Find out the best universities in Switzerland for students wanting to earn a degree abroad or study in Switzerland short-term. ☆ Small but mighty, there are several reasons why you should study in Switzerland as an international student. It doesn’t have tropical beaches, but Switzerland has historic towns and beautiful lakes. You won’t trek through jungles, but you can ski through the Alps. The Swiss are known for eating the most chocolate in the world, they also love their cheese and invented some important things, like velcro, the Swiss Army Knife, and cellophane. All that innovation came from Swiss universities, which are some of the best. Bordered by Austria, France, Germany, and Italy, Switzerland is the perfect place to launch the rest of your European adventuring too.
There are a ton of options for international students. Study abroad programs and universities welcoming international students abound as more and more people realize the benefits of international experience. From international politics to hospitality, banking to the culinary arts, students can find a wide range of programs to suit their interests at Swiss universities. While the cost of living and language requirements could create a few obstacles, motivation and preparation will carry you a long way. Ready to revolutionize the international business industry while eating Swiss chocolate in the Alps? Read on for more about universities in Switzerland for international students, and spend your weeks getting a world-class education and your weekend's skiing and eating fondue by Lake Geneva.
Why study in Switzerland?
Switzerland was formally recognized as an independent country in the 17th century, but it’s cantons came together to form a confederation during medieval times. That’s centuries of history waiting to be explored in the country’s mountains, valleys, and cities. While formally neutral since the 1800s when it comes to the world’s conflicts, Switzerland has played an important role in world affairs (and we’re not just talking about Swiss cheese or Lindt chocolate). Switzerland’s global cities are home to world-class universities, the United Nations, and many other important organizations, giving international students ample opportunity to learn both in and out of the classroom.
With so many different options, you’re likely to find a program for just about any type of study abroad experience at Swiss universities. Can’t wait for the next winter Olympics? Spend winter in Switzerland as an international student. Dream of changing the world through international diplomacy? Geneva is the Capital of Peace and Freedom. Having trouble deciding between studying Italian and German? In Switzerland, you can speak both, and you can add in French and Romansch too! A fun fact that will put you at ease about possible language barriers: about a quarter of the population come from outside Switzerland. Combine that with four official languages and the growing popularity of English, and you’ll find that multiculturalism is an important part of everyday life, along with bilingualism.
Western European destinations, like Switzerland, are an excellent choice for first-time travelers. The culture is different enough to get you out of your comfort zone, trying and learning new things every day. You’re also likely to find many similarities to what you’re used to at home, making settling in a lot easier. If you’re not sure you can fit a whole semester abroad into your academic plans, or maybe you’re just not quite ready for that kind of time commitment; summer and winter break programs might be the perfect fit. If you find yourself falling in love with this small but mighty nation, come back for an internship after graduation, or a master’s degree!
7 top Swiss universities for international students
1. International University in Geneva
Ranked as one of the top ten business schools in the country, the International University in Geneva is one of the best universities in Switzerland for international students. The school’s emphasis on theoretical and practical study means you’ll be more than ready for a career in international business. Recognized as an international center for politics, business, and culture, Geneva is the perfect backdrop for your studies and provides excellent opportunities to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom in the real world.
Pros: Location! Geneva is one of the best places to be for international business students. It’s centrally located in Europe (making travel to other cities easier), and it’s a hub for business and politics. IUG has developed many relationships in Switzerland and abroad that serve their students during and after their academic experiences.
Unlike other schools in Switzerland, IUG courses are taught in English!
Cons: The cost of living in Switzerland is not cheap. While tuition isn’t as high as you’ll find at home, when planning for your time in Geneva it’s important to think about your day-to-day costs and start saving.
Recommended full-degree programs: Bachelor and master’s degree programs are taught in English. The Bachelor and Master’s of Business Administration are both ideal for those interested in a career in international business.
Recommended short-term study abroad programs: There are about five schools in the US that partner with IUG. Students from these schools can spend a semester in Geneva and apply for the credits at their home university.
2. Business and Hotel Management School of Switzerland
This hospitality school in Lucerne offers programs in culinary arts, hospitality management, and global business management. With students from 65 countries and an emphasis on real-world work experience, BHMS places a great deal of importance on the success of its students in the international hospitality industry.
Pros: Every year students are placed in a training position in the industry with one of BHMS’ partners around the world. Students won’t spend all their time in the classroom here, they’ll put their learning to the test and gain valuable experience, so they’ll be ready for the job market when they graduate.
And courses are taught in English!
Cons: While the cost of living is still in the cons section and you cannot obtain a job on a student visa, BHMS’ industry training program provides students with a paid position. So you’ll make a little extra money while also gaining valuable experience.
Recommended full-degree programs: Students of the three year BA in Hotel and Hospitality Management and the MS in International Hospitality Business Management programs leave school with the academic and professional credentials to be extremely competitive in the international job market.
Recommended short-term study abroad programs: Spend two weeks in Lucerne with BHMS’ familiarization program. You’ll be introduced to the industry, learn about the many career paths and opportunities, and gain some experience in the hospitality, tourism, and travel industry. By the end of two weeks maybe you’ll be signing up for a full degree program!
3. University of Geneva
Established in 1559, the University of Geneva is the second largest Swiss university. The university is internationally recognized for both its research and education, and its students benefit greatly from the wealth of international organizations that call Geneva home. The city’s international importance and multiculturalism are felt on campus too. About one-third of students at the University of Geneva are foreigners.
Pros: We’re looking at the language as a pro here instead of a con. Geneva is the center of francophone Switzerland, and therefore the vast majority of classes are taught in French. However, the university offers French support courses during your time there. The university’s international students' website also has a list of regular and short-term courses that are offered in English. At the University of Geneva, you can study at a world-class institution and improve your French at the same time!
Cons: Geneva is not known to be an especially affordable city. Even by western standards, the cost of living in Geneva is a bit higher than you may be used to. This is a great opportunity to check out GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory!
Recommended full-degree programs: Students coming to Geneva are probably thinking about political science and diplomacy. The School of Social Sciences offers a bachelor program, English and French master’s programs, and a doctoral program. Studying international relations in the city that is also home to the United Nations and many NGOs sounds like an ideal setting!
Recommended short-term study abroad programs: Geneva Summer Schools offer students and scholars from around the world the opportunity to come together to discuss and learn from one another about topics of global significance.
4. University of Bern
Located in the capital of Switzerland, the University of Bern benefits from being in an important cultural and political center. The university places a lot of importance on the issues of gender equality and sustainability and is always looking to improve and innovate.
Pros: Bern may be the capital of Switzerland and the country’s fourth most populous city, but the city is known for its more relaxed pace. With its UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town and many museums, you may actually find it difficult to focus in class because of all of the amazing “informal learning” you’re doing outside the classroom.
Cons: Like many Swiss universities there is a language requirement for admission. Students wishing to study at the University of Bern are required to pass a German proficiency exam.
Recommended full-degree programs: The University of Bern offers bachelor, master, and doctoral degree programs in a wide variety of subjects, as well as programs in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine.
Recommended short-term study abroad programs: Like many universities in Switzerland for international students, the University of Bern participates in exchange agreements with several other universities. They also participate in the ISEP-International Student Exchange Program, as well as a visiting student program.
5. University of Basel
Basel is located in the north of Switzerland by the French and German borders, making it a great spot if you’re itching to explore more of Europe during your time in Switzerland as an international student. The University of Basel is Switzerland’s oldest, founded in 1460. With students coming from over one hundred countries, the university definitely has an international presence and values multiculturalism.
Pros: The University of Basel is regularly ranked as one of the top one hundred universities in the world. While its program offerings are diverse, the school places a high level of importance on its relationships with regional and international partners as it continues to innovate and contribute to a number of important current issues.
Cons: While courses are taught in German and English here, the primary language of instruction is German. Therefore, you must be able to prove a certain level of proficiency for admission. However, the university does have a language center dedicated to helping students to continuously improve their German skills.
Recommended full-degree programs: The University of Basel offers bachelor and master’s degree programs in a wide variety of subjects from mathematics to history. There are 18 master’s degree programs in English in both hard sciences and the humanities.
Recommended short-term study abroad programs: The MAUI-Utrecht Network Exchange Program allows students from participating universities from the Utrecht Network and the Mid-American Universities International group (MAUI) to spend a semester or two at another school within the network.
6. University of Lausanne
One-fifth of the University of Lausanne’s student body are international students, meaning you’ll be in good company and will probably end your time in Switzerland with friends from around the world. Located on Lake Geneva, Lausanne is known for its medieval center, arts scene, and as the home of the International Olympic Committee.
Pros: While most courses are taught in French, several masters and doctoral courses are taught in English. The University of Lausanne also offers several ways to improve your French while you’re there. The School of French as a Foreign Language has courses, for advanced French speakers, aimed at improving French language, literature, and cultural knowledge. Vacation courses (or Cours de Vacances) are held during summer and winter vacations for students at any level whose first language is not French. Lastly, the Programme Tandem helps students organize conversation partners to practice French, as well as other languages.
Cons: Despite all of these tools aimed at helping you improve your French, you still need to prove a level of French proficiency to be admitted to the university.
Recommended full-degree programs: Several master’s level programs in Biology and Business and Economics are taught in English.
Recommended short-term study abroad programs: You can study French in Lausanne for as little as two weeks.
7. Swiss School of Business and Management
SSBM is a global, innovative and unique school with students from all around the world. The programs were designed with over 30 industry partners and guarantee Swiss Quality Education and excellence. The Swiss School of Business and Management sits right in the heart of the vibrant city of Geneva, Switzerland. Situated along the banks of Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps, Geneva is known to be one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Geneva is a global city, a financial center, and a worldwide center for diplomacy, due to the presence of numerous international organizations, including the headquarters of many companies and international agencies. SSBM is principally located in Geneva, Switzerland and registered in the canton of Geneva under the registration number CHE-131.073.981.
Through world-class learning management systems similar to the ones used by MIT and Harvard, and well-renowned faculty, SSBM has succeeded in bringing out a large number of distinguished leaders and educators from its student's list. In 2015, SSBM had more than 4500 students from more than 50 countries - the largest number studying for MBA and DBA.
Recommended short-term study abroad programs: The University of has agreements with several universities all over the world that allow students from partner universities to spend up to two semesters in Zurich. In many cases, your credits can transfer home with you.