As a foreigner, what is it like to study in a German university? In this article, I will explain the different types of universities in Germany. I will also share how it is to study at a university of applied science in Germany. All based on my personal experience.
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In general, there are two types of university in Germany
The first one is the normal university, and the second one is called the university of applied science (Fachhochschule). Both types of universities offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The main difference between them is that a university has a strong theoretical focus, while a university of applied science has a strong practical focus.
If you would like to pursue a Ph.D. at some point in time, you would probably want to be in a university. If your aim is to learn and develop practical skills, the university of applied science may fit you better. You will have a lot of chances to apply the theory that you have learned. Practical semester like doing an internship in a company is common at the university of applied science. These experiences can prepare you for the job market later on.
Note that there are also private universities in Germany. They are the minority (about 10% of all the higher education institutions in Germany). You have to pay tuition if you decide to study in a private university in Germany.
Is there any difference between normal university and Fachhochschule in terms of job perspective?
I would say no. I heard that in the past, people might get a lower salary if they graduated from a university of applied science. But nowadays, I do not believe that it is the case anymore. The differences between these university types are very minor. I know a lot of people who get good paid jobs after graduation from the university of applied science. Many hiring managers in different companies also told me that they do not distinguish candidates based on the type of their universities.
Tips: When applying to a university in Germany, you may need to provide a certified translation of your graduation certificate from your home country. This is especially the case if your certificate is not in German or English. You can use the service from Lingoking to get your certified translation in German digitally and quickly.
What is it like to study in a German university?
In my case, I did my bachelor’s degree in Hong Kong and worked for two years after graduation. Afterward, I decided to quit my job and move to Germany for my master’s study. I mentioned in another article why I chose to study in Germany. I studied “International Business and Consulting” in my master’s degree, and the study was 100% in English.
Studying in Hong Kong was completely different than studying in Germany. Below are some of my experiences from my two-year master’s study in a German university of applied science:
(1) Very practice-oriented
My master’s degree consisted of four semesters (two years). In the first year, I had to attend lectures at my university. The third semester was an internship semester. And the last semester was a thesis semester. During my first year, we had a lot of projects. I had to work on these projects internally with other students. Besides, we also had two projects in which we had to work together with two different external companies.
Our first external project
We had to work with a big international food processing company. During this project, the manager at the company showed us their factory and how their supply chain was like. We were led by our professor. We asked the manager many questions and also gave him our suggestions relating to the supply chain topics. In the end, we made a presentation to show the management what kind of supply chain modal we would suggest and the pros and cons of that.
Our second external project
We were divided into four groups (four students in a group). And each group was allocated to a different company. The company for my group was a big German real estate company. We were an international group of students with 4 different nationalities. The manager in the company would like to know if they should expand their business into other countries like China, Russia, and Africa. Since I am Chinese, I did a lot of research to see if it made sense for the company to expand into China. I really loved this project. We had to work onsite at the company once a week. We had a supervisor from the company who supported us if we had any questions. By the end of the project, with all the data and arguments I found, I presented to the management why I thought they should expand to China.
I learned a lot of practical skills by doing these projects. I personally like it better than sitting in a lecture and just listening to the theory from the professors. Some of our students even got a job offer from those companies after the projects. One more thing to add is that many professors in my university of applied science do have a practical background. Some professors even had part-time positions in a company. So they were working in a company and teaching in the university at the same time. That is also why you should make a good connection with your professors to find English-speaking jobs in Germany.
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(2) Internship semester
It is very common that students do an internship semester during their studies in Germany. Depending on your degree requirement, sometimes it is a voluntary internship, sometimes it is mandatory. As the university of applied science focuses more on the practical side, it is even more common that students will do an internship. I did my internship in the third semester in a company, and I eventually got a job offer there afterward. (Read about my job interview here.)
(3) Small class size
During my master’s study in the German university, there were around 16 people in the group. It was quite a small class size for me because we could have hundreds of students in the same lecture back in Hong Kong. However, the class size in Germany depends on your university and your major subject. In some cases, there can also be a hundred students in the same lecture.
It is also common in Germany that the class size in the same course can be smaller and smaller over time. It means that for example, there are 100 students in the class at the beginning. After one or two semesters, there may be only 50 students left in the class. The main reason is that, after the semester starts, some students find out that this is not what they really want to study. So, they quit and go study something else. Other cases (especially in the technical field) can be that the exams are too difficult and many students cannot pass and just drop out.
This is very different in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, if a student enrolls in a university program, they will rarely change it, even if they don’t like it. So, I feel like the German people tend to follow their desire more (to study or work on what they like). It can also be that they have less financial pressure, comparing with the Hong Kong students.
(4) Very international
Since my study in the German university was 100% in English, there were quite a few international students in the group. We were around 16 students, where seven of us are non-German. For me, it was an interesting experience as I got to make friends from many different countries like Russia, the USA, Egypt, and so on. I learned about different ways of working and their different cultures.
(5) More open discussion
The style of the lectures in Germany was totally different than in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, only the professor was talking. He talked for the whole lecture and nobody ever asked a question. Actually many students were sleeping in the lecture. And yes, they were sleeping, literally. So, there was only one-way communication.
I heard that it is not common for students to sleep during classes in Germany. I have also never seen any. In my lecture, it was more like an open discussion. Students were very active and asked a lot of questions. The students might even challenge the professors. I was so shocked, as this would never happen in Hong Kong.
(6) Students are very disciplined
In Hong Kong, we had to sign the attendance sheet for some of the lectures. The students might be required to attend 80% of the lectures in a semester to pass that course. What happened very often was that one student signed the attendance sheet for a bunch of other students, who were not actually in the lecture. This was to help their friends to pass the course. The Hong Kong students were in general very “flexible” and did not care too much about signing for the others.
In Germany, it is completely different. People take signatures very seriously. Nobody will ever sign for the others in the attendance sheet (or any other document). People are more independent and they take care of their own things. They are also much more disciplined to not “break the rules”.
(7) Grading system
The first time when I saw my grade in Germany, I had no idea what it meant. It was a number from 1 to 5. I had a 3 or 4. Then I thought, “Oh, I am doing pretty good!” According to the Hong Kong system, the higher the mark, the better it means. I thought 5 was the full mark and I got 3 or 4 which was not bad.
Only after a while, I figured out that 5 is the worst in Germany! And 1 is the best! This was for me really strange. In Hong Kong, we have grades A to E. And grade F means that someone fails. Now I know that the German grade 1 is probably equivalent to a Hong Kong grade A.
In my master’s course in Germany, there was also no curving system. It means that if everyone is performing well, everyone can get a grade 1. In Hong Kong, only a certain percent of students can get an A. The percentage is fixed beforehand. So there are always some students getting good grades, and some getting bad grades.
Due to this curving system I mentioned, there is very tense competition among the students in Hong Kong. Competition in an unhealthy way. Students may not want the other students to perform well in the exam. Because the curving system means that they are ranking against each other.
What I noticed in Germany was that the students were very helpful to each other. They shared resources and helped each other out. For example, if someone found a good reading material, which might be helpful for our exam, he would share this material with the whole class.
(9) Thesis semester
Every degree in Germany has a thesis semester in the end. The students can choose to write it by themselves, or with a company. In my case, I wrote it with a company because it was one of the ways to earn money as a student. Besides, it was more practical and I got my job offer in the same company after writing the thesis there.
So, these were my experiences during my master’s study in the German university. Keep in mind that these were my personal experiences. People may have other experiences based on their fields of study and the universities. I just wanted to share my insight with you how it was like for me during my study.
Are you studying in a German university now? Or have you finished your study in Germany? Share your experience with me by leaving a comment below!
Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Resources Page for all the help you need!