Applying for a PhD in Switzerland
Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now

Applying for a PhD in Switzerland

Written by Taru Medha

Entry requirements

Before you apply for a PhD in Switzerland, you must have completed a Masters degree in a relevant subject. That will be the main academic requirement for admission into doctoral research. However, further requirements usually depend on the type of PhD you are applying for:

  • If you are responding to an advertised project or position you will need to put together a personal statement or cover letter, along with an appropriate academic cv and references. Your university should provide further information and guidance for this.
  • If you are coming up with your own PhD topic (as is common in the Arts and Humanities) you should normally submit a research proposal outlining the scope of your project, its objectives, methodology and outcomes. Supporting material such as academic references may also be required.

Applications to join structured PhD programmes may not require an initial research proposal as students will often develop their project during the first year of the doctorate.

Language requirements for Swiss Universities

Individual Swiss universities traditionally teach in the language of their canton, which will be French, German or Italian (Romansh is not used as an academic language of instruction).

The central and northern areas of the country speak German, the western region speaks French and the Southern cantons speak Italian.

The table below lists the language of each of the 26 Swiss cantons.

Swiss Universities and Study Languages
Canton Language Cantonal University
Zurich German University of Zurich
Bern German/French University of Bern
Luzern German University of Lucerne
Uri German NA
Schwyz German NA
Obwalden German NA
Nidwalden German NA
Glarus German NA
Zug German NA
Fribourg French / German University of Fribourg
Solothurn German NA
Basel-Stadt German University of Basel
Basel-Landscaft German NA
Schaffhausen German NA
Appenzell Ausserrhoden German NA
Appenzell Innerrhoden German NA
St. Gallen German University of St. Gallen
Grisons German / Italian NA
Aargau German NA
Thurgau German NA
Ticino Italian University of Lugano
Vaud French University of Lausanne
Valais French / German NA
Neuchâtel French University of Neuchâtel
Geneva French University of Geneva
Jura French NA

PhD programmes are likely to be offered in a university’s local language, or in English. The availability of English-language PhD opportunities in Switzerland may depend on your subject area. Highly international subjects such as Science, Engineering and Business are more likely to be taught in English; Arts and Humanities subjects may only be offered in the local language.

You’ll need to be able to communicate effectively in the language used for your PhD programme and may be asked to complete a French, German, Italian or English language test in order to prove this. The exact test required will depend on your university and subject.

You can also take advantage of the multi-cultural study environment to learn a new language, maybe one of the four cantonal languages! Most universities provide free lessons for students.

PhD application deadlines

There isn’t usually a deadline for PhD applications in Switzerland, however, international students should account for visa processing times and apply as early as possible. Some universities set recommended deadlines (PDF) for international applications.

Search for PhD programmes in Switzerland

FindaPhD also has guides to funding, student visas and living in Switzerland to help you decide if doing a PhD in Switzerland is for you.

You may also like...

PhD study in Switzerland – 2024

Detailed guides to PhD study in Switzerland. Our guides have information on universities, courses, funding, student visas and life during a PhD programme in Switzerland

Read more
Student Visas for PhD in Switzerland

If you're planning to do a PhD in Switzerland, we have all the information on the kind of visa you need and what you require to apply for it.

Read more
PhD in Switzerland – Fees and Funding Guide 2023

If you're interesting in studying a PhD in Switzerland, we have a details on how much it is going to cost you and where you can find the right funding for it.

Read more
What a PhD in Switzerland Actually Looks Like

Our guide tells you everything about how a PhD in Switzerland is structured, including assessments and supervision

Read more

Last Updated: 01 December 2023