7 Tips to mentally prepare for studying in Germany
Most of you have your visa issued, while some of you are still waiting for confirmation of your admission from the university. Whatever the stage you are in, you will soon be starting your university education in Germany. German university culture is very different from the USA, which is very popular and well known among the masses. So here are a few tips to help you mentally prepare for studying in Germany.
1. No hand holding
Due to limited funding, there is not a lot of attention paid on one to one teaching. Thus, you may end up feeling like you have no one to help you with your studies. The professors usually give the lectures and disappear into oblivion to do their research. You would not get much help with clarifying your doubt from the professor himself.
What you need to know is, in Germany, it is you who has to take the initiative. The professors have assistants called tutors, who are either a research assistant or students. They are well versed with the subject and they are the one who can help you clarify the doubts. If you do not understand a concept, make sure you find the tutor in his consulting hours and reach out to him/her.
2. Exam rules
Examination pattern in Germany varies a lot from one course to another. While one course will have 40 minutes exam for 90 points, the other course will have 90 minutes exam for 60 points. Per say, there is no standard. It is up to the professor as to how he wants to structure his exam. Thus you need to tackle every exam in a very different way.
German Universities have a very strict marking scheme and love to fail students. As an expat, coming from a culture where failing in exam is considered as incompetence, it will be hard on you in the beginning. Failing in exams is very normal in Germany. I remember taking up the Software Architecture course at the university, wherein only 30% of 50+ students passed the first exam while only 50% of them cleared the course at end of the second exam.
Attending lectures is not mandatory in most courses, except for a few where you are required to actively contribute to the discussion. This is a new found freedom for those of you for whom, ‘bunking the lecture’, was a thing back in the days. However, having been in the university in Germany, I would highly advise against skipping the lecture.
As I said in the first point of this blog, there is not much spoon feeding in Universities. Thus, attending lectures are the best way to understand the subject and confront the professor one on one to clarify and discuss the subject.
Secondly, there isn’t a lot of study material given out except for lecture slides and books to refer, so professors might explain a concept in detail for 10-15 minutes, while it is just one bullet point on the lecture slide.
4. Bite as much as you can chew
It is very common for new students to take up too many courses. As they are not familiar with how intensive the courses can be they end up taking more subjects than they can handle. I myself took up five courses for 36 ECTS in the first semester. I ended up getting only 13 ECTS.
As you are not very familiar with the university education, take up only 2-3 subjects in the first semester. Taking up fewer courses would ease your workload and you can spend some time socializing and getting familiar with the place you are living in. This will help you morally in coming semesters. Why is that important? Check the next two points.
5. Pick the right teammates
Most of the courses you take at the university will require you to do weekly or bi-weekly assignments. The assignments are usually assigned to a team of two or three people. You will be required to find the people whom you would team-up with. So here is the catch, most people team-up with people who might not be as serious about the subject as they are.
It is not uncommon for someone to drop out of the course because their teammates quit on them and they couldn’t handle the workload. Thus it is very important that you team-up with right people and confront them how serious you are about the course. The same applies another way around. If you are not serious or confident about the subject, let your potential teammates know about it. This way you can avoid many awkward situations arising at the peak time of the semester.
6. It might take more than four semesters and that’s OK!
All of us want to move up the ladder quickly. The faster you are out of the university the faster you can move up in your career. However, in this hustle, we forget to enjoy the things that we have at hand. Secondly, most people underestimate how difficult studying at a German university is. I think the above point clarifies this.
Since there are no tuition fees in most universities. It wouldn’t hurt you much to slow down a little and take your time to prepare well for your career. Take up a part-time job with a company or a semester break and do an internship in the field you love to get industrial exposure. Take six semesters instead of four to complete your masters. No one is judging you.
On the other hand, if you are one of the smart kids. You can stretch your studies a semester or two to take up the courses just for sake of learning. Because once you are out of the university you will have to pay a premium price to learn the same thing.
I have a friend from Pakistan, who came back to do his masters in the university at age of 42 after working almost 17 years at General Electric. He completed 156 ECTS in four semesters. One thing he said impressed me a lot, ‘The degree and qualifications don’t matter to me anymore, I am here to learn’.
SEE ALSO: 7 Tips to integrate into German culture
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No one really cares at a German university where you come from, what societies you belonged to, what extracurricular activities you indulged in to or how many math Olympiads and programming competitions you aced. It’s public universities with uniform facilities, exams, labs etc. It’s entirely up to you how good you perform. No one would give you any extra attention. Professor would come, deliver the lectures, TA would come and solve your homework assignments once a week on the white/blackboard and the slides and lecture videos would be uploaded on the web. At the end of the semester, a very hard exam would be waiting for you.
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