The Swiss education system explained


school pupil
 A 3rd grade pupil at a Swiss high school takes a law and economics exam © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Ever wondered how the Swiss education system works? Then this graphic is for you.This content was published on January 11, 2023 – 09:00January 11, 2023 – 09:00Isobel Leybold-JohnsonOther language: 1 (EN original)

Compulsory education (kindergarten, primary and lower secondary) lasts 11 years in Switzerland. After that, the path typically leads to general education or vocational education and training, as can be seen below.

education system
 Kai Reusser /

In many cantons, there’s a big choice to be made aged 14-15 after lower secondary school. Around two-thirds of young people opt for vocational training. This sees teenagers training on the job while also attending 1-2 days of vocational school a week. It’s a system which has a good reputation internationally – it’s been called the gold standard of vocational training.

Former apprentices have risen to lead major banks or even the country – just look at current Economics Minister Guy Parmelin.

University track

There is also pressure in some quarters for children to go down the general education route for prestige reasons. Most pupils on this track go to a Swiss high school and take the Swiss Baccalaureate, which prepares them for university. High schools generally have tougher entry requirements. It is worth mentioning that in some cantons, children can apply to high school earlier, at around age 12 (so do both lower and upper secondary education at a high school).

The Specialised Baccalaureate can be taken in certain areas like healthcare, teaching and the arts. This is a kind of hybrid between academic and vocational education.

Complicated but flexible

After this level it all gets a bit more complicated. But the system’s beauty lies in its flexibility.

After vocational training and the various diplomas, you can go on to higher vocational training, as can be seen in the graphic. This is a Swiss speciality which is less known abroad. It offers deeper skills and management training.


MoreSwitzerland seeks international recognition for those with vocational skillsThis content was published on Jul 6, 2021Vocational qualifications – a pillar of the Swiss educational system – suffer from a lack of recognition abroad. This could change.

From vocational to academic

If you do a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate, you could also go on to the university track. It will get you into a University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland’s more industry-oriented type of university. If you take an additional exam, “passerelle”, you can go to an academic university.

Otherwise, the general education track prepares you for university, although only the Swiss Baccalaureate gets you directly into any academic university in the country.

The Swiss system is designed to be flexible, so, as the graphic shows (via the grey lines), you can move between vocational and general education to suit your career, with a bit of extra study. This is exactly what Emmen local councillor Brahim Aakti did. You can read more about his pathway in our archive article from 2019.


MoreCan you study after an apprenticeship?This content was published on Aug 29, 2019In Switzerland, two thirds of young people do an apprenticeship. But what if, as readers ask, a person wants to study later on? Is this possible?

Edited by Virginie Mangin


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