At first sight, Switzerland does not seem like the most exciting place to study. To most foreigners, Switzerland remains that small, mountainous country famous for its cheese, chocolate, and banks. But it is also home to some top MBA programs, so luckily many students will get the chance to discover the real Switzerland, a mixture of so many different regions, languages, and particularities.
Let's start with Zurich. With more than a million inhabitants, Zurich is the biggest Swiss city, and the country's economic and financial hub. Many assume it to be the country's unofficial political center, as well. It remains a good city to make business contacts and find a good job once you finish the MBA at GSBA, SBS, or Robert Kennedy College, among others.
Situated in the heart of Europe, Zurich's good rail, air, and road connections can get you to almost any European city in less than two hours. The cultural offerings are, considering the size of the city, amazing: quality theaters, concerts, museums, and galleries, as well as one of the most exciting nightlife scenes in Switzerland, if not Europe.
With all of these "pluses", no wonder that Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Finding apartments to rent is tough, and once you do, expect to pay a lot for rent and deposit. These hurdles, just like the Swiss accent (which is even almost incomprehensible for someone fluent in German), are not insurmountable and should not keep you from enjoying Zurich, the lake in summer, and the nearby mountains in winter.
The much smaller city of Lausanne, home of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), is also situated on a lake, but that's where the similarities with Zurich end. The biggest difference: they speak French! A lot of people forget that Switzerland has four official languages, and that each language also implies a different culture and mentality. The other difference is that Lausanne is a bonafide student city with more than 10,000 students (out of 200,000 total inhabitants).
Lausanne attracts thousands of foreign students who enjoy this cosy city with its surrounding mountains and vineyards. From Thursday through the weekend, however, this rather quiet town transforms itself, and the bars and clubs fill up with students and young people from the neighboring cities and areas, such as Yverdon and Aigle.
Accommodation in Lausanne is a little bit more relaxed than in Zurich - a lot of shared flats, university halls of residence, and student homes are available. Nevertheless, the prices still conform to that Swiss standard: expensive!
Nestled in the northeastern corner of Switzerland - near the borders with Germany and Austria - lies St. Gallen, a medieval town of around 75,000, and home to the University of St. Gallen, which offers one of the top-ranked MBA and EMBA programs in the country. Social life in St. Gallen revolves around the university. Since there is no on-campus student housing, most students end up sharing an apartment somewhere in town. According to the university's website, prices go down if you are willing to commute a few minutes extra.
Finally, Geneva is an international city home to dozens of large international organizations and multinationals. It does not seem to be a typical Swiss town at first glance. Geneva seems to have more in common with neighboring France than the rest of Switzerland, but Geneva is very proud of not being part of France. The MBA programs in this city include University of Geneva (Université de Genève, HEC Genève), the Institute of Finance and Management, and the International University in Geneva.
As in Zurich, the housing market in Geneva is difficult: apartments are hard to come by and expensive. There are only a few affordable options for students. Aside from the very coveted university residences, most of the less expensive rooms in town are handed down between friends and acquaintances. Therefore, if you're new in town, you should start looking for a room a few months prior to the beginning of the semester. As the living expenses in Geneva are also very high, one must count on spending approximately 1,500 Swiss francs (1,270 dollars) a month, student fees not included.
When arriving in Geneva, foreigners are often struck by the obvious luxury and the rather closed society of "real and original Genevois", and this perception is not entirely wrong. But once you have been in Geneva for a few months and met some locals, you will discover a lot of alternative and more affordable places, giving you a more varied picture than the usual lot of expensive nightclubs and bars you encounter on your arrival. Especially in summer, you get the feeling that people come out of hibernation: festivals, bars, parties, and cultural events flourish all around Lake Geneva, and the surrounding French and Swiss region.
See a list of all MBA programs in Switzerland here
Photo: Roland zh / Creative Commons