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5 reasons why Zurich is a perfect city for students... despite the costs

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
5 reasons why Zurich is a perfect city for students... despite the costs
Zurich is a great city for student life. Photo by Nate Hovee.

Zurich – or Switzerland - might not be the first place that springs to mind when you’re deciding where to take the next step in your educational journey. But for ambitious students pursuing an international career, few places are better.


Located at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich, Switzerland's largest city is widely recognised as the country's economic capital and is renowned worldwide for its financial district.

It’s precisely these reasons which also make it a great student city with rare opportunities for professional growth.

Here are five reasons why Zurich is a great city for both local and international students.

World class education

The city of Zurich is often counted among the best university cities in the world. This is also the conclusion reached by the experts of QS Best Student Cities 2024, which have placed Zurich in joint 8th place with Berlin in their ranking of the best student cities.

The study looked at which cities are the most student-friendly in line with several factors, such as affordability and desirability.

"Zurich certainly gained plenty of acclaim in our student survey, with one student pointing out its 'natural beauty and high standard of living' while another praised its 'perfect combination of city life and nature'," read the study.

Currently ranked seventh in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2024: Top global universities, ETH Zurich is one of the world's leading universities in science and technology and is visited by more than 20,000 students from over 120 countries.

In addition to prestigious ETH Zurich, the city is also home to the University of Zurich, which ranks in joint 91st place with Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech).

Despite ranking considerably lower than ETH Zurich, getting into the university is no easy feat. Admission to one of the leading research universities in Europe is highly competitive and features a demanding selection process.

If you are lucky enough to be accepted into one of Zurich’s universities, however, you may just have an easier time beating the competition in the job market.


Career opportunities

Zurich is home to countless domestic and international organisations, including six Fortune 500 companies which are headquartered in the city. These include financial services corporations Zurich Insurance Group, Credit Suisse, UBS, Swiss Re as well as power and automation engineering firm ABB Group and retail giant Migros.

Many of these larger companies often partake in a so-called ‘Messe’ held in different venues across Zurich and aimed at new graduates, career changers and the general job-seeking public looking for a new gig.

The next major ‘Absolvierenden-Messe Schweiz’ for students, graduates and young professionals from universities, particularly universities of applied sciences and the two technical universities (ETH & EPFL), will be held on November 2nd, 2023, from 10am to 4pm in German (though some employers will be able to speak English).


Zurich is multicultural and diverse

Students with an international mindset will be pleased to discover that Zurich is home to 170 different nationalities (around 32 percent of the resident population are foreigners) with eight out of ten foreigners coming from other European countries. This makes Zurich one of the most diverse cities in Europe.

Students who choose to study and live in Zurich will not have a hard time becoming part of the local (expat) community. Whether you join the Züri eXpats Zunft (ZEZ) Associaton on (currently 1,461 members) or sign up to the Pub Crawl Zurich tour, there are ample ways to connect with both Swiss and foreign locals during your stay in Zurich.


Keep in mind that while (Swiss) German is Zurich’s official language, the city itself – as well as most Swiss people – is very international and you will have no trouble getting by in English, though a polite 'Grüezi' (formal 'Hello') will go a long way.

Likewise, if you’re worried a move to Zurich will limit you to (expensive) Swiss cuisine, then you’ll be happy to find that this is far from the case. Zurich has a colourful gastronomic scene with Italian, Asian, Moroccan and Lebanese delicacies frequently found in restaurants across the city.

If you still fail to find a dish to your taste, we recommend dropping by FOOD ZURICH (Sept 7th-17th) later this month. The festival will host over 100 foodie events with different focus themes and feature a huge selection of (affordable) local and international dishes for you to try.


Similarly, Streetfooddays – Kloten will have 15 food trucks and stalls with international delicacies on display from September 15th-17th.

READ MORE: Five things that surprise foreigners who move to Zurich

Ample (frugal) free-time activities

If you’re one for the outdoors, then we have good news: Zurich will provide you with plenty of opportunities to explore the city and its immediate surroundings on the cheap (or for free).

For one, the city has its very own mountain - the Uetliberg mountain - which sits at 2,850 feet above sea level and offers hikers mesmerising panoramic views of the city, lake Zurich, and in good weather even the Alps.

The hike from Zurich Triemli to the Uetliberg is a moderately difficult hike and can be done almost all year round, though it is recommended that you avoid snowy and rainy days.

If summer proves a bit too hot for mountain hiking, you can always dip your toes (or more) in one of Zurich’s fountains.

Yes, you heard that right. In Switzerland, fountain bathing is a thing.

But while it is part of a long-standing tradition in some cities – such as Winterthur – it is not always encouraged.

This is because certain fountains have ornate stucco work that can be damaged when climbed on. The fountains should be treated with respect, according to the council.

READ MORE: Five things that surprise foreigners who move to Zurich

Come night, Zurich boasts an electric nightlife and is particularly known for its top-notch techno scene.

If you’re looking for what’s trendy, then you may want to start with one of Zurich’s oldest nightclubs: Mascotte. The club has a diverse programme which frequently features live bands ranging from Pete Doherty, Florence & the Machine, and German rock band Die Toten Hosen, as well as comedy nights and various DJs.

Alternatively, you can head to the Alte Kaserne, situated between Zurich Main Station and Langstrasse, if you prefer a relaxed, alternative atmosphere. The venue attracts an eclectic audience and plays host to musical live acts alongside theatrical performances and readings.

Student discounts as far the eye can see

If you’re moving to Switzerland to study, it is highly recommended to chat to your university directly about any discounts you may be entitled to during your stay in Zurich.

The good news is, while Zurich is frequently ranked among Europe’s (and sometimes the world’s) priciest places to live, there are many ways to save money.

The first thing you may want to do is to save money on getting around Zurich.

By far one of the easiest ways to save money on transport is to use its affordable train network which connects around 2,600 stations and stops across the country – meaning you can easily forgo cars altogether.

With SBB CFF FFS, you can pay for “Sparbillette” - or so-called Supersaver tickets – and benefit from an up to 70 percent discount on the standard ticket price. Another great way of reducing your transport cost is to purchase SBB’s Half Fare Travelcard. The travelcard costs 120 francs per year and gives you an up to 50 percent discount on all travel by train, bus, boat, and most mountain railways.

If you only have the odd day reserved for sightseeing, however, then the Zürich Card might make the most sense. The card allows ‘free’ unlimited 2nd class travel on all forms of public transportation in Zurich and the surrounding region, alongside free or reduced admission to museums and over 100 other cultural experiences.

Another great money-saving hack is the International Student Identity Card which will let you save money on hostels, SIM cards, gyms, escape rooms and more. it is recommended you check the site regularly as deals are updated frequently.

Pro tip: always ask any company whether they do student discounts, be it a shop, restaurant, or hotel.


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