grad school in germany
April 2, 2008 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Grad school in Germany?

I'm interested in the international programs offered in Germany. The idea of getting my Master's degree in Germany in English is very appealing. I would want to study international relations, public policy, or do a program focused on Eastern Europe.

Does anyone around here have any experience with this? I'm mainly concerned about the logistics of the matter.

Would I actually be able to do this? As a US citizen, I know that I would only be able to work 90 full days a year of 180 half days and that doesn't seem to be enough to get by. How hard is it to get funding/grants/scholarships of any sort?

Also, unlike with US universities, I can't seem to find any concrete information on how competitive the programs are. I will have a Slavic Language/Literature BA with a 3.1 GPA (not awesome), so will Germany even want me?

Any other information is welcome. Thank you.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel to Education (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am studying philosophy in Germany at Humboldt U. The whole educational situation here is a clusterfuck. This is what I can tell you:

When I came here 6 years ago, they had no equivalent to a bachelor -- they just had a thing called Magister. Hence my bachelor went unaccredited and I had to begin at the lowest rung. This is why I am still caught up in the university system 6 years later, and if I had to do it over again I would've gotten a Masters in America first before coming here. However, in the meantime the SPD reformed the educational system and they introduced a 3-year bachelor that is very rigidly structured, basically shooing kids through various hoops, with a 2-year Masters afterwards. At this point the whole university is in a state of limbo. The classes that would be considered post-grad are full of a mix of kids with German bachelors getting a Masters, people still without a primary degree pursuing a Magister, and random people who happen to drop by out of interest, some of whom might be writing a Ph.D. dissertation. After Masters/Magisters there are basically no classes for you; you sit at home writing your dissertation and only show up at the university whenever it suits you. The requirements for the Masters program, as far as I've heard from other people, are based on points, where you get certain numbers of points for class presentations, papers, smaller essays, etc.

The university might claim that they will offer you coaching and counselling, but don't believe it. Professors here have a different attitude and are not generally available. The university is low-budget and indifferent to you. Certainly compared to the American system you're basically left with your ass flapping in the wind and have to take care of your own shit. This has its good and bad sides. They also might claim to be competitive and to have "elite" programs but this also does not mean what it means in America. They let you in based on factors like quotas for certain kinds of people, the amount of time you've been waiting for a slot, how full the program is, etc. The SPD educational reform was supposed to single out certain universities as "elite" but this doesn't mean that they attract better students or professors, it just means that the state awards the university extra funding based on the number of grants won, i.e. universities that have already tended to win a lot of state grants are then deemed "excellent" based on that criterium and given even more money. Basically the universities are all equal in terms of quality; although certain programs might coincidentally happen to have better faculty, no university competes in terms of the quality of its students. They have no way of doing this, since they don't have any universal measure of student quality like an SAT. The end-year exam, the Abitur, is graded individually by each teacher, and the different German states have different educational policies anyways. So there is no body of students anywhere that is elite and if you don't get in, it will be for bureaucratic reasons -- at least this was my experience pre-reform. Again, this has its good and bad sides. I got my BA from an elite American school (Stanford) and I don't think the quality of discussion in humanities seminars was any better or worse than here at a completely non-elite school -- it's just different. What you have to do is find a program that will understand that your BA is in fact a a Slavic program that shouldn't be a problem, but if you're switching fields slightly as I did (com lit to philosophy) you might get jacked, although my experience is all pre-reform.

I don't know why you think you can only work 90 days --although IANAL. Work would be outside the university (don't count on getting a paid position until after your Ph.D, and even then don't count on it) and as far as I can tell you're free to work as much as you want to pay your own way, in fact Germany is happy to take your tax money. If you want to get funding, apply for it before you are in Germany -- then you can still make the case that you need it. If like me you simply show up and then start looking for funding, you might get shafted -- although that might've changed in the past few years. DAAD is a good source for scholarships, lots of people have that shit. Or try American donors. The American donors might want to talk to the financial aid office, and there is no financial aid office here, so this will be your first experience of overcoming ridiculous bureaucratic hurdles. But the hurdle is overcomable, you just have to talk to someone somewhere in the foreign students' office and they'll write some kind of letter for you.

I don't mean to discourage you from this. Greater Germany makes me sick to my stomach but Berlin is a wonderful city, and if you get some kind of scholarship or even if you don't I would encourage you to find a program in Berlin. The university experience is really a lot different -- a lot more anarchic, and a lot of people show up and participate more based on interest than on ambition. It's worth getting to know. The FU is a nice school. Unfortunately I am at the HU.

You will need to get your degree officially translated and accredited -- here in Berlin I had to talk to the ministry of schools, youth, and sports (yes that's a ministry) to prove that my BA counted for entrance into the Magister program. It might take time and a little but of money. The program itself should be cheap, unless they find a tricky way of accepting you as an American, in which case they might rob you blind; basically you should be paying around 250 euros per semester, which should also include a subway pass -- at least that's how it is in Berlin. Here rent is around 300-400 for a nice room or even a one-room apartment. In Munich you will pay a lot more.

Feel free to send me a MefiMail if you have any specific questions.
posted by creasy boy at 9:19 AM on April 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm kind of terrified by the prospect of following up on creasy boy's response, but the first thing you may want to do is contact APSIA for information. At the least, check out their site.

Do you want to do your entire Master's in Germany, or would you be content with one year in an exchange program? Many of APSIA's members have exchange agreements with schools in other countries, and some even have English-language campuses abroad. (I went to Italy for a year with a rather prestigious one.)
posted by kittyprecious at 10:57 AM on April 2, 2008

Best answer: I do think creasy boy is incorrect regarding your ability to work: I know that my Aufenthaltserlaubnis is dependent on my being a student, and has precisely the work limitations you mention above. Note that these do not apply to things like fellowships - that's how I've been getting by. Whether or not you can find funding for a Master's program is a different story - definitely check out American donors and the DAAD, and check them out way in advance. Note that I got funded for a time-period, not a specific program - if you're willing to start out with, say, a year's funding and continue looking while studying, you might have more options. Academic background may affect your ability to get various fellowships/grants/etc., but is not likely to affect your ability to get in to the university.

His description of the Uni system is pretty close to my experience, though. If you're used to American universities, German universities will seem huge, impersonal, and confusing. You are lucky that you're considering coming over here now: many places have only started implementing Master's programs, and the Diplom/Magister system you would have been dealing with until very recently would've much more problematic for you. At a Master's level, the "elite university" designation is less likely to affect you - that affects primarily doctoral students (better professors, better funding, etc.), and effectively indicates that the university is a good research university. As a Master's student, you'll primarily be taking classes with lots of other people, and the "elite" designation really won't make much of a difference. As for actual program requirements: those will vary wildly, and as someone in the sciences, my experience won't match yours.

There are lots of details required to get into a given school. You may not need to get your degree and whatnot translated (at the Ludwig Maximilians Universität München, where I am, they accept all major EU languages, plus Latin), but there may be various random and annoying requirements. Make sure, for example, that you will actually be able to get in to the university (not just the program) without knowing much German. I needed to provide proof of a minimum level of fluency, and had to pay for the test to do so. Expect a lot of inflexibility on the part of the foreign students' office: stupid hours, obsession with random requirements, etc. Also expect to pay a few hundred euros per semester.

Finding a place to live can be difficult, depending on where you plan to go. I'm in Munich (unlike creasy boy, Greater Germany doesn't make me sick - München's a great city, if not as internationally artsy as Berlin), and Munich has the most expensive and competitive housing market in the nation. Expect to pay perhaps €300-€450 (warm), and to spend some time visiting different Wohngemeinschafts (WGs) before you actually find a room. wg-gesucht and studenten-wg are the two most helpful websites in this regard; check out posters in student mensas (cafeterias) too, once you arrive. Definitely make sure you're getting a monthly subway pass. Don't expect the university to support the kind of dorms or clubs that are pretty much universal in US universities. At least in Munich, Studentenwerk has a variety of dorms (and there are a few private ones), all of which are available to any college student, but getting a spot is a pretty competitive process. Look for out-of-the-Uni clubs and activities, because the university itself won't necessarily be a good was of meeting people.

Lastly, even if you do find a program that is taught in English, learn some German! It'll make a big difference in your ability to get around, get to know the city, and make friends. It's well worth your time and money, and many universities have or are associated with language schools that can help you study German on the side. Good luck, and if you're considering Munich, feel free to MeMail me for more details.
posted by ubersturm at 12:00 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I will have a Slavic Language/Literature BA with a 3.1 GPA (not awesome), so will Germany even want me?
Most programs require you to have an average of at least 2.3 or 2.5 (German grade). So according to this, you fulfill the formal requirements.

However, in the meantime the SPD reformed the educational system and they introduced a 3-year bachelor that is very rigidly structured
The SPD has nothing to do with it, it's a EU-wide thing,.

The university is low-budget and indifferent to you.
That depends entirely on the university and the program you're in. Humboldt isn't exactly a very good university in terms of teaching and budget which isn't really a surprise given that Berlin is broke.

don't count on getting a paid position until after your Ph.D, and even then don't count on it
Again, that depends on the university. Normally, it's not too hard to get a job at the university, usually working 8 hours a week at an hourly pay of 7 to 8 Euro. PhD students make up to 2900 Euro a month before taxes.

I would encourage you to find a program in Berlin.
Yeah, sorry, but I'll have to disagree with that too. The Berlin universities are overcrowded and don't have a lot of money. Unless you can find a program that is externally funded, you'll be better off somewhere else.
posted by snownoid at 1:48 PM on April 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for the answers!
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 8:29 AM on April 3, 2008

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