(The article was originally posted on my portfolio website, neschetna.com)
I cannot stress the importance of planning ahead! All in all, you should really start thinking about studying in Germany about a year prior to your intended studies. Seems long? Not when broken down into sections. There are a number of things you need to do before your candidacy is looked at.
Let’s assume you’ve just decided that Germany is the right place for you.
Choice of University
The basic, the cornerstone of it all. Where to apply? Which major? Which city? Hochschule or Uni? These are questions I’ll let you answer yourself, but take a moment to consider some facts. If you’re just finished with Grade 11, you will not be able to go to a German university straight away. There are exceptions, such as applying to an art academy that doesn’t really need your grades, it needs to see your artistic talent. German children study about two years more in an institution they call Abitur, sort of like the British A-levels. Now, as an international student, you wont be able to join an Abitur (although prove me if I’m wrong here, I don’t know the fact.), but the Germans have a different place for us. Call it a college, it’s called the Studienkolleg, a two-semester place with four to five subjects that will end with exams to test your language skills in addition to your lessons. As it’s a preparatory college, your German language skills can be lesser than if you applied to university. Following the two semesters, it will be raised until you’re ready to pass the language exam.
This Studienkolleg will take a year, after which you’ll be able to continue onwards with your destined major.
If you’ve already done two semesters at your local university, that is a different matter and usually these semesters can be counted as a substitute for the Abitur/Studienkolleg. Please consult the university.
The way it worked with me, I applied straight to the university I wanted to attend. In my application I said that I would need the Studienkolleg. Similarly, when my invitation to the place arrived, it was actually a conditional acceptance to the university, on condition that I attended the Studienkolleg and passed their exams. See how it works?
This is done because the Studienkolleg system has different course-lines for different students who wish to study different things. A biology major wont need to learn accounting. An art student wouldn’t need maths. Some of these courses are the T-Kurs, the W-Kurs and the S-Kurs. There are a couple of others more. Each one differs slightly on the subjects it teaches and the entrance exams that you will need to take – some will have German, others will have that and Mathematics.
The first difference about studying in Germany when compared to popular study picks like Canada, USA or Australia, is that your education will be in German! Seems like a given at first, but I’ve seen enough folks on topical forums saying things like, “I want to study in Germany and I know English but have no German skills. Can I apply?” to need to clarify. I’ll admit, some studying can be done in English, but I’ve personally only seen it in private universities and those were mostly aimed at your Masters, rather than Bachelors. An example would be the Graduate School of Business in Leipzig, which carries M.Sc and MBA’s. Please note that as this is a private university, so unlike Germany’s public universities, it’s far from free.
You will need to look at the different requirements for language in your university, as these can differ. Germany has a system of language knowledge rating that makes it much easier to put your ability on a level with the rest of the students. It goes from A1 – the absolute beginner, A2, B1 and B2 – the pre- and intermediate and C1 and C2 – the last of which can be considered a native tongue level.
I didn’t know this at first, so I’m going to say it here – when you’ll be applying for your German student visa, one of the required documents would be a proof of language skills, not being lower than a certain level (Supposing you were to apply for a spouse visa, you’d need to have a knowledge of at least A1, but that’s not for this article).
You can get a number of approved tests to rate you at a level, they are being given at some places, one of these being the Goethe University, a German Language university that has opened in many different countries. Taking a test there would give you an attested result for a particular level of German. Look at these as being the equivalent to TOEFL and IELTS English exams – but don’t forget that the way you’ll be tested will be different from these!
I would say that a year of intense and persistent studying can get you up to a B1 level, if helped by tutors and an intense interest in the language. This is where the majority of your time will go towards.
This is important – please remember that your test results will not be given to you immediately! For me, it was around a month’s waiting time until I got my certificate. If you are tight for time, ask your university whether they will accept your language certificate after you apply and are accepted into the program.
Submitting documents to uniASSIST
UniASSIST is an organisation that processes university application from international students. It can be a great way to send your application to different universities at once and get your replies down on one page. The application is not free, it has a small fee for every university application you will be sending out. Always check that your university is working with uniASSIST, otherwise you will need to apply directly to the university.
The website of uniASSIST has a very helpful on-line registration and document uploading process to simplify everything for you. The only documents you physically send them would be a signed application copy and attested documents from your past schools. It can be a very helpful outlet.
When you fill out your on-line form and attach your documents, press that button that will carry your application away for processing, it will not be complete without the attested copies sent through mail. They state on their website that a reply will take at least a month – they’re not lying when they say that! Believe me that your application will not be looked at before that time, they simply have a lot of applications to go through. If they find your application incomplete, your on-line status will reflect that – needing you to complete it. They will not forward your incomplete application to a university, so be sure to have all the documents and leave enough time for a potential blooper.
Out of my experience: I sent my on-line application with my attached school certificates. I was misled thinking I didn’t need to attest my documents, I’d just submit them to the university. Well, I didn’t know any better and I waited until the month was up – which is when I got told that my documents needed attesting and to be sent by ground mail! It was a frantic rush to the German consulate, I sent them off at an expense via DHL, but after they finally recognised them and sent my documents to the university, the application deadline for that semester was over.
Some other important information for you:
Attestation of Documents
I wasted a semester by submitting unattested documents! When you submit your documents and application form to your university, whether directly to them or to uniASSIST, you might be asked for attested documents. This means that the copy of your school results or examinations would need to be proven correct to the original. Further more, they would need to be translated into German – although again, please check directly with your university, as English may be accepted. The way of attestation may be different in your country, for me it was enough to bring the original and copy of my documents to the German Consulate, where the copy was stamped with a special stamp, registered and signed. This all took less than half an hour.
Attested copies of documents cannot be scanned and sent to the university or uniASSIST, you will need to mail them! Please leave some time for that, at least two weeks. Less if you’re sending via courier mail like DHL or FEDEX, but then you risk of high postage fees.
German Student Visa
Who knew getting a German visa would be taking so long? The German Consulate of my country gives me an approximate reply time of 6-8 weeks. That’s up to two months and you’re not guaranteed to get accepted straight away. This can be a pitfall for many future students who fail to give enough time to the visa issuing process.
I wont talk about the requirements for a German student visa in detail, you can find all of that on the Internet. An important feature to mention, however, is a blocked bank account. This is called a Sperrkonto in Germany and is actually a savings account with a set limit of money that you can withdraw on a monthly basis. Typically, your visa requirements will need to include such an account. You can open one from your country with Deutsche Bank, but please contact them on it. The amount is fixed and represents a year’s worth of expenses for you as a student. It’s about 7000 EUR.
My passport was given back to me once I gave my application to the Consulate and I was free to travel during this time.
They’re pretty set in stone. You need to have your documents in on time, or else you need to personally contact the university about a possible extension. The same goes for entrance exams.
Note that if you’ve currently applied for a student visa, you will not be issued a tourist visa during this time, so flying to Germany to enroll or take tests will not be a viable option. Further more, a lot of universities don’t allow students to absent from class or take them externally, so you can’t wait until your visa is ready and then fly in the middle of the month – unless they tell you otherwise.
Don’t confuse uniASSIST deadlines with university deadlines. Rather, don’t assume that you’ll meet your university deadline if you sent your documents late, uniASSIST simply doesn’t have a capacity to check applications prematurely if the deadline looms. The documents need to be sent from their hands to the university before the time is up. Always check that your application arrived to the university, give them a call.
Wrapping it up, let’s see what I’ve calculated so far:
Studying German – about 1 year
German tests – about 1 month from taking the test
Application with uniASSIST – 1 month
Receipt of invitation letter from university – two weeks to 1 month
Visa application – 6-8 weeks (2 months)
If you don’t count the year you’ll be studying German for, that’s five months from the date of enrollment or entrance exams! Half a year to sort everything out. It is not uncommon for students to miss the first enrollment and apply the following Summer semester, if the university has such an option. In this case, your uniASSIST application doesn’t need to be resent, as all the documents are already with your university of choice.
I really hope this article can help put some light onto the stressful situation that is application to Germany. It doesn’t need to be that difficult for everyone, but I would advise you to thoroughly research the application process for your university before you start to plan your admission date.
Final Note, Scholarships
The widely known scholarship, BAföG, is only available to residents of Germany living there over a particular amount of time. Research your possibilities as an international student!
daad.de – Really needs to be your first stop. This website is concise and provides information on pretty much all topics regarding your education, from application and enrollment to living arrangements and expenses.
uni-assist.de – The portal for international student applications. Contains a helpful faq about most questions you might need to ask them
Studis Online – A student portal with an active forum and lots and lots of articles on living in Germany, studying tips and other useful information for the newly arrived.
studienkollegs.de – The main website for Studienkollegs of the country. The city or state kolleg of your choice may also have its specialised website!