It has been about more than a month since classes here have started and at this point, I guess one would expect that most people would be used to the daily routine of being a student in German university. At least one would think so.
Well, apparently that is still not the case and many of my college mates still walk around the hallways with an expression on their faces, like they have just seen a ghost. Especially the med students. Oh poor med students. I am so happy I am not in your shoes.
So for those (internationals) among you who plan to study in Germany any time soon, I thought I should come up with a list of things you should know in order to make your life here easier and at least a little bit cheaper.
Just to clarify this beforehand: I am not dictating to you what to do. These are just some suggestions based on what I have observed so far. Maybe you have a different, better approach and that is fine, too. It is up to you whether you want to take it or leave it what I can suggest. 🙂
Always plan in advance
For some people it is not so easy to get to Germany. Chances are that you will need a visa and guess what, even in Germany where people love being punctual and neat, that sort of thing takes lots of time. It will also take a decent while until you get your student ID and enrollment form, which is known as Immatrikulation here in Germany. That is why you should get started with things as soon as you can. Apply for your visa as soon as you get the notification that your documents have been received by the university or as soon as you know that you have been invited to the entrance exam.
Another very important thing in terms of planning (unless you have a rich daddy) is finding a place to live. Don’t set your hopes up too high on getting an own apartment. Apartments here are in high demand which means almost non existent and also cost quite a lot. What most of my collegemates have been looking at were flat sharing opportunities also known as a Wohngemeinschaft or WG. It is a very popular thing to do in Germany and costs you less than actually renting a whole apartment for yourself. Now, since you will probably be doing the research and agreements on the internet in any case, you should start looking and contacting the owners while you are still at home. Once you get into university in Germany (and in some cases even before that) you will be asked to provide the office with an address in Germany. You will also need that in order to get an insurance, a bank account and a registration at the district red hall so you better get started!
Of course there is also the good, old dorm option. However, I think the main difference between college here and in the US and Canada is that here, your housing affairs are not part of the application process. When you apply to uni in Germany, all that is being taken care of is whether or not you should get an acceptance. Things like housing, meals, insurance etc are something you have to deal with once you get in and with which the university does not really deal with. Don’t expect the university to get you a place to live as part of your overall application process. In a way universities do have dorms but there is usually a long line of students who want to get in and no one is guaranteed a room. So, if you want to save money, my best suggestion would be the flat sharing. You can get a room for as cheap as €200 a month.
Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines
This may or may not be within your sphere of influence, but you should really try hard to keep up with the deadlines. Especially regarding all the formal and bureaucratic stuff, hence I came up with suggestion number one above. There is a deadline for the submission of all necessary documents for the enrollment process. That is usually one month from the day you go through orientation week but this may vary depending on which university in Germany you study in.
Up until that deadline you have to submit various documents, including proof of having an medical insurance, a copy of your visa and the filled in enrollment form. Visas are something most students seem to struggle with. Even though that is obviously not up to you, the visa issue is the most important one. If you don’t manage to submit one on time, some universities may take back the acceptance.
Germany is quite an expensive place to live, even though education here is free even for international students (thanks, German tax payers). One of the most expensive things are tickets for the public transport. Some of my collegmates made the mistake to just go and buy a month ticket right away, spending a little more that €70. Here is some advice: Take you letter of acceptance and go to the next BVG shop with it. Show it to the people there when you want to buy your ticket. You should get something called Ausbildungsausweis, which can be translated as something like on-the- job training ID. It is not the same as a student ID but will get you all the discounts you need until you get your actual student ID from the university (usually one month after you have submitted all documents). With that you will get discounts for museums and movie theaters as well as when you pay for your public library ID.
Another thing is buying school supplies. I have seen people buy a writing pad for each subject as well as maybe even a folder for each. If that suits you, just go ahead but there is a way to manage this cheaper since most writing pads cost about € 1,80 a piece. Just buy one pad of paper (I recommend taking the ones with margins on both sides since professors need the space on the right for their comments) and a folder or flat file for each subject. The notepad should be enough for about a month and a simple flat folder made of plastic or paper will cost you between 39 and 49 cents. You can also buy 5 or 10 at once for about two euros. That should surely be cheaper and easier to carry every day. The folders alone make much more sense than a folder and a notebook for each class. Expect to get quite some handouts that you will have to store somewhere. If you have a folder and separate paper, you can store the handouts and your own notes in one place. Simple and inexpensive, isn’t it?
And with that said, good luck applying. May you struggle less than your ancestors do now. For more things to know about German universities, feel free to read on here.