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ETH Zurich vs EPFL: Similarities and differences

We at Cybernews Academy have discussed the similarities and differences between major universities, such as Oxford vs. Cambridge and MIT vs. Carnegie Mellon. This time, we will analyze two Swiss universities, ETH Zurich and EPFL. Like the universities we have previously assessed, ETH Zurich and EPFL are excellent options for computer science and information technology degrees, as both universities are ranked highly in the QS World University Ranking (WUR) by subject. These universities have many similarities alongside distinct differences that make these institutions so unique.

ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich, or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is a public research university in Zurich, Switzerland. This university was founded by the Swiss federal government in 1854. The institution's primary focus is STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). ETH Zurich is part of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain, a union of Swiss universities and research institutions. Due to its public university status, ETH grants admission to every Swiss resident rightfully enrolled in the institution.


The university is located in the heart of the city of Zurich. It is an urban campus with two sites accessible via public transport. The ETH link is a bus service for students, it’s free and serves as a link between the two campuses. It runs three times per hour and takes 15 minutes to get from one campus to the other.


In 1854, ETH Zurich was founded and began its first lectures in 1855 as a polytechnic institute at various locations throughout Zurich. Since its formation, ETH Zurich has been known as a national educational institute of international standing "that attracts talented individuals from across the globe." The ETH Zurich website claims that "the successful combination of cosmopolitanism and strong connections at a national level transformed the fledgling educational institution into one of the driving forces behind Swiss industrialization: it has brought the necessary expertise into the country, trained experts, and helped develop future-oriented national infrastructures." ETH Zurich was granted its present name, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in 1911, and over the decades, it cultivated partnerships with the state and industry. The university has invested in applied and fundamental research, contributing to technological advancements in education. ETH Zurich states that the university "reacts to these new challenges by creating flexible organizational structures: new research units and programs have emerged, and the research itself is becoming more and more integrated and interdisciplinary."

Notable alumni

ETH Zurich has some phenomenal alumni associated with the university. Many famous physicists, Nobel Prize winners, engineers, and architects have graced the halls of ETH Zurich. Most notably, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein attended and taught at the university. William Rontgen attended ETH Zurich; he was a mechanical engineer and physicist who produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength known commonly as X-rays. Other famous alumni like physicists like Charles-Edouard Guillaume obtained his doctoral degree in physics in 1883, alongside Felix Bloch, Henrich Rohrer, and Georg Bednorz, who won prizes for physics.


EPFL is one of Europe's most cosmopolitan technical universities, welcoming students, professors, and collaborators worldwide. Located in Switzerland, EPFL is one of the continent's most vibrant technological institutions, according to its website. École Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, known in English as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, is a public research university specializing in engineering and natural sciences. The university is associated with the ETH Domain, a union of Swiss governmental universities and research institutions. EPFL was initially inspired by the French engineering School Ecole Centrale Paris and was formed to nurture talented engineers in Switzerland.


Like ETH Zurich, EPFL is an urban campus in the city's center. The university is active in five parts of Switzerland: Geneva, Valais, Fribourg, and Neuchatel. Its main campus is located in the heart of Lausanne in the canton of Vaud. The university consists of five schools and two colleges that offer a wide range of programs. Getting to the main campus of Lausanne takes around 13 minutes from downtown Lausanne and 20 minutes from the Lausanne train station. From Renens in the canton of Vaud, it takes 6 minutes; from Morges, it will take around 16 minutes by metro to the main campus of Lausanne.


The university was first established in 1853 and, according to the EPFL website, displayed a broad curriculum ranging from chemistry, physics, and mathematics to drawing, architecture, and civil engineering. Its roots date back to its private institution status and soon earned its reputation as a "demanding and selective" university. The institution obtained university status in 1890 and was renamed École d’Ingénieurs de l’Université de Lausanne. In 1969, the university became a federal institute under the name EPFL and is governed by the Swiss Federal Council. According to the EPFL website, In the 21st century, the university "was officially consolidated into a single site, and in 2002, the School restructured and replaced its departments with large schools to facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration." The university expanded its sites to Neuchatel in 2009, followed by EPFL Valais Wallis, EPFL Fribourg in 2014, and the Geneva Campus Biotech in 2015. The university has built and expanded its main campus, alongside building other areas related to academia.

Notable alumni

Like ETH Zurich, EPFL has many outstanding alumni, from people in business to Nobel Prize winners. Guy Berruyer, the chief executive of Sage Group, trained as an engineer at EPFL. Mattia Binotto, the team principal of Scuderia Ferrari in Formula One, obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at EPFL. Aart de Geus, the former CEO and current Executive Chair of Synopsys, graduated from EPFL with a master’s degree in engineering in 1954. Another famous alumni who graduated from the university in 1930 was George de Mestral, the inventor of Velcro. Eric Favre, the creator of the Nespresso system, graduated from EPFL in 1975. Daniel Borel, the co-founder of Logitech, earned an engineering degree in physics from EPFL. Swiss computer scientist Jean-Daniel Nicoud, best known for creating the computer mouse, obtained his degree in physics from EPFL in 1963. Finally, Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist Jacques Dubochet studied physics at EPFL in 1962 and received his degree in physical engineering in 1967.


Much like our previous articles, we at Cybernews Academy want to identify the similarities between ETH Zurich and EPFL. Let’s take a look at some of the things that connect these universities and what attributes they share.


According to QS, they are located on the shores of Lake Zurich and Lake Geneva and "boast magnificent views of the Alps mountain range." Both universities have urban campuses in the heart of their respective cities. Each city has a large student population, and according to QS, both cities have a "relatively high cost of living," which is offset by low tuition fees.

Low tuition fees

Swiss public universities have lower tuition fees than other parts of the world. According to QS, ETH Zurich has a flat rate for domestic and international students. The cost of studying per year in Switzerland is 1,460 CHF, roughly equivalent to $1,637.19. For your entire three years of bachelor's degree study at ETH Zurich, you should expect to pay approximately $4,911.57. Similarly, domestic students will pay the same 1,540 CHF per year as international students– this works out to be roughly $1,726.86 per year. If you undertake a bachelor's degree at EPFL, you should expect to pay approximately $5,180.58. This is excellent value for money when you think about attending one of the best universities in the world for computer science and information technologies.


Both institutions offer scholarships that range from needs-based scholarships to excellence grants based on academic merit. ETH Zurich does support students on a needs basis; however, this doesn’t completely cover the cost of living and studying in Switzerland. There are several scholarships offered in Switzerland that provide grants to support students. These are external grants that are not part of the university scholarship schemes. In ETH Zurich’s words, the university “supports outstanding students who wish to pursue Master's degree studies."

EPFL offers needs-based scholarships to students; however, international students must have the funding for their entire studies secured before joining the university, as “EPFL cannot provide financial support in case of poor budget planning.” EPFL supplies social scholarships to international students in their second year of study. According to EPFL, this will be awarded if “a sudden change in the social, family, and/or economic situation of the applicant or persons in charge of the applicant.” EPFL also offers excellence scholarships for those who display academic excellence. The EPFL website states, “These fellowships, worth 10,000 CHF ($11,212.87), are spread over three years along with guaranteed housing.” These scholarships are intended for those whose academic results and engagement “stood out” in their application.

High-ranked institutions

ETH Zurich and EFPL rank highly in the QS WUR Ranking by Subject, as ETH Zurich comes in #7 for both the QS World University Rankings and the QS WUR Ranking by Subject. EPFL comes in at #10 in the QS WUR Rankings by Subject yet trails behind at #36 in the overall world rankings. Despite this, both institutions are well regarded for computer science and information technologies degrees.

Computing programs

ETH Zurich and EPFL only offer one bachelor-level computing course: computer science. You have a basic mathematics, physics, and computer science course at ETH Zurich. Then, you will have an introductory course in engineering and core subjects for specialization. You can also complete projects or practicals and attend lectures and seminars. The ETH Zurich website states that their "bachelor's degree programs cover in-depth academic content, practical knowledge, the competence to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries, and socially relevant key skills." At ETH Zurich, bachelor's degrees begin in German, but English courses may be available in the second and third years of study. This degree consists of 180 credits and takes about three years to complete. However, the maximum time to complete this course is five years. Your first year of study will conclude with an examination.

Similarly, EPFL has one computer science course where you will learn the basics of mathematics and computer science. However, during this course, you can learn information science. Like ETH Zurich, EPFL students will complete projects that enable them to experience their future specialization. In your second and third years, you will continue with basic training in mathematics and physics alongside computer science. Bachelor’s studies usually represent three years, translating into 180 credits. According to the university’s website, “The curriculum is divided in one first-year called a propaedeutic cycle, followed by two years with a higher percentage of courses in the chosen field of study.” You can study abroad for one year, offered in your third year. This bachelor’s degree is an intermediary diploma, allowing you to pursue various master’s programs at EPFL, other Swiss universities, and internationally.

International universities

Both institutions have a high international faculty and student ratio, with ETH Zurich with 100 points for international faculty and 98.5 for international students. Similarly, EPFL has 100 out of 100 for international faculty and student ratios. This statistic shows that many international students and teachers are in attendance despite the requirement of German and French languages.


Despite ETH Zurich and EPFL’s similarities, the two institutions have some natural nuances.

Language of study

Both universities require students to speak one of two common languages in Switzerland: French and German. However, ETH Zurich's bachelor's programs are mainly in German. Although ETH Zurich's bachelor's programs are taught in German, their website states, "In the second and third years of the programs, some of these courses may take place in English." On the other hand, most master's degrees taught at ETH Zurich are English-based, yet some knowledge of English and German may be required. At EPFL, bachelor's courses are predominantly taught in French. If you want to undertake a master's course at EPFL and are an English speaker, you're in luck, as master's courses are mainly taught in English.

Academic reputation

Academic reputation scores are different between ETH Zurich and EPFL. ETH Zurich achieved 98.8 points in the academic reputation in the QS WUR. In contrast, EPFL Zurich received 84.6 points out of 100 in the QS WUR. This factor shows how well-regarded the university is in terms of citations and other elements of research. Therefore, if you wish to attend a heavily researched university (which both of these universities are), consider the academic reputation of each university, as this will show you how well these institutions conduct their research.

Employment outcomes

ETH Zurich and EPFL have wildly different QS scores for employment outcomes. ETH Zurich scores a modest 79.1 out of 100 in employment outcomes, whereas EPFL scores a low 19.4 points out of 100. This is significant if you are looking to get into employment once you graduate from your studies. According to QS, the “Employment Outcomes indicator reflects the ability of institutions to ensure a high level of employability for their graduates, while also nurturing future leaders who go on to make an impact in their respective fields.” Considering a university with a high level of employability upon graduation may be an important factor when assessing the institutions you wish to attend.

Master’s degrees

Both universities offer the option to further concentrate on other aspects of computer science during your master’s. However, both universities provide slightly different master’s degree programs. You can take Cyber Security, Computer Science, Robotics, Systems and Control, and Data Science at ETH Zurich. The university offers several master’s programs in English led by a diverse faculty of around 45 professors. The ETH Zurich website states, “Students have ample opportunities to participate in exciting research projects, often in collaboration with industry or local research centers of international companies.”

At EPFL, you can take a master’s degree in Computer Science, Data Science, Cyber Security, Robotics, Communication Systems, and Quantum Science/Engineering. According to the EPFL website, these “master’s programs offer a large flexibility in subject choices. They can be shaped and highly specialized or oriented towards transdisciplinarity.” These programs are designed to be flexible, which allows students to customize their curriculum that aligns with their goals.

Both universities are well-renowned institutions that provide excellent computer science and information technology courses. ETH Zurich and EPFL have high-value, low-cost degrees that can put you in a good position for future employment. ETH Zurich does score higher on the employment outcomes in the QS WUR and offers a broader range of master's degrees. However, EPFL offers a more comprehensive range of scholarships that can help support prospective students and nurture the next generation of STEM professionals. Both institutions share similarities in location, low tuition fees, scholarships, and prestigious status in the QS WUR Rankings by Subject. However, they share some differences that help set them apart. But remember, where you want to go to university depends on your needs. Perhaps academic reputation is essential when choosing your institution, or scholarships might be pivotal in your decision-making. Ultimately, rankings should never be the only deciding factor. They may help compare and assess your options but aren't the be-all and end-all. Don't forget when picking your university; you must consider your needs, adequately research, and determine what you want from your academic experience.