The German University
Before we get to three facts about university life in Germany that are completely different from the rest of the world let me brief you with a nutshell-version of the history of the (average) German University:
“Most German universities were founded by a benevolent monarch in the Mid Ages. They were granted an immense amount of autonomy and basically were a mini-state within the state. Therefore, the German university has always had a special standing in German society. While it was not set above societal norms or jurisdiction it surely was set apart from them: In the mid-ages universities were so autonomous that they had their own laws, they own dress code, rules – and most of the times even their own means of incarceration.”
Why the history lesson? Because this aspect has an heavy impact on today’s University Life in Germany. It sets Germany apart from many other countries in regard to how students life and think. Let’s now get to the three facts about today’s university life that make Germany stick out from the rest of the world.
#1 Students At A German University Are Old
Depending on where you are reading this article your average time span of university life will round about cover the years of 17 to 25 – Not so in Germany.
A German who graduates from Secondary school is in many cases already 18 years old or older. How so?
- Because Germans only start school by the age of 6.
Then there is the chance of not getting sent to the forthcoming grade because of insufficient grades. The German term for repeating a grade is “Sitzenbleiben” (literally: staying put while you sit). And Sitzenbleiben is far from being an exception: in Germany there is no guarantee that you won’t have to do the same grade twice.
- Until a few years ago male students were also liable to compulsory military service. That ment another 9 of delay. These nine months would always turn into a whole year because the service always ended in the middle of the semester so you had no chance but to let o off 2 full semesters before you could fully enroll.
- Lastly, for many years the only degreee you could earn at a German university was the Magister Artium, in the Humanities, or the Diplom in the sciences. These degress basically resembled a Masters Degree – there just was no degree to a Bachelor’s degree!
In sum, a German student graduating anwhere in between age 27 to even age 33 is by no means an exception.
#2 There Is No Dorm Life At A German University
The more east you go into Europe or the more West you go into the anglophone countries the more Dorm Life is an integral part of University life. Not so in Germany.
Most students of a German university never have and never will live in a dormitory. Actually, dormitories, that is cheap accomodation in proximity to your university, is very rare in Germany. So very often, finding a room in a dormitory is a rare option and there can be long waiting list. Even more so in cities that have high renting prices like Frankfurt, Munich or Düsseldorf.
Most German students there live on their own, in a shared apartment in the city or with their parents. The last option is called “Wochenendheimfahrer” and can be looked down upon. Who wants to be seen as that guy who goes home to mom and dad every friday and thus misses all the parties on the weekends?
As a matter of fact, dormitories are mostly inhabitant by exchange students from all over the world. They are well reknowned for parties, socialising and everything one might associate with them – it is just that locals often are a minority there.
#3 University life in Germany is anything but dull
“Old” Students, military service before you start school and no obvious socialising? – That doesn’t sound too exciting so far. May even sound stressful, doesn’t it? Not so in Germany.
German students enjoy themselves a lot, only it is not taking place on campus. Often times it is not even taking place in the company of their fellow students, but with friends German students met through jobs or through traveling. One thing that’s for sure is that if you do live in a dormitory your fun factor as a student can go through the roof. But even if you don’t live in a dormitory there are millions of ways for the average German student to have a good time.
- One thing is going abroad. Being a member of the European Union and thus part of the infamous Erasmus Exchange Program, Germany highly encourages and even sponsors its students to go abroad. Most Germans have spent one semester, man of them even two or three semesters in another country. And that is not even limited to studying abroad since even internships abroad are rewarded with scholarships.
- Most German students live on their own or in shared apartmens in the city. This means there are no parents and no dormitory staff directly watching over them. They are free to roam, party and excess as they please.
- Even though there is no real campus life in Germany as you would find it in the anglophone countries there is a high level of activity outside of seminar rooms and lectures. Sports play a big role in University life and are just as popular as anywhere else in the world. The one thing that is lacking is what the Americans might all community spirit: Rivalry among universities that is acted out in matches of American Football – or in rowing if you think of Oxford vs. Cambridge – in Germany are literally unheard of.
This brief overview gives you a vivid insight into what studying at a German university will be like. If you are willing to adapt to a situation that might be quite a bit different from what you are used to then studying in Germany is a great way to gain new experiences. Willkommen in Deutschland!
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