Are you thinking about studying in Germany but haven’t made up your mind yet?
There are many great things about studying in Germany. Besides the well-known fact that tuition costs nothing or close to nothing for many degrees, the Altstadt or old town, the relatively low cost of living, and festivals such as the Oktoberfest and Karneval make studying in Germany an unforgettable experience.
Here I want to share with you 16 random things that I loved about studying in Germany.
1. Flexible schedule
I loved the fact that I could assemble my schedule in a way that suited me. It allowed me to combine study and work hours optimally.
More advanced classes usually have fixed schedules and small class sizes. So if a specific class is only held on Monday mornings at 7:30, then you had to take that one.
But basic lectures which students usually need to attend in their first few semesters are oftentimes not only held once a week but several times a week at different hours. So one could, for example, choose between the 7.30 am or the 10.00 am Marketing lecture.
This is especially the case for popular majors such as economics and business administration. There can be over 1,000 students in each of these programs, and they simply can’t all fit into one lecture hall (although there are lecture halls that can accommodate over 400 students).
2. Working at the University (HiWi/Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft)
I worked part-time as HiWi/Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft at the international office (admissions office) while studying. HiWis at German Universities are assistants who either work for a specific faculty, assisting professors in their research, or who work for the university administration.
Working hours are very flexible, and the working atmosphere relaxed. If I had a lecture at 10.00 am, and then another one at 3.00 pm, instead of going home and coming back, I would just work for a couple of hours at the international office. The workload was usually light so that it didn’t affect my studies negatively in any way. On the contrary, working at the international office was really fun. Students from all over the world would work there. We would have coffee together while working and give each other study advice.
Students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during the semester. At 80 hours per month and a minimum hourly wage of € 9.35 as HiWi, this means a monthly gross income of € 748, which is more than enough to cover living costs in Germany.
There is an upper limit for the total number of hours worked in a calendar year though. You can check the exact details about what kind of jobs and for how long students may work here. In addition to working during the semester, many students also work during the long semester breaks, during which students are allowed to work more hours.
3. €174.9 Administration Fee (Semesterbeitrag) and low or no tuition fee
Germany Universities are most known for having low or no tuition fees. And this is really amazing. For many degree programs, students only need to pay an administration fee every semester, which is currently around €174.9 (differs slightly depending on Region).
Combine this with the possibility to earn a decent income while studying, this means that most students graduate university debt-free. And this is wonderful, especially if you compare this to students in North America who can easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their studies and graduate with huge student debts.
There are some Master’s degree programs and programs with English as language of instruction which charge a tuition of € 1,000 for a semester up to € 40,000 a year, comparable to tuition fees in the UK or North America. So if you are someone who doesn’t have extra funds to spare for studying and who doesn’t want to go into debt, then steer clear of those. There is no guarantee that the more expensive programs will get you further in life.
4. Four months long Semester breaks (Semesterferien)
The semester breaks are incredible. Incredibly long!
The German study year is divided into two semesters, the winter semester which goes from October – March, and the summer semester from April – September. But the actual lectures usually start around mid-October and end in February in the winter semester, and start around mid-April and end in July in the summer semester.
That leaves a break of around 2-2.5 months after the summer semester and around 2 months after the winter semester. This time is meant to give students time to study in their own time. But it also leaves plenty of time for students to either work or to make a trip back to their home country to visit their family.
5. Old Town (Altstadt)
When I studied in the city of Heidelberg, oftentimes after a lecture I would go take a break by taking a walk in the Altstadt. I simply walked out of the lecture hall and walked straight down the road.
I would walk for half an hour or so and on the way pick up a coffee or pop into a boutique, and then walk back to either another lecture hall or to the library to study. After a long lecture in civil law, that was so refreshing!
Most German cities have an Altstadt, an old town which forms the center of the city. Here you can find shops, fruit and vegetable markets, boutiques, cafes, bakeries, bars and places to hang out.
The beauty is that the university district is oftentimes conveniently located within or within walking-distance of the Altstadt. Although newer faculties tend to be situated on the outer ring, many faculties are still in the center of the city.
6. Flat-fee transportation pass (Semesterticket)
Most cities in Germany have a very well-connected transportation system. Students who drive a car to get to the University are in the minority. It’s much easier to take public transportation – bus and streetcar – or take a bike to University.
Public transportation is very affordable for students, who can buy a special discounted ticket called the Semesterticket. The price varies in different regions in Germany, but the current price for a Semestertiket at the University of Mannheim where I studied is €175. This covers the usage of transportation for an entire semester and for a defined region that goes beyond the city of Mannheim itself.
The cost of transportation is therefore extremely cheap. Compare that to the cost of around $150 for the TTC monthly ticket in Toronto where I currently live.
7. Affordable all-in no-fuss Dormitory (Studentenwohnheim)
I lived in student dormitories for around half of the time I studied in Germany. For the other half, I lived either on my own or shared an apartment with someone else.
Living in your own apartment is nice. It’s very individual and you feel like a grown-up. However, along with the advantages also comes the hassle. Paying electricity and heating bills, starting an internet subscription, perhaps even furnishing the place.
On the other hand, living in a Studentenwohnheim is hassle-free. You apply through the university administration and can list your top dormitory choices. Usually, each city would have several locations. The best and most strategically located ones sell out fast so be sure to apply far in advance.
But most locations are decently connected to the University. The best thing is that the rent is all-inclusive, meaning you pay one single fee each month, which is around €246 on average and covers the room, facilities, electricity, heating, trash, cleaning services, and internet.
Once you’re assigned a dormitory, you can stop worrying and spending time setting up all those things and immediately concentrate on more important things like your studies. And €246 is a fabulous price! You would normally get a single room at this price, measuring somewhere around 16m2 (or less). But you have access to a shared kitchen and several bathrooms within the shared unit, which get cleaned regularly. That way you also save time cleaning!
8. Delicious nutrition-dense set menu for €2.15 Mensa
This might be one of my top favorite things about studying in Germany. Eating at the Mensa. Granted, you’ll not get a five-star Michelin menu served, but at €2.15 per set menu, you get a very decent and rather delicious lunch!
You simply load your student card (an electronic card) with money at a station, line up and choose among one of two or three set menus that are served that day. Usually, this would include a soup, a salad, a main course, and a dessert. The portions are very generous. And now, comparing the food with many lousy German restaurants I ate at throughout the course of my life, I would say that the food at the Mensa is quite yummy. Skip the dishes and save time!
In addition to the mensa which sells set menus, there are also cafeterias that sell sandwiches and snacks as well as food that is weighed by the gram, or cafes that sell bakery items, yogurt, coffee, and other drinks. Coffee is usually very affordable at around €1.
9. Student parties (Fakultätsparty)
Student parties provide relief from daily studies. Each faculty usually holds their own party, to which any student can buy an entrance ticket. The parties are usually held on university premises. Students can buy beers, drinks, and snacks there.
It’s a fun opportunity to see the university in a different light!
Check out this link to read more (in German) about the student party culture in Germany.
10. Proximity – the supermarket around the corner
What I found very convenient is that supermarkets are distributed pretty much all over the town. The way I see it, in Germany, there are two types of supermarkets: Huge, mega-sized supermarkets such as ReWe, and then the smaller supermarkets around the corner such as Penny, Lidl, and Edeka.
While in North America or Asia, supermarkets are mostly either located on the outskirts of the city (big discounters) and smaller supermarkets in the city center, in Germany you can easily find a small supermarket in a quiet residential area.
And so far, no matter where I lived, a supermarket would only be a 5-10 minutes walk away, easily accessible without a car. This was a huge time saver, as I could easily pick up a carton of milk, some yogurts or fruit on the way back from university, without making a detour.
11. Traveling to neighboring and countries (Regionalbahn, IC, ICE)
No matter which German city you study in, you will have easy access to several interesting surrounding cities. That way it never gets boring.
When I studied in Heidelberg for example, it would only take me 30-60 minutes to get to neighboring or close by cities such as Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Ludwigshafen, and 3-4 hours to get to bigger cities such as Bonn and Köln.
All of these cities have a lot to offer in terms of culture, cuisine, and shopping. Students under 27 years old get a special discount for the Bahnkarte/Bahncard, which entitles the passenger holding it to a 25% or 50% discount on fares.
Traveling to other EU countries is also easy – although note that you might need a Schengen Visa if you are not a EU citizen. It takes only 4-5 hours to get from Frankfurt to Paris, which makes it a very realistic destination for a long weekend. 9 countries border Germany: Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxemburg, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
12. Cheap pastries and crunchy Brötchen (Bäckerei) and cakes (Konditorei)
Oftentimes, after a university lecture, I would meet up with a friend, a fellow student at a cafe or Konditorei and indulge in a piece of Himbeertorte.
For cakes, such as the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte or black forest cake, you would go to the Konditorei, where they exclusively sell cake and not bread.
Bakeries have a wide range of pastries, among others my favorite Pudding Teilchen which costs only slightly more than a Euro.
Brötchen are bread rolls that have the consistency of a baguette. They are super crispy on the outside but soft and slightly moist on the inside. They cost around €0.15 – €0.20 depending on the bakery you go to. Most of the time, they are so good that you can eat a Brötchen on its own or with a dab of butter.
Once you had bread and pastries from German bakeries, then you know what bread is supposed to taste like, and you will never look at bread the same way again.
13. € 0.70 for a Liter of Milk and Other Cheap Dairy Products
I cannot fathom how milk and dairy products in the USA or Canada are so expensive.
Dairy products are part of my shopping cart: Whole milk for my coffee, yogurt or quark for breakfast, Gouda cheese for my sandwiches, whip cream for cakes, and Kefir.
Germany is a paradise for these dairy products. You can get a liter of milk for as low as € 0.70 and a cup of plain yogurt for € 0.20. And there is a huge variety of yogurt brands to choose from. In addition to yogurt, you can also get a variety of Kefir and Quark at a very cheap price.
14. German Hospitality
Being friendly is not what Germans are most known for. And of course, there are many Germans who are curt, cynical, and unhelpful. But so are some people in every country I’ve lived in so far.
During my time studying in Germany, I’ve experienced extraordinary Germany Hospitality. A welcome culture, friendliness, and helpfulness. Here are a few examples out of many that I have to share.
My first apartment was in the basement of a 3 story building. I was 18 at it was the first time that I lived alone. I moved into an empty and cold apartment. The landlord was a 75-year old lady. Her behavior was very formal and not ‘warm’ in the same sense that perhaps Southeast Asians are seen as warm.
But I was surprised at all the nice things she would do for me in the 2 years that I lived there. She offered to do my laundry for free, which was not part of the deal. She invited me to her apartment several times and made me pancakes.
Looking back at this experience and comparing it with other landlord-experience I had, I feel really grateful to have met her. If you’re curious to read more about this story, I’ll post a link here once I’ve put up that story.
Other positive experiences included a German friend inviting me to stay over at her parents’ house in Osnabrück, my neighbors helping me move furniture to my new apartment on the 5th floor.
What I want to stress here is that whatever negative things you might have heard about Germans and friendliness and hospitality – take that with a grain of salt.
15. Festivals and Events (Karneval, Oktoberfest, Weihnachtsmarkt)
I cannot overemphasize how much fun these festivals and events are. Throughout the year, in every season, there is always something to look forward to.
In February where the days are short and cold, there is Karneval. Parades are held on the streets, people dress up in ridiculous costumes, decorated trucks throw chocolates, sweets, even fruit and vegetables to and at the pedestrians.
In Oktober people celebrate the Oktoberfest, where humongous amounts of beer, pork, and sausages are consumed. This is the time where people have the license to be silly and forget about their worries.
Most of all I love the Christmas Market in Germany. In Germany there is a Christmas market in every city, so starting the end of November until Christmas, you can make your rounds to different Christmas Markets around the country. Enjoy Nutella crepes, Glühwein, and other yummy treats.
Here in Canada where I live now I usually only visit the Christmas market once every season. While I enjoyed the atmosphere, it couldn’t compare with the Christmas markets in Germany, which had a much bigger variety of snacks and shops.
16. Easy to make friends
Some people might be worried that it will be difficult to make friends when studying overseas.
I found that as an international student it was very easy to form long and lasting friendships. A reason might be that there is at least one thing that most international students in Germany share.
If you wanted to study in the UK or North America, you would either need to have relatively wealthy parents or lots of savings piled up in order to afford the high tuition fee. Otherwise, you would need a scholarship.
Most, even though not all international students in Germany are ‘poor’ students.
Most students who study in Germany don’t come from a super-wealthy background. Usually, the student’s parents are from the middle-class. Most of my fellow students and friends were only supported financially by their parents in the beginning and then had to figure it out for themselves.
They struggled financially and had to work while studying most of the time. This common challenge was something that made it easy to connect to other international students.
Are you still on the fence? Has this list or any of these things helped you to make your decision?