University Counseling

Schoolfinders helps families find the optimal school and education path, from the first school years all the way up to high school, advising on both Swiss educational programs as well as international diplomas.

Together with our carefully selected partners, we build the entire range of education paths, enabling us to recommend the most suitable high school diploma for each child.

Our group also offers university counselling, in which we support the process of exploring which academic field to pursue a higher degree in, as well as consulting on entry requirements for the desired academic field or specific degree and how to target universities.

Today we would like to introduce Mr. Nicolas Barnard, founder of GMAT in Zurich.

Mr. Barnard has a proven track record in counseling and supporting students applying to some of the most competitive Postgraduate programs globally and specifically in tutoring aspiring MSc students for the notorious GMAT examination, which most leading Postgraduate institutions require.

Here an abstract from Mr. Nicolas Barnard:

How to go from the University of Applied Sciences

to a top-ranked graduate school

In my 10 years as a lecturer at a Swiss University of Applied Sciences, I have helped dozens of my students get into top graduate schools. In this post I will discuss my experience in achieving acceptances at elite Master’s and MBA programs. I’ll be sharing take-aways and tips that have converted applied sciences graduates to acceptances at the top schools.

For those unfamiliar, the University of Applied Sciences system uses an experience-based approach and allows students to work in parallel to their studies. I will refer to it as FH from now on, (from Fachhochschule, the official designation). FH students have completed several years of work experience additionally to their Swiss Matura (Berufsmatura or Gymnasiale Matura). The work experience is obtained either during a Swiss apprenticeship or during an internship after the completed Matura. This working experience is indeed the major difference between traditional University and FH. The latter have much more practical experience as most FH students have been through rigorous training programs before obtaining their first degrees and continue to advance in their careers as they study.

There is much discussion whether FH system is equivalent to the university system, or whether FH is second tier. I won’t take a side because both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. While the perception of the FH is generally that it is less academic, the connection to the working world provides real benefits to FH applicants applying to elite Universities.

Applying to a top graduate program is a complex and often overwhelming proposition for anyone. For FH graduates, my strategy is to create a compelling story that calls attention to career accomplishments, work experience, and likely career paths. By citing positive experiences in the working world, FH grads come across as well prepared for management careers. This is the key to the application.

A successful application— regardless of first degree— requires a deep understanding of what the top schools are looking for. The top-ranked master’s programs are ultimately screening students that can be placed at top companies. A strong personal story is a big bonus, but in the end grad schools are looking for future business leaders who can impact their environments and rise to the top management level.

Here are some examples of successful applications with FH backgrounds:

  • Antonio — ZHAW graduate, worked in parallel at Julius Baer. Accepted to ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Data Analytics program.

Application details: He discussed the increased relevance of Data Science at his employer. He gave concrete examples in the bank where he saw future opportunity. He also mentioned that his mother is an Asian immigrant. He scored a 640 on GMAT.

  • Hanna — Hotel School of Lausanne (EHL) graduate. Did hotel internships abroad and in Switzerland. Admitted to Master of Economics at University of Zurich.

Application details: To enter federal universities, EHL grads are usually given a high GMAT target (ca. 650+). Hanna took my GMAT course and we did a few 1:1s. Her GMAT was in the high 600s and she was admitted to her first choice. Her personal statement was about her international experience in the service industry and the role of service in a professional service environment.

  • Michael—HWZ Zurich graduate, apprenticeship at UBS with a rotation at UBS Singapore. Accepted to London Business School MBA, now is an alumni interviewer for LBS.

Application details: Michael scored 640 on GMAT and this is below average of LBS applicants by a fair margin. Instead of focusing on GMAT, we fine-tuned the essays. We talked about his experience at a global bank in Asia and identified career paths within global finance that he wished to pursue.

  • Thomas — FH of St Gallen (FHSG) graduate, accepted at SIM St Gallen.

Application details: The SIM is the number 1 ranked master’s in management by the Financial Times and perhaps the hardest program to get into. Thomas studied hard for GMAT and achieved a 710. He then wrote about his experience winning his uni’s consulting contest, in particular about helping his team-mates. He was also admitted to other top schools (with large scholarship at ESADE) and chose St Gallen.

  • Mirko— graduated from FH of Nordwestschweiz (FHNW), internship at Big 4 in Zurich, accepted to London School of Economics (LSE),

Application details: The GMAT result was not as high as we hoped. We applied to LSE without GMAT (it is optional at LSE). In the motivation letter, we honestly told the story of his journey to Switzerland from a difficult background, and about the sacrifices and opportunities that it entailed. We also highlighted professional opportunities that he learned about as an intern and would like to pursue.


  1. GMAT: a good GMAT will dispel any notion that a FH is inferior academically. Although there were cases where GMAT was under average, a high GMAT made the admissions process much easier.

  2. School letters/ essays: This is where the battle was one. In each case we carefully crafted a career vision and stated the role of the chosen university in fulfilling that vision.

  3. Recommendation letters: The students were able to get powerful letters from their companies that validated their claims. In some cases, we could propose content for the letters.

  4. Grades and transcripts: Interestingly, this was the area that the schools were most flexible. In most cases we did not emphasize grades and instead preferred to focus on career potential.


FH graduates are well positioned for the modern workplace and armed with practical skills. Top-ranked graduate schools are aware of this. In no way is a FH degree an impediment— but the advantages must be carefully articulated. The decision of top schools is based on the 4 factors of: standard tests, essays, grades, and recommendation letters and a perfect application addresses all four. A good GMAT score was an advantage, and in all cases the essays were carefully crafted to tell the story of high future potential and ambition.

Final comment:

These success cases are a few out of MANY. I offer a free consultation through my site I will propose target schools and create a roadmap to acceptance.


FH= Fachhochshule or University of Applied Sciences

GMAT= General Management Admissions Test. This is basically SAT for grad school. It competes with the GRE and consists of math and English multiple choice questions under time pressure.

HWZ= Hochschule für Wirtshcaft Zurich, a private university where I worked for 10 years.

Gymnasium= Swiss high school diploma needed to enter Swiss Federal University system

SIM= The Strategy and International Management in St Gallen ranked first by the FT among management programs.

FHNW= Fachhochschule of Nordwest Switzerland

ZHAW= state- supported university of applied sciences present in Winterthur, Zurich and Wädenswil

Big 4= Deloitte, EY, PwC, KPMG

LSE= London School of Economics

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