Who can study?
In general, everyone who has received their A-Levels (Abitur in Germany) can study at a University. However, there are several possibilities to study without said degree, for example with a specific with a specific aptitude or an aptitude test. Many students decide to do an apprenticeship after school and would like to study after that, when they have already worked for some time. Since they have already had several years of work experience, Universities and colleges often consider that time when they look at applications. Another exception are guest auditors; people who are not enrolled but yet interested in studying often have the opportunity to audit classes and seminars without collecting credit points. In Germany, guest auditors are often elderly people who like filling their free time with interesting lectures. In Germany, students usually start University straight after school, or after a gap year.
Bachelor/ Master/ State Examination
Most degrees in Germany are Bachelor- and Master degrees with a prescribed period of semesters (6 for Bachelor and 4 for Master). The Bachelor- and Master programs differ depending on the kind of university or college you study at; colleges usually encourage more practical experience, whereas universities focus more on scientific research. The final degree/certificate is, however, equivalent. The programs medicine and law on the other hand are asking for a state exam- the German Staatsexamen. Thus, if you want to become a doctor or a lawyer, you will need to sit the Staatsexamen, consisting of written and oral exams.
How to apply?
The application procedure differs and depends on the subject, degree and university. For many degrees, the Numerus Clausus is a crucial deciding factor, depending on how popular the degree is. It is a limitation of admission at universities, mainly concerning medicine, law, dentistry, vetenary medicine and pharmacy. Many universities also have limitations in teacher training in psychology, other areas, as for example the humanities, seldomly have admission restrictions. If you are applying for a place with Numerus Clausus, other factors also play a role; the Abitur or A-level grade, if you have already been waiting for one or two semesters (Wartesemester) and especially the criteria of the university you are applying for (for example selective interviews or work experience). You will also have the opportunity to get your dream place through the succession procedure; you will be put on a list, and if someone doesn’t accept their place, you will move up on the list.
Although Germany abolished tuiton fees a couple of years ago, every university still asks for a semester fee each semester, including administrative fees and the semester pass for public transport. The fee is usually between 100 and 300 euros a semester, depending on the federal state. Apart from this, students obviously need money for housing, books and food. Many students in Germany live off BAföG, a monthly student loan by the state. Wheather you are eligible to receive BAföG depends on your parents income; if they do not earn enough to support you, you can receive the loan. After graduating from Uni, you will have up to 20 years to repay the state, since BAföG however is partly a loan and partly a grant, you’ll only have to repay the loan. You can also choose wheather you’d like to pay all at once or by instalments. Other possiblities are private student loans and scholarships, which are often awarded by foundations. Most german students pay for their studies with a mix of all these possibilities; with student jobs, support from their parents, and BAföG for instance.
“When will you finish your degree?” This is a standard question that German students get asked at family gatherings by relatives. Unlike in England, German students often study longer and exceed their standard period of study. The Regelstudienzeit describes the number of semesters, in which students are supposed to finish their degree. Usually, these are 6 semesters for Bachelor, and 4 semesters for Master students. Because of semesters abroad or internships however, it can take longer to finish, but since these are important experiences which create new competences and opporunities, students often take their chances and take longer for their studies. Furthermore, many students work part-time while studying, and since they don’t pay any tuiton, they can simply afford studying longer than an student in the UK. In 2017, only 38,5% of all Bachelor students, and 27% of all Master students finished their degrees in the intended time. Since it is more and more accepted to work part-time, go abroad and to even raise children while studying, it mostly doesn’t impact your career if your degree takes you longer than expected. However, you can’t keep on studying forever; even Germany has its restrictions; if you exceed a certain amount of semesters, you will become a Langzeitstudent, have to pay fees and might even be exmatriculated. Every university has its own regulations and rules about this, some of them argue that you become a Langzeitstudent by taking more than double the amount of time for your degree, at others it is earlier or later.
If you ever studied in the UK, campus life in Germany might appear to be a bit dull. German universities have less societies and clubs, and student life usually takes place outside of university; students meet for drinks, house parties, game nights and cooking together. The time actually spent at university is limited to seminars, lectures and studying in the library. After that, students usually pursue their own hobbies. Universities however still organise many events; there are panels, conferences, summer festivals and international/campus days you can get involved in. The most popular societies are orchestras, bands, theatre groups and political uni groups.
How to choose a university
Unlike in the UK or in the US, there are no elite universities in Germany. Although some universities are higher ranked than others and have a better reputation, almost all German universities are public/ funded by the state and thus don’t really differ in quality. According to the British Times Higher Education Magazine‘s yearly ranking, however, the best universities in Germany are both Munich universities (Ludwig-Maximilians-University and Technische University), the Humboldt University Berlin, as well as the Charité Berlin, the Ruprechts-Karls-University Heidelberg, the RWTH Aachen and the Eberhard-Karls-University Tübingen. The admission to all universities is based on Numerus Clausus and the final grade of you Bachelor/Master degree determines your future career. Since the focus is on your grades and work experience/ experience abroad when applying for jobs, it is not important which university you graduated from. Popular and high ranked universities can, however, provide you with better opportunities, such as for example partner universities abroad or research fellowships.