Higher education in Germany

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I made the decision to get higher education in Germany in the ninth grade – German was the main foreign language in my St. Petersburg school. I did not consider any other countries, as well as the option to stay in Russia – I really wanted to live in Germany. In addition, in the eleventh grade, we were given the opportunity to pass an international German language exam (Deutsches Sprachdiplom 2) for free, and I also got into a program in which it was possible to write entrance exams valid for six proposed Studienkollegs from different German cities.
Studienkolleg – Studienkolleg is an educational institution, a college in which foreign students who plan to enter a German university undergo pre-university training. Training lasts 1-2 semesters.

It was necessary to choose three out of six and arrange them in priority order: each Studienkolleg received first of all those who put him in first place. In order not to take risks and be guaranteed to enter, I chose the smallest and unknown city of Köthen, since I thought that the competition there would be the smallest.Got it, finished it.

Since childhood, I dreamed of studying at the Faculty of Oceanography. In Germany, only two universities offer this specialty: the University of Hamburg (Die Universität Hamburg) and the University. Christian Albrecht in Kiel (Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel). After graduating from the Studienkolleg, I applied to both universities. However, in the requirements of the University of Kiel, I did not notice the clause on the need to provide a certificate of English proficiency, so I was refused, and in Hamburg I was accepted.

I studied oceanography for one semester – in the curriculum, mathematics and physics were given more than half of the hours, and it turned out that my knowledge in these subjects was not enough. I knew about this feature of training even before entering, but overestimated my strengths and abilities.

Then I decided to enter a specialty related to foreign languages ​​or linguistics. I chose between Sinology (Chinese language and culture of China) and sign language translation, and in the end I chose the second one. Studying as a sign language interpreter turned out to be easier and more interesting than at the Faculty of Oceanography. But it so happened that student life, as we imagine it, ended after the first semester: due to the coronavirus, absolutely all lectures and seminars were transferred online. It wasn’t until the fifth semester that we met again for a couple of seminars that couldn’t be done over zoom.

Such an unusual form of education made me once again think about changing my specialty, albeit not as radical as the first time. I realized that if I don’t plan to stay in Germany after finishing my bachelor’s degree, it makes no sense to study as a sign language interpreter, and I switched to an adjacent sign language and took another additional discipline (Nebenfach). At the same time, it turned out that the requirement for admission to study – Zulassungberechtigung, which is obtained upon graduation from the Studienkolleg, does not apply to the new specialty (at least at the University of Hamburg). And this means that even without a Studienkolleg medical course certificate, you can still enter, say, biology as an additional discipline, you only need admission to a major subject.

Now I’ll tell you about the important points that should be taken into account by those who are going to receive higher education in Germany (read basic information about undergraduate studies in Germany in an earlier article ).

German language proficiency
To study at any German university, knowledge of German at the C1 level is required – close to the level of native speakers. True, some Studienkollegs, located mainly in small unpopular cities, like Köthen in the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt, can also be entered with B1. In Berlin, with B2, you will not pass the competition. Important: be sure to specify which certificate confirming the level of German language proficiency is accepted at the selected university (this information is posted on the website of the educational institution).
Studienkolleg ( Studienkolleg )

In Germany, education in schools lasts 12 classes – graduates of Russian schools who have completed 11 classes cannot directly enter a German university.

There are two ways to make up for the “missing” year: unlearn the 1st year at a Russian university in the chosen specialty, or graduate from a studienkolleg in the direction corresponding to the future profession. After talking with several friends who chose a year of study at a Russian university, I found out that they all faced difficulties in adapting: daily communication in a foreign language, a different organization of the educational process made them nervous. If the adaptation period falls on the year of study at the Studienkolleg, then getting used to is easier: here all fellow students are foreigners, and the pace of learning is measured.

When applying to the Studienkolleg, you must decide on a specialty at the university and choose one of four main courses: medical (M), technical (T), humanities (G) or economics (W). Studied colleagues in large cities usually offer all four directions, but small ones more often specialize in 2-3. Be sure to check if the selected Studienkolleg offers the course you need.

The purpose of the training is to prepare foreign applicants for a German university. The curriculum is more like a school one: there is, for example, no freedom to choose subjects, as at the university, and lessons begin with checking homework. The study of the German language, of course, is necessarily included in the program of any course, and it is given the largest number of academic hours.

One course usually teaches five or six subjects. As a rule, they study:

  • on a technical course: mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, drafting, German
  • in the medical course: biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, German
  • in the humanities course: history, sociology, German literature, German language
  • in the economics course: economics, mathematics, computer science, English, German

At the end of the Studienkolleg, students take the so-called Feststellungsprüfung (final exam) in all subjects. The arithmetic mean of this assessment and the assessment for the last semester is put in the certificate. In theory, especially capable students are allowed to take the Feststellungsprüfung at the end of the first semester, if they are ready to prepare for it externally. But this happens extremely rarely: even if the program of the first semester seems easy enough to someone, since teachers at first make allowances for not very confident command of the language, then you can’t say the same about the second semester, when the pace of passing the material is significantly accelerated.

Numerus Clausus ( N.C. )

As a rule, if it is not a specialty without a limit on the number of students (zulassungsfrei), then the university decides which applicants to accept based on the passing score – Numerus Clausus (NC), which is determined annually after the application deadline. This is where the arithmetic mean of the final grades of the Russian school and the Studienkolleg certificate is taken into account. This score is calculated by a special uni-assist service. Usually the procedure takes up to six weeks, so the documents must be sent on the day the certificate is issued to the Studienkolleg.

You can look at the dynamics of the passing scores of past years and roughly estimate your chances of admission. But here it is important to understand that foreign applicants are counted differently in these calculations due to quotas for students from non-EU countries.

Fachhochschule vs Universität ( College vs University )
There are two main types of higher education institutions in Germany: universities and professional colleges. The main task of universities is to educate a new generation of scientists and researchers, teaching in them, as a rule, is more theoretical, and develops the skills necessary for independent scientific work. In colleges, more emphasis is placed on the development of practical skills. Among the benefits of college education is a more individual approach: there are about a quarter fewer students per assistant professor than at a university, and they are required to teach at least 18 hours – more than at universities. Based on your plans for the future, you can conclude what is more suitable for you: implementation in scientific activities or a more specialized education.
student body

Before the start of the academic year, all universities organize “introductory weeks” for freshmen: tutors generally tell beginners about what awaits them, conduct campus tours (especially useful in large cities where the campus consists of buildings located in different parts of the city) getting to know fellow students.

The main difference between German universities and Russian universities is that here students make their own schedule. However, in specialized colleges (Fachhochschule), as a rule, there is no such freedom of choice.

At any faculty you will find a syllabus – a list of required and recommended disciplines, indicating the sequence of study: in many universities, a student is required to choose a certain number of subjects from other areas in order to broaden his horizons. And here I came across an interesting feature: on the one hand, you attend lectures at different faculties and get the opportunity to make much more acquaintances, but on the other hand, it is difficult to establish friendships with classmates, since, for example, one is in a hurry to attend a chemistry workshop , while another has a Finnish language course on its schedule.

A personal account on the university website is a student’s best friend until graduation. It is in it, and only in it, that you can sign up for classes (mandatory and optional) and for exams, and this must be done no later than the deadline set by the university. Here you can also see the results of exams, write to teachers, classmates or download the current document on enrolling in the university to extend the visa.

Housing issue

Already at the time of applying to a studienkolleg or university, I advise you to start looking for housing, especially if you plan to study in a big city, since in small cities usually each applicant is assigned a place in a hostel, which you can refuse if you wish. But in cities with millions of people like Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, it can take you several months to find a budget room in the German equivalent of a communal apartment (Wohngemeinschaft, abbreviated as WG). The hostel is the same story. For example, the University of Hamburg alone has 40,000 students. At the same time, the total number of places in hostels does not exceed 10,000. True, half of them are reserved for foreign students, but it is obvious that many will have to look for an apartment or a room on their own. And don’t think that applicants to studienkollegs have some privileges – you have to look for housing for yourself if the educational institution does not provide it for you. The dormitory administration strictly ensures that the lists of those wishing to receive a room always remain relevant. In Hamburg, for example, after submitting an application for admission, every two weeks you will receive a mailing list asking you to confirm your interest in providing a place in a hostel. If you do not do this within five days, you will be removed from the waiting list and you will have to register again. every two weeks you will receive a mailing list asking you to confirm your interest in providing a place in the hostel. If you do not do this within five days, you will be removed from the waiting list and you will have to register again. every two weeks you will receive a mailing list asking you to confirm your interest in providing a place in the hostel. If you do not do this within five days, you will be removed from the waiting list and you will have to register again.

Dormitories are both apartment type and corridor type. Many of the rooms in them are unfurnished, so if it is important for you to have “everything” in the room from the very beginning, you must definitely indicate this in the questionnaire. Also, student dormitories provide one-room apartments and even apartments for couples for a slightly higher fee.

Here are approximate prices for different types of housing in Hamburg, including utilities:
A room in a hostel – 300 euros per month
A room in a communal apartment – 470 euros per month
One-room apartment 30 m2 – 550 euros per month

And this site also contains average prices for different cities (including utilities): https://www.wg-suche.de/wg-zimmer-kosten .

Of course, in smaller cities the rent will be lower, but if you are going to study in Munich, then get ready to fork out: a room in a communal apartment here will cost an average of 600-700 euros per month.

Medical insurance

Even if you are absolutely healthy, in Germany you are required to purchase health insurance. The Aliens Office will request an up-to-date statement from your insurance company every year in order to authorize a visa extension.

Insurance today costs about 110 euros per month. Considering that for uninsured people under the age of 25, each visit to the doctor costs at least 50 euros, and the amount also increases significantly with the age of the patient, insurance does not seem to be expensive anymore.

Financial side and work while studying

Education at public universities in Germany is free, except for the semester fee, which, however, includes travel fees. The amount of the contribution may vary depending on the federal state and the university: at the University of Hamburg it is about 330 euros. You also need to pay for housing, medical insurance, buy food, etc. Moreover, even before arriving in Germany, you must provide the consulate with proof that your German account contains the amount sufficient to live in Germany during the validity of the visa. The amount changes from year to year due to inflation. Now it is 10440 euros. During the first year of your stay in Germany, access to your German account will be limited and you will be able to withdraw no more than 870 euros (10440 euros / 12 months) from it every month.

It is good if the student’s family is well-to-do and he can afford not to think about the material side of life and study abroad. But still, more often students have to look for either a part-time job or apply for a scholarship. Students during the period of study are allowed to work no more than 20 hours a week, but you can work more if the bulk of the working time falls outside the main study time – that is, if you work mainly in the evening, at night or on weekends.


There are quite a few scholarship funds in Germany. There are both traditional ones – for students with good academic performance, and funds of various political parties, religious funds (moreover, the applicant’s affiliation to a particular religion is optional, but desirable). It is impossible to predict what will be the competition for a particular scholarship and who will be preferred by the selection committee, so it is better to apply for all scholarships for which you qualify.

A list of some of the scholarships that students from Russia can apply for:

Deutschlandstipendium is one of the most famous scholarships that relatively many manage to get. Preference is given to able applicants with good grades, social or political activists.

Friedrich- _Ebert – Stiftung is a typical example of a scholarship from a political foundation. The main criterion for selecting scholarship holders is not academic performance, but their social democratic activities: for example, volunteering in a trade union, student council, public organization or working with youth.

Leistungsstipendien der Universit ä ten  university scholarships : Be sure to check your university’s website to see if it pays out so-called scholarships for good academic performance.

You can search for suitable scholarships on the websites: https://www2.daad.de/deutschland/stipendium/datenbank/de/21148-stipendiendatenbank/ and https://www.mystipendium.de/ . On these resources, you can filter by various criteria (nationality, GPA, social activities, etc.) to get a selection of scholarships that match your profile.

Studying abroad is an experience that will expand your worldview, and the step that will bring you closer to feeling like a person of the world, which is important in modern society.

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