Education System in Switzerland Is Consisted of Compulsory, Secondary, and Tertiary Level

Switzerland has one of the best education systems in the world. The country does everything to ensure quality education. There are a total of 26 cantons in Switzerland, and there may be exceptions in some cases in education systems among them. The Swiss education system is divided into three stages. The three-level of education in Switzerland are mentioned below—

A graduate at her graduation ceremony at the University of Zurich, Switzerland
A graduate at her graduation ceremony at the University of Zurich, Switzerland
  1. Compulsory education
    • Primary education
    • Lower secondary education
  2. Upper secondary education
  3. Tertiary education

Compulsory Education in Switzerland

The Swiss education system is divided into three stages.
The Swiss education system is divided into three stages.

When you think of ‘compulsory education’ in a country, you might think that it is basic education, also known as primary or elementary education. But you will be surprised that compulsory education in Switzerland does not consist of only primary education or elementary education but also more than primary education.

Compulsory education in Switzerland has two parts that take a total of 11 years for every student. Taking compulsory education in Switzerland in public schools or institutions is totally free of cost. Students do not have to pay for their compulsory education.

Students at The American School in Switzerland
Students at The American School in Switzerland

The two parts of the Swiss compulsory education consist of:

  1. 8-year primary education, and
  2. 3-year lower secondary education

There are 26 cantons in Switzerland that are in charge of compulsory education, and there may be some differences or exceptions among the cantons in implementing compulsory education.

Kindergarten in Switzerland

Kindergarten is a part of primary education or it makes a child competent for taking primary education whatever you say. Like other countries, Switzerland also has a 2 to 6 years kindergarten system but admitting at a kindergarten for a child is not compulsory; compulsory is to take part in a compulsory education program at any school. If a child completes 2 years in kindergarten, then he or she needs 6 more years in primary school and then 3 years in a lower secondary school.

Switzerland has one of the best kindergarten systems in the world.

Primary Education in Switzerland

In most countries, primary education is run for 5 years; but in Switzerland, primary education is an 8-year long program.

Public Primary Schools

Municipalities in Switzerland run and organize and monitor daily activities in public primary schools. Depending on cantons or where the schools are located in Switzerland, the language of instruction is French, German, Italian, or Romansh. Students are required to take classes in a second national language as well as English. Primary education in public schools is free of cost.

Private Primary School

Even at the primary level, Switzerland has a plethora of private and public schools. These schools frequently offer education from kindergarten to high school and are thus a good option for ex-pat parents looking for a seamless education for their children.

Private primary schools in Switzerland are classified into three types:

  1. International schools
  2. Religious schools
  3. Montessori schools

International Primary Schools in Switzerland

International schools are popular among ex-pats in Switzerland because they frequently provide education from kindergarten to high school. As a result, they are an excellent choice for ex-pat students who will be living in Switzerland for an extended period of time or who may need to transfer between international schools in different countries. Typically, these schools adhere to a specific country’s educational philosophy and curricula. For example, the international schools in Switzerland may follow the educational systems of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, or Japan. As a result, they can provide ex-pat students with a solid foundation in their home country’s education, making it easier for them to return there later. Furthermore, most international schools provide both day and boarding options.

Religious Primary Schools in Switzerland

Switzerland has a large number of religious schools. However, the majority of them are Catholic schools. As a result, students receive a good spiritual education in the Catholic religion in addition to learning standard subjects such as languages, math, and science.

Art festival at The American School in Switzerland
Art festival at The American School in Switzerland

Montessori Primary Schools in Switzerland

Montessori primary school is a popular choice for primary students in Switzerland and around the world. This is because the Montessori philosophy encourages students’ creativity and independence.

Secondary Education in Switzerland

It is mentioned above that compulsory education in Switzerland has two levels: primary and lower secondary. The lower secondary level of education is a part of the secondary level.

In Switzerland, secondary education is divided into two stages. The stages of the secondary level are:

  • Lower secondary education
  • Upper secondary education
Convocation at The American School in Switzerland
Convocation at The American School in Switzerland

Lower Secondary Education in Switzerland

Lower secondary education begins around the ages of 11 to 12 and lasts 3 to 4 years. Lower secondary education is compulsory and after completing this, students can choose whether they continue their studies at an upper secondary educational institution.

In Switzerland, lower secondary schools are known as Gymnasiums or Kantonsschulen. This is where children learn their mother tongue, a Swiss second language (German, French, or Italian), and English. Languages are given a lot of emphasis in the Swiss education system, so most people there speak at least two languages.

Natural sciences are also given a lot of emphases, with math, biology, chemistry, physics, and geography being some of the main subjects taught in the lower secondary level of education in Switzerland; Other subjects include history, civic education, music, art and design, physical education and health, home economics, career counseling, and vocational preparation are also taught.

In most cantons in Switzerland, students receive a progress report with grades twice a year. Depending on the canton, there may also be end-of-year exams. In addition, a teacher-parent meeting is usually held to discuss the student’s performance in lower secondary education schools. This is due to the fact that students must achieve a certain level of academic progress in order to advance to the next year of school or to the upper secondary level.

When a student completes their lower secondary education at around the age of 15 years old, they are eligible for taking education at the next level (upper secondary), but they also have the option of not continuing their education. However, there is no national exam or graduation diploma at this time. Nonetheless, some cantons may arrange their own final exams and issue their own certificates.

Upper Secondary Education in Switzerland

In terms of students’ age, upper secondary education in Switzerland is equivalent to high school in education systems in the rest of the countries throughout the world Still, upper secondary education in Switzerland is very different from typical high school or secondary education in other developed, and underdeveloped countries.

The level of upper secondary education is not mandatory in Switzerland. Adolescents in Switzerland have the option of continuing their education after nine years of compulsory education.

Although upper secondary education is optional and not mandatory in Switzerland, more than 90% of Swiss students take upper secondary education. Upper secondary education in Switzerland is divided into two major parts:

  1. general education, and
  2. vocational education.

Students can choose their stream from the two general education and vocational education. There are three types of upper secondary schools in Switzerland, which include:

  1. Vocational education and training (VET) schools
  2. Baccalaureate schools
  3. Upper secondary specialized schools

Vocational education and training (VET) schools

The majority of young Swiss students prefer to attend a vocational education and training (VET) school. Who attend VET schools last 2 to 4 years to gain technical training and practical knowledge. Students who attend VET school receive a federal VET diploma or a federal VET certificate, allowing them to work and further their education.

These dual-track programs of technical training and practical knowledge combine classroom instruction at a VET school with an apprenticeship at a training company. As a result, students can gain both theoretical and practical knowledge.

In Switzerland, there are VET programs for approximately 230 different professions. As a result, students can select from a diverse range of specialties and career paths. VET programs can lead to a Federal VET certificate, a Federal VET diploma, or the Federal vocational baccalaureate (Berufsmaturität / maturité professionnelle), which allows admission to universities of applied science.

Baccalaureate Schools

In Switzerland, Baccalaureate schools are a continuation of lower secondary education, with subjects similar to those in lower secondary education, but students can study laws and economics in this.

One-third of Swiss students attend Baccalaureate school. Students get chances to enroll at Baccalaureate schools based on their previous performance in lower secondary school. The system evaluation and the grading system are the same as in lower secondary education.

Baccalaureate schools typically last 3 to 6 years, depending on the canton. Students must take a test and write a Baccalaureate essay at the end of the program. At the end of the Baccalaureate program, students are awarded a ‘Matura Certificate’ based on their performances. Those who can successfully complete the Baccalaureate school are eligible to start higher education in cantonal universities, institutes of technology, and teacher-training universities.

Upper Secondary Specialized Schools

In Switzerland, approximately 5% of students progress to upper secondary specialized schools. Upper secondary specialized schools are available in 22 cantons of the 26, and they are run both publicly and privately. Admission requirements vary, but they may include an entrance exam or an interview.

Upper secondary specialized schools prepare students for careers in healthcare, social work, and education. Students are graded using the previous grading system and study the core subjects related to their specific occupation. The program of specialized education lasts three years, and students must complete a final exam in six of their subjects. If they pass, they will receive an upper-secondary specialized school certificate and will be able to continue their education at Professional Education and Training (PET) colleges.

Students who pursue the additional one-year specialized baccalaureate course (which is not available in all cantons) must usually complete traineeships or practical experience in their chosen field in addition to coursework. Candidates who pass the exam are awarded the specialized baccalaureate (Fachmaturität / maturité spécialisée). This allows them to enroll in applied science universities as well as pre-school and primary teacher courses at teacher training universities.

Private secondary Schools in Switzerland

Private secondary schools, like primary schools, are plentiful in Switzerland. In fact, many of these are extensions of their primary schools, allowing for a smooth transition into secondary education. The most significant advantage of these schools is that they usually provide options for various qualifications. As a result, students with transferable diplomas can attend universities in a variety of other countries.

Secondary schools in Switzerland, like primary schools, can include international schools, religious schools, and Montessori schools. However, international schools are the most popular, particularly among ex-pats, because they offer the prestigious IB diploma upon graduation.

Art festival at The American School in Switzerland
Art festival at The American School in Switzerland

Education for Special Need Children

Switzerland’s education system is required by law to accommodate children with special educational needs (SEN). As a result, special needs students have a right to education and specialist support until the age of 20. A child can get an assessment from one of their canton’s specialist agencies to help with this. 

After receiving a diagnosis, they should be able to attend a public school and receive the necessary support. In some cases, however, it may be preferable for the child to attend a special needs school. Because Switzerland has these, it is possible and may be more comfortable for the child.

Tertiary Education in Switzerland

The education chosen in secondary school influences tertiary education. The most common option for those who have a Matura Certificate is university; on the other hand, those who attended a Vocational Education and Training (VET) school will often supplement their education with a Fachhochschule or an Höhere Fachschule. PET colleges will accept students with an upper-secondary specialized school certificate.

Switzerland has 14 public and generic universities, 10 of which are maintained by cationwise and typically offer a variety of non-technical subjects. The remaining two institutions, known as “Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology,” are run by the Swiss Confederation.

List of the Universities in Switzerland

In Switzerland, as in every other country, a high school diploma is required for admission to a university. There are 22 universities in Switzerland and 12 of them are public general universities, and the rest of the 10 universities are applied science based.

University of Bern, Switzerland
University of Bern, Switzerland

Public Universities in Switzerland

There are 12 general universities in Switzerland. The universities are the following—

  1. University of Basel (Basel), German-speaking
  2. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zürich) (Zurich), German/English-speaking
  3. University of Bern (Bern), German-speaking
  4. University of Fribourg (Fribourg), French- and German-speaking
  5. University of Geneva (Geneva), French-speaking
  6. University of Neuchâtel (Neuchâtel), French-speaking
  7. University of Lausanne (Lausanne), French-speaking
  8. University of Lucerne (Lucerne), German/English-speaking
  9. University of Lugano (Lugano), Italian/English-speaking
  10. University of St. Gallen (HSG) (St. Gallen), German/English-speaking
  11. University of Zurich (Zürich), German/English-speaking
  12. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) (Lausanne), French/English-speaking
ETH Zürich, Switzerland
ETH Zürich, Switzerland

Universities of Applied Sciences in Switzerland

There are 10 universities of applied science in Switzerland. The list of Swiss applied universities is below—

  1. Berner Fachhochschule, BFH
  2. Ecole d’ingénieurs et d’architectes de Fribourg | Hochschule für Technik und Architektur Freiburg (HES-SO), French and German-speaking
  3. Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, FHNW (German: Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz)
  4. Fachhochschule Ostschweiz, FHO (German: Fachhochschule Ostschweiz)
  5. Haute école spécialisée de Suisse occidentale, HES-SO, University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, French-speaking
  6. Hochschule Luzern, HSLU, German-speaking
  7. Scuola Universitaria Professionale della Svizzera Italiana (SUPSI), Italian-speaking
  8. Zürcher Fachhochschule, ZFH
  9. Kalaidos Fachhochschule
  10. University of Human Sciences and Technology of Lugano
Graduates at Les Roches
Graduates at Les Roches


The education system in Switzerland is very diverse because the cantons in the country have the authority over the system. In Switzerland, the majority of students complete 11 years of compulsory education at a state school in the municipality where they live. Approximately 5% of students attend a private school. Switzerland also has some of the world’s best, and most expensive, and private educational institutions, ranging from kindergarten to university.


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