Friday, January 2, 2015

5 questions that may decide your future

International applicants to Germany's prestigious public universities face increasingly stiff competition. The number of young people from all over the world who wish to study in Europe's most populous and economically strongest country has been on the rise for many years now. This trend has become particularly conspicuous after the 2008 economic meltdown that severely affected two of the world's leaders in international education, the US and the UK. In the following years, Germany has emerged not only as Europe’s economic powerhouse but also as one of the most popular destinations for higher studies worldwide. A recent survey by a Dutch educational website placed Germany at the third position in Europe regarding the satisfaction of international students – ahead of the three other major European nations France, Great Britain and Italy.

Unfortunately, Germany's largely government-financed, low-fees higher education system has not only come into the focus of international education seekers but has also developed into a target for commercial interests. The country's high-quality public universities are nowadays heavily marketed by so-called “educational consultancies” in many parts of the world, including the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Cut-throat competition in this mushrooming sector has induced many “consultancies” to rely on aggressive marketing tactics that are a far cry from accepted business ethics. Charges are often exorbitant, and much of the information provided misleads rather than informs prospective students.

When advertising the course offerings of Germany's public universities, some basic facts of a tax-funded higher education system are frequently overlooked. A university that depends on public financing (i.e. taxes) basically operates like any other government bureaucracy. It only has a limited capacity to adapt to a changing environment, in this case, to a rapid increase in the number of applicants from abroad. Adjustments are usually slow in coming, if they take place at all. Whereas private educational institutions that charge substantial tuition fees will react to increased demand by simply employing more lecturers and offering new courses, this is either impossible for their public counterparts or involves a lengthy administrative procedure of applying for additional government funds.

Thus, international applicants to German public universities should consider carefully whether they are personally and academically qualified enough to succeed in a highly competitive admission environment. The practice of some “consultancies” to recruit candidates on a purely commercial basis (“whoever pays the counselling fees is eligible”) can turn into a frustrating experience for many applicants. More and more of them find themselves without a seat after several months of preparation and application, which consumes time, money and energy. Others, especially at undergraduate level, make it to Germany but get stranded inside the country due to overcrowded preparatory courses that some universities organise for non-European school leavers.

In order to avoid unpleasant surprises later on, do a “benchmarking test” as early as possible by asking yourself the following “5 Qs”. Answering these questions honestly will give you a clear idea whether you stand a realistic chance of being admitted to one of Germany’s public universities and to complete your chosen programme successfully:

(Q1) Is my academic performance clearly and consistently above average, i.e. do I generally obtain marks above 70% and / or do I belong to the best 10% in my  batch? German universities select their students mainly on the basis of their prior academic achievements. If you are a graduate student, you should prove that your qualification stands up to international comparison by presenting good scores in internationally valid tests such as GRE or GMAT. (See also my blog entry on the benchmark of eligibility.)

(Q2) Do I have a sufficient command of the English language? Most study programmes at German universities are still taught in German, but there is an increasing number of English-medium courses. Becoming a successful student in one of these courses requires more than average IELTS / TOEFL scores and a command of colloquial English. You need advanced English language skills in all four competencies (reading, writing, listening, speaking) to complete an English-taught study programme at a German university.

(Q3) Am I prepared to cope with a German-speaking environment? Germany is a monolingual country where English is not used as a second language in everyday life. The widespread English fluency that is sometimes observed in some neighbouring countries like Denmark or the Netherlands cannot be expected as a matter of fact in Germany. To get on with your life off-campus you need at least basic (and possibly intermediate) knowledge of German.

(Q4) Is my financial background sound enough to carry me through several years of studies in a country where living expenses may be much higher than in my home country? Don’t be misled by Germany’s no-tuition-fees policy: You will need app. 9,000 EUR per year to support yourself. Education may be cheap in Germany; rents and food prices are not. Part-time jobs are difficult to find unless you are fluent in German and stipends for undergraduate or master students the exception.

(Q5) Do I fulfill any other requirements that my chosen study course(s) ask for? Two examples: Despite being taught in English, some courses require a certain level of German language that has to be fulfilled either before applying or before departure. Other courses (e.g. most MBA porgrammes) are not open to fresh graduates but can only be joined after having acquired substantial work experience (usally at least two years). A third group of courses is partly self-financed and charges annual tuition fees of several thousand Euros.  

If answering the “5 Qs” has still left you in doubt regarding your eligibility for higher studies in Germany, you should get in touch with us. Our personalised counselling (chargeable) will provide you with a clear picture of your individual study options in Germany and all the details of the application procedure.



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