Studying Computer Science in Switzerland Where to study

by George Popescu

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Computer science is one of the most demanded and most demanding job market areas in Switzerland at the moment. There are numerous opportunities for CS graduates here: from launching a start-up and receiving grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation to joining the top employees working at the headquarters of Top 100 companies. But before arriving there the Swiss educational system provides students with a great background that align to the demands of the international job market at the highest standards.

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However, as the demand for IT is continuously growing the students graduating from the two technical schools in Switzerland, EPFL in Lausanne and ETHZ in Zurich, represent only half of the necessary amount to satisfy the need in this sector. This offers great working chances for employees coming from abroad, especially from neighbouring countries: France, Germany and Italy.

The Bachelor cycle

Computer science begins at the University level with 3 years of Bachelor. This period is very intensive demands for a lot of project and individual work. Students work on assignments based on settled deadlines and take very difficult exams for which they have a lot of information to gather and understand. Best students acquire key analytic skills that allow them to filter the relevant information and work under pressure.

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The Master cycle

Usually, it takes 2-years and students are free to choose the courses they want to attend, some related to other fields such as economics and management, for example. As part of this formation, students often get credits for their intense work on semester projects under direct supervision of a lab coordinator. Some choose to go on an exchange and spend one semester at a foreign university. Others do a paid traineeship in a lab or opt for an internship in the industry. Salaries are very good even for interns as companies fight among themselves to recruit the best candidates. For students choosing a special programme, the faculty proposes them a series of courses that allow them to gain more in-depth knowledge from specialised courses. Often, professors and lecturers are guests from other European or American universities.

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The PhD cycle
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Starting with the PhD level, students responsibilities grow more and more. Taking the example of EPFL, during their first year PhD candidates are required to take courses worth at least 30 ECTS points (12 ECTS can come from semester projects), pass a fundamental exam (worth 7 ECTS) with at a score of at least 5.0 (out of 6.0), submit a research proposal and be evaluated at an oral presentation on the work they plan to do for the upcoming 3 years of their PhD.Some students are affiliated on a lab from the beginning of their study (the lucky ones) while others usually work on semester projects in their pursuit to convince professors to hire them in their lab. At the end of the first year, PhD candidates must take their candidacy exam for which they have to submit an 8-page research paper and have a one hour presentation in front of a jury formed by professors of the university who usually work in related research fields of interest. If they pass this final step, they are enrolled as PhD students and start working on the PhD thesis. The expectations now focus on the quality of the publications and performance of international conferences. In the same time, PhD students are expected to allocate 20% of their time to teaching-related activities in their position of assistants. At the end of each year, they are also required to submit a progress review in the annual report which is evaluated by the university administration.

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While most CS graduates go for the challenging jobs in the industry, there are numerous other PhDs who choose to continue with an academic career and go for a Post-Doc in Switzerland or in the U.S.

Studying computer science in Switzerland is definitely worth the time and financial investment. The two technical schools offer some of the best education conditions in the world. As a consequence, CS graduates from EPFL and ETHZ are highly demanded and appreciated on the job market. All of the above suggests a great life opportunity and personal investment for the CS field of study and area of interest for the next generation incoming students.

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