Sep 272012

Updated 11-March-2015: UK universities no longer have caps on EU/EAA students admitted with non-UK qualifications. Updated 31-May-2013 to reflect information from NARIC about UK recognition of the Swiss Maturité.

Expat parents in Switzerland frequently ask whether their children will have more options when applying to university with an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma or a Swiss Maturité. There is no simple answer to this question, although it helps if you are lucky enough to know the country where the student wants to study ahead of time.

The IB Diploma: Large Numbers and Standardization

In general, the IB diploma is more widely recognized than the Swiss Maturité because it is a well-defined and well-documented program, awarded annually to a large number of students. Exams are standardized and student marks are normalized across all students taking the exams, so a mark of 30 at one school is the same as 30 at a school on the other side of the world. Most universities know about the IB diploma and publish their IB recognition policies.

The Swiss Maturité: Small Numbers and Many Variations

The Swiss Maturité does not have the same level of international recognition as the IB because a much smaller number of students who complete this qualification apply to universities outside of Switzerland. After all, Switzerland has its own excellent, highly ranked universities with very low fees. Many foreign universities are not familiar with the Maturité, and what is not known tends to be considered less valuable.

All 26 cantons, as well as the federal government, have different curricula and different exams for their academic Maturités/Maturas, making it difficult for universities to understand each type of Swiss qualification. UK NARIC, the agency responsible for providing information on recognition of foreign academic qualifications, considers the Maturité based on the federal exam – the exam private school students sit – equivalent to federally-recognized maturités awarded by publicly-funded gymnases. Unfortunately, UK universities frequently require extremely high marks from students applying with a Maturité, causing many students to give up on the possibility.

There is one logistical complication to note for private school students who take the federal exam. Because they sit the summer exam late in August and early in September, it difficult to submit results in time for Fall admission to UK universities. Many of these students plan a gap year or a gap semester after taking the exams in the winter. Parents of students sitting the federal exam also complain of losing the summer to exam preparation.

Where the Maturité Shines

If your child wants to attend university in Switzerland, it is easier with a Swiss Maturité because maturité students are automatically admitted to any Swiss university. This is as true for students who barely pass as it is for students who have top marks. Swiss universities require the full IB diploma, specific IB courses, marks that are well above average, and sometimes an entrance exam.

When US colleges and universities know the Swiss Maturité well, they seem to be big fans. An admissions officer from Harvard recently stated that, in the past few years, Harvard has admitted more students from Switzerland with the Maturité than with an IB diploma.

When to Change Programs

If your child is very young, you don’t need to decide now. From an academic standpoint, it is typically easier to move from local schools to an international school. You can move them at the end of primary school, or even as late as year 8, 9 or 10, as long as they are fluent in English – and assuming the international school has space. Not to minimize the international school space issue, but there is some flexibility in terms of when a student makes the move.

Dual IB/Matura Programs

Some gymnasiums in Basel and Zurich offer top students the opportunity to complete both qualifications – a Swiss Matura from their canton and an IB diploma – at the same time and with little additional work. Those cantons acknowledge issues with international recognition of the Swiss Matura and adopted this approach to maximize opportunities for their students. It appears there would be significant demand for such a program in cantons with large numbers of expats such as Vaud and Geneva. Although canton Vaud schools are consider a dual IB/Maturité program, it does not appear to be a high priority.

  32 Responses to “IB or Swiss Maturité: Which Is Better?”

  1. Is it possible for me to get the Swiss Maturité as I live in the United States and are already on track for the IB diploma. Is there any possible way for me to take the Maturité test so I could have a better chance of getting into ETH Zurich (That is my number one college on my list) It would be great if you could get back to me.

    • Hi Alex,

      What you propose is at least extremely challenging. It is possible to self-study for the Swiss Maturité but then you would probably need to come here to take the exams. The exams include both written and oral sections spread over about a two week period.

      You will need to be very fluent in at least one of German, French or Italian, and competent in another of those languages to have a chance at passing the exams. You can find more information about the exams on the website of the Swiss federal department of education.

      The only alternative to taking the exams here that I can think of is if there happens to be a Swiss curriculum school in the US, possibly in the Washington, D.C. area for children of diplomats, that will let you sit the exams there. But still, you would probably be a stronger candidate putting your focus on your IB studies because there is no guarantee that you would pass the Maturité exam. Just be sure you are taking the appropriate IB courses for ETH.

      Best regards,

      • My children are homeschooled and fluent in both Italian and French – is it possible to take the Maturite without attending a Swiss school and how would one go about doing that?

        • Hi Spacebunny,

          Technically, yes, your children can take the federal Maturité exam and attain the Swiss Maturité qualification without attending a Swiss school. See here for information about the exam, how to register for it, and what it covers. They may need to pass a German test, and realistically, their chances of passing may be much higher if they work with an organization that helps students pass the exams.

  2. Thats not correct, many Universities outside of switzerland known a lot about the swiss maturity certificate and they all accept it and its even higher than the US High School. Its even better than GCSE and A Levels.

  3. hi i would like to know if universities of switzerland accepts the SAT for admission..

    • Hi Jorge,

      Swiss Universities would not accept SATs on their own, and truthfully, I’m not sure they even look at them. They are much more interested in exams based on your course work. Where have you been studying and what type of high school qualification/diploma do your have or will you receive? Be aware that most Swiss bachelor programs are taught in either German or French, though there are one or two in English and a few in Italian. See the CRUS website for more information.

  4. Hi, I’m currently studying in Switzerland (german part) and will (hopefully) receive a matura diploma in a couple of years. I also spent a year studying abroad in England and have taken some GCSE’s. Having an older friend that is now applying to British Universities, I am considering the possibility of studying abroad (meaning not in Switzerland, favourably in the United States or the UK). My question is, would it help with getting into Uni having acquired an SAT? Do British/American schools even accept the Swiss Matura on its own? And is it possible for me to take SATs in Switzerland, aside from school, and getting a good grade? Tanks in advance.

    • Hi Thea,

      Lots of questions here!

      Yes, you can take the SAT in Switzerland – or the ACT, which is another option that more and more students prefer. Check here for more information. How to get good marks? Do timed practice tests ahead of time to estimate your score, or contact me for suggestions about online tutoring (revising) organizations that can help you with preparing for these exams.

      US universities frequently require that you submit scores from either the SAT or the ACT in addition to your Swiss Matura scores, though a few of the most competitive US universities or colleges also require SAT Subject tests. UK universities usually accept predicted and then final Swiss Matura marks.

      If you have scores from the SAT and apply to university in the UK, I suggest you also submit them depending on how high the scores are. However, UK universities typically only look for SAT scores if you are applying from the US or from a US (AP or Advanced Placement) curriculum.

      Both UK and US universities – especially those that are most highly ranked – look for high marks on the Swiss Matura, unlike Swiss universities that just require you have passed. US universities also care a lot about your marks (notes) for your final four years of secondary school, and not just your final marks.

      Hope this is helpful, but let me know what additional questions you have.

  5. Hi, thanks so much for all this wonderful information. My son, age 11, is currently hesitating between two schools (transferring from the public system, in which he skipped grade 4). One – a swiss private school that offers the maturite, and an international school that offers the IB.

    He wants to study either at a top UK/US university (if accepted), otherwise in Switzerland, so close to home. If he is in the swiss private school, he should be able to do the maturite at 16.5 so would take a gao year anyway. If at the international school, he’d have to go a year back because of his age.

    A complicated situation – any recommendations for maturite vs IB?

    many thanks!

    • If your son is 11, you have some time to make a decision about this. I frequently talk to students who were in the local system until moving to an international school for the last 3 or 4 years of secondary school. Also, in some parts of Switzerland, the public systems already offer a dual IB/Matura diploma, which gives the most flexibility. I understand Canton Vaud is aiming in that direction, starting first with the bilingual Maturité.

      My advice, if your son is aiming at a top UK/US university, is that he attends the school with the strongest experience and record of students being accepted into those universities. This will almost certainly be the international school rather than the Swiss private school if for no other reason than that a greater portion of their students will be applying to the UK and US. Ask questions about the students’ IB scores and Maturité over the past few years, as well as who their university counselors are, how long they have been in that role, what type of training they have, what professional organizations they belong to, and what conferences they attend on an annual basis. The school should be a member of OACAC and COIS for its counselors to have the most up-to-date information on university applications to the UK and US.

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have more questions.

      • Thank you for this very helpful info – we have a meeting at the Swiss private school next week and I will ask about the IB option – it is indeed in Vaud so maybe possible. I know they did start a bilingual French-English program recently, which is part of the reason we’re considering this school. And although we might indeed have a few more years to think about it, the timing is right for us now as there’s another child’s schooling to consider and we’d like to move them both at the same time, not to have to drive to three different schools every day.

        Another question, quite specific – do you know much about the OIB program (international school in Ferney Voltaire, France) which seems to be some kind of hybrid between the IB and the French baccalaureate… rumours say that some universities don’t know how to look at this rare animal, which is a good reason to move our children to an IB or Maturite system (or both)…?

        Many thanks!

  6. OK, my turn 😉
    Such superb advise, I need to ask a couple questions.

    Our son is 10 years old, Y6 at IIL in Geneva (IB program).
    He is very technical, but also very fluent in English, German and French (though weaker).
    .. Mother is German, I am American.

    We want to keep ‘all’ options open to go to Swiss schools in Zuerich/Lausanne, and an outside chance at German schools.
    With the idea of graduate school in UK/USA.

    We have decided to put him in Moser’s German/French program.

    I suppose my questions are:

    1. How often do students fail out of the big Swiss universities (since all Maturité students get in, I have heard there is a large culling that goes on during the first 1-2 years)

    2. Do German schools readily accept the Swiss Maturité

    3. How accepted is the Swiss undergraduate degree at the big UK/USA university graduate programs?

    4. After getting a Maturité, can students take an extra year or 2 and get their IB (and get high scores)?
    Or is it really too late to get strong IB scores if you only study 1-2 years for the IB?
    (Our son is the yougest in his class, so he has at least 1 year ‘extra’ to play with).

    5. Are we on the right track with our current approach – ie. Moser School (sorry for how general this question is)

    Kind regards,

    • Hi Steven,

      I am so pleased to see your questions, our son is in a similar situation to yours and we are about to take the same step ie put him at Moser (in Nyon). He is a year older than your son. Can’t wait to read the advise you’ll get, and would be more than happy to connect and exchange research on this very topic.


    • Hi Steven,

      That’s quite a list of questions. Just to clarify, am I right in assuming you plan to continue to live in the Lac Leman region until your son is ready to go to university? And you want him to be prepared to study for a bachelor degree at universities where German or French is the language of instruction but then be able to shift over to English for a Master or PhD?

      Assuming that is the correct understanding, then here is what I can tell you:

      1. Many students fail or do not complete university programs in Switzerland. This data from EPFL will give you an idea of the failure rate.

      2. My understanding is that German universities readily accept the Swiss Maturité but I suggest you contact DAAD for more information.

      3. It depends on what Swiss institution granted the degree and what degree the student receives. If a student receives a bachelor of science from EPFL, for example, it should be recognized as equivalent to a US bachelor degree. However, the degree is just one admission requirement and graduate programs in the US base admissions on grades at the undergraduate level, scores on the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) standardized exam, references from professors, undergraduate research, etc. I’m less familiar with graduate programs in the UK though the Bologna agreements are specifically designed to facilitate recognition of degrees among member countries. You have some years until your son would start graduate studies and higher education is definitely in transition, but I would expect that financing and funding rather than degree recognition might present the most significant problems. See this page for an example.

      4. The IB Diploma Program is a two-year program and I don’t think it is possible to shorten it. it includes components beyond exam scores so requires attendance at a IB World School. See for more information. However, some of the local gymnasiums in the Basel and Zurich areas offer dual Matura/IBDP programs where students receive both diplomas at the end. This is possible because the two curricula are fairly similar. I have heard that Canton Vaud, which will start an English/French bilingual Maturité next year, is considering implementing a dual Maturité/IB program in the future but I don’t know if Geneva has similar plans. I saw some data about IB scores students received at one of these schools awhile ago and will try to track that down.

      5. I think a bilingual German/French Maturité is a reasonable plan but you must expect that your son’s written academic English skills are unlikely to end up at the same level as if he was educated in English during high school and/or undergraduate studies. Based on students I have worked with, this is true even if you continue to speak English at home and the students studies English throughout his secondary school education.

      I hope this helps.

      • Hi Marilyn and Steven and thank you both for this helpful info. Marilyn, I actually tried to book a phone consultation through the little pop-up thing on the website and no one ever got back to me… 🙂

        Steven, we visited both La Châtaigneraie (an International School of Geneva campus near us) and Moser in Nyon and although they were both quite impressive, i felt there was less of a ‘marketing pitch’ at Moser and it is really geared up towards Swiss students – some of them wanting to later go to the best schools in the US (in fact, apparently they offer a ‘school trip’ to Harvard and MIT for interested students). I know more international parents/ expats send their kids to the ISG (and its various campuses) but as we will probably stay in the area in the coming years, and our son – like yours – is young for his class, I don’t see him going on his own to the US or UK at the age of 17. So if we’d like him to go to university nearby initially, then Geneva/Lausanne are our best bets.

        I was surprised to learn that students are only allowed to take the maturite TWICE (so if they fail twice – too bad) and only in the year they turn 18 (or later). So, for our son to take it before he turns 17, he would need a special ‘derogation’ (which apparently is not a problem… according to the Moser director… apparently every year they get a few of those). However, I did hear stories of kids who failed the maturite twice (once missed a point in math, the second time in German for example) so I think it is a really important question whether the kid tests well or not.

        From my understanding with this talk to the director, the maturite gives a wider base of knowledge than the IB. Then they have to make their choice what they focus on when they go to university, not when they’re 14-15. For us this makes more sense. I hope I am making sense here!

        BTW, the ISG also offers a ‘maturite’ option. The director there – when I asked him to compare between the IB and Maturite – said the IB kids have more ‘free time’ in the last 2 years than the maturite kids. So for me, this means that the latter is more elaborate and not necessarily ‘harder’ but they need to learn more things. Being a ‘generalist’ myself, I feel that this is a good preparation for the future, I think that most 15 year olds can’t really make wise choices about specialisation…


        • Steven, one more thing to look at for keeping your son’s written English on a good level is this – they offer some awesome courses, summer programs etc. so if your son does go to an English speaking university in the future, especially in the US, doing this will certainly not hurt.

      • Thank you very much Marilyn for your 5-part answer 🙂
        So grounded, and to the point.

        Pretty startling drop-out figures for EPFL.

        And I do worry about my son’s English skills once he moves to French/German.
        .. he may end up a Jack of all languages, master of none.
        And if he will succeed in any of the top universities because of this mix of languages.

        Hmm.. we will think this over further.

        kind regards,

  7. Hi Daniele,

    Will be happy to compare notes on research 🙂

    This blog had some new information for me:

    Succeeding at University
    I talked to the secontary program manager from Geneva-Moser today, and she re-explained that from M1, they conduct the lessons very similar to the way they do it in University… lecture and then study groups. Preparing them well for University life.
    Also, the final exams will be conducted at Moser by Moser staff in June, rather than in a remote city by federal examiners in August/September. She mentioned that last year they finished exams on a Friday in mid-September and had to start classes at University on the following Monday. Hard to be ready to excell under such conditions.

    She also said that the language level will be suffient for students to succeed in either German or French. Of course she has to say that 😉

    Back to you,

    • Hi Steven and Daniela,

      When you talk to schools, be sure to ask for data on outcomes and exam scores for recent students. Remember you are dealing with a marketing department! I would also ask to talk to parents of former students – or to former students – who are now at university.

      Steven, the exams that will be conducted at Moser by Moser staff surprise me. My understanding was that the Federal Maturité, which I thought was the only recognized type of maturité offered by private schools in Switzerland, required exam administration in a central location by outside examiners. Has their been a change in the system?

      Good luck to both of you and your students.

      • Thank you Marilyn for your insigts.

        Yes indeed, there will be federal monitors at Moser, but the test will be conducted by Moser personnel. This is what I was told.

        best of regards,

        • Very interesting! Are the exams created by the federal examiners?

          • Hi again,

            I did not hear about this – the Moser director said that they actually have external examiners in Lausanne (or maybe i mis-understood and they are coming from Lausanne???) to test the kids.

            BTW, the director of Moser in geneva will be the director in Nyon next year, for whatever that’s worth… I assume the two schools have identical policies!

            One more thing about Moser is that they offer ‘coaching’ sessions for the maturite, so the kids really get all the help they might need in topics that they are less strong in. I didn’t hear about a similar option elsewhere, although of course it might exist.

          • I don’t know who creat the exams.

            I recall that they are the standard cantonal (?) exams, just administered by Moser personnel.

            best regards,

  8. Hi,
    Can somebody tell me the 5 GCSE (UK) which swiss level is compared? I am going to move in Switzerland and I want to know what opportunities are for my 16 years old son. He would like to go to university further.Many thanks.

    • Hi Angi,

      Are you moving to the French or German speaking part of the country? Does he speak the local language? If you hope to have him attend one of the state schools, as far as I know there are no university preparation courses taught in English though there may be some bilingual ones. In the French part the school is the gymnase and in the German part the gymnasium. Those courses lead to the Swiss Maturité or the Swiss Matura. At 16, he is very unlikely to be able to slip into one of those courses without years of repetition. You might look on in their Education section and search for discussions about options for students in your son’s situation.

      Your son will have the best university options if he goes to an international school, either doing his A levels or the IB. If international school costs make that infeasible, then you might consider the English state boarding schools. I’ve heard great things about them.

      Hope this helps,

  9. Hi
    After IGCSE year 11 what will be options for me.I want my kids to be part time schooling.They are Swiss nationals at the moment they are in BIS Phuket.

    • Hi Ramon,

      Sorry, just saw your comment among a lot of spam. Could you say more about the type of schooling you are looking for? If your children want to attend university in Switzerland, they’ll need to take either A levels or the IB diploma – but I’m not sure that is what you are asking. Are they fluent in one of the local languages?

      Best regards,

      • Thanks for the answer Marilyn
        yes they are fluent in french and the oldest one,14 is on year 9,the second one 12 is on year 7 and the youngest,7 year old, is on year 1.
        My question is for the oldest as he will have to decide in a year from now if he is going to do he IGC or IB.
        Thanks fro your help and ill wait for your reply.

      • Dear Mariyn,

        As we are targeting distance learning on a boat part time of the year, IB is not an option it seems as classes attendance is a requirement. So in this case, what would be other school systems available permitting part time boat schooling with accredited tutors ? A Levels and in other countries then UK ? In Switzerland in the International schools as their main written language is english now, but speaking fluent french. Or US systems ?

        We live in Asia, mostly but we are Swiss nationals.

  10. […] Global University Choices. (2015). IB or Swiss Maturité: Which is better? Retrieved from: […]

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