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University of Geneva Faculty of Law and Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

University of Geneva Faculty of Law

Established in 1820, the University of Geneva Faculty of Law offers a complete curriculum in law, including Bachelor’s of Law programs, Master’s of Law (LL.M.) programs, Master’s of Advanced Studies in Law programs (business law, international humanitarian law, and life sciences law), a Certificate in Transnational Law, and a Doctorate in Law (Ph.D.) . The Faculty of Law hosts several research centers, including the Center for Banking and Financial Law, the Center for European Legal Studies, and the Art Law Center, and offers courses in a wide variety of areas, with a focus on international law, European law, and comparative law. Geneva also specializes in banking and financial law, international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution, cultural property law, and humanitarian law.

The Faculty of Law collaborates with many international governmental organizations, including the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Health Organization, and members of these organizations teach at the Faculty of Law on a regular basis. It may also be possible for visiting students to participate in an internship while in Geneva and take advantage of the Faculty of Law’s cooperative agreements with international organizations, although these internships are not eligible for credit.

The Faculty of Law has a strong international research focus, supported by its membership in the Strategic Alliance of Research Faculties of Law (SARFAL), a European network initially launched by Oxford University and Leiden University. Each year, it attracts more than 100 students from all over Europe and several dozen from America, Asia and Africa. These students attend courses and use research facilities for periods ranging from just a few weeks to two semesters.

Watch “Why UNIGE,” a new video from the University.

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies was created in 2008, through the merger of the Graduate Institute of International Studies (founded in 1927) and the Graduate Institute of Development Studies (founded in 1961). The Institute’s mission is “to provide independent and rigorous analyses of current and emerging world issues with a double emphasis on international relations and development studies,” with “a particular concern for promoting international cooperation and bringing an academic contribution to less advanced nations.” The Institute provides graduate-level, bilingual (English and French) study opportunities for students from all over the world. Its bilingual review, Globe,  provides more information on its research and scholarship.

The Graduate Institute is comprised of six departments: Development Studies, International Affairs, International Economics, International History and Politics, International Law, and Political Science. The International Law Department’s faculty has an impressive array of expertise, including United Nations law, state responsibility, international settlement of disputes, jurisdiction and immunity, territory and sovereignty, international human rights, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international environmental law, international economic law, WTO law, history and philosophy of international law, private international law, and international contracts.

Together, the Faculty of Law and the Graduate Institute have more than 25 faculty members specializing in public and private international law.

Course Offerings and Credit

Course Offerings and Credit

HLS students studying in Geneva for a semester enroll primarily at either the Faculty of Law or the Graduate Institute and take the preponderance of their courses at that school.  Students enrolled at the Faculty of Law may cross-register for a limited number of courses at the Graduate Institute or, with advance permission, take the course “Organization of International Dispute Settlement” offered through the Geneva LL.M. in International Dispute Settlement program.  Students enrolled at the Graduate Institute may be able to cross-register for one course at the Faculty of Law following a consultation with the Institute’s exchange program coordinator.  Students enrolled at either school may seek advance permission to take classes at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights through the joint-degree program sponsored by the Academy, the University of Geneva, and the Institute.

Course loads will vary from student to student. An HLS student may receive a total of 10 to 12 ungraded classroom credits in relation to work done through the semester abroad program. Please continue reading below for specific information on each school, and see Academic Requirements for more information about course requirements and how semester abroad credits are calculated.

Faculty OF LAW

The master’s-level classes offered at the Faculty of Law are at an appropriate level for HLS J.D. students. Students may also be interested in the more basic courses taught at the bachelor’s level. It is not necessary to register for classes before arriving.

Students also have the opportunity to study international and comparative law at the European seat of the United Nations while earning the Faculty of Law’s Certificate in Transnational Law. This course of study, available in French or English, features courses taught by leading specialists experienced in the practice of international law. Read about recent student experiences for additional information.

GRADUATE Institute

HLS students choose courses offered by the Institute’s International Law Department. Master’s and doctoral-level courses are at an appropriate level for HLS J.D. students; the Department’s course catalog offers more information. Most courses are open to exchange students, except those indicated as compulsory for the Institute’s regular students. Course registrations are subject to spaces available and can be adjusted during the first week of classes.

An average workload for the Institute’s masters students is five weekly courses;  exchange students determine the number of courses they will follow in consultation with their home institutions. The number of hours spent in class each week in class varies depending on which courses the student is enrolled in, but HLS students should typically expect to spend 10–12 hours per week in class. Each course generally meets once per week for two hours.

Language Proficiency

Language Proficiency

With the exception of the Certificate in Transnational Law curriculum and a small selection of other courses that are taught in English, teaching at the Faculty of Law is conducted primarily in French. Classes at the Graduate Institute are offered in both French and English. HLS students interested in taking courses in French at either institution are expected to have a level of fluency that will enable them to perform well in class and on exams; however, it may be possible for HLS students to write papers and exams in English.

The presumption of the HLS Study Abroad Committee is that students applying for a semester abroad are proficient in the primary language of the destination country such that they are able to navigate university systems and take one or more law classes in that language. If not, the students must explain how they propose to manage these challenges and derive full benefit from a program of study abroad.

Prior to study abroad, HLS students may improve their language proficiency and receive credit for foreign language courses at Harvard College in accordance with the HLS cross registration policy. Students may also find it helpful to arrive in Switzerland early for language acclimation and/or to take a language training course before law classes begin.

Academic Calendar

Academic Calendar

The academic year at both schools is divided into two semesters.

Autumn semester at the Faculty of Law runs from mid-September through December, with exams usually held from mid-January into early February. The Faculty’s spring semester runs from mid-February through May, with exams held from mid- May through mid-June.  The University’s academic calendar provides specific dates.

Autumn semester at the Institute begins in mid-September and runs through December, with exams typically held in January. Spring semester begins in mid-February and runs to early June, with exams typically held during June. See the Institute’s academic calendar for specific dates.

Please note:  HLS students spending a fall semester in Switzerland are expected to remain in Geneva during the HLS Winter Term to complete exams scheduled at that time.  Students may only seek their instructor’s permission to make alternate arrangements for exams scheduled to take place during the HLS spring semester.

Application Process

Application Process

Students interested in the Faculty of Law/Graduate Institute exchange program should follow the HLS Semester Abroad application process described on the Semester Abroad Eligibility and Application page. Students must designate one of the two schools as their primary affiliation and plan to take the majority of their courses there, although they may also cross-register at the other school.

Students approved by the HLS Study Abroad Committee to spend a semester in Geneva must also complete the primary school’s online application for exchange students, which may include providing supporting documents such as transcripts, study plans, and information about proficiency in French. HLS will provide students nominated to study at the Faculty of Law or the Graduate Institute with more information on this process.

The exchange agreement with the Faculty of Law and the Graduate Institute stipulates that up to two HLS JD students may study in Geneva each year. HLS may recommend more than two candidates but ultimately selections will be made by the Swiss schools. If a student is selected, he or she may be eligible for a scholarship offered by the Harvard Club of Switzerland.



The Faculty of Law is conveniently located in the center of Geneva, in the Plainpalais neighborhood, with access to buses and trams connecting the University to other parts of the city. The Graduate Institute’s campus, including its newly completed main building, Maison de la paix, extends from the Place des Nations (the European headquarters of the United Nations) to the shores of Lake Geneva, and is about a 20-minute tram ride from the University of Geneva.

Located at the foot of the Alps, on one of Western Europe’s largest lakes, Geneva is one of Europe’s most international cities. In addition to the European offices of the United Nations, Geneva is home to the International Committee for the Red Cross  and more than 300 international and non-governmental organizations and permanent missions, as well as many multinational firms. This location is ideally suited for conducting scholarly and applied research on contemporary issues and fostering policy debates among academics, diplomats and decision-makers. In addition to its natural beauty, Geneva also offers a spectacular range of international cuisine and entertainment, as well as excellent opportunities for sailing, hiking and skiing.

Housing and Health Insurance

Housing and Health Insurance

Finding housing in Geneva can be difficult. The Faculty of Law and the Graduate Institute do not provide on-campus housing for exchange students; however, the University of Geneva Accommodations Office and the Graduate Institute offer information on finding off-campus housing on their web sites. Students have also recommended for information on housing and other services, as well as social events and things to do in Geneva.

The University of Geneva has assembled an estimated monthly student budget, and the Graduate Institute’s Student Association offers a student guide; both may be helpful in planning for a semester in Geneva.

Health and accident insurance are compulsory in Switzerland; the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute provide more information about requirments and options on their web sites.

Contact Information

Contact Information

For further information, please contact Sara Zucker at (617) 495-9030 / or Andre Barbic at (617) 496-8732 /

Students may also contact Bita Bertossa, Conseillère aux études, University of Geneva Faculty of Law, at, or Concepta Canale, Exchange Program Manager, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, at



Cristina Cornejo ’20 spent the fall of her 3L year at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. Read about her experiences.