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Higher Education in Germany: what to expect

by Phoebe on 29 Oct 2018

Now that you’ve decided to study in Germany, you’re probably thinking about the hipster vibe of Berlin or the fun-filled parties of Oktoberfest in Munich. Even if you’ve travelled to Germany before, there’s nothing quite like jumping out of your comfort zone and taking off to live and study abroad!

As you begin to plan your Erasmus and start making the final steps toward moving abroad, you more than likely will have plenty of questions about what to expect from your education in Germany. This is perfectly normal, which is why we’ve created this helpful guide to provide answers to your most common questions. Paired with a variety of useful tips and important information, you’ll learn all about the universities in Germany, including tuition fee’s, the grading system, lectures and seminars, the student culture and much more. So, let’s get started!

How much does it cost to study in Germany?

university Before you start ticking items off your “moving to Germany checklist”, it’s best to go over your budget and understand the fees and expenses involved. Along with Belgium, Germany is one of the most affordable countries to study in Europe. And along with its number of courses taught in English and its world-class educational opportunities, it’s easy to see why so many students are opting to study abroad in Germany.

Tuition fees

Students flock to Germany not only for its low cost but for its long list of world-class state universities. Some favourites among international students include the Humboldt University of Berlin, LMU Munich and the University of Hamburg.

Tuition fees for private universities can also vary, depending on which university you choose, but they typically start off at around €20,000.

If you’re an EU student considering studying at one on the public universities in Germany, you’re in for some fantastic luck. As of October 2014, all tuition fees for German public universities were abolished, for native and international students alike. The only financial requirement is that students must pay what is called a “semester contribution.” This fee contributes to administrative costs, along with improvements to the university, such as sports fields, cafeterias, libraries and more. The amount of the fee can range for each university, but it usually begins at €100.

Keep in mind that postgraduate degrees are not covered by the no-fee tuition in Germany, so if you’re studying toward your Master’s or PhD, there will be tuition fee's involved depending on what you want to study.

Living costs

Depending on the city where you choose to move to attend a university, the monthly living costs can vary. However, most international students can expect to pay an average of €850 each month, which should cover basic expenses.

Housing

When looking for student accommodation in Germany, typical rental prices can begin at €240 a month, but prices can go up to nearly €400 or more if you choose a large city and decide to stay right in the city center. Something that will help cut down on expenses is to share a flat or a house with a few roommates. This way, you can share financial costs such as rent and utilities, along with other expenses like groceries and decor.

When finalizing your accommodation, always be sure to completely understand your rental agreement. This way you can avoid any fees that you aren’t expecting, which could add to your housing cost.

Food

You can also expect to pay low to moderate prices for food in Germany. Students will generally receive discounts at restaurants in university areas, and the onsite university cafeterias offer healthy meals at low prices.

Additionally, you can also save money by cooking your meals at home. Look for discount grocery stores in your area such as Lidl or Aldi, and shop the local markets for the best prices on fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other foods and even household items.

Transportation

Students have the opportunity to purchase what is called a "Semesterticket" when studying at the university in Germany to use on public transport. Note that the price of this ticket varies depending on which university you'll be studying at. So it's best to do some research and ask the international office at your new univerisity so you can make an informed decision on what ticket is best to purchase.

A standard ticket and is good for six months. It includes all forms of public transportation from 7:00 to 18:00 throughout the week, and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. An extended option is also available, which includes public transportation seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

How does the German higher education system work?

student class Higher education is extremely important in Germany, and due to such a high emphasis, many international students find it an attractive option when deciding where to study abroad. In fact, Germany boasts over 100 universities, more than 165 universities of applied sciences and over 50 colleges centered on film, art and music.

Like many other countries in Europe, Germany’s higher education system also utilizes a binary level. This means that students will be able to choose between two main forms of higher education:

Research education - gained through research universities

Higher professional education - gained through applied sciences universities

When you’re deciding on what course you want to take, make sure you do thorough research. While English taught courses are common at Masters level, the number of Undergraduate ones on offer are in the minority, check out platforms such as study-in.de for a clear overview of what’s on offer and in what language! Keep in mind that if you'd like to do your studies in German you will be asked to supply a verified certificate of your B2 level in German.

Lectures and seminars

The German teaching system offers many unique aspects. Instead of only listening and taking notes, the universities in Germany take on several other approaches to learning.

Lectures (Vorlesung) - This portion of Germany’s higher learning process focuses on professors who teach groups of students at all different levels. Group sizes can vary depending on your course and university, but can range anywhere between 20 and 150 students. The professor will guide the presentation and then open up the floor to questions.

Seminars (Seminar) - This aspect of higher education typically involves a smaller group of students — usually no more than 30. During this type of learning environment, the students typically carry the presentation, while the professor serves as a moderator.

Training class (Übung) - This is exactly what it sounds like. Students will participate in a hands-on process where they learn through carrying out practical tasks or completing group projects. They’ll be divided into smaller teams, which encourages the idea of thinking independently.

The grading system

In Germany, the grading levels are based on a five-point grading system, which ranges from:

  • 0–1.5 - Very good (sehr gut)
  • 1.6–2.5 Good (gut)
  • 2.6–3.5 Satisfactory (befriedigend)
  • 3.6–4.0 Sufficient (ausreichend)
  • 5.0 Not sufficient (nicht ausreichend)

It's not uncommon for some universities to translate this into a 15 point scale.

Exams

It’s also important to note that a lot of courses will have a final exam at the end of the semester, containing everything you would have learnt from each module. As most courses don’t have that many assignments, a large percentage of your grade will be resting on the final exams. As there are about 3 months of classes without having to hand in papers, students who choose to study in Germany need a lot of self-discipline to ensure they keep up with their studies throughout the semester without cramming at the end for the final exam.

Course accreditation

The German higher education system includes three cycles of the learning process:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • PhD degree

Courses are put through a strict approval process through the German Accreditation System, as it approves all programs designed for individual study throughout the country.

What is the student culture like in Germany?

students Germany is known as one of the friendliest countries in all of Europe, and many locales have a high student population, making it easy to meet your new friends and establish a supportive network in your new home.

Plus, the good news is that if you find yourself in a large student city in Germany, you probably won’t experience a language barrier. Along with native German, most people will also speak some English, making it easier to acclimate to your new surroundings. But before you even leave home, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a few German phrases to help you get through basic transactions. It will be really appreciated by the locals!

Depending on where you opt to study in Germany, there are going to be minor differences. However, there are also quite a few aspects of German student culture that will be the same throughout the entire country.

Student Associations

When you first arrive at your university in Germany, it will likely take you a few weeks to get used to your new surroundings. This is where student associations really offer support to international students.

There will be introduction weeks where you can learn about the university and the city, as well as a “buddy system” where you will be paired with a local student to help answer any questions that you may have. They will also organize a full calendar of regular events.

Some of the most popular student associations with international students include:

  • ESN
  • AEGEE
  • AIESEC

Nightlife

Germany has a thriving nightlife scene. After all, it is the home of beer! You’ll find that house parties are also a popular option, as well as nightclubs and pubs that are favorites among expats and young people.

Even though you’re here to study in Germany, don’t forget to take the time to explore your surroundings. Students receive a 20 percent discount on rail passes, so getting around is both simple AND inexpensive. A lot of students also use buses and Bla Bla Cars when travelling further afield, which if you book in advance are usually cheaper options. Vienna makes a good three- to four-day getaway, as does Rotterdam or Amsterdam. Your education in Germany can be much more than you initially anticipated, for sure!

Now that you know what to expect when you study abroad in Germany, you can pack your bags and be ready for the adventure of a lifetime! Try the food, meet the people and explore its diverse culture. Enjoy!

by Phoebe on 29 Oct 2018
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