Applying to study abroad can be daunting, but the best way to guarantee a successful application is to get organised. These five steps will guide you through the entire process.
1. Decide what you want to study
Switzerland has a huge range of degrees to choose from so, whatever you want to study, the chances of finding a suitable course are high.
Switzerland's particular strengths might have an impact on your choice of subject; it's gained a particularly strong reputation for making advances in technology, business and finance. Zurich and Geneva have been ranked as the top financial centres in continental Europe and are the residence of some of the world's sharpest business minds, mainly in the fields of hospitality, banking and pharmaceuticals.
Switzerland is also the ideal destination if you want to study language or linguistics. It has four official languages - German, French, Italian and Romansh - and is bordered by Italy, France, Germany and Austria, making it the perfect base if you want to become a multilinguist.
2. Decide what kind of Swiss university you want to go to
Once you know what you want to study, it's time to choose which type of university you want to apply to. In Switzerland, there are four main types of universities:
Doctoral / research universities (frequently referred to as just 'universities') are traditional academic universities that are strongly research-orientated and offer the widest range of subjects. They teach both theoretical knowledge and methodological expertise. Example subjects include Theology, Law and Biology.
Universities of Applied Science and Arts concentrate on the application of scientific and artistic knowledge and primarily teach professional practice. Example subjects include Architecture, Food Science and Theatre.
Universities of Teacher Education offer practice-orientated training for students who want to become teachers. Example subjects include pre-primary, primary and secondary education.
Private Universities and Hotel Schools are not financially supported by the Swiss government and sometimes specialise in particular subject areas such as Business, Finance or Hotel Management. Popular private universities include Webster University, Swiss UMEF University (SU) and Franklin universities. Popular hotel schools include Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne (EHL) and Glion Institute of Higher Education.
Tip: If you’re considering going to a private university, it’s important to research the institution thoroughly: find out what accreditation you will gain upon completion of the course and whether it’s internationally recognised; look at what other graduates have gone on to do and whether many have been able to secure a post-graduate offers at other universities; finally, check the average age of students there, as some private institutions are popular destinations for mature students and therefore might provide a different education experience to what you’re hoping for.
3. Check you meet the entry requirements
As soon as you know what you want to study and what kind of institution you want to apply to, check you meet all the entry requirements. Head over to our 'Preparing to apply' article to get started.
In Switzerland, there isn't an organisation that operates the entire application process - you need to apply to each institution individually. For most institutions, it's a three-step process:
- Complete the online application from the website of the university. Indicate your chosen faculty and degree programme on the application form. You will then receive written confirmation of your application, an application fee invoice, and a list of supporting documents to be submitted.
- Pay the application fee
- Upload the supporting documents before the deadline. As soon as your documents have been checked and upon receipt of payment of the application fee, you'll be sent formal confirmation of your matriculation.
Typical documents required include:
- A signed printout of your application form
- Passport photos
- Copy of identity document
- Proof of qualifications (such as GCSE, AS and A-Level certificates if you're a UK applicant)
- Language proficiency certificates (German/French/English)
- Motivation letter (this applies more often to private universities)
- Evidence of payment of the application fee
A Level Certificates
If you're currently at a UK secondary school or college taking your A Levels, you won't be notified of your results until mid-August, long after many deadlines for applications to universities in Europe. Many school leaving examination results in European countries are awarded earlier (May/June), so you may find that the lateness of the publication of results in the UK is problematic, as most Swiss institutions require official certificates from the examination board in question. To overcome this, you could try:
- Asking your school to issue a certificate on headed paper that is stamped and signed and confirms the A Level results you have been awarded with the statement that 'these results are valid for application for entry to the UK university system'
- Contacting the A Level board you will be taking your examinations with and request a quick sending of the final certificate to your home address.
- Check with the university you are applying to whether they will accept the preliminary results slip as evidence of your final A Level grades (but keep in mind that most institutions, particularly public universities, will not).
The gap year benefit
If you take a year off after school, you will have all the necessary A Level certificates and results in time for your application. You will also have had time to visit the university before you set off to study, arrange your accommodation and brush up on your language skills. Indeed, you will have a better chance of securing your first choice of university as you will be ahead of most Swiss applicants.
5. Final steps
a. If you need a student visa, apply for one as soon as possible as it usually takes around a month to get a response from the embassy/consulate (see our 'Preparing to Apply' article for more information) .
b. Arrange a health insurance policy (see our 'Preparing to Apply' article for more information).
c. Plan out your finances.
d. Book your accommodation. Most higher education institutions offer on-campus accommodations but due to high competition these tend to get booked up very quickly, so you may need to consider private accommodation. Contact the housing office of your academic institution for help finding lodging.
e. After arrival, obtain your residence within 14 days (see our 'Preparing to Apply' article for more information).