Need expat info for Switzerland?
Education in Switzerland
At a Glance:
- Schooling in Switzerland becomes mandatory when children turn six years old.
- In public school, classes are taught in one of the official languages of the canton.
- Swiss high schools are separated into lower and upper secondary school; schooling is not mandatory after lower secondary school.
- Many international schools in Switzerland offer alternative teaching styles and the International Baccalaureate diploma.
With exceptional private and public institutions, Switzerland has one of the leading education systems in Europe. The curriculum for primary and secondary schools in Switzerland is managed by each canton, although the Swiss government still establishes the foundations for the education system.
Therefore schools have a lot of freedom with the content of their curriculum, as long as it also covers the mandatory national standards. This allows both Swiss and foreign students to receive a top-notch education at any age. If you would like to find out more about your canton’s education system, there is a full contact list available on the website of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education.
Preschool and Primary School — The First Step to Education
Preschool in Switzerland is not mandatory; however, nearly all Swiss children attend preprimary school for at least one year. If you are interested in sending your child to preschool, contact your local canton for further enrollment assistance.
All children in Switzerland must be enrolled in a school by the time they turn six years old. Primary school usually lasts until children are eleven or twelve years old, but the exact duration depends on the canton.
Since Switzerland has four official languages, classes will be taught in the language of the region — French, German, Italian, or Romansh. In addition to their regional language, the children will also learn another one of Switzerland’s national languages along with their core curriculum.
Secondary Education — Preparing for Adulthood
After children have completed their primary school education, they continue on to secondary school. At the end of their high school education, students need to take the Matura examination. This examination is required to attend a university. Students that are following a vocation-oriented path will receive a vocational diploma at the end of their studies.
Swiss high schools are further separated into lower and upper secondary school. Children who attend lower secondary school study a wide range of topics. These generally include their regional language, another official language of Switzerland, a foreign language (usually English), art, music, mathematics, geography, history, science, economics, and sports.
Towards the end of lower secondary school, children may choose if they want to continue the academic track for college preparation, or if they would rather pick up a vocation. Upon completion of lower secondary school, education is therefore no longer mandatory.
Children who decide to attend upper secondary school will need to choose the direction of their studies. This means that they will have the choice to study math and science, classical languages, modern languages, music and art, sports, or economics. Once students receive their Matura diploma, they are eligible to apply to Swiss universities.
Learning a Trade — College Isn’t for Everyone
If students wish to start vocational training after lower secondary school, they need to pass an entry exam. After the students have completed vocational school — or Berufslehre — they often choose to continue their vocational studies. They may continue learning their trade at a technical school — Fachhochschule — or a vocational college — Höhere Fachschule. You can find more information about vocational training in our article on Higher Education in Switzerland.
International Schools in Switzerland
If your child does not speak the regional language, they will probably need to attend an international school. There are 44 international schools in Switzerland recognized by the Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS). In addition to the SGIS member schools, there are also a lot of prestigious international schools that are unaffiliated with a specific organization.
Most of these have a combined primary and secondary education, with the majority of these schools offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma. Additionally, some of these international schools offer different teaching styles — such as Montessori or Kumon — as well as a Swiss, German, French, Japanese, or American curriculum.
Should You Choose an International School?
International schools are a great choice for children who have already started school in their home country before moving to Switzerland. At international schools, students may have the chance to either continue learning the same curriculum as back in their home country, or study an international curriculum.
Studying an international curriculum has a lot of benefits; it is great for universities to see that students are well adapted to a multicultural learning environment. In addition, an international curriculum will also be beneficial if your family decides to move again in the future; this way, students are able have a steady learning structure until they graduate.
If your child does not speak the official language in your canton, then an international school would be a better choice compared with the Swiss public schools. Lessons in international schools in Switzerland are usually taught in English, and/or a variety of other languages: French, German, Italian, Japanese, etc. This linguistic flexibility provides children with the opportunity to learn in a familiar setting.
Prices vary for international schools in Switzerland, but they are usually very expensive. On average, the yearly price is equivalent to US college tuition — with fees exceeding 15,000 CHF and even amounting to 40,000 CHF — for some schools. International schools in Switzerland are definitely not for everyone! However, this is a price some families may need to pay for their children to receive education tailored to their needs.
Applying to International School in Switzerland
If you already know that you would like your children to attend an international school, you should apply directly to the school itself. Most of the international schools have long waiting lists; in addition, the admission process varies between schools. Hence, applying early to these schools is your best bet to ensure that your child will have a place.
If you cannot secure a place for your child in your preferred school at first, you may be able to later on throughout the school year. The student population in international schools varies throughout the year, due to international families coming to and leaving Switzerland.
Selected International Schools in Switzerland:
- British School of Bern
- SIS Basel
- International School of Basel
- BSG British School of Geneva
- Geneva English School
- Swedish School of Geneva
- International School of Lausanne
- International School of Neuchâtel
- ISR International School Rheintal
- International School of Schaffhausen
- Tandem International Multilingual School
- Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz
- Zurich International School
- Japanese School Zurich
- Inter-Community School Zurich
If you would like to look at some more options for international schooling, check out the SGIS member school list.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.