Police deployed about 100 officers in riot gear to the Toni campus of Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), which includes rooms used by Zurich University of Applied Sciences, but concluded that there was no danger.
They were alerted to an incident at 8:45am, at the same time as an alarm went off on campus telling students to find a safe place to hide, a police statement said.
Le Matin newspaper said a student had contacted the paper to report rumours of a shooting.
"Stay in the rooms or search for a locked room. Lock the doors and windows," said the message relayed around the university in German and English, according to videos posted by students on social media.
"Look for the safe part of the room. Remain close to the floor and keep calm. Wait for further information."
Officers, many of them heavily armed, secured the building and went from room to room evacuating students, police and a witness said.
The alarm was finally lifted shortly before noon, according to police, which said there was no danger and students had been asked to leave the building.
Investigations are under way into what caused the alarm.
— Rouven Gueissaz (@rgueissaz) December 4, 2014
— Konrad Weber (@konradweber) December 4, 2014