These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are meant to provide additional information and useful tips, not only about the IDB program, but also practical questions like moving to Switzerland, housing, and tips what to do in Zurich. Please note that the information provided here is informal and unofficial, and refer to our other webpages for official guidelines.
What is a mentor?
When you are accepted to the program you will be assigned to a mentor chosen among the list of mentors. The mentor co-chairs the thesis exam and can provide advice during your IDB studies (e.g. research, career). Your mentor does not have to be the supervisor of your Master’s thesis. You can find the list of potential mentors here: Mentors
How do I find out which mentor I should choose?
Following the link on Mentors takes you to the webpages of the potential mentors, where you can find out about their research interests.
Will I receive an automated confirmation email after submitting my application?
Due to data protection, there is no automated confirmation email for your application. However, after your submission, you should see a confirmation message (starting with "Thank you for your application!...") appearing on the webpage.
If the confirmation message does not appear, try to submit again using different browsers.
When is the application deadline?
January 1st of the same year.
Do I have to have my Bachelor’s degree finished before I can apply?
You can apply before you have completed your degree, but you need to have your degree to register for the MSc IDB program at UZH. You must provide the expected date of end-of-studies in your application package.
Do I need an English or German language certificate such as TOEFL, IELTS, CAE, DSH, TestDaF, Goethe, … or SAT / GRE tests for my application?
No, your proficiency in English will be assessed from your written documents and in a personal interview. It is not necessary to know German to apply to our program. We do not request scores from standardized tests like SAT or GRE.
Can I write my application in German?
No, the whole program is in English, and it is necessary to evaluate your proficiency in English from your written documents.
Who should be my referee contacts? Should I list employers or family members?
We prefer academic referee(s) who can inform us about your performance during your undergraduate studies and your suitability for this program.
Do I need to send letters of recommendation with my application? How are referee(s) contacted?
You do not have to send letters of recommendations with your application. After the first evaluation of your application we will contact your referee(s) directly by email, if required.
What information should I provide in the financial statement?
The financial statement is an informal statement that should clarify for us how you plan to cover the expenses during your time in Zurich. We request this because for foreigners the Swiss authorities will request proof that you can afford your studies later. So even if you are accepted by the program, you might be denied your residence permit for Switzerland if the authorities find your financial situation insufficient. The program has no influence over this decision, but we need to make you are aware of this. You can find below more details about the expected costs of living in Zurich and tuition fees. Please make an estimate of your living costs (total sum), and explain how you can cover these expenses for minimum 1.5 - 2 years required to complete the MSc. If you are relying on scholarships that have not yet been granted to you, please explain this in your statement, and explain what the alternative source of funding is available to you in case you don't get the scholarship. Please be aware that if you should be admitted to the program, the Swiss authorities might require a formal statement on financial commitment and additional information, but this is handled independently of our program. Swiss students do not have to submit a financial statement.
Can you give an overview of the application and matriculation process?
Begin by submitting your online application on the website before the deadline. You can apply for the fall semester start in September with the deadline on January 1st (same year). The admission committee will short-list the applicants and invite them for online interview process. The admission committee's final short-list decision will be reached by mid-March.
If you are accepted by the admission committee, the committee will forward its recommendation to the Office of Student Affairs of the University of Zurich. The UZH admission office will get in touch with you directly and request you to fill out the “Application for Matriculation” form. You must then fill out this form and pay the application fee. Once you have arrived in Switzerland and notified the admission office of your Swiss address, the invoice of the semester fees will be available in the Application Portal. Only upon payment is your matriculation valid. You will be provided an official UZH email address after matriculation. Necessary program information will be shared at the welcome event for new Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences (IDB) students.
If you need to obtain a visa, you should apply for a visa in parallel to this process. The Swiss “Migrationsamt”, which handles visa applications, requests that you have been accepted as a student when applying; though you may not possess the final acceptance letter yet, simply present to them the recommendation letter you can obtain from the IDB admission committee.
Can I apply for the ETH excellence scholarship?
As a candidate for IDB, unfortunately you cannot, because the leading house for this program is the University of Zurich, and IDB students are not eligible for the ETH scholarship. The University of Zurich does not have an equivalent scholarship.
Are there any scholarships from my home country to fund studies in Switzerland?
Neither the IDB program nor the University of Zurich can provide funding for MSc students, so we recommend looking for funding opportunities in your home country. Here we have compiled an (incomplete) list of countries for which we are aware of funding opportunities, and provide links and comments from our current and previous students. If you would like to share your experience with other funding sources, please contact us:
How can I find out about available project or thesis topics?
In general the best way is to just approach professors, postdocs, or their PhD students and talk to them. You can find some information about general topic areas on the websites of each group leader.
How much German or Swiss German should we know before arriving?
Zurich is a very international city with many English speakers. French and Italian (and Romansh) are also official languages of Switzerland, so you will find most official documents offered also in these languages. The dominant language spoken in the participating institutes is also English, even in casual conversations, and you will not have to learn German to complete your studies. Most of the lectures relevant as elective modules are offered in English, notice however that some lectures at the University of Zurich or ETH Zurich are only offered in German.
However, knowing German and Swiss German will enrich your experience here and make it easier to integrate into the culture. Additionally, freely available German courses are available for students: http://www.sprachenzentrum.uzh.ch/
When should I arrive?
Many students arrive in early August; this will give you 6 weeks or so to look for housing and to settle in before the start of the semester. You can come earlier if you are extra worried about housing, as August is one of the most competitive months due to the influx of international students, though early September is fine if you have already obtained a Woko room (http://www.woko.ch/en/) or a flat in Zurich.
What should I know about living in Switzerland?
When you first arrive, you may be shocked by the cost of living in Switzerland. It is a very expensive place to live, and many activities you may be used to (including restaurants, clubs, and movies) may cost too much to continue to regularly do without additional income.
However, most other students feel the impact on their wallets as well, and many social activities take this into account. Lower-cost events like at-home movie and TV nights together, barbecues, hikes through nature, bike rides, swims, football, some types of travel (see the “Gleis 7” pass below under General Advice), and house parties are popular ways to relax without spending too much money.
How high are the tuition fees and the living expenses?
Switzerland is a very expensive country, but the tuition fees are relatively low compared to e.g. the USA or UK. You have to pay the tuition fees and contributions at the University of Zurich (UZH), which amount to approximately 1500 CHF per year. The most recent information about tuition fees can be found here: http://www.uzh.ch/studies/application/generalinformation/fees_en.html
Regarding the costs of living in Switzerland, UZH maintains a website with guidelines: http://www.uzh.ch/studies/studentlife/finances_en.html
ETH Zurich maintains its own website: https://www.ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/welcome-center/services-and-downloads/cost-of-living.html
The expected minimum costs of living are around 2000-2250 CHF per month (including tuition fees), but depend very much on the individual student. Especially the costs of housing are very variable.
When you fill out your financial statement for the application, make sure to explain how you can cover these costs for approx. 2 years.
Do you have advice on the visa process?
Begin early after you have been accepted into the University. Not all the requirements may be able to be fulfilled – for example, having your money in a Swiss bank account, or being fully matriculated at the University (which requires being there personally). It is much better to start early and do a couple of rounds of back-and-forth than to wait too long.
Do I need a Swiss bank account before I arrive?
It is very difficult to acquire a Swiss bank account before you live in Switzerland. If you need to prove sufficient funds for your visa, students in the past have used Chase, HSBC, Citibank, and other major international banks. Any bank on this list should work: www.finma.ch/en/~/media/finma/dokumente/bewilligungstraeger/pdf/beh.pdf?la=de
Is part-time work available?
Yes, though it should not be relied upon and most students do not work. A good place to look for job offers is the UZH Marktplatz (https://www.students.uzh.ch/en/studentlife/living/vacancies.html). Typically, these jobs all pay between 20 – 30 CHF per hour.
What is the process for applying to flats in Zurich? What can I expect?
Housing in Zurich is notoriously difficult to find for students; expect to go to at least one apartment viewing where 30 people are applying for a single spot. Ask students who have been through this process before for advice.
The first suggestion is to go through the Woko office (http://www.woko.ch/en/default.asp), at least for your first semester. They reserve a set of rooms for international students, so you can secure a room at one of the Woko locations if you apply early enough.
If you want to move directly into a flat, the following websites may be useful:
● https://marktplatz.uzhalumni.ch/de/category/4/offer – an internal housing marketplace for UZH/ETH students
● http://www.students.ch/wohnen/ – a Switzerland-wide student network
● http://www.flatrooms.com/en/wgzimmer.html?wc_language=en – an aggregate of Woko and advertised flats
● www.wgzimmer.ch – a large site for all housemate searches
What neighborhood should I live in?
The most important point is that you live in Zone 110 of Zurich public transport ZVV (http://www.zvv.ch/en/), the transit zone corresponding to Zurich main city. If you live outside of this zone, your options for coming home late are greatly diminished, and you will pay much more money on transit costs just to go to school or see friends. Students tend to live in the Oerlikon / Schwamendingen area of the city (to the north), which is convenient for the Irchel university campus as well.
While I am looking for housing, where should I stay?
This may be difficult to do for low cost. Reach out to all of your contacts and see if there are spare couches to crash on, post to the Facebook group for current students, and see if you can use Couchsurfing. Students in the past have also obtained temporary sublets through the UZH Marktplatz while they look for housing. Lastly, hostels and hotels do exist but their costs can add up significantly over the multi-week process it may take to find housing in Zurich.
How much time should I budget for the housing search?
If you are a foreign student, and you do not receive a Woko apartment, six weeks is around the upper limit of time it takes a student to find their first apartment. Generally, the process will take between 2 and 6 weeks of earnest searching, though it will feel like it takes forever.
What should I do after arriving in Zurich?
If you are coming in from the airport, you will likely come in on the trains of Swiss Federal Railways SBB (http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html). You should buy a ticket from Flughafen (airport) to Zürich HB (Hauptbahnhof, main train station), and it should cost you around 8 Francs for a one-way ticket. You typically will not be eligible for the discounts yet, though you should consider buying a Halbtax half-fare card (http://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/railpasses/half-fare-travelcard.html) as early as possible. This will save a lot of money on public transit in Zurich and trains around Switzerland.
You can buy prepaid phones without an address or a residence permit. This will greatly facilitate your social life and the housing search.
With your phone, a temporary place to stay, and new friends in Zurich, you should be doing well!
What are some useful things to know about in Zurich?
Are there sports teams and clubs?
The university offers various opportunities to do a variety of sports like rowing, mountain climbing, and yoga (see https://www.students.uzh.ch/en/studentlife/life/sports.html for more information). In general, doing social activities like group sports or singing is something you will need to seek out yourself since these activities often are community-based, not school-based as you might be used to. However, this can be a great way to integrate into Swiss society as well!