Why Switzerland?

  • A land that embraces diversity, with nearly a quarter of the population composed of immigrants
  • Has four official languages
  • Highly qualified and skilled labor force
  • Very decentralized and diverse education system – international students apply at institutional level
  • Unique VET (higher vocational education and training) model

Location and Geography

Switzerland (officially “the Swiss Confederation”) is a small landlocked nation state in central Europe. Its total area is 41,290 square kilometres. Bordering Switzerland are France to the west, Germany to the north, Austria and Lichtenstein to the east, and Italy to the south. Switzerland is a diverse land of mountains, lakes, and rich fertile plain. The capital city is Bern.


The cool, temperate climate in Switzerland is affected by its landlocked position and by the variations in altitude. It is generally cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters and cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers with occasional showers. In summer on the plain, temperatures can reach 30ºC. In winter, the temperature rarely drops below 5ºC.

Education System

The Swiss constitution sets the framework for Swiss education – including that primary school is mandatory and free when offered in public schools. Education is very diverse in Switzerland: in the school sector (primary and secondary) there are essentially 26 different public education systems.

In terms of higher education, there are 10 cantonal autonomous universities and two federal institutes of technology. Higher vocational education and training (VET) is one of the major specialist education system followed in Switzerland. It provides tertiary-level courses (up to diploma level) and focuses on skills for professional and management positions. Basic VET is provided at secondary school level. The Swiss Education Server website (www.educa.ch) notes that the Swiss VET system “serves the purpose of senior staff training and specialisation of individuals who have completed a three- to four- year basic vocational education and training, or who have achieved an equivalent qualification.”

In terms of universities, there are two categories: (1) traditional universities (cantonal universities and Federal Institutes of Technology and (2) universities of applied sciences, including universities of art and music as well as universities of teacher education.

International students should check carefully into the various universities in terms of language preference, because different languages of instruction occur across the university spectrum. While English is widely spoken throughout Switzerland, the majority of undergraduate programmes are taught in German, French, or Italian. The student will have to show command of the language of instruction for admission.

Specific Information for International Students

To enter a university, students must meet the qualification entry requirements. Otherwise they may be required to take an entrance examination prior to acceptance. As the universities are independent, applications are made directly to the university or institute of technology.

Switzerland Visa Application

International students must contact the Swiss embassy or consulate in their own country to first check if they require a student visa, and apply for a visa prior to entering Switzerland. Depending on the canton of study, the visa process can take two to three months; therefore, it is important for international students to consult their chosen educational institution in Switzerland as well. Often, universities provide support for international students with visa and study permit registration.

Anyone who lives in Switzerland for three months, including international students, must have basic health insurance coverage. Students who have international mutual coverage may be exempt from taking out the compulsory Swiss health insurance.

Employment Options

International students may work while studying; however, there is usually a maximum of 15–20 hours a week allowed. It is to be noted that Course duration will not be extended on the basis of gainful employment commitments.

Related Links for more information:

www.ch.ch The Swiss government portal
www.swissworld.org Your Gateway to Switzerland: published by the Department of Foreign Affairs
www.admin.ch The Federal Authorities: links to all federal government departments
www.educa.ch The Swiss Education Server: information on the education system at all levels
www.bbt.admin.ch Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology (OPET)
www.swissuniversity.ch Information on the higher education courses available in Switzerland