How to get into the ETH Zurich
For Undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MS) degrees
ETH Zurich, or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is a science, technology, mathematics, and engineering university founded by the Swiss government in 1854. The institution is an academic reflection of the Swiss values of freedom and individual responsibility, open-mindedness, and entrepreneurial spirit.
As of 2018, ETH Zurich had over 21,000 students, including 9,500 in bachelor’s programs, 6,600 in master’s degree programs, 4,200 in doctoral programs, and 635 in MBA/MAS programs. There were over 500 full-time professors among 9,500 personnel.
As of November 2019, 21 Nobel laureates have been affiliated to ETH Zurich, including Albert Einstein (student and professor). The institution was sixth in the QS World University Rankings 2020 and joint 13th with the University of California, Berkeley, in THE World University Rankings 2020.
At ETH Zurich, the main medium of instruction for bachelor’s degree programs is German. But although bachelor’s programs begin in German, some course may be taught in English in the second and third years.
Bachelor’s programs include architecture and civil engineering (architecture, civil engineering, environmental engineering, and geospatial engineering), engineering sciences (mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and information technology, computer science, and materials science), natural sciences and mathematics (mathematics, physics, computational science and engineering, chemistry / chemical and bioengineering, interdisciplinary sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, and biology), and system-oriented natural sciences (agricultural sciences, health sciences and technology, food science, earth sciences, human medicine, and environmental sciences).
Bachelor’s degree programs, which usually start in autumn, take three years with 180 credits; the maximum time allowed is five years.
The first year of study (60 credits) consists of general basic courses, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science, and course-specific subjects.
The second and third years consist of course-specific subjects, electives, project work, “Science in perspectives” (including courses in humanities and social and political sciences), and possibly, bachelor’s thesis.
ETH Zurich helps prospective students choose their programs on the basis of their interests, aptitude, and skills, with student advisors clarifying admission requirements and career options of various programs.
What ETH looks for
Motivation and a clear educational goal are prerequisites. So too a sound overall education; general interest in science and technology, aptitude for mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology; willingness to accept new ideas; team spirit; a focus on the overall picture; ability to think critically and creatively; and persistence.
A good knowledge of German and English is recommended. An increasing number of higher courses in bachelor’s programs and most of the master’s programs are taught in English.
Admission to bachelor’s programs requires the Swiss Matura or a foreign equivalent (secondary school exit exam). If you hold foreign academic credentials, you need to submit a certificate of competence in German.
How to apply
Applications are open to all, but ETH Zurich may require you to pass an entrance examination to test whether you have the knowledge and skills to complete your program.
Three kinds of admissions are in force: admission without entrance exam; admission on a “reduced entrance exam”; and admission on a comprehensive entrance exam.
For Indian students for admissions to Swiss universities (without a Swiss matriculation certificate), generally, a higher secondary school-leaving certificate (including ISC, or Indian School Certificate), with study of general education subjects for the last three years (first language, second language, mathematics, biology, physics, or chemistry, geography, economics, history/law, and an elective) and language skills are required.
Passing the comprehensive entrance examination may be required. The alternative is submission of upper secondary school-leaving certificate and certificate of university admission in the desired academic subject provided by an Indian university, plus a pass in the reduced entrance exam.
ETH Zurich master’s programs, which involve research, impart specialist knowledge and equip the student to take up a profession or go for a doctorate.
At least one consecutive master’s program follows each bachelor’s program, which graduates can join without additional requirements. Limited places are available in specialized master’s programs, which are meant for graduates with outstanding academic records.
Master’s programs that follow bachelor’s degrees include architecture and civil engineering (environmental engineering, geomatics, etc.), engineering sciences (computer science, materials science, etc.), natural sciences and mathematics (biology, physics, etc.), system-oriented natural sciences (agricultural sciences, food science, etc.), and management, humanities, and social sciences (management, technology, and economics).
Specialized master’s degree programs are also offered under each of these main disciplines.
Master’s degree programs involve 90 to 120 credits in three or four semesters or a maximum of six to eight semesters. The first two or three semesters are for lectures and practicals and the third and fourth for preparing the master’s thesis. There may be internship of several months outside ETH Zurich.
The academic year is divided into two 14-week semesters from mid-September and mid-February. Students are assessed through semester examinations and by study papers they prepare and the presentations they give. A grading system gives 6 for the highest achievement with a 4 required for a pass.
Admission to master’s programs requires a bachelor’s degree from ETH Zurich in the same discipline or an equivalent bachelor’s degree obtained in Switzerland or abroad.
Admission may also involve an application procedure and attendance of additional bachelor’s degree course units. Admission to specialized master’s degree programs is subject to special conditions.
The requirement profile varies for each program. Generally, applicants require an excellent academic record from the program they attended previously. They should have studied the qualifying disciplines, and be knowledgeable in these areas to the same competency acquired by ETH bachelor’s students.
As many master’s programs are taught in English and some in German, proficiency in both may be required. The list of proficiency certificates accepted is given on the ETH website (link).
How to apply
Students from universities other than ETH Zurich must apply to the admissions office. The printout of the online application form and supporting documents should reach ETH before the deadline.
An example of deadlines: For the 2020 autumn semester entry, the online application was open from November 1 to December 15, 2019; the deadline for receipt documents by post was December 18, 2019; the admission decision date March 15, 2020; the registration confirmation date for visa May 2020; and commence of lectures September 2020.
The application fee is CHF 150 (about $155 as on January 6, 2020) for applicants with foreign bachelor’s degrees. The “reduced entrance exam” fee is CHF 550 and the comprehensive entrance exam fee CHF 800. The entrance exam fee for doctoral students is CHF 120.
Among documents, a printout of the online application, a CV, a copy of your matriculation certificate, official transcripts from universities attended, certified copies of academic degrees, enrolment certificate from university if your program is still going on, language certificate, and a copy of your passport. Additionally, individual master’s programs may require specific documents.
Admission decisions are based on the requirement profile of the program applied for. Applicants may be admitted without additional requirement and with additional requirements to acquire credits from the corresponding ETH bachelor’s course over one or two semesters.
Cost of attendance
The tuition fee for bachelor/master programs for each semester is CHF 730 besides a “semester fee” of CHF 69 per semester. The global fee for doctoral studies is CHF 1,500 per semester.
Apart from fees, a student may need a monthly budget of CHF 1,765, including CHF 125 for books and “excursions” and individual living costs of about CHF 1,640 (rent CHF 802, meals CHF 500, public transport CHF 48, health insurance CHF 110, and holidays and clothes CHF 160, and miscellaneous costs).
The total monthly cost of attendance may work out to over CHF 2,500.
Scholarship / financial aid / work-study
ETH Zurich scholarships to supplement other sources of funding are available for students who cannot afford the costs, but they need to prove progress in their studies. The university supports outstanding master’s students with two “Excellence” scholarships.
The Swiss government through the Federation Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students awards scholarships for postgraduate students from other countries.
They include full-time postdoctoral scholarships for 12 months, amounting to CHF 3,500 a month, a flight ticket to home country, transport pass, and one-time housing allowance of CHF 300.
The Solidary Fund for Foreign Students in Zurich provides up to CHF 750 a month for international students for up to ten semesters.
Foundations that provide grants to students studying in Switzerland exist in that and other countries. Bachelor’s students who have passed their first-year exams and postgraduate students who have a degree from ETH can apply for an interest-free loan of up to CHF 12,000. First-semester students can apply for short-term loans of up to CHF 2,000.
During the semester, non-EU students who have lived in Switzerland for more than six months may work for 15 hours a week. In the first six months, master’s students can work but only in an ETH department.
Full-time employment is allowed during semester vacations, but your employer will have to apply for a work permit.
- Bring clarity to your educational goals
- Gain knowledge of German, brush up your English
- Match your interests and aptitude with programs you’re eligible for
- Develop an aptitude for science and technology
- Ensure that you have a great higher secondary school record
- Prepare well for filling in the application
- Don’t wait for deadlines to surprise you
- Swiss education is expensive; research the funding options