German Language, Studying in Germany

TestDAF vs. DSH: Which German Language Exam Should You Take?

If you want to study at a German university (and not all of your courses are in English) then you will have to pass a German fluency exam. At most universities, you will have two exams to choose between: TestDAF or DSH.

So, if you are like me when I was applying to German universities, then the question you are asking yourself is: “Which German language exam is easier? DSH or TestDAF?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. With so many differences between these exams, figuring out which one will be easiest for you depends on your personal strengths and learning style. So, to figure out which test is right for you, I have outlined the unique pros and cons of the TestDAF and the DSH.

 

TestDAF

Pros:

1. Standardized Worldwide

The TestDAF is a completely standardized test. That means that it always follows the same format and has the same difficulty no matter where in the world you are. For studying purposes, this is a huge bonus, as you know exactly what types of what questions to expect and in which order.

If you choose the TestDAF, you can also utilize my TestDAF Study Guide, including specific tips for each of the sections: Hörverstehen, Leseverstehen, Schriftlicher Ausdruck, and Mündlicher Ausdruck.

2. No Grammar Section

Grammar is the absolute worst part of the German language. So, not having to answer questions about German grammar rules is an obvious bonus! Of course, you do still need to know the rules for the TestDAF writing exam and the TestDAF speaking exam, but what you don’t have to remember is which rule is called Konjuktiv I and which is Konjunktiv II.

3. 4 Hours in 1 Day

Whether this is actually a pro or con will depend on what kind of test-taker you are, but I like it. It’s like ripping off a bandage in one go. The TestDAF is four section, each of which takes 30-60 minutes, and you get short breaks between each section. After about 4 hours, you are completely done and can go home.

4. Take the Exam Anywhere in the World

There are TestDAF exam locations all around the world. This is very important for foreign applicants that are waiting for their acceptance to a German university before actually moving to Germany.

 

Cons:

1. Cost

Taking the TestDAF costs a standard fee of 175€. Not exactly cheap, but there’s no way to get around it. However, the DSH is a little bit less expensive, depending on where you take it…

2. Speaking to a Computer

The speaking exam is the worst part of the TestDAF. Not just because it is (at least for me) the most nerve-wracking — but because you have to talk to a computer. Just picture it: you are sitting in a room with 20 other people, each sitting at their own terminal, with headphones on, screaming into a microphone. You click a play button to start the section, but clicking any button after that moment will ruin your entire exam. So, you better be careful, and you better start and stop talking at the right moments. Ugh.

3. Waiting for Results

After you are finished with the TestDAF, the exam gets shipped off to a grading center somewhere where a minion of German grammar experts evaluate your language proficiency. This process takes 6 six, and you receive your final results as a letter in the mail. Unless you enjoy having your heart beat out of your chest as you check the mailbox each day for a month, then this is a definite con.

 

DSH

Pros:

1. Human Connection

The DSH is given at German universities, which means the exam is usually conducted by and graded by the university’s German teacher. By taking preparatory courses at the same university where you will take the exam, then you will have contact with this person – and they will serve as a valuable resource in ensuring that you are well-prepared for the exam.

Another facet of the human connection advantage is the oral exam. Unlike with the TestDaF, where responses are simply recorded by a computer, the DSH oral exam is a face-to-face conversation with your examiner. This makes the DSH oral exam much more forgiving, as you can build upon your responses, read the examiners’ response, correct mistakes, and explain yourself more naturally without such strict time restraints.

2. Fast Turnaround

Since the exam is graded right at the university where you took it, the turnaround can be very efficient. The actual time it takes to get your results will depend on how many people took the exam and the examiner’s schedule, but the DSH does generally boast a much faster turnaround than the TestDaF.

3. Less Expensive (Usually)

Once again, this one depends on where you are taking the exam, but the DSH can vary from as little as 50€ up to 170€ (about the price of the TestDaF).

 

Cons:

1. Grammar Section

Grammar is by far the worst part about learning German. So, the fact that the DSH includes a grammar section all about those tricky little language rules is a pretty serious disadvantage. Nevertheless, it is important to have a good grasp on grammar rules no matter what, as poor grammar will result in a low grade on the writing and speaking portions of both the TestDaF and DSH.

2. Listening Section

In the TestDaF listening exam, you have the questions in front of you while you listen to a recording. For DSH, you have to listen to the recording while taking notes, after which you receive the questions. This can make the listening section of the DSH much more difficult than that of the TestDaF.

3. Subjectivity & Uncertainty

I am sure that the majority of DSH examiners perform their job with the utmost professionalism; however, it is often just a single person giving these exams, and it is entirely possible that their bad mood (or other subjective factors) could affect your grade – especially on the oral exam, as you literally have to have a conversation with that person.

The format and difficulty of the DSH can also vary depending on the university. In fact, some German universities are known for giving easy DSH exams, while others are known for their difficulty. So, if you do choose the DSH, I suggest doing some research to see what past test-takers say about the universities you are considering.

TestDaF vs. DSH - German language exams

 

Which exam are you planning to take (or have taken)? What are your reasons for picking it over the other exam?

Featured, Studying in Germany

5 Reasons NOT to Study Abroad in Germany

I’m not going to sugar coat things. While the experience of studying abroad in Germany can be amazing, it is not for everyone. So, especially if you are considering pursuing your entire Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Germany, maybe you should first consider these reasons for NOT studying abroad in Germany.

I studied abroad in Germany for one semester during my Bachelor’s and then came back to Germany to complete my entire Master’s degree. And while I write a lot about all the great things about studying abroad in Germany, I think it’s important that I tell you the not-so-great things as well.

1. BUREAUCRACY
The stereotypes of the rule-abiding Germans and the redundancy of German bureaucracy are true. From registering with the city to registering for exams, you will probably spend a good amount of your time in Germany running around from office to office until you finally catch the right person during their unpredictable and infrequent office hours.

MFW I have to go to the Bürger-, Einwohnermelde-, Ausländerbehörde-, StandesAMT.

Tip: Save all of your emails (office workers tend to “forget” or “lose” things), triple-check your deadlines, keep a calendar with all of your important deadlines

2. NO STUDENT FACILITIES
Especially if you are going to a public university in Germany, you should not expect to have a variety of student resources available (for free) on campus. This means no high-tech computer lab, no super-modern student center, no team of personal counselors. Also, the resources that are available will likely cost you. For example, a student membership to the on-campus gym at my university costs about 20€ per month.

Tip: Join a student organization and enjoy your university campus for what it is – a place of learning and research.

3. LEARNING GERMAN
I don’t care if your study program is in English – you need to learn German. Even if you are living in a big student city, getting through your day-to-day will come with a lot of uncertainty and confusion if you think you can get by on English alone. So, if you have absolutely no interest in taking a German course, stay home.

Now don’t get me wrong – you do not need to be fluent in German before coming to Germany. Germans are incredibly accommodating, and most young people do speak English. However, if you are planning on staying for a while, enroll in a German course (which will often be provided for free by your university).

Tip: Don’t be lazy! Just take a German course.

4. EXAMS
Depending on the system you are used to, the German grading/exam system can be quite confusing/aggravating. First of all, most classes base the grade for the entire course on the final exam/term paper. It’s stressful, and it means that the final exam period at the end of each semester is a very intense time for all the students on campus.

Another big difference that I noticed between the U.S. and German university systems was registering for exams. If you are registered for a course in the U.S., then you are automatically registered for the required exams. Not in Germany! You need to enroll in a course, then half-way though the semester, you need to enroll for the exam. Being the only foreigner in my degree program, I, of course, forgot to enroll for an exam during my first semester…

Tip: Read the exam regulations (Prüfungsordnung) at the beginning of the semester, and take every word to heart. Trust me, you do not want to have to deal with the dreaded Prüfungsamt later.

5. COURSE STRUCTURE
If most of this list could be wrapped up in one sentence it would be this: Do not study in Germany if you are not independent and disciplined. This especially goes for the courses themselves, which are usually structured much differently than university courses in the U.S.
Compared to the U.S., Germans spend much less time in class and much more time doing independent study. This means that you will have to be independent in structuring your time efficiently and disciplined about doing the outside reading, studying, and research.
Tip: Keep up on your reading and studying throughout the semester! Otherwise, you will end up cramming hardcore at the end of the semester as you study for exams that make up 100% of your grade and that you know nothing about.
Do you have any other warnings for students wanting to study in Germany?
Studying in Germany

81 pages. 23,937 words. 1 hour-long oral defense. Although I never thought I would be able to say this six months ago, now I can: I DID IT! I successfully completed my master’s thesis (and my master’s degree).

For other international students preparing for the final semester of their master’s degree, here are my top tips for writing a master’s thesis in Germany.

START EARLY
If you are doing a classic 4-semester Master’s program, then I suggest you begin looking for a topic and supervisor at the start of your third semester. I chose my topic based on a term paper that I enjoyed writing and wanted to explore the material more deeply. You can also choose to write a master’s thesis within a company – such positions can be found on job websites like Indeed and Stepstone.

I approached my professor in my third semester to ask him if he could supervise my master’s thesis with my chosen topic. Since I had completed a term paper for one of his classes in the previous semester, he already knew me and my writing. So, he agreed to supervise me, but first requested a research proposal (Exposé). My proposal was about four pages long and included an introduction, research question(s), methods, and a short literature review.

After my first supervisor approved my proposal, he helped me choose and contact an external secondary supervisor. Then, after my secondary supervisor agreed and approved my proposal, my fourth semester was just about to begin, and I was ready to go!

STICK TO A SCHEDULE
The best part about writing a master’s thesis? The freedom of doing your own research! The worst part about writing a master’s thesis? The freedom of doing your own research.

Unless you are writing with a company, your schedule will be pretty flexible as you write your master’s thesis. This means that it is up to you to create a daily schedule that includes plenty of time for research and writing. At the same time, however, you do not want to burn yourself out by sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day.

Before starting my thesis, I procrastinated by doing research into productivity. Two methods stuck out to me, both of which I used throughout the various phases of writing my thesis.

POMODORO METHOD
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management technique that is based on 25-minute productive periods followed by five-minute breaks. If you want some group encouragement in using this method, follow the Shut Up and Write account on Twitter (or Shut Up & Write UK), which leads Pomodoro sessions for academic writers every Tuesday. And if you need to write on any other day of the week, just send them a message and request to join the private Shut Up & Write group that is active just about 24/7.

MARTINI METHOD
If you aren’t in the mood for frequent breaks and would rather just power through your thesis, then the Martini Method is for you. Set a reasonable goal in the morning, work until you achieve this goal, then relax guilt-free for the rest of the day. Supposedly, this method was named after novelist Anthony Burgess’s writing technique, which involved writing 1,000 words every day. As soon as this goal was reached (regardless of whether it took just 1 hour or 10) Burgess would stop working and relax with a dry martini.

CREATE DEADLINES
Your university will probably set a deadline for you to turn in your thesis (at my university, this is five months after registering your topic). However, unless you want to have a lot of sleepless nights at the end of the semester, you need to set incremental deadlines.

I created a spreadsheet with the final due date of my thesis and worked backwards from there. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:
How long will research/data collection take?
Do I need to conduct any time-sensitive empirical research?
How many days/weeks do I need to write each chapter?
How many weeks before the due date should I send a draft to my supervisor?

TALK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR
Your supervisor is there to help you. Sure, some supervisors may suck and not actually want to help you (or they “don’t have the time”), but in general, you shouldn’t be shy about going to supervisor for help or advice in the research and writing process. I know I could have saved myself a lot of headaches if I had just asked my professor for his professional opinion on certain research decisions early on instead of guessing and stressing about it for weeks on end.

KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Yes, your master’s thesis is important, and you should do you very best when writing it. However, it is just a master’s thesis. You should never let academic work stress you out so much that it effects your mental health.

While writing my master’s thesis, I got into a horrible cycle of sitting in front of my computer for over 10 hours each day. I constantly felt like my work wasn’t good enough and that I should be working even harder. After about a month of this, I forced myself to get outside each day by beginning the C25K running program. Spending just 30 minutes a day running around outside and enjoying the nature really helped alleviate my anxiety and keep things in perspective.

And that’s it! I turned in my master’s thesis at the end of November 2016, and I successfully defended my thesis on December 9, 2016. Here is a picture of me leaving my professor’s office on that day (with a face of pure joy):

What is your best tip for staying productive?

Studying in Germany, Working in Germany

Whether you are considering getting your degree in Germany, you are currently getting your degree in Germany, or you are just about to graduate, then you have probably wondered: What comes next?

German job search visa / Aufenthaltstitel zur Arbeitsplatzsuche


Good news! Foreigners who receive a degree from a German university are allowed to stay in the country after graduation in order to to work. However, if you are not lucky enough to have a job lined up directly after graduation, and your student visa is running out at the end of the semester, then you are eligible for the job search visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnich zur Arbeitsplatzsuche).

To understand the rules regarding German residency permits, it is best to refer to the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz). The job search visa is covered in §16(4):

Nach erfolgreichem Abschluss des Studiums kann die Aufenthaltserlaubnis bis zu 18 Monaten zur Suche eines diesem Abschluss angemessenen Arbeitsplatzes, sofern er nach den Bestimmungen der §§ 18, 19, 19a und 21 von Ausländern besetzt werden darf, verlängert werden. Die Aufenthaltserlaubnis berechtigt während dieses Zeitraums zur Ausübung einer Erwerbstätigkeit. § 9 findet keine Anwendung.

In case you can’t understand German law vocabulary, this says that foreign graduates can receive a residence permit for up to 18 months after graduation to look for a job. Not bad, huh? If this sounds like something for you, then take a look at the facts listed below.

HOW TO GET A GERMAN JOB SEARCH VISA: THE FACTS


Who the job search visa is for:
Foreigners who have successfully completed their Bachelor’s/ Master’s/PhD at a German university and want to stay in Germany to look for a job.

To apply for this permit, you need:
• University degree
• Proof of finances
• Health insurance


Things to consider:
• You may not have your official diploma before your student visa expires
I didn’t receive my official diploma until about three weeks after the oral defense of my thesis. So, if your student visa is expiring shortly after your final exam(s), then you may need to get a letter from the registrar’s office confirming that you have completed all of the necessary requirements for your degree.

• You won’t qualify for student health insurance anymore
You no longer qualify for the student rate for German public health insurance once you exmatriculate from your university after completion of your degree. So, make sure to consider your options before graduation.

• You can work while you search for a job
While you are looking for a job, you can work in a non-qualifying position (i.e. a position that wouldn’t qualify you for a work visa such as a mini- or midi-job). Thanks to Lynnae for this info!

Once you do find a job that (1) aligns with your degree qualifications and (2) pays enough to support you (as calculated by your local foreigner’s office), you will then have to get a new residency permit – either a German residency permit or an EU Blue Card. But more about that later! Good luck!

P.S. I am currently on the job search myself, so wish me luck as I look for a job that aligns with my new qualifications and pays enough to support me in the comments below! 😉

Moving to Germany, Studying in Germany, Working in Germany

I had four appointments at the Bürgeramt in the month of September. Yes, you read that correctly: four appointments in four weeks.

Here’s a review of each of those appointments, just to give you an idea of how amazingly thorough (and sometimes redundant) German bureaucracy is for us foreigners.

Appointment #1: Ausländerbehörde

https://www.facebook.com/welcometogermerica/photos/a.501304819992555.1073741828.485254714930899/932785913511108/?type=3&theater
My student visa was going to run out on September 30th. However, due to other bureaucratic circumstances, I had to enroll for another semester at my university. So, I needed to renew my student visa for at least 6 more months. When I made this appointment per email, I was told all I need is a new biometric photo, proof of enrollment, my passport, and 80€. However, when I got to the appointment, my case worker spontaneously decided that my Verpflichtungserklärung (which Marco signed 3 years ago saying he is financially responsible for me) is too old. So, I needed to get a new one.
Unfortunately, my case worker doesn’t issue Verpflichtungserkläungen. Turns out, filling out these forms is a full time job for someone else on a different floor of the building. But I couldn’t just go over to her office today. Come on, that would be too convenient! No, I needed to make an appointment, and the earliest available was in two weeks.
Beyonce understands how I felt (source).

Oh, to top things off, my case workers informed me at the end of the appointment that he was going on vacation for the next three weeks. So, my new appointment to renew my visa (that was going to expire on September 20th) was scheduled for September 21st. Perfect.
Appointment #2: Standesamt

This is the only appointment I had during this month that wasn’t at the foreigner’s office. Instead, it was across the hall at the registry office.
After paying the court fees for our marriage, we had to go back to the registry office one last time (this was time #3) to sign some official-looking papers. Unfortunately, our regular case worker called in sick that morning, so everyone was scrambling to find someone we could meet with. 
Suddenly, we were asked to come upstairs. Until then, we had always gone to an office across the hall from the foreigner’s office – an area of the Bürgeramt (citizen’s office) that I have become quite familiar with. In fact, sitting in the waiting room with its dirty white walls and crying babies has started to feel like home. After ascending the staircase and opening the big metal door to the third floor, however, I gasped in awe of what we had been missing out on.
The walls were painted a happy yellow. There were large wooden chairs in the hallway that looked more fit for a throne room than a waiting room. We went into the office of our fill-in case worker, and she had a full wall covered in photos and letters of happy German couples that she had married over the years.
I basically felt like confused John Travolta in the TARDIS (source).

“This is the VIP floor for German couples!” I remarked to Marco. I had never realized that until then, my non-Germanness had gotten us shafted to the foreigner’s floor.
The rest of the appointment really wasn’t all that eventful. The woman said that all of our documents were in order, we signed some papers, and we set another appointment to plan to the ceremony in early December.
Appointment #3: Verflichtungserklärung

Back to the Ausländerbehörde for Marco to take financial responsibility for me. It sounds dramatic, but it’s really not (unless I smash a bunch of car windows with a baseball bat just before jumping on a plane to the U.S.). 
To fill out the Verpflichtungserklärung, Marco had to show his pay stubs from the last three months, his work contract, and our lease for the apartment. The woman then subtracted the rent from his monthly salary to figure out if he has enough money to “support” me.
After some arithmetic, we both signed a few forms, and I got to take a copy of my brand new Verpflichtungserklärung with me for my fourth and final appointment the following week.
Appointment #4: Ausländerbehörde (Again)
This was it: the last appointment. I went alone, and seeing as it was only one week before my residence permit expired, I was a little nervous. Luckily, everything went as it should. I handed my case worker all the necessary documents, and he made a lot of copies and fattened up the file they are keeping on me. 
The interesting part came when he asked me how long I need a visa for. Technically, I am only enrolled for one more semester at my university, which is 6 months. After that, I will probably just switch to a spouse visa, since I am getting married in December. I told him this, and he told me the best news I had gotten all month:
If I take a visa for just six months, I only have to pay 30€ instead of the standard 80€. Not bad! I also just get a sticker in my passport instead of a plastic ID card, which is nice. Now I just have to make sure I have all my documents together by the beginning of March to get my fifth (and final?) type of residence permit…
Expat Life, Studying in Germany

I am graduating. Soon. So, I am panicking. Now.

In German, the panic as something is coming to an end is known as Torschlusspanik, which translates literally to gate-closing panic. The castle’s gates are closing, the enemies are encroaching, and you need to get through those gates ASAP. But you still have to herd your sheep, pack up your belongings, gather your wife and children. There’s not enough time. AHHH!!!

I have been writing my thesis since about mid-May, and it is just about done. Still, I am terrified to turn it in. Even more terrified to get feedback on it. And most terrified to defend it.

Then there is also the bureaucratic side of graduating as a foreign student. Luckily, Germany allows foreigners that graduate from German universities to get a job-search permit for up to 18 months. This is what I was hoping to get when my student visa becomes invalid on September 30th.

Just one problem: I won’t be turning in my thesis and other term papers until the end of September.

For “normal” students, you can already move on to the next stage of your life (job search, phD, whatever) as you wait for your official diploma. I distinctly remember going through the official graduation ceremony for my bachelor’s degree in the U.S. and not getting my official diploma until over a month later. Unfortunately, foreign students don’t receive this luxury. Through recent correspondence with my local foreigners’ office, they told me that I will not be able to get my job-search permit until I have my official diploma in my hand.

Until then, I need to enroll in the next semester (that’s 350€ in fees) and extend my student visa (~80€). A waste of my money and my time.

So, that’s where I’m at. Wrapping up my studies yet extending my student visa as I long for the day that I can move on with my life.

Studying in Germany

As a foreign student, many people seem to have this expectation that I can take trips to amazing European cities and attractions every weekend. While I’d love to, the truth is that I can’t afford it. But for what my blog lacks in sexy travel photos, I hope it can make up for in practical tips for living abroad.

One of the main reasons I chose to further my education in Germany was because of the free tuition. However, free tuition doesn’t mean free living.

I still have student loans from my bachelor’s degree. I am not financially supported by my parents. I don’t have very much savings. I’m not qualified for many student jobs. I can’t get BAföG (German student loans that students only have to pay back half of after graduating).

So, I have had to work student jobs to support myself and learn to live frugally as a student in Germany. Here are the best tips I have learned during my past two years of studying in Germany:

Shop at a Discount(er)
Discount grocery stores are a German tradition (better known in German as “discounters”). Aldi, Lidl, Penny, Netto – no matter where you are in Germany, there is bound to be one nearby. Luckily, I live about 500 meters from a Penny, and it is where I do all of my grocery shopping.

Sure, you don’t have the huge selection of products like you do at bigger grocery stores like Edeka or Kaufland, but there’s still plenty of choose from. I also find that the lack of overwhelming variety means I am more likely to stick to the staples and not waste money on specialty items or unneeded snacks.

Read Digital & Borrowed
In my experience, professors at German universities will do everything in their power to ensure that students do not have to spend (much) money on books and other materials for class. In fact, I have only bought one book (10€) during my entire Master’s program. Most professors would upload all the relevant articles and book chapters online for the students to download.

If your professor doesn’t upload the necessary materials, try asking them for their copy of the book (either to read or quickly scan) or check to see if there is a copy available in the library. I have had luck with both of these methods. So before spending a lot of money on books you’ll likely only read once, I highly suggest trying them out.


Use Your Student ID
From free local transportation to reduced ticket prices, student IDs (better known as “student tickets” in Germany) bring a lot of financial benefits for students. These benefits will depend on your particular Bundesland and university, so make sure to check your university website to see what benefits yours offers.

Join Rewards Programs
If you are willing to sell your personal data, then there are some rewards programs you can join to gain points or money back towards future purchases. The most popular include PayBack, a rewards card for many of Germany’s most popular stores (e.g. Rewe, dm, Real), and ShopKick, an app where you get points for entering and scanning products.

Get Free Stuff
I haven’t bought shampoo or conditioner in over a year. How? I participate in product trials with trnd. All you have to do is create a profile, answer a few questionnaires, and they will email you whenever you qualify for a product trial. In the past, I have tested Ritter Sport chocolate, paper towels, dish soap, shampoo and conditioner, and hair styling products. In return, you just have to fill out some questionnaires about the products. (By the way, I’m not getting paid for this. I just like the program.)

Check Sales Flyers
I feel like I’m about 100 years old when I check the sales flyers every week in the paper, but it’s worth it! Discount grocery stores (see #1) carry specialty products each week, and it is impossible to find a better deal on things like bed sheets, towels, furniture, and kitchen equipment than during these sales.

So, be smart, and find the sale. But be warned – the Germans love a sale, and if the sale on bed sheets starts on Monday, they will be mostly sold out by Monday afternoon. If you don’t get sales flyers, you can also check out your local sales ads with the app kaufDA.

Book Early
If you are going to take a train journey inside Germany, book your train tickets at least 2 months ahead of time. Booking early will almost guarantee that you will find a train to your desired location for a maximum 29€ each way.

Graduate On Time
German students don’t like graduating on time. The pressure that weighs so heavily on students in the U.S. just doesn’t seem to exist in Germany, and it is very normal for Germans to take one (or two…) extra semesters to finish their degrees. In fact, I do not know anyone that started at the same time as me who is graduating on time from my program (besides me).

The problem with this is that taking extra semesters to finish doesn’t just cost you in semester fees. You will likely have to extend your visa (there goes 100€), and you will be entering the job market later. While I’m not suggesting you stress yourself out and rush your studies, be proactive from the beginning on, and try your best to stay in the Regelstudienzeit. You can do it! (But if you don’t, don’t worry. Only 40% of German university students graduate on time.)

Hope these tips help! Let me know if you have any more in the comments below!

Studying in Germany

Last month marked this blog’s 3 year anniversary. YAY! In that time, I have moved to Germany, passed the TestDaF, applied to German master’s programs, enrolled in a German master’s program, and am now writing my master’s thesis with the plan of finishing my master’s degree in September. Whew!

Over the past three years, I have also received countless comments and messages from prospective students looking to study in Germany. So, in an effort to help these curious minds, here are some of the most frequently asked questions I have received about studying in Germany.

Studying in Germany: Frequently asked questions




Student Visa/Residence Permits

I want to move to Germany, but I haven’t applied/been accepted to a degree program yet. What can I do?
If you want to move to Germany BEFORE applying to degree programs, there are two options for you: the language course visa (Sprachkursvisum) and the student application visa (Studienbewerbervisum).
You can also read my post about all three types of German student visas. Just remember that my personal experiences with applying for these various visas are from a US-American perspective. There are, of course, different rules for people from different countries.

Can you convert a language course visa/student application visa to a student visa?
This a question I get a lot, although I don’t really understand why. Once you enroll at a German university as a full-time student, you are eligible for a student visa. Just bring your documents to the foreigner’s office, and they will invalidate your current visa (whether it be a language course visa or student application visa) and issue you a student visa.
Make sure to check out my posts about the process of getting a German student visa and renewing my German student visa.

The people at the Ausländerbehörde are mean and don’t want to give me a language course visa/student application visa/student visa. What can I do?
Sometimes, the people at the foreigner’s office don’t even know which visa options are available. So, if you get someone that doesn’t want to give you the visa you need (when I asked for a student application visa, the German man told me to leave the country), then you need to pull out the big guns: the German law. All of the student-related residence permits are explained in §16. So, print it out, highlight the article that pertains to you, and show German bureaucracy what you’re made of.

Applying to German Universities

This is an area where I usually get very specific questions regarding various programs nationwide. For program-specific questions, you should obviously read over the program’s website or contact someone at the university. However, many German universities do not handle applications from foreign students by themselves. Instead, they use the third-party company uni-assist. If the program you want to apply to requires you to apply through uni-assist, I am sorry in advance. However, I managed to live through the experience of applying to German master’s programs, and you will too.

Do I need to send my high school diploma to uni-assist? Does it need to be certified? 
Even if you are applying for a master’s program, they need your high school diploma. Personally, I just send my transcripts – they were not certified – and they were still accepted.

Why didn’t I receive a confirmation from my university? Did they get my application? 
You will get a confirmation from uni-assist when they receive your application by mail. They will not, however, send you a confirmation that your application was sent to the university (assume that no news is good news). Basically, they thrive off of foreign students’ constant panic and worry.

Do real human beings even work at uni-assist?
This is a mystery that nobody actually knows the answer to. All we do know is that uni-assist sometimes answers phone calls, rarely answers emails, and never actually answers any questions. I am sorry if you find yourself in a situation where you need to contact them.
On the bright side, if you need a laugh, just try googling “Probleme mit uni-assist.” You will find plenty of forums of people that are just as annoyed with this bureaucratic middle-man as you.

TestDaF/DSH

Should I take the TestDaF or the DSH?
Both the TestDaF and the DSH are German proficiency tests, and both are accepted by Geramn universities. Which you should take depends on your personal circumstance. I took the TestDaF because I needed to take a language course to qualify for the language course visa, and the best course available was the TestDaF-prep course at the local VHS. If you are already enrolled at a university, then I would recommend taking the DSH, as they are created and graded by the university faculty themselves.

How can I pass the TestDaF?
It’s not easy, but you can do it! I practiced by taking as many practice tests as possible, always timing myself to make sure that I would be ready on test day. I also wrote multiple blog posts with tips and tricks for each of the sections of the test here:

I am also keeping a list of free TestDaF online resources.

How can I improve my vocabulary for the TestDaF?

If you need to improve your vocabulary because you aren’t understanding enough of the words on the practice tests, then you need to start immersing yourself in the German language. The best way to do this is to use German entertainment everyday: watch German TV shows, watch German YouTubers, and read German books.
Studying in Germany

How much time do you spend in classes?
In comparison to an American university curriculum, the German curriculum is much more free. This means less time in classes, but more expectations that you are reading and studying outside of class. 
For my particular program, I have to take 6 classes per semester, and each class is 2 SWS (Semesterwochenstunden = hours per week in the semester). That means I am physically in class for 12 hours per week.

How does the grading system in Germany work?
This is also an important question for those applying to German programs, because Americans will need to convert their GPA to determine if they are eligible for German programs. To do this, check out my American to German grade conversion post.
Here is my quick explanation of the German grading system: a 1.0 is the best grade in Germany, a 5.0 is a failing grade, and a 4.0 is the lowest passing grade.

I hope prospective students will find this helpful! Let me know if you have any more questions in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Studying in Germany

Since I know a lot of fellow international students (or soon-to-be-international-students) read this blog, I figured I would write a little update on my current studies, namely: writing my master’s thesis.

writing a master's thesis

I am now in my fourth semester of my master’s program, which runs from April 1 to September 30. During this semester, I am writing my master’s thesis – a scientific work of approximately 80 pages that proves I can analyze a topic, conduct research, formulate an argument, and write a long-ass paper.
Knowing my fourth semester was getting nearer, I started to think about possible topics back in November. I had one class in my second semester that was particular interesting and inspiring for me. In fact, I used the methods I learned in that class to create a research project with two of my fellow students, which piqued the curiosity of my professor.
Since that relationship was already there, I went to that professor to ask about writing my thesis with him. He was immediately on board and suggested some ideas for developing a thesis topic in the same field as my research project.
It took about two months for me to finally settle on a concrete topic and develop my research questions. I wrote up my research proposal in the first week of the new semester and nervously sent it to my supervisor.

The very next day, I already received a reply from my professor: “Ihr Exposé gefällt mir sehr gut…” He really liked it! I was thrilled. To top it all off, he suggested that I ask a highly influential researcher (who basically created the field I am working in and I had cited multiple times in my proposal) to be my secondary supervisor.

Well, I sent him an email that very same day, and the next morning, I already had a reply: “Klar mache ich das! Dein Exposé sieht ja schon prima aus...” He said yes, and said that my proposal is great! Unfortunately, he is located at a different university in Germany, so I probably won’t be able to meet him in person anytime soon, but he offered to send me comments and feedback by email.

So, now I am busy writing my master’s thesis, knowing that I have two respected researchers supporting me – which is a great, but also nerve-wracking, feeling. The funny thing is that both of my supervisors have their PhDs in mathematics and/or physics. Meanwhile I am getting a Master of Arts in digital media and haven’t taken a math course since senior year of high school…

Let me know if you have any tips for writing a thesis! Any help is appreciated 🙂

Studying in Germany

I know, I know. I haven’t been around in a while. First it was Easter, then it was the start of a new semester, and this blog got put on the back-burner. But I am back!

Since this is my last semester of grad school, I figured I would make a “day in the life” post to give you all a glimpse into my current “student life.” This particular day (Wednesday, April 11th ) didn’t turn out quite as expected, but I still took pictures all along the way. I also want to apologize in advance for the potato-quality pictures (my cell phone camera isn’t the best).

Here we go!

8:00 AM
drinking green tea
My alarm went off at 7:45, and my wonderful German fiancé got up first to make me a cup of green tea. I drank this while making some breakfast, checking emails, and planing out my day.


9:00 AM
After breakfast I got myself ready for the day. Here is my before and after, where surprisingly little has changed (except for the fact that my shirt changed color and I put on jeans).
 10:00 AM
writing on my bed
I had two hours before I had somewhere to be, so I got on my computer to try and get some work done. I turned in the proposal for my Master’s thesis to my supervisor the day before, so I didn’t currently have any work to do for my thesis. However, I did have to plan a short lesson for my English tutoring later in the day, and I still have a term paper to write for last semester (oops).
12:00 PM
class in Germany

Next, it was time for my Master forum, which is where all the Master’s students from my field (there’s 10 of us) sit in a room together for two hours and talk. Turns out, I am the only person in the forum with a set topic, but when I try to explain what I am doing, nobody understands me. 
I really need to practice how to explain my thesis topic in two sentences. I think the best scientists are those that can explain their topic (no matter how complex) to anyone, and still have them understand what it is they do.
2:00 PM

After a less-than-great Master forum, I go back to my apartment to grab something to eat. I check my emails, and see that my supervisor emailed me back. Marco was also at home, so I threw my phone to him and said, “read it for me!” 
The email started:
Dein Expose gefällt mir sehr gut…” 
He said he really liked my proposal! And he read it the day after I sent it to him, which is pretty incredible. This picture shows how I was feeling in that moment. 
3:00 PM
path in German forest
I was only at home for 30 minutes before having to leave again. I recently began tutoring two teenage girls in English, which can be challenging (they aren’t always so thrilled to see me) but also can be a lot of fun. I tutor them at one of the girls’ houses, which is about a 25 minute walk from my apartment. I could drive the car or ride my bike, but this is what the walk looks like (see above picture), so I don’t mind.
4:00 PM

teaching English
We met for one hour, where we discussed irregular verbs. I had them create a story using at least one irregular verb in every sentence, and things got a little crazy. There was a man named James whose girlfriend got bit by an alligator, so James killed all the alligators and made his girlfriend a purse with their skin. Yikes.
5:00 PM
bridge over the Ilmenau

I leave tutoring around 4:30 to walk back over the Ilmenau (the river that runs through my city) and head home.

6:00 PM
American food in Germany
Before going home, I figured I would pick up some groceries at Penny (a discount grocery store near our apartment). As you can see in the picture, they still have some products leftover from “America week,” including cheese squeeze, jarred hot dogs, and “cup ‘o noodles” in macaroni & cheese flavor.
After checking out, I reached in my pocket and realized I forgot my keys when I left the apartment after lunch. Luckily, Marco works at the university (also near our apartment and the grocery store). When I got to his office, however, he’s wasn’t there. I tried walking around his institute a little bit, but there are a lot of laboratories (he’s a chemist), and I didn’t want to start opening doors to the labs to ask people where he is. Instead, I just sat outside of his office… for over an hour.
Here’s to never forgetting my keys ever again.

7:00 PM
Parmesan Zander for dinner
 I started making dinner around 7:00 pm: Parmesan-crusted zander with potato wedges and salad. After my roller coaster of a day, I also decided to have a glass of wine.
8:00 PM
Watching Netflix and drinking wine
By 8:00 pm, I was done. I poured myself another glass of wine, lit a candle, turned on Netflix (I’m currently watching Mr. Selfridge), and put my feet up until it was time to go to bed.
As I am writing this the next day, I realize that I forgot to mention that I slammed my finger in the gate as I was leaving the girl’s house that I tutor. It hurt pretty bad, but I didn’t realize just how bad it was until this morning. It’s quite purple, and I can’t bend it all the way.
What a day!