Sunday, August 2, 2009

Studying in Germany - Before

Disclaimers: I graduated from the University of Stuttgart in October 2005. A lot of things have/could have changed since then. Also, the views in this and any follow up article are purely my own. So the information might not necessarily be ''as-is''. Please check the university websites for detailed information.

The article refers only to Masters in Engineering and related branches as well as Universities. I have no information pertaining to MBA or other non-engineering degrees.

Types of Universities: There are two kinds - University (generally referred to as Universität, Technische Hochschule) and University of Applied Sciences (FH - Fachhochschule). When compared to the education system in India, the former is like an engineering college or university while the latter is like a Polytechnic. FH degrees are recognised as well but the payscale for FH is lower than a University. While Universities are more research oriented, the FH prepares you for a practical application of your skills on the job. If your career goal is to get a PhD or be involved in the state-of-the-art research then a University is the right place for you.

Ranking: Unlike US universities, there is no official ranking list for Universities in Germany. DAAD (http://www.daad.de) might have some related information. However, here is a list of some really good universities (in no particular order) - Uni Stuttgart, TUHH, RWTH Aachen, TU Karlsruhe, TU Darmstadt, TU Munich etc.

Fee Structure: One of the main reasons behind me choosing Germany was because of the golden words ''no tuition fees''. When I was a student I paid 120 euro per semester and this was cheaper than school fees in India ! However things have changed and in the last 2 years, many universities have started charging somewhere between 400-600 euro per semester. This, I believe, is still reasonable considering the quality of the education you get.

Courses: Most Universities offer international programs in English however some also offer bilingual courses where the last semester is in German. The normal course duration for a masters degree is 2 yrs. This will comprise of 2 semesters of classes and labwork, 1 semester of internship and 1 semester of master thesis. Many students however take 5 semesters to finish a course since they spread the coursework over 3 semesters and/or do an internship for a longer time.

Requirements: The basic requirements are bachelors degree and a TOEFL score. However some Universities also make an exception w.r.t the latter if your medium of instruction has been english for your undergraduate degree (Some universities also accept IELTS score in place of TOEFL. If you already taken the IELTS exam, you can write an email to the university and ask them if it is acceptable. It will be, in most cases).The additional requirements are university-specific and may range from a statement of purpose (SOP) to a prepatory exam.

Application: The application process may have 2 steps, an online part which is used for screening following which you send the remaining documents by post. TOEFL gives you the option of sending your scores free of cost to a couple of Universities but atleast when I applied this option was not available for German Universities and they generally accept a photocopy of the TOEFL score. In most cases, there is no application fee.

Visa: Because of the low tuition fees, getting a study visa to enter Germany is not really a nightmare as the US visa. Usually a DD for 7700 euro (amount can vary) should be shown during the interview and this would grant a 3 month visa. One should take this DD to Germany along with the admission letter, go to the international office and get one's visa extended to cover the period of study. More information at http://www.vfs-germany.co.in/

Learning German: Germans speak german...duh ?!....and English is not enough to get by in Germany if you want to live, study and work here. You have to learn German. Most universities offer language classes especially for students. All you need is initiative to learn the language. It is not mandatory to finish multiple levels before arriving here but knowing some basic German would definitely be helpful.

Racism: Germans are NOT racists. They are mostly reserved and are not openly friendly. You need to spend some time to break the ice but once they become friends, they are friends foreever. Like in any country, there are always a bunch of trouble makers here and there but I can confidently say that in all the time I have lived here, my safety has never once been threatened !

Living Conditions: Living in Europe is a very enjoyable experience and more so in Germany where everything more or less is like clockwork. The cost of living obviously depends on where one lives in Germany with cities like Munich, Stuttgart being a lot more expensive than small towns like Aachen. Living costs can be around 600 euro per month and most students work as research assistants (wissentschaftliche Hilfskraft - HiWi) or outside the University to support themselves.

Job Opportunities: During the course of study, getting a HiWi is not challenging. This obviously depends on your resume and your ability to learn German. The key is to be on the lookout for HiWi ads (usually in department websites and bulletin boards) and have the initiative to learn. As a student, nobody expects you to be an expert. If you can work hard and learn, then you will make a good HiWi.

The story is a little different when you graduate. Having been in Germany for atleast 2 years now, employers start expecting you to have a good grasp of German although they realise you are not a native speaker. This is natural since employers would expect the same (w.r.t learning Hindi) even if we travel from the south to the North within India. Also, working as a team is impossible if you are hampered by a language. So, if you have a good resume and a reasonable command over German, you are sure to get a job

Take a course you like and not a course you believe will get you a job because the market, technology, economy and trends keep changing all the time and by the time you graduate, everything could be the stark opposite of what it was when you began studying. The key is to like what you do because it is pretty much something you are going to do for the next 20-30 years and the only way you are going to be good at it is when you are interested in what you are doing !

Germany Vs USA: Many students make the obvious mistake of comparing Germany to the US. Neither is this comparison valid and nor will it make any sense given that the philosophies are entirely different and the only thing common between them is that they are both developed countries. There is quite a difference in the culture, the University environment, people, food, weather, work culture, payscale and obviously the time zones ! One thing that surprises most students is how few desis live here as compared to the States. Please do not expect a dosa corner and a temple in every city.

If you have specific questions, leave me a comment and I will try and answer it to the best of my knowledge and experience. Good Luck !
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