are allowed to not wait for six months. During the holidays, you can work full-time (40 hours per week).

EU/EFTA nationals may need to apply for a work permit if their employment exceeds 90 days. Students from other countries must have both a Residence Permit and a work permit in any case. The employer will take care of the latter by submitting an application to the Office of Economics and Labor (Amt für Wirtschaft und Arbeit) of the respective canton.

Life in Switzerland is very expensive, so most students try to find a part-time job. Without higher education, it will be possible to get only an unskilled position (salesman, waiter, etc.), but this also guarantees a minimum wage of 2,194-3,291 USD, which can cover room rent and meals. Also, many universities offer work on campus: in a student cafe, library or a gym.

Opportunity to stay and immigration to Switzerland

After graduating from a Swiss university, citizens of non-EU countries can obtain a Category B work permit, which renews their Residence Permit once for 6 months in order to find work. To do this, you must provide a graduation diploma from a local university, as well as proof of housing and funds. During this period, the applicant can work no more than 15 hours per week.

It can be difficult for third country nationals to find work in Switzerland. As in many European countries, preference is given to local applicants and those from the EU. In addition, your specialty should be in high demand in the labor market at the moment.

In Switzerland, the unemployment rate among foreigners is 2 times higher than among locals — 7.5% versus 3.5%[3]. If you manage to overcome difficulties and find a job, you can get a residence permit, and after 12 years of permanent residence in the country, you can apply for citizenship.

Employment prospects and opportunities

Switzerland. The competition in Switzerland is very high. This is especially true for regulated specialties like medicine. When hiring a foreign candidate, the employer must first choose from among the EU citizens, so the odds are not in favour of job seekers from other countries.

Europe. Swiss education is considered one of the best in Europe in the fields of engineering, IT, management and hospitality. A Swiss diploma will impress many companies in the EU. Often, students receive job offers during their internships.

Academic career. In Swiss universities, most of the teaching staff are foreigners not only from Europe, but also from all over the world. For example, in ETH their share is 75%[4]. For employment it is important to be fluent in one of the state languages. A candidate over 35 will most likely be rejected, since universities prefer to independently raise successful academics from young scientists.

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