The successful way to study
Hüttermann / DAAD
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.
Bachelor's and Master's degree courses
We show you one example of how the individual degree courses are usually structured. But be sure to find out from your International Office at the university of your choice about the details of your chosen course. These can vary from university to university.
Example of Bachelor's degree
Standard period of study: six (maximum of eight) semesters, including the period needed to complete the final thesis and take exams
Basic study stage: two semesters orientation and aptitude phase, exams at the end of each semester or an intermediate exam at the end of the second semester
Main study stage: four semesters; including obligatory stays abroad and internships. To complete the course, you produce a Bachelor's thesis and usually take one oral exam.
Example of Master's degree
Standard period of study: two or four semesters, including the period needed to take exams and complete the final thesis
Procedure: The programme is spread over two or four semesters. In the last semester, you produce a Master's thesis and usually take a final oral exam lasting approx. 60 minutes.
Consecutive study programmes: A consecutive Master's degree follows on thematically from the Bachelor's degree and allows the student to specialise in a subject area. Non-consecutive Master's degrees are quite different. These courses teach students subjects from different fields, for example business administration for engineers or computer science for medics.
What kind of examinations 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. Other tips about getting used to living and studying in Germany are available under "International Office" or "Help for students".