6 things to know about obtaining an undergraduate degree in Germany | World’s Best Universities


At 18, Alex Daily postponed his enrollment at an American college, packed his bags and left his New Jersey home to spend a year in Germany as part of a youth exchange program. As a Congress-Bundestag Fellow, Daily lived with a German host family, attended a local high school and improved his German skills.

“I enjoyed my experience in the country,” he says. “I liked it very much and I certainly could have imagined myself living there.”

He returned home after the exchange, but after convincing his parents, Daily soon found himself in Germany. He enrolled at the Free University of Berlin, obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and is currently working on a master’s degree at the same institution.

And he is not the only one: in the academic year 2013-2014, 301,350 international students studied in Germany, according to the Atlas project of the Institute of International Education.

For prospective international students interested in earning an undergraduate degree in Germany, here are six facts you should know.

1. A foreign high school diploma alone may not allow a student to study in Germany. For example, students from the United States who want to travel to Germany after high school need a GPA of 3.0 or higher, among other prerequisites, according to the German Academic Exchange Service, often referred to as DAAD. The organization has a tool to help students from different countries determine whether their high school education qualifies them to study in Germany.

“You can’t come with just any high school diploma,” says Jay Malone, founder of Eight Hours and Change, an advisory service for American and Canadian students interested in studying in Germany. “That’s a pretty high bar.”

Additionally, American students who have completed a GED degree or been home schooled cannot enroll in German universities, Malone explains.

Daily says her SAT score was “average,” but her Advanced Placement course credits paved her way to a German school. “I had passed enough tests and passed enough that they qualified me,” he says.

2. Access to some degree programs, but not all, is restricted. Admission limits, called “numerus clausus” or NC, cap enrollment in popular study programs. Students can check university websites to see the average GPA threshold for applicants who were accepted into a restricted program the previous year. Students with a GPA below but near last year’s limit for a program might still have a chance to enter, according to the Eight Hours and Change website.

Some restrictions are national, while others are instituted by specific universities. Experts say it’s a good idea to contact a university’s international office to get information about the institution’s programs that are restricted.

The Study in Germany website, sponsored by the German Ministry of Education, has resources for prospective students, some of which address these restrictions.

3. Public universities generally do not charge tuition fees to undergraduate students. But there are still costs. Students must pay a semester fee ranging from around $ 113 to $ 281, depending on the university, according to the exchange service’s website.

Private universities across the country often have tuition fees for their undergraduate programs.

4. There are programs taught in English. While most bachelor’s degree programs in Germany are taught in German, the exchange service has a database of international programs offered in Germany that lists over 100 programs fully or partially taught in English.

Even though the classes are taught in English, experts say that some knowledge of German will help students make the most of their international experience.

5. International students can be employed. However, students from countries outside the European Union or the European Economic Area have restrictions on the number of days they can work – 120 full days or 240 half-days per year, according to the website of the exchange service.

One exception: international students who work as research assistants in their universities do not face these limitations.

6. Students should be independent. “You have less homework,” Daily says. “You are more independent and you are supposed to fend for yourself. “

Malone agrees: “The German university system is basically throwing kids into the deep end.”

The grades of many undergraduate courses at German universities are almost entirely based on a semester exam or project. Students need to establish good study habits early on in a class to make sure they’re ready for the final, say students and experts.

Once prospective students have done some initial research, they should contact the international offices of the universities they are interested in, says Irmintraud Jost, executive director of the Heidelberg University Association.

“Only if you speak directly to these people and ask them directly, ‘I want to study A, B, C. What should I do? “Then you really get the 100% correct answer,” she says. “There is no general answer to most questions related to studying in Germany.”


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