Imperial College VS ETH Zurich (MSc Physics)

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Report Thread starter 6 years ago
Good day everyone,

I'm in a position I am very thankful to be in, the terrible position of being able to choose between two great programs.

The first is the MSc in Physics at ETH Zürich , which is a 90 ECTS (European credit system) program that takes three semesters, or a year and a half. It is located in Zürich, Switserland.

The second is the MSc in Physics with Extended Research at Imperial College London, which is a 120 ECTS programme that takes 4 semesters ,or two years. It is located in London, UK.

Now, to begin with, it is important to note that I am personally most interested in what some would call applied physics. To me this term is too ambiguous, so I'll just describe what I mean. What I do not want to do is extremely abstract, somewhat applied-math like, theoretical physics. I find it an amazing field, but it's just not for me. What I want to do is something that is somewhat, either directly or indirectly, related to physics that might someday find an actual application. Think of semiconductors, or photonics, or quantum information. I'm not sure about whether I want to go for theory or experimental as of yet, so I'm trying to keep my options open. Even worse, I'm not even sure that I will want to pursue a PhD in Physics, which will most definitely depend on how much I enjoy my masters program. Other options, like patent attorneys or consultancy, terrible as they may sound, are also thing I would still consider if academics does not turn out to be my first choice.

Oh, also important, my native language is Dutch. I am fluent (or at least somewhat) in English (C1-C2 level), but my German is at maximum a B1, which means I can understand it a little and speak it rather poorly.

In any case, I've sort of made a list of pro's for the two:


  • Living in London, a global city
  • Not having a language barrier
  • 2 years long (the difference is only in the masters thesis: in each program you take 8 major courses, but ETH's master project is a semester shorter)
  • Better general reputation (for physics, I'd say their reputations are probably almost equal? Imperial is a university that offers a larger variety of study disciplines, so more people know about them outside of the physics world)
  • No conditional offer: at ETH I will have to take 1 extra course from their Bachelor program, which is just added to my course load. At Imperial I simply have to end up with a GPA of 3.8, which I will.

ETH Zürich:

  • Lower tuition fee (Zurich and London are both among the most expensive cities to live in in Europe, so that's going to be rough either way. But Zurichs tuition is about 5000 euro's (7000 dollars) cheaper per year, and is half a year shorter)
  • Offers a larger variety of Physics courses (the difference is huge: ETH offers about ~50+ courses to choose from, while Imperial offers around 20)
  • Has a more explicit focus on applied sciences (this I'm not 100% sure about)

Now, it is of course also important to look at the research departments that I would like to do my Masters thesis with, or even a PhD already. As of now, my interest is primarily quantum information processing, but this could change very easily. I'm doing my bachelor thesis in this field and I find it very interesting, but then again as an undergraduate student, what do I know?

In this field imperial has a Controlled Quantum Dynamics group that does things I find very interesting, and ETH has a Quantum Devices group. Looking at the other groups that they have, the list at ETH is quite a bit longer, which is positive for if I reconsider my interests.

Short version:
All in all I find it a very difficult decision. From a social perspective I find it more attractive to live in the UK, where everyone speaks English, rather than in a city where everyone knows some English, but is not comfortable with it and where they will talk to each other in a language I don't really understand. Both programs are in English, but from what I've read English is not spoken all that well in Zurich. The longer master thesis also makes london more attractive, as more practice is always good. Imperials general reputation is better, but for physics they are both excellent.
On the other hand, the tuition fee difference is very large, and money does play a role. I'll have a large student debt in either case though. Zürichs large amount of courses and a wide variety of departments is also very nice.

I apologize for the long post, and thank you for any advice whatsoever!
Badges: 15
Report 6 years ago
ETH Zurich purely because Einstein studied there.
Badges: 4
Report 2 years ago
HI physics student here. I think you could try imperial since London is a big city which means opportunities. In the field of quantum information (i don't know much about this area). If it's an area needs much computer programming skills I think you could find some related opportunities in London.

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