Studying in Germany from A to Z

You are new at a German University and everything feels strange. With the help of this Study ABC we would like to make it easier for you to get started. The following are the most important terms you will come across at a German university:

Anwesenheitspflicht, Bibliothek, c.t. - s.t., Deutsch lernen, Engagement, Formblätter, Gruppenarbeit, Hilfswissenschaftler, International Office, Job, Kommilitonen, Literatur, Mensa, N.N., OPAC, Psychosoziale Beratung, Quatschen, Rückmeldung, Semesterticket, Tutoren, Universitätsrechenzentrum, Vorlesungsfreie Zeit, Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten, X, Yoga, Zimmersuche

A as in Anwesenheitspflicht (mandatory attendance)

Anwesenheitspflicht, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Like handing in papers and showing up to examinations, mandatory attendance at seminars and lectures is one of the annoying aspects of student life. Depending on how strict your professor is, one unexcused absence or two excused absences per semester may be enough to bar you from taking the final examination at the end of the semester. More information

Hint: If you’ve missed your seminar for a third time, don’t hesitate to speak with your professor. You might discover that he or she will be willing to give you another chance.


B as in Bibliothek (Library)

Bibliothek, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Most universities have a central library in addition to the departmental libraries located throughout the campus or city. The main libraries usually contain millions of books. Of course, the library is not only the centre of academic pursuit, but also an important place of student social life.

Hint: If you want to make sure you have a quiet place to study, many libraries allow you to reserve your own study carrel equipped with a wireless Internet connection, desk and guaranteed seating.


C as in c.t. - s.t.

Wann beginnt die Vorlesung?, Bild: Fabian Köhler

You arrive on time to class, but no one’s there? That's probably because the clocks at most universities run 15 minutes slower, and your class which supposedly begins at 10 o’clock actually begins at 10:15. The cause of confusion lies in the abbreviation “c.t.” or cum tempore, meaning the course begins 15 minutes after the official start. The abbreviation “s.t.” or sine tempore, means the course begins exactly on time. While universities in other countries adhere to uniform times, every university in Germany and their individual departments can decide whether to use c.t. or s.t., and may even drop the Latin abbreviation altogether.

Hint: If you’re uncertain whether your class begins c.t. or s.t., it’s always safer to come too early than too late. If you arrive too early, you'll have time to drink a cup of coffee and revise your new German vocabulary words.


D as in Deutsch lernen (learning German)

Deutsch lernen, Bild: Fabian Köhler


Even if you’re in an English-language master’s degree programme and live in a cosmopolitan, multilingual city like Hamburg or Berlin, you’ll find that knowing at least some German is essential. Most universities offer German courses to foreign students and there are numerous online language courses available, such as Deutsch-Uni Online.

Hint: Find a language partner at your university or a tutor who can help you learn German. It’s a fun and easy way to meet people.



E as in Engagement (Involvement)

Erasmus Studierende, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Students at university can get involved in numerous political, cultural, social and environmental student organisations, such as Erasmus Alumni, Amnesty International or the University Press. These groups usually meet once a week and are open to everyone. And, of course, participating in such organisations looks impressive on a CV.

Hint: Don’t be afraid to attend a meeting as a guest listener. This will help you find out which group you like best and get you acquainted with new people.


F as in Formblätter (forms)

Formblätter, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Germans are known for being very thorough and the same holds true for university bureaucracy. There is a form for practically everything at German universities – from student election registration forms to application forms for intermediate exams. The advantage is that once they’re filled out, your legal rights are protected. The disadvantage is that many of these forms contain officialese which can even be confusing to Germans.

Hint: If you have problems understanding a form, ask for help and advice on what you should pay attention to when filling it out.

G as in Gruppenarbeit (Group work)

Gruppenarbeit, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Even though universities do not confer “group diplomas”, a great deal of academic work in Germany is done in groups. Students at university often get together to revise for exams, write papers and work on class presentations together.

Hint: If you have problems understanding your task, don’t hesitate to ask the other members of your group for help. This will enable your group to work more efficiently and complete the project faster.


H as in Hiwis (University assistants)

Hilfswissenschaftler an der Uni, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Working as a university assistant not only provides you a regular additional income, but also insight into the business of academics, contacts with all sorts of instructors and a secure place to write your final paper. That’s why Hiwi jobs are highly popular among students.

Hint: Connections are essential to getting a job as a university assistant. Keep your eyes open, speak with your friends who are already Hiwis, or simply ask your favourite professor if any positions are free (especially after he’s just praised you for your excellent presentation!)


I as in International Office

International Office, Bild: Fabian Köhler

The International Office sometimes goes by the name “Akademisches Auslandsamt”. It’s the first place you go after arriving at university, if you have questions or problems concerning your studies. Many International Offices organise orientation events for new students at the beginning of every semester, which we strongly recommend you to attend.

Hint: Don’t be afraid to stop by your International Office. The staff is always happy to assist international students and can provide all the information you need about your university.

J as in Jobs

Jobangebote, Bild: Fabian Köhler

If you’re interested in earning some extra money part-time, the university notice board, or “Schwarzes Brett”, is where you’ll find job openings at many nearby companies. Telemarketing at call centres, waiting tables at restaurants or doing data entry – there are many jobs available which you may qualify for depending on your skills and previous experience.

Hint: University is not the only place where you’ll find help-wanted advertisements. Many shops post job openings in their windows on bright DIN A4 leaflets. Keep your eyes peeled the next time you go window shopping!


K as in Kommilitonen (Fellow students)

Kommilitonen, Bild: Fabian Köhler

The friends at school who you used to call your “schoolmates” are now your “fellow students” (Kommilitonen) at university. They are your constant companions during your academic life. You will spend most of your time with them and probably also numerous all-night parties. So take a chance and introduce yourself, or go out for a coffee or beer with your presentation partner.

Hint: There’s at least one student club in every university town where most students like to hang out and have parties together.

L as in Literatur (Literature)

Bibliothek Fachbuecher

The required course literature, especially if you’re enrolled at a school of medicine or engineering, can be very expensive. To ensure that buying books doesn’t break the bank, look for posted notices or go to flea markets that offer course literature for a fraction of the cost of buying it new. You can also search for out-of-print books using online archives, such as Choosebooks.

Hint: Your university library offers the largest collection of books in your vicinity – and that free of charge. So check there first before buying new books.


M as in Mensaessen (Dining hall food)

Mensaessen, Bild: Fabian Köhler

You can find good, inexpensive food at the student dining hall (Mensa). If you’re a vegetarian, you won’t go hungry, as vegetarian dishes are now standard at most dining halls. Every year, the “Golden Tray” is awarded to the best student dining halls in Germany.

Hint: If you don’t want to miss your favourite meal, check your Studentenwerk website or info magazine for an overview of where, when and which meals are planned for the upcoming week.


N as in N.N.

Freie Stellen, Bild: Ausserhofer/Himsel/DAAD

You might come across this abbreviation at the beginning of the semester when you’re putting together your course timetable. “N.N.” stands for the Latin words “nomen nominandum”, meaning “to be announced”. This might signify that the lecture or course will take place, but the name of the lecturer is not yet known.

Hint: Don’t be overly concerned about the “N.N.” in your course prospectus. Simply wait and see what your professors tell you at the beginning of the semester. Block courses are typically listed as “N.N.” as they are often taught by guest lecturers.

O as in Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC)

Opac, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Gigantic card catalogues are a thing of the past. Today students scour the online catalogue of their university libraries. The good thing about searching for books online is that even if you don’t know the complete title or author’s name, you’ll still be able to find it. In addition, you can find out whether a book is available from the comfort of your home.

Hint: Most libraries support inter-library lending through OPAC, which means you can borrow a book from almost any library in Germany and have it delivered to the library closest to you.

P as in Psychosoziale Beratung (Psychosocial counselling)

Psychosoziale Beratung, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Social fears, culture shock or personal problems sometimes pose a larger hurdle on your way to getting a degree than forgetting vocabulary words or not handing in your final paper on time. That’s why most universities offer free psychosocial counselling for those who wish to remain anonymous and seek confidential help with dealing with problems.

Hint: Don’t feel embarrassed about contacting the counselling service for “minor” problems, for example, if you have a writer’s block or suffer from examination anxiety. The counsellors are there to help you with these problems, as well.

Q as in Quatschen (Chatting)

Quatschen, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Most of us nowadays cannot imagine life without mobiles. Nevertheless, make sure to turn your mobile off or put it in silent mode before every lecture or seminar, because a ringing phone in class is a huge disturbance! Don’t start chatting on the phone in the middle of class, and if you have to text someone, wait until the break. Otherwise you’ll quickly get into trouble with your lecturer.

Hint: If you absolutely have to answer your mobile in class, at least try contributing something worthwhile to the lecture.


R as in Rückmeldung (Re-Registration)

Rückmeldung, Bild: Fabian Köhler

At the end of each semester, you have to re-register with your university so that they know you intend to come back the following semester. To re-register you are obliged to pay a 100- to 200-euro semester contribution and, in some states, tuition fees amounting to several hundred euros. In addition to banners and flyers, your university will send you a letter of notification to make sure you don't forget to re-register on time.

Hint: If you suddenly remember to re-register on the very last day, you can pay the semester contribution in cash or with your EC card at many universities.

S as in Semesterticket (Public transport ticket)

Semesterticket, Bild: Fabian Köhler

With the Semesterticket, students at many universities can use the tram, bus and underground free of charge. The cost is automatically included in your tuition fees. Your student ID card usually functions as the Semesterticket.

Hint: Inquire whether your university issues a Semesterticket and if so, how far you can travel with it. At universities in North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, the Semesterticket can be used on all modes of public transport throughout the entire state.

T as in Tutoren (Tutors)

Tutor, Bild: Fabian Köhler

There are students at every university who volunteer their time as tutors. You can contact them if you have problems at your student residence hall, or need help taking care of formalities with the authorities, dealing with language problems or planning your semester timetable.

Hint: Ask at your International Office which tutor programmes are available and where you can register for them!

U as in Universitätsrechenzentrum (URZ) (University computer centre)

Rechenzentrum, Bild: Fabian Köhler

With the advent of portable notebooks and WLAN "Hotspots", the university computer centre has undoubtedly lost some of its significance. However, the computer pools at your university can still be very helpful. There you can use printers, copiers and scanners, take advantage of free Internet access and borrow technical equipment like video cameras.

Hint: If you're looking for graphic, video or data-processing software which you can't afford to purchase yourself, you might want to check if you can borrow them from the URZ.

V as in Vorlesungsfreie Zeit (Semester break)

Vorlesungsfreie Zeit, Bild: Fabian Köhler

During semester break, you'll finally have time to take that long-awaited vacation or just chill out with friends. OK – you can also use your time taking exams, writing papers, completing an internship or improving your language skills in an intensive foreign language course.

Hint: The semester break is over faster than you think, so plan for what you need or want to do ahead of time. You might find that you'll still have time left over to take that vacation!

W as in Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten (Scientific working methods)

Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten, Bild: Fabian Köhler

You'll definitely write a few final papers during your stay in Germany. However, scientific working methods at German universities may differ from those in your home country, for example, regarding how to cite sources or structure an oral presentation. Therefore, find out in advance what scientific working methods are expected from students at German universities.

Hint: If you're having problems writing a final paper, inquire whether your university offers tutorials or writing workshops.



Wählen gehen, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Student council (StuRa), student government, AStA, departmental student councils, Studentenwerk advisory board, university senate... The university is perhaps the one institution with the highest democratic participation. Whether you run as a candidate or simply go to vote, marking an X on the ballot is your way to actively shape your academic environment. More information

Hint: The university press frequently publishes guidelines to help voters understand the chaotic election process and provides an overview of the candidates and their positions.


Y as in Yoga

Yoga, Bild: Fabian Köhler

Yoga isn't the only way to rejuvenate after an exhausting day at the university. Many universities offer an unbeatable selection of inexpensive sports courses that include much more than swimming, basketball or football. You can also register for more exotic courses like autogenic training, Pilates and yoga.

Hint: Everyone at university wants to take sports courses. Because they are so popular, you'd better find out when and where you can register for them in advance.

Z as in Zimmersuche (Finding a room)

Zimmersuche, Bild: Fabian Köhler

In big cities like Munich, Cologne and Hamburg, finding accommodation can often be very difficult. Students everywhere, like you, are looking for a nice, inexpensive place to stay. You can find rooms to let on the Internet or the university notice board ("Schwarzes Brett"). You can also contact your Studentenwerk which allocates rooms in student halls of residence.

Hint: Start looking early because finding a room takes time. Admission to the university is no guarantee that you'll automatically receive a room in a student hall of residence.