Though you can’t avoid the reading or the due dates, studying at a German university can differ in some significant ways from the United States. The obvious differences are that courses are, generally, conducted in German. But there a few less obvious things to consider when trying to study full time abroad.
Probably the “least best kept secret” about German schools are their low cost. In 2015, all 16 German states had officially gotten rid of tuition fees. There is still a small fee to cover administration and other costs per semester and often housing is paid for separately from the university, but generally it is very cheap compared to the tuition costs at American schools.
Public vs. private universities
Since public universities in Germany are free, it makes them that much more competitive. Want to be a doctor? You better have almost perfect grades and Abitur score (university qualifying exam) to even be admitted. Though private universities are still high quality, most students would choose no tuition over even the low tuition of a private school.
Forget the rankings
Sure, lists ranking German schools are out there, but any German would tell you that it basically makes no difference if you go to one public university vs. the other. All public universities are thought to give you an equal quality education.
Degrees are different lengths
Gone away are the automatic four year degrees. Instead, many bachelor programs are just three years. Dual programs to receive both a bachelors and master’s degree are very popular and often four years long.
One big exam or paper rather than smaller assignments
There is relatively little hand holding at German universities. You don’t get points just for attending, or for small daily assignments. Rather, typically, your entire grade depends on one or two exams or papers and going to lectures is not mandatory.
Students don’t always start college right after high school
In the United States, the percentage of students who defer admissions for a year or more remains very small—generally 1% or less of an admitted class, according to PBS. In Germany, many students take time off after graduating from high school and travel for a year (or two or three). In fact, the tradition of setting out on travel for several years after completing an apprenticeship as a craftsman dates back to medieval times!