Prices for subsidized student flats are normally far below normal market prices. Quality varies widely, depending on the year the facilities were built. Old residency halls can be dull and depressing, while new or renovated facilities sometimes offer high living standards.
Unfortunately the number of places in subsidized housing is limited. Since many universities have long waiting lists, you should apply as early as possible (if possible before your departure).
Ask your university where you should apply and for any information they can provide. An overview of student hostels and broker's offices for student accommodations can be found on the Swiss Rectors’ Conference website available in German, French, Italian & English.
Sharing a flat
When coming to Switzerland, you might want to consider living in a shared apartment (Wohngemeinschaft/colocation). When it works out well, sharing an apartment can be a good solution, as you can often live in a better location and have more 'living space' than in a single-person flat. If you don’t know many people, it's also a great way to make new friends and improve your language skills.
Shared apartments are particularly common among students and younger people, but you will also find a number of older tenants in Switzerland too. Living in a shared apartment usually means sharing common kitchen and bathrooms. Note that individual rooms are mostly unfurnished.
The main challenges are to find a place (as always) and to make sure you are going to be able to get along with who you are living with. Have a good talk with your prospective flatmate/s to make sure your lifestyle expectations match. Conflicts over things like smoking, pets, late-night partying, recreational drug use, the washing up or the state of the bathroom are all easy ways to get into an uncomfortable arrangement. It can be a good idea to agree in advance how things like cleaning, buying household supplies and insurance are going to work before agreeing to move in.
Contracts for shared flats
When sharing rented property, the contract should have all of the names of tenants. If your name is not written into the contract, you might not be able to stay there if the other people leave. It often happens that a tenant will offer a sublet without wanting to change the contract. This can be an easy solution as you leave someone else to make sure everything is OK with the landlord, but be aware that this makes your own situation less secure.
There are some internet sites for people searching for shared flats or flatmates. Some good ones are www.wgzimmer.ch (multilingual) and the student portal www.students.ch (English and French), which has a section for rooms and apartments.