1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Do anyone here have experience with ETH Zürich?

  1. Nov 10, 2012 #1

    I am in my last year of high school, and I will probably study physics or mathematics at the university, though I dont know which subject. I am considering ETH Zürich, mainly because of its reputation, the study fees is very low and I will learn German even better when studying there (maybe French and Italian as well). The city also offers cultural things, such as martial art (I live at the moment in a small town, so I would love to try out new things).

    But the problem is that I dont know much about ETH Zürich except from what I see at university rankings, and people who quote the results from these rankings. I'm not sure if this forum is the best place to ask, but if someone here have studied there, could you tell a little about the Physics Department or the Math Department at ETH?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 10, 2012 #2
    The first two years are unnecessarily Math heavy and you can still change your mind and study math instead of physics during that time. This time is tough and I doubt that you will have a lot of time to learn German or do much else than studying. If you do not speak German you will have a very hard time. The German that you have learned in School will not help you understand what people speak in the streets because of Swiss German, but for the lectures it should be ok. So my recommendation is not to go there if you don't speak German unless you have a great talent/background in mathematics. If you want to get a better feel for the stuff that you learn in the lectures, you can find the courses that you have to take online and see if they are in German or English, and on this page you find all the lecture notes of different years: http://www.mitschriften.ethz.ch/main.php?page=3 Housing prices are very high in Zurich and a room can easily cost 700CHF. University sports are nice and plentiful. Oh and check out this page and the links on it http://zurich.esn.ch/index.php?file=living_index.php [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Nov 10, 2012 #3
    Thanks for reply.

    I will take a language test in the upcomming summer holiday, that will decide whether my German is formally good enough or not. I will probably do an English-test as well, since I still consider universities in England/USA.

    I must also have an extra year after high school, because I will need an admission to a Norwegian university. I will therefore have much time preparing myself for the syllabus. I don't look at myself as talented in mathematics, but hardworking. I think I have a great understanding what it means to study mathematics.

    I know Swiss German is very strange, but don't you think that the average German would do okay?
  5. Nov 10, 2012 #4
    Germans understand Swiss German after a short time. Many Swiss German words sound like mangled German, and often times they simply use an archaic term for something. So a German native might know four or five words for "horse" for example, while a foreigner has only learned the one commonly used today. You will get along without problems when you communicate with people as they change to high German when they notice your accent, but you will not understand some announcements through the speakers or Swiss tv and radio programs.

    I don't understand your question about the average German. If you are German or one of your parents is German by all means study in Switzerland, but the truly average German does not have the qualifications to study at a university.

    There is an entry exam and it might be a good idea to find out what kind of test you have to pass. This is something to prepare for, apart from that -- my main point is that you should try to learn as much German as you can before you start studying Physics in a German speaking country, because the first semesters are tough even if you know the language already, and you don't have a lot of spare time.
  6. Nov 10, 2012 #5
    Hi Hoksalon, I only skimmed through your conversation with 0xDEADBEEF, so I hope what I'll say won't overlap with his thoughts. I'm currently an MSc student at ETH, after obtaining my BSc in Greece. In which case my overall experience is severely biased, as a result of the huge difference between the two educational systems -it could also be of use if you told us where you are from.

    1. ETH has indeed a very demanding programme when it comes to physics (but probably in most of the courses it offers). Some 50% of the students fail at first year exams and have to go through the same courses again, if they don't want to drop. You should be prepared to work at a high pace throughout the year. I think that exams for BSc students are also at September, which means that you will be also required to study throughout the summer. I came unprepared for such a situation, which in turn was something of a revelation for me as I realized I didn't actually want to go to academia. However, I've seen fellow students of me with a deeper and more profound passion for physics to truly blossom. They too had to study hard, but are still on track and currently plan their PhD applications. Overall ETH offers a great environment for people who are really certain for their desire to do physics, so you have to be sure of where you stand.

    2. My social life was reduced to a minimum, partly because of the curriculum's demands to study daily and partly because when I had free time, it was most likely that all others would study :p BUT, on the bright side I'm a social retard, so others would probably have managed better than me and although Zurich is not what you'd call a vibrant city, there are still many opportunities to have fun. Especially if you're into (winter or not) sports you'll happily find yourself in a society that just loves to exercise.

    3. It's true that tuition fees are low, however the cost of living is considerably high. Most will tell you that you'll need 1500-2000 CHF per month which can be a lot depending on your background. I make it with a little more than 1k, but I was lucky enough to find a cheap room (at 525 CHF) and as I told you before, I have no social life :P Also keep in mind that finding a place can be a nightmare and it will take you more or less a month to do so.

    4. Swiss german is a problem for germans, let alone for people who come from non-german speaking countries. My german is of B1 level, but I have made little progress after one year, since you only get to hear swiss german (and courses at the master's level are at english). Also people who migrate here may not manage to learn swiss german even after a lot of years. I think this a serious issue if you want to integrate in the society and that's why I'm looking for a job at a different country. In any case, if your german is not advanced, you may be disappointed to find that you're not able to follow the lectures.

    That's my overall experience and the way I presented it, it is not much physics-oriented, as my interest in it has considerably faded. To sum up, a degree from ETH is well-respected (or at least they say so, I'm yet to see it in practice) and there's a reason for it; It's tough. You can always come here for a MSc like I did, I dunno where you're from, but in my year there were students from India to Sweden and from Chile to Armenia, so obtaining a good BSc overall grade is maybe enough, regardless of where you got your degree from. Let me know if you have more specific questions
  7. Nov 10, 2012 #6
    Hi Hoksalon,

    Mind if I ask which Norwegian university you are considering? I am currently starting my bachelors in Physics at the University of Oslo, though NTNU is apparently much better for engineering.

    I live in Oslo now though, so happy to help if you have questions.
  8. Nov 11, 2012 #7
    I’m learning German in school, and the teacher clearly tells me that I should be able to master B2-level in German, even though I will need C1.

    I was some weeks ago at a private language course in Berlin, and the instructor told us that they often require B2-level for further study in Germany, which implies that I would probably be able to study at a German-speaking university in the end.
    If I receive the C1-certificate, I will not need to take any entrance exam. I’m also perfectly fine with having little spare time, since Physics/Mathematics is fun :P
    And yes, I’m currently learning German as much as possible. Setting my main page to de.wikipedia.de, switching my google search to german, and so on ;P

    Hello, and thanks for a long answer.

    I’m currently living in Norway. I know ETH will be demanding, but that is exactly what I’m looking for. I don’t want to go to a university for other reasons than studying. (I named some reasons, but they may of course be relevant after I have finished my degree). My biggest fear is that my high school curriculum in Physics is not demanding enough. We only learn physics for three years before we enter the university.

    I’m not afraid ending up as a social retard. I’m currently one, and it disappears right after I have trained for a couple of months :P

    The point is; I do think that I have a big passion for Mathematics, and I hope to do well in the national high school competition in math this year. I can’t say the exact same about Physics, but since they are “much the same”, I still consider if I would survive a Bachelor’s degree in Physics.

    Question: Did you have problems applying for the MSc in Physics after you received your BSc from Greece? I have looked over a pdf-file that listed up all the specific subjects that was needed in the Bachelor-degree. Did you have any problems fulfilling these subjects?

    I am considering NTNU (Physics and Mathematics), but I’m still not sure if I should take that first year, or take a year off where I can complete other things I didn’t have time for now. Also, I’m not sure if ETH Zürich “Physics and Mathematics” as equivalent, since it contains both BSc and MSc integrated into one degree. I should e-mail them about that.

    If I take this first year at the Norwegian university, I will probably be more fit to meet the different subjects at ETH, but my german skills will probably lacking more (I will probably adapt them quickly though). Also; with an year off, I can participate one more time in the high school competition in Mathematics and Physics, but that will probably not matter, compared to what I will learn at the first year of Physics at the Uni.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
  9. Nov 11, 2012 #8
    Consider the University of Leipzig's International Physics Studies Program. B.Sc and M.Sc degrees are taught in English completely.

    http://www.uni-leipzig.de/~physik/bachelor-physik-ipsp.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. Nov 11, 2012 #9
    When it comes to succeeding in university (whatever succeeding means), you'll have to study a lot on your own, so even if high school hasn't prepared you enough, you should still be able to reach the level of your classmates. I know of a few people who were in the same situation (they had studied virtually no physics at high school) here at ETH and they are still in the physics business, so everything is possible.

    Since you're determined, then you should totally follow your passion, just be versatile and if you don't manage to reach your goals you should be able to readjust. Last year I went through a lot of inner struggle to convince myself that physics isn't right for me, while I also entered uni thinking that I was 100% sure of what I wanted to do.

    No. I did not have any problem with the prerequisite subjects, though in practice there were gaps in my education (since the two curricula didn't overlap) that due to my lost interest I never managed to fill. A few other MSc inductees had to also attend and pass some courses as additional requirements, which meant a 20-30% additional effort.

    By the way, this is the site of the Physics & Mathematics student union at ETH: https://vmp.ethz.ch/page/kontakt Maybe you should directly address your questions to them. Cheers and good luck with your choice.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
  11. Nov 11, 2012 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I'd just like to reinforce the warning about Swiss German. I speak German at a native level, and don't have problems with even strong dialects from other regions. But Swiss German is completely impenetrable to me. Most Germans I know says the same.

    So if you get there, don't be discouraged if you find yourself not understanding a single word. You probably should take a Swiss German course if you can. This might speed things up considerably (note that you do not need to /speak/ Swiss German, just to understand it. Swiss understand Standard German just fine, it is just the other way around which does not work).
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook