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What’s the coolest university town in Switzerland?

This is what makes the ten biggest university cities in Switzerland so popular.

When the new semester begins in September, Swiss university towns will be welcoming many new freshmen students. After graduating high school and enjoying a long summer holiday, they’re now set to experience the serious side of life.

High school graduates in Switzerland can attend any university in the country, which means they are often spoilt for choice. A new student’s personal situation and preferred course of study can have a major impact on the university – and city – they choose. Some feel more comfortable staying at home and then commuting to college, while others prefer to move to a new town. There are also many other reasons why students choose a specific city and university. Sometimes they consult university rankings to help them make their decision.

Nevertheless, a city’s lifestyle and environment also need to be considered – after all lessons for life are learned outside the lecture hall as well. High school graduates therefore look closely at what a city has to offer in terms of recreational activities, for example, or what sets it apart from other cities. Along with issues related to academic quality, those who plan to attend college or are looking to spend a semester at a different Swiss university also need to examine the advantages and drawbacks of each city with a university that offers the course of study they wish to pursue.


With a population of 171,017, Basel is Switzerland’s third-largest city after Zurich and Geneva. Situated in the tri-border area where Switzerland, Germany and France meet, the city on the Rhine River attracts both Swiss and foreign students – and the Rhine is actually one of the things that makes Basel such an appealing and popular university town. Unlike Zurich or Lucerne, Basel doesn’t have a lake, but the banks of the Rhine are a perfect place to relax after attending lectures at Switzerland’s oldest university. Private apartments are available in Basel at mid to upper-range rents, and the university’s dorm rooms can be rented at affordable prices. Basel also has a type of alternative flair and, as one might expect, is a very student-friendly city in general. Basel features a huge range of cultural offerings and an historical old town. People in Basel tend to be quite relaxed, and all of these things, plus many other aspects, make Basel the perfect place to study for liberal-minded students who like football and carnival at the very least, as both are more or less sacred to the citizens of Basel.


The Swiss capital lags behind larger cities in the country in many ways, but it also offers its own unique advantages. Bern's old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for example, and the city also has many attractions, including the Federal Palace, the Bern Minster cathedral and Bear Park. The green-blue Aare River, whose water quality is excellent, is the place to be in Bern, especially in the summer. The Swiss capital is also well known for its craft spirits and impressive range of beers, which includes the famous Bärner Müntschi. In addition, people who live in Bern have a reputation for being relaxed and laid back, and the city’s Gurtenfestival (music festival) is extremely popular as well. 


The best thing about Fribourg – a university city “par excellence” – is definitely its bilingualism. Fribourg is actually home to the only bilingual university in Switzerland – a place where courses are held in German, French or a combination of the two languages. With its 10,000 students and a total population of 40,000, the charming city of Fribourg feels like one big campus.


Picturesque Lake Geneva, the narrow streets of the old town and expensive luxury boutiques – Geneva is the world’s “smallest big city”. Geneva is clean and easy to navigate, but it’s also very expensive, which is something that people who study there are painfully aware of. Still, many students are attracted to Geneva because of the numerous international organisations that have their headquarters there. This makes it possible for students to gain valuable insight into how these institutions operate, and also establish contacts with professors and other instructors who work for them. It’s therefore not surprising that famous people such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have studied at the University of Geneva.


The University of Lausanne offers unique programmes that attract a large number of students. For example, the University of Lausanne is the only college in Switzerland that offers degrees in certain subjects, such as criminology. Even aside from that academic aspect, however, the University of Lausanne has plenty to offer with a location directly on Lake Geneva that offers fabulous views of the Alps. The city of Lausanne, which is surrounded by beautiful vineyards and forests, serves as the perfect starting point for wonderful excursions. Lausanne is Switzerland’s fourth-largest city and the capital of the Canton of Vaud. With its focus on the French language, it’s the perfect place to prepare for a career in the age of globalisation.


Houses made of yellow sandstone are a trademark of this French-speaking city on Lake Neuchâtel. Neuchâtel is a small city in Western Switzerland, where life tends to move at a slower pace than in the rest of the country. Those who prefer a more personal atmosphere will enjoy studying at the University of Neuchâtel and living in the city. Neuchâtel is rather compact, so it’s easy to walk to just about anywhere. The city is also a popular festival location. Festi'neuch, for example, is an annual festival that features a high-powered international line up and attracts many visitors from all over Switzerland. Neuchâtel also recently made headlines by becoming the first Swiss city to ban plastic drinking straws in public bars and restaurants.


The Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) has two campuses – one in Lugano and the other in Mendrisio. The university is the first and only state university in the Canton of Ticino in Italian-speaking Switzerland. USI is a multilingual university that offers lectures in Italian and English. It is very international and therefore places great store in intercultural interaction. Situated on the shore of Lake Lugano, the city of Lugano also boasts a Mediterranean climate and beautiful natural surroundings. Indeed, sunny Lugano is a great place to live and study.


Those who don’t want to study at a big-city university where students are basically just numbers might find Lucerne to be the perfect place to attend college. The University of Lucerne is the youngest university in Switzerland. The atmosphere there is very personal, as the student population numbers less than 3,000. Other benefits include attractive academic programmes and a central location – the main university building is right next to the train station and also behind the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre at Lucerne Bay. The famous Lucerne old town, which attracts numerous tourists all year round, is also just a few minutes away.

St. Gallen

The University of St. Gallen (HSG) has an outstanding reputation, but its students also often hear negative stereotypes about their school. St. Gallen, which is nestled between the Alps and Lake Constance, is where the future economic elite of Switzerland pursue their education in a picturesque setting. Most of the students at HSG are not from Eastern Switzerland, which means they either commute or move to St.Gallen. That doesn’t pose a problem for them, as the city has plenty to offer, including its historical abbey district, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as numerous museums, cultural sites and a wide range of leisure and recreational activities.


The University of Zurich and ETH Zurich offer competitive academic programmes to both Swiss and foreign students. With its world-famous banks and a Google research centre, Zurich attracts talented young individuals from around the world. The city on the Limmat also charms all who visit it. Lake Zurich is like a postcard, and a vibrant night life, trendy pop-up stores and many other attractions have made Zurich the party capital of Switzerland and one of the best-known Swiss cities outside of the country. Students who come here to pursue their education can also enjoy the benefits of being close to the Alps and the natural beauty of Uetliberg mountain and the tidiness – there are plenty of ways to relax after a hard day at school, or a rough night out on the town.

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