A university guide for freshers

Goethe Uni Frankfurt

This study guide for freshers seeks to give information about life as a student in a German university since a university is a universe with its own rules and laws which are not easy to understand especially for new students.

Unlike in school, there is no one who cares what you do, you alone are responsible for yourself from the organization of studies and studying itself.  You have to decide what subjects you will take. It is solely your responsibility to figure out how you are going to finance your studies. This information and tips about offices where one can get information on studying, finances or counselling will help new students through the first few weeks.

The Departments

The German Student Union (Deutsche Studentenwerk)

is the umbrella organization of all 58 student unions in Germany. It operates facilities like cafeterias, take cares of the management and operation of student hostels and student funding through the student loan (Bafög).

The Student Affairs Office (Studierendensekretariat)

deals with issues surrounding admission, enrolment, re-registration, health insurance and the exchange or change university or faculty of study. This is usually for those in the German study courses. For the same services, if you are studying the International Program, most Universities have the “International Office” or “Akademisches Auslandsamt” (same office responsible for the Auslandssemester).

The study counsellors (Studienberatung)

helps with questions about the examination and study regulations and licensing restrictions. The staff also provide tips for exam preparation, answer questions pertaining to your studies and also offer academic counselling for first semesters students.

Universities also offer counselling services in relation to exam or relationship crisis and writing/ learning blocks. At many universities, there are also offer legal advice, the lawyers for little money or even free legal assistance to their students, which is usually a good offer for a first assessment of the legal situation.

The General Student Committee (Allgemeine Studierendenausschuss (Asta))

represents the interests of students to the university administration. These include professional matters as well as the economic and social interests of the students. Asta usually offers legal and social counselling and assistance with housing and employment. This is the students’ government.

The Fachschaft

which is found for each study course. They offer information on passwords to different study course materials, old exams, solutions to exercise questions. Information about the different study courses you need to take and in which order. This is the county government. For most international programs, you have one Fachschaft for all courses that fall under the “international program” while for the German courses, you have a Fachschaft for each course e.g. for Mechanical Engineers, Electrical Engineers e.t.c.

The IT and Media Center (Information und Mediendienst)

they are in charge of all matters pertaining internet, computers and any other forms of media (software and hardware) used at the University. You will need to register for your password(s) to access most portals at the Uni through them. In case you have no laptop, you can borrow one from them. They also offer to repair broken computers/laptops either at a small fee or for free. They will also be the ones offering software courses at very low prices. They are also in charge of the free/subsidised software deals most students get.

The Tutors Service (Tutoren Service)

there are two kinds, one run by the Studentenwerk and the other run by the International Office. Some Universities have both or only one but they do more or less the same thing anyway. They will help in your accommodation search, explain where you need to go for what and for the foreigners, they will even accompany you to some German offices if you require a translator. They also organise parties and networking events for the students to learn about different cultures and/or skills.

Tips

Meeting deadlines

Twice a year many students fall into a panic as the semester comes to an end and many students sit for their exams. Students are advised to divide upcoming tasks into short, medium and longterm and then prioritise them according to importance like: Where do I get the most credit points? What coursework could be postponed to the next semester incase I am not able to meet the deadlines? It is also important not to take a huge workload and breaks should be included in the evenings and weekends because the brain needs to  process what has been learnt and for this reason enough sleep and rest is vital.

Consultations with lecturers and professors (Sprechstunde)

To discuss the presentation topic or structure of the coursework with the professor you should book your appointment in time so as to secure a slot on the consultation list.  These appointments are mostly limited to an hour hour per week thus appoinment slots fill up quickly during the semester break.

Preparing for internships

Bachelor’s and Master’s programs are tightly scheduled and often there is little time for internships. However, practical experience is valuable for potential employers. If one doesn’t get the time during semester breaks one can use the time between bachelor and master to do the internship. Alternatively one can use the opportunity to write his master’s thesis in a company.

Useful Apps

There are many apps that can help you organise your study timetable.

The app Evernote stores notes your whether they are handwritten, oral or photographed and these records are automatically synchronized with your computer. Evernote is free and available for Android and Apple devices.

iStudiez: Is an app that helps students manage their life in university by assisting them to draw up their schedules, create reminders and calculate their grades. There is a free version and a Pro-Version for 2.69€ and iStudiez is only available for Apple devices. An alternative app for Android user is the School Helper.

iTunesU: Is a platform from Apple which allows university to upload its lectures. This app is mainly used by American universities but some some German universities such as the University of Munich are also using it.

Useful Websites

If you find there is a topic or a course you don’t understand, it is sometimes helpful to look elsewhere for information. Some great resources include: Youtube, Coursera and Iversity (offer free online courses).

Applying for grants

Fellows usually receive a monthly amount based on the student loan rate, which one doesn’t have to repay after they are done studying. These scholarships often come with invitations to meetings and conferences, summer camps and access to alumni networks. Many scholarships are intended only for the best students and sometimes the application process is tedious and this deters many students from applying. Therefore the number of applicants is often low and the chances of getting a scholarship good. An overview of all scholarships can be found at stipendienlotse.de or e-fellows.net.

Bank Information for students

Most bank offer students a free current account. The student should however look at the conditions and charges that will apply after ending your studies.

Affordable learning materials

Literature is often expensive and as a student you can save money by bartering books on exchange platforms on the internet. One can also use these platforms for short term needs for example when one needs a book for coursework. An example of such platforms are semesterbooks.de studenteninserate.de where used books from all faculties can be advertised and bought. Some books are available on the net even for free for example Google Books which has books on law, science and computer science.

Where to get student concessions

Students are widely favoured and usually have student rates for car rentals, telephone tariffs or swimming poll entry fees. There are also some concessions for computer software and even flights are often cheaper for students. Bargains and offers large companies can be found on sites like sparcampus.de or allmaxx.de . It is therefore advisable to always have your student ID with you .

Making use of university activities offers

Many universities offer sports and gym activities at low prices which can be found on the the bulletin board or on the website of the student council. So to find out when the next band competition, theater or reading takes place look these activities up as the admission fee and drink prices are usually pocket-friendly.

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