Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to do graduate school in Germany

I'm so happy all the confusion surrounding applying to a German university has dissipated enough for me to write about it.  I went into this business with zero knowledge.  I have always wanted to get my masters but I met someone and predictably chose love over staying in the US and continuing my education.  You can tell I learned the lessons well from American romantic comedies.  I thought I could go back to school in Germany but the universities in Kiel and Hamburg only offered International relations completely in English at the time we lived there.  I felt very meh about getting a masters in international relations.  I'm sure it's interesting but it's not my passion.  I gave up hope and figured if I ever went back to school it would be in the US, hefty student loans be damned.  

I had given up hope but my husband had not.  After we knew we'd be going to Berlin he found my program.  Lots of super awesome husband points scored with that one!  I was so surprised and really thankful he'd thought of it.  Since I missed the application deadline I couldn't apply that year but I emailed the department and they told me to apply next year.  A super boring six months of waiting and mulling over the decision followed.

I think the hardest part about going to school in Germany is finding a program you want that is taught in English.  If you are like me and came here without knowing any German it can take a huge investment to get language up to the required level to attend university.  Even then most people can expect to spend a lot of time looking up words then don't know and translating texts.  That's wasn't really something I wanted to take on for various reasons.  People who speak German need to produce a certificated from an approved school or test that says their German is the right level and then they can apply for any program. 

The university had an open house for my program.  I registered to attend and was very happy I did.  I fell in love with pretty much everything.  They had us attend a seminar that was really interesting to me.  I knew I was in the right place.  

I poured over the university website reading everything about the program and application.  Since I got my degree outside of Germany I had to apply through Uni-assist.  Uni-assist verifies all foriegn documents for universities in Germany.  If I was sending a copy and not the original document I had to go to our town Burgermeister offices and get official copies.  In order to get an official copy I had to have an official translation.  Thankfully I already had official translations of my BA and high school diploma.  I didn't have to have original documents that were already in English translated so I was able to request my transcripts be sent to me in Germany.  I attended both community college and a regular university so I had two transcripts. 

I sent all these documents off to Uni-assist and waited a long, long time.  Finally they sent me an email letting me know that they had verified my documents, calculated my final grade from the two universities, checked that my credits equated with the number of standard European credits needed for the program.  I was now approved to apply for the grad program.  Uni-assist would forward my application to the university who would then decide if I was accepted.  Six more weeks for fun, fun waiting followed. 

I got my acceptance letter.  The letter stressed now I had to enroll within three weeks or my acceptance to the program would be revoked.  I was a little confused about the enrollment requirements since they were general for all students and not just for grad students.  I was scared I might have to send another complete application but I called the university and they said no, I didn't need to send all the documents a second time.  Anytime I had a question that couldn't be answered by the information on the university website I contacted the university and found them super nice and helpful.  They also spoke English.  That was great since my German vocabulary is specific to familiar situations.

I sent off my enrollment application and waited some more.  Waiting is really not my favorite thing.  Anyway, at long last I got my confirmation letter, student identification and papers explaining how to register for classes.  I found all the program information on the website and now I know what classes I need, how to register and starting in October I'm officially a full time student. 


My advice to anyone who wants to apply for a school in Germany:

1. Read everything regarding the program you want.
2. Apply early.
3. Go to the open house if they have one.
4. Don't be afraid to call or email if you have a question.
5. Use Google translate for long documents in German or have a native speaker help you.
6. Make sure you follow the specifications to the letter.
7. Accept a certain amount of not knowing/ waiting/ confusion.
8. Don't give up hope.

I hope someone finds this helpful!



  1. Sounds like it was complicated, but congratulations! Best of luck.

    1. Thanks! I think universities are always a little confusing! :)