University in the US versus Deutschland

What is university like in Germany versus the USA?

Well, I’ve tried to simplify it as best I can, but of course, it is a bit more nuanced on both sides.

Before I moved to Germany, I met a German exchange student at the graduate level. He didn’t understand why the administration was giving him funny looks for wanting to take ten courses.

In the US, for my part-time graduate degree, I took three courses at least once a week and each course was worth two credits. As an undergraduate university student, full-time could mean taking five or six courses with special permission, but full-time usually consists of four courses, usually worth three or four credit points each, thus equally 12-15 credit points. This meant at least three hours of in-class time for each course, plus weekly homework (readings, writing, reflection, etc.)

As graduate students, we were expected to work during the day and study at night. The workload was demanding and different every week!

The German student was coming from an undergraduate program where it was common for students to take ten or more classes because they’re all worth 2-3 ECTS points (European Credit Transfer System), and course time is between 12-15 weeks depending on if it is summer or winter semester, and homework is usually an exam or course paper due at the end of the semester. One ECTS credit point is worth 25-30 hours in a semester. This is made up of both weekly in-class learning time and independent learning time.

In German universities, students can usually earn 30 ECTS credits per semester and 60 credits in total for an academic year. 

The administration gave that German graduate student in my home university a pass on the course load, but after about 2 weeks he realized he was in over his head and had to drop a few courses.

In Germany, students generally have two semesters a year, winter and summer. The winter semester runs from October to March while the summer semester is held from April through September. However, these periods have two distinct periods, course meeting time and then research and writing time. Each of these periods lasts about 15 weeks or three months.

During course meeting time students can take up to 10 courses at a time depending on what they are studying. In many courses (but not all), students are only expected to take notes in lectures and then expected to do their own readings or research and writing only after the course meeting time has finished.

Both systems are demanding but in very different ways. The US system required attendance and participation (weekly homework and class discussions), while the German system required attendance and sometimes participation and homework, with more for the students to do at the end of the semester.

Do you have experience with either of these systems? Tell me about it in the comments.

Published by livingtheamericandreamineurope

I live in Europe, I am from America.

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