Studying at a university in Germany requires a lot of personal initiative. The study rules of the respective programmes offer you a degree of freedom in choosing your courses and preparing your study plan. But there are a number of things you should remember.
Unlike schools, you do not have a set timetable at a German university. There are compulsory classes that you have to attend, but in some cases you decide yourself which courses you take. However, this does not mean that you have to make all decisions on your own. On the contrary, you should take advantage of
- the university’s advisory services,
- the introductory events for new students and
- the special introductory events for students from abroad, which are offered at all universities. You also have to use your own initiative when it comes to preparing for exams. It’s often easier to study if you team up with other students. Study and revision groups are common among students in Germany.
How do I put together my study plan?
To be able to put together your study plan, you need a copy of the „Vorlesungsverzeichnis“, or Annotated Course Catalogue (KVV). You can usually find this on your institute’s website. It describes in detail all courses that are offered in a semester.
- Sometimes, it also contains a recommended reading list so that you can prepare for a class.
- Last-minute changes in courses are announced on notice boards or on your institute’s homepage.
When you have chosen the courses you wish to take, you usually have to enrol for them. This is normally possible online.
Important. If you want to take a particularly popular seminar, it’s advisable to enrol as early as possible. There are not always enough places for all potential participants.
Tip: Don’t plan your course on your own
The study regulations for your course explain the content of your study programme and which modules you are required to take. You often have the possibility to choose between classes with different thematic focuses within a module. Ask your Student Advice Service whether you will obtain the necessary proof of credits and credit points with your study plan to be able to sign up for intermediate or final exams.
What kind of classes are there?
The most important kinds of class are lectures, seminars/courses, tutorials/practical classes and colloquia.
- In lectures, a university teacher delivers a speech and provides an overview of a certain subject. A discussion does not usually take place and the number of participants is not limited.
- In seminars and courses, on the other hand, discussions between students and lecturers play an important role. Students often present their own papers on a specific topic. Important: The number of participants is limited.
- Lectures and seminars are often accompanied by other classes. Such tutorials (led by students from higher semesters) or practical classes (led by student or research assistants) offer students the chance to ask questions and examine a subject in greater depth.
- Classes in which students work together before finals are usually referred to as colloquia.
Tip: When you choose your classes, bear in mind that you will need plenty of time to prepare for lectures and seminars and go over the material afterwards. So make sure you don’t choose too many courses!
How is the study programme structured?
Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes are divided into modules. These are units of study which are made up of several thematically related classes, for example lectures, seminars, practical classes or internships. A module can be spread over a maximum of two semesters and takes up six to ten hours a week.
What kind of are there?
Modules are assessed in a variety of ways. These include:
- written exams (in which knowledge is tested),
- papers (short presentations on a certain subject),
- assignments (written papers on a certain subject) and
- oral exams.
The exact content, requirements, dates and procedures of examinations are laid down in the Examination Regulations. Important: Make sure you read these thoroughly.
In the course of your study programme, you will acquire so-called credit points. Sometimes, you are awarded these credit points by regularly attending a class. But often you have to take an exam. For each module, you are tested and given a grade. Your academic achievements during your course therefore count towards your final grade.
Credit points based on ECTS
Academic achievements during the Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes are rated according to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). This system facilitates recognition of academic achievements beyond national boundaries.
You receive credit points for every module that you successfully complete. To complete a study programme, you have to gain a certain number of points. For a Bachelor’s degree, you need between 180 and 240 credit points, depending on study regulations. For a Master’s degree, between 60 and 120 credit points are required.
One credit point corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of study. Courses are usually structured in such a way that you have to achieve 30 credit points per semester to be able to complete your degree within the standard period of study.
In the event that the credit points from your home university are not recognised: Ask your professor or lecturers to certify that you have taken their classes and exams.
What do I do if I want to change courses?
If, after several semesters, you decide you’d like to change subject or university, consult your academic adviser or the International Office at your university first. As an international student, there are a number of legal conditions which you have to fulfil to avoid losing your residence permit.
You can find out more about coping with life as a student in Germany by watching the Student Life Video 10: „What, where and how at the university?“
You’ve organised your timetable? Enrolled for classes? – Now it’s time to start studying at your German university!
Improving your german
There are many reasons why you should learn German. And many easy and fun ways to improve your language skills.
When you’re proficient in German, it’s easier to organise your everyday life, make friends and find a part-time-job or work placement. And you also improve your chances of finding a job on the international job market in the future. Because after English, German is the most widely spoken language in Europe. So consider your stay in Germany as a unique opportunity, even if you’re studying in an international programme and you get by well enough with English.
How can I improve my german?
Thanks to the internet, methods of learning a language have become increasingly diverse in the last few years. But learning German in the country is still the easiest way. We show you how.
Learning german „in passing“
When you’re living in Germany, learning the language happens almost automatically. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open. It’s best to live in student residences or shared accommodation with German flatmates. If you cook, eat and socialise together, you will learn colloquial German almost automatically. You can also practice what you hear when you watch television or go shopping. You soon learn new words and phrases.
German language exchange
Tandem language learning is a fun way of learning a language: this is when two partners who want to learn each other’s native language get together. They meet regularly and take it in turns to practice each other’s language. They decide which subjects to discuss. Or they go for walks, play cards or cycle together. Three language tandem partners describe their experiences.
How can I find a language tandem partner?
Ask at your university’s language centre or the International Office if they can help you find you a tandem partner. International student organisations or students‘ councils also keep records of potential tandem partners. You can also check out university notice boards or advertise yourself: Seeking tandem partner! Under sprachtandem.net you can look for a language partner or place an ad yourself free of charge.
To find out how a language tandem works, watch the video „German for beginners“
German in a language course
If you’d prefer to learn German systematically in a group, a language course may be the right option for you.
The language centres at German universities offer language courses. These are often subject to a charge. Alongside courses during the semester, some universities offer classes in all levels during the lecture-free periods Summer and Winter Universities.
The database of the association „Fachverband für Deutsch als Fremdsprache“ lists German courses at numerous institutions and language schools. Here, you can choose from a whole range of courses listed according to federal states and cities There are Goethe Institutes offering an extensive range of language courses in 13 German cities. The adult education centres „Volkshochschulen“ based in most German towns also offer German courses.
If you want to be flexible, online services are an entertaining, helpful and alternative way of learning the language. Free online courses in all levels and many other services are offered by the foreign radio broadcasting service Deutsche Welle. In addition to traditional audio and reading texts as well as printable worksheets, numerous multimedia learning facilities are available: interactive exercises, videos, podcasts, but also news bulletins that are read out slowly. If you’re a Facebook friend of Deutsche Welle, you will be sent daily bulletins introducing terms of speech and information about the country. You also have the opportunity to get in touch with other students of German or native speakers.
Learning the language is also fun with the online services of the Goethe Institute which include chats, forums, videos, learning adventures, interactive online assignments and lessons in the virtual world of Second Life.
It’s easy to find partners who you can chat or skype with on the internet. This kind of eTandem learning partnership is offered by a service at the Ruhr-Uni Bochum.
Now you know how you can improve your German in Germany. If you want to prepare for your language exams to qualify for admission to higher education in your home country, read more under „Learning German„.