The German higher education landscape is a colourful one. Nationwide there is a choice of 400 universities of a very high level at which you can study. Choosing the right study course is therefore perhaps not so easy. Here you can find the most important websites and tips for your search for a study place.
Study, research, work – a guide
The German academic landscape has always opened its doors to foreign talent and have a lot to offer: free tuition, scholarships and research funding, and a booming job market. DIE ZEIT, Germany's leading weekly newspaper offers with the new magazine ZEIT Germany a guide through studying, researching, and working in the country where the spirit of Humboldt can still be found.
Altogether German universities offer almost 17,000 study courses – ninety percent of which conclude with a bachelor or master qualification. Do you not yet have any specific ideas about what you actually want to study? There are websites that offer a free test for self-evaluation. This will help you identify and categorise your skills and to select a subject that suits you. You should take around fifteen minutes to complete the test, and there is even a test specifically for technical study courses. This was developed by the “TU9” initiative, which brings together nine large German universities specialising in technical subjects. Some tests are available in both German and English.
Perhaps you have already a vague idea what you want to study. Take a good look online at the study courses available in this field. You can get an overview in both German and English on the website of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The DAAD is the world’s biggest organization for the promotion of international exchange among students and academics. Its internet portal also provides information on internationally oriented, well-structured bachelor, master and PhD programmes, of which Germany now offers more than 1,600. In these programmes, lectures are generally given in English. A clear, detailed database of study courses in Germany can also be found on the bilingual website “Study in Germany”, which is operated by the DAAD. Perhaps the tips on the “Inobis” portal will also help you. This contains a lot of practical information and is available in German and English.
Most higher education courses in Germany end with a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree. Although Germany has only had these types of qualification for fifteen years, they now account for 90 percent of courses. Certain subjects like medicine and law end in a so-called “state examination” in Germany. As the name suggests, you acquire a state qualification and the exam regulations are laid down by the state. Before Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were introduced in Germany, most students finished their courses with a “Magister” or a “Diplom” qualification. A small number of courses still offer these qualifications today. Perhaps you like the idea of doing a PhD in Germany and immersing yourself more thoroughly in the world of research. To do a PhD, you need a recognised university qualification – generally one that corresponds to the Master’s or “Magister”, “Diplom” or state examination. Comprehensive and concise information on university qualifications in Germany can be found on the German- and English-language web portals “Higher Education Compass” and “Study in Germany”. You can find all you need to know about opportunities for PhDs on the website “Research in Germany” and in the database “PhDGermany”, provided by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Both of these are available in German and English.
There are a few points you should take note of in your search for a suitable higher education institution. Did you know that there are three types of university in Germany? Classic universities, “Universitäten”, offer you an academically-oriented study course, whilst universities of applied sciences, or “Fachhochschulen”, place great emphasis on vocational training. An academy of arts, film or music (“Kunst-, Film- or Musikfachschule”) on the other hand may be the right choice for more artistic students. Some universities specialise in specific subject areas. These are named accordingly, so may be universities of medicine or of education, or technical universities. Incidentally, most universities are maintained by the German state – which means you generally pay no fees on top of your semester contribution – although ubsequent Master’s and PhD programmes sometimes charge fees. In addition, there are theological universities that are financed by the catholic and protestant churches, and Germany also boasts a total of around 120 private universities. Some of these charge high study fees. More detailed explanations on the various types of university in Germany can be found on the “Higher Education Compass” web portal, a German and English-language service provided by the German Rectors' Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, HRK). The HRK brings together state and state-recognised universities in Germany. Incidentally, (higher) education is the responsibility of the sixteen German federal states. Some regulations can therefore vary from region to region.
German universities enjoy a superlative reputation world-wide. They are regularly compared with one another in a comprehensive ranking carried out by the Centre for Higher Education Development (Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung, CHE). The ranking system takes around 30 popular subjects in different academic areas and has them evaluated by around 200,000 students and 15,000 professors based on various different criteria. If you want to know which universities are particularly good for your subject area, the best thing to do is visit the website of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Under “CHE University Ranking” you can find the results of the current rankings in English. These can be filtered according to subject area, university and city. The ranking is also available in German on the website of the German weekly “Die Zeit”, for example.
To make certain German universities remain competitive in the future, too, politicians and academics set up the “German Universities Excellence Initiative” in 2006, which is a competition in which so-called “Excellence” universities and research institutions are selected. It is currently being supported with a total of 2.4 billion euros up to 2017. Thirty-nine universities with a total of 99 projects are supported, whilst eleven institutions are bestowed the title “Excellence University”. More detailed information on the “Excellence Initiative” can be found in German and English on the website of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG).
Location is perhaps not the sole factor deciding things when you ask yourself which university you should choose. But if you’re to study successfully, you need to feel at ease. In cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt or Munich there’s always something going on outside of university life. The range of cultural and gastronomic offerings is huge. Another advantage is that in cities there are a lot of companies at which you could get a part-time job or arrange an internship. For some people the hustle and bustle of the big city might be too intense, in which case a university in a smaller town or city could be a better choice. The cost of living is often lower in these places. Use the websites of the towns or municipalities to find out about the area in which the university is located. You can also find handy tips in numerous languages on the website of the German National Tourist Board.
Perhaps you’re still very unsure about a lot of things and would rather get some personal advice. You can get tips and support for planning your degree in Germany from your home country too. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) runs Information Centres (ICs) and branches in a number of countries. You can find precise contact details on the DAAD’s website. Incidentally, the DAAD branches also have their own websites, which provide information in a total of more than 25 languages about study options in Germany. Often staff at a Goethe-Institut can also help you. The 160 Goethe-Instituts worldwide help to spread the culture and language of Germany, as well as information about the country. A good port of call is also the embassy or consulate in your home country. You can find addresses and contacts on the multilingual website of the German Foreign Office. If you already know exactly which university you would like to visit, then you are best advised to consult the university’s own International Office (Akademisches Auslandsamt, AAA) directly. The staff there will help you plan your studies. You can find the addresses on the web portal of the DAAD. You can also find out a lot about studying in Germany at international higher education fairs. Take a look at the DAAD’s website to find out when there will next be an event near you.
So you do want to study at a university, but you don’t want to miss out on practical experience or earning a wage? Combining study and work in the form of a dual study programme might be the answer. There are now a variety of courses, some of which are offered in the area of economics: often, for example, a degree in Business Studies is combined with training as a business administrator. However, there are also courses in the areas of IT, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or even in the social sphere. As with a traineeship, you sign a contract with an employer.
What does it feel like to go to work every day, to have a boss, and to deal with tasks? Only a few young people really know. If you want to delve into the world of work and get a real-life insight into different companies, you could do an internship – either before, during or after your degree. NB: you’ll need to write an application for an internship, too! Our “Education and training” chapter contains information on existing standards in Germany in the “Applying” section. Since the beginning of 2015 Germany has had a statutory minimum wage of € 8.50. This also applies to interns to a certain extent. You can find internship vacancies in the vacancy listings of the German Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, BA).
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