EPFL- 12 mins
As promised in my last clickbaity post, I want to share my experience at EPFL so far. I know some of the people that read my blog are younger than me (oh, feeling old already and I just turned 23), so I hope this will be useful for you. Nevertheless, I’ll try to write some generic things about living in Switzerland as well and other ad-hoc things, so even if you don’t want to apply for a master’s, I hope there are still some valuable things you can take from this post.
First, let me quickly tell you some facts about this university.
It is currently ranked at position 22 for general subjects, and at position 11 for Engineering and Technology. That makes it pretty prestigious. It is still behind ETH Zurich, which ranks really high. That’s where Einstein studied btw, so maybe that counts lol.
Not a lot of people know this, but the Scala programming language is being designed and developed at EPFL, where the Scala Center is located. The Center is led by Martin Odersky and they have lots of support from the industry leaders - Twitter uses Scala intensively for example.
Another cool thing about EPFL is the fact that the campus is huge and it has everything you need from printers to food and drinks (still kind of boring if you ask me, but hey you go there just to study, right?).
The application process was pretty straight forward. Here are all the details if you want to check them out. Basically, you need to fill out the online application and you’ll need three recommendation letters (preferably from academia - but I’ve also had one from my Product Manager at one of my internships with Google - he had a PhD in math, however) and your motivation letter. It helps if you have good grades also, not the definitive criteria, but still, it might indicate a certain discipline and thirst for KNOWLEDGE.
You’ll also have to pay the application fee (I forgot how much it was). Compared to living cost, education in Switzerland seem really accessible (at least at public institutions tho). At EPFL, the tuition fee is 710CHF per semester, so 1420CHF per year. As far as I know, that’s less than the fee for med school in Romania. So, you’ll get a very good education while still not getting in debt for the first years of life (yeah, I’m looking straight at the US and the UK).
In my case, I was accepted to both ETH and EPFL, but I’ve chosen EPFL because the campus is way cooler, they have entrepreneurship events and a startup culture (lots of PhD students started their own business out of their research areas) and because I felt more comfortable living in the french-speaking part of Switzerland. On top of that, I didn’t have to take any English certificate which was really a relief given my condition at that time (working part-time, studying full time and working on my Bachelor’s diploma - such an overachiever, much wow).
Ah, the campus is really nice, you have food cafeterias as well. Here’s an 8 CHF meal from Le Corbusier.
There are so many challenges I faced when I moved here. First, I was completely on my own buying groceries, cooking food, doing laundry, studying, buying household items and all the other things adults do.
I only bought the things that were really necessary because
I’m a minimalist I knew I was going to move from Lausanne so I don’t have to carry lots of things with me when that time will come. Plus, I think I said I’ll drop from school and move back to Romania dozens of times so it only made sense not to buy lots of crap.
Generally speaking, finding housing in Switzerland is a real adventure. The main reason I think it’s because they have a very strict process when you want to rent something. You have to have somebody that vouches for you, a Swiss person would be best. They also ask for a security deposit which might not be ideal for a student living on a budget.
Now, in the Lausanne area this it is even harder because there aren’t many places near the EPFL campus. EPFL does not have their own dorm rooms, so you have two options basically. The first one is to rent something on your own, from a private landlord. The second one is to go to a private company that offers student housing such as FMEL. Disclaimer They did not pay me to say this, although I could probably ask for some money since I redirect millions of views to their website through my blog lol.
EPFL actually tries their best to help you (and they do guarantee you to find something temporary in case you don’t find anything before university starts). They also have an internal database with housings and they send a PDF of rent ads. Of course, searching through them required lots and lots of effort and so I did what any other computer scientist would do and I wrote a Ruby script that would parse the PDF just for email addresses, and would send a generic email saying that I’m a cool guy who does not smoke, nor drink and I’m about to get married so I won’t bring home any girls or whatever these kids do nowadays.
Of course, sending an email to ALL of the available rents gave me the advantage that I can then filter myself, and by having more choices, I can make a better decision in terms of both the distance to EPFL (which was my top priority) and the monthly lease. I finally found something at two metro stations away, at a pretty cool human being for 800CHF / month (that’s still cheaper than what most people pay in Switzerland for a private room tho). After living there for about one month I emailed all of the FMEL housing and I was really lucky to get a room in a shared apartment (meaning I still have my own room which was larger than the previous one, but the apartment has 4 rooms and 2 bathrooms - in other words, you share the kitchen and living room with 3 other people and the bathroom with just another person). Not only the new location was 5 minutes away by foot to the campus, but it was only 550CHF. Meaning I saved 8*(800-550) = 2000CHF for the 8 months I was there plus 30 minutes everyday which would translate to $50 everyday for an hourly rate of $100 (50*30 = $1500 per month), a pretty good deal I’d say for the 15 minutes I’ve spent emailing FMEL.
Here’s how my first room looked like:
Here’s how my second room looked like:
I won’t lie, but the workload at EPFL is way in another league compared to what I was used to at UBB. Although, I have to admit I was also shocked of the work I had to put in at UBB in the first year transitioning from high school.
Now, of course, I had other side-hustle projects that I worked on, so I tried to be as organized as possible. I found that the best way was to build a very strict routine that gets shit done fast and waste minimal willpower on things that can be ‘automated’ by building habits. For example, I would eat similar meals every day so I don’t have to think about what to cook and I would know exactly what I need to buy when I was buying groceries. Of course, that doesn’t sound fun at all, but I guess it’s the price I had to pay to
become a productivity best avoid procrastination.
My daily routine looked something like this:
- Wake up at 6 am
- Brush my teeth, take a pee, that kind of stuff
- Walk to the gym (arrive at around 7 am)
- Workout until around 8:30 am (including the cold shower after the gym)
- Walk back to the EPFL campus
- Do one or more of this:
- Attend lectures
- Do the homework I was postponing for so long
- Meet for a group project
- Implement or fix existing featuers for my clients
- Work on my side projects
- Talk to my mom to assure her I’m not starving, I’m getting enough sleep, and I wear appropriate clothes for the weather (I love you, mom!)
- Watch some YouTube video on how to avoid getting burned out or how to get a girlfriend lol
- Regret I’ve applied to EPFL
- Tell my friends I regret I’ve applied to EPFL
- Grab a coffee
- Talk to my Google Home Mini
- Have my first meal of the day at around 12 pm usually some Müsli with milk or eggs or something.
- Repeat one or more of the above ‘things’
- Eat the second meal of the day. This probably includes pizza or some chicken with rice.
- Repeat one or more of the above ‘things’
- Go to sleep at around 11 pm
At some point I had too many things going on at the same time and I created a Kanban board on Trello named dutyLife. I still keep and update that as it’s actually a great way to stay acquainted and reach you short and long term goals.
Again, I’d say this is just my experience and my point of view. However, most of the people I’ve met and talked with from EPFL agreed that it’s not easy to take 30 credits here (the equivalent of a full-time study). Of course, you could take fewer courses and hence fewer credits, but then you’ll finish in 2-3 years what you could finish in 1 year and a half but a little bit more stressed. I took the challenge and regret nothing!
Switzerland is a great country. I’d say it’s one of the best countries I’ve lived in (I know, I’ve only lived in Romania and the US). For me these are the best things about Switzerland:
- Public transportation - best I’ve seen, not very crowded, on-time and reliable. I love public transportation because you can do more things with that travel time that you would spend driving in a car.
- Mountains and winter sports - I love winter and snowboarding. In Switzerland, you’ll find some of the best ski resorts in the world. I’ve been to Verbier and Leysin, and I hope to try other ones next winter. Hiking is also very popular.
- Safety - You rarely see homeless people or this kind of stuff. I’ve once walked like 15 minutes at 4 am in the morning and felt safer than on Romania in a normal day.
- Everything just works and is reliable - Swiss Post, Swiss Banks (although I gotta admit UBS gave me like 4 cards and PINs so I always get depression whenever I have to login into my online banking account), SBB mobile app
- Educated people
- People are actually respectful no matter who you are
Legal prostitution Legal weedYou don’t pay capital gains taxes!
Of ourse the cost of living here is pretty high (another reason that as an entrepreneur living on your own savings can be pretty hard since you burn out cash so easily instead of just going to one of these cities and spend around 1k per month or such).
It was hard but it was worth it
In the first few months I felt lonely and shit, so it was really hard to adapt. Looking back now, I think it was one of the challenging experiences in my life so far, and I would not have made the first 100k, opened an account on Swiss banks (yeah, I think that’s somehow cool), on CornerTrader, would met some of my Swiss clients and learned so many new things while struggling to pass the courses.
One thing that I now understand very well is that, no matter what happens, you will be fine.
Switzerland is actually a very nice country, I’d say is one of the best countries one can wish to be born in. But in the long run, I don’t think it’s for me. I’m more of a hustler, an action-taker, and while a lot of Swiss people have an entrepreneurship mindset, they are still comfortable because the country takes care of a lot of things. As a result, you somehow live under a protective
bubble shield that can make you vulnerable when you leave it.
I still have at least one more semester to go and my master’s thesis. For this I have two options: one to do it at one of EPFL’s labs or I can do it in the industry, as a 6-months internship. I’ll probably choose the internship if everything goes well.
I hope the experience I shared was somehow valuable and you can take something out of it.
RUSU - the one and only