Amis and Abis: Roadblocks to Getting your Bachelor’s Degree in Germany

Source: Felix Kästle/dpa (c)

Source: Felix Kästle/dpa (c)

My student advising service, Eight Hours and Change, was recently featured in a story on National Public Radio’s Marketplace in a story that discussed the German university system. The main takeaway from this piece for most readers and listeners in America was the astonishing revelation that German universities are (mostly) tuition-free, and, as a result, I’ve been inundated with inquiries from every state and several territories.

For bachelor-seeking students, this can be an awkward conversation. After confirming that the vast majority of subjects can be studied at minimal cost, I have to move on to the caveat. Yes, its possible for Americans to study here for free, but that doesn’t mean everyone can do it.

One of the biggest differences between German and American education is the tracking system. In Germany, the system forces students who want to attend university to choose that “track” at a young age by taking courses to prepare for their Abitur, the certificate that allows students to study at university. While this has changed somewhat in recent years, and there are now several ways to study without an Abitur, for foreign students, having an Abitur-equivalent school-leaving certificate is a requirement to enter the German higher education system.

For British students, this is not a problem, because A-levels are considered of a kind with the Abitur. But the American high school diploma, broadly speaking, is not. This means that American students who are interested in acquiring their Bachelor’s degree in Germany need to show that they have attained a higher level of achievement. There are several ways to do this.

  • Test Scores Generally, German universities aren’t interested in American standardized test scores as a means of evaluating student applications. But in order to show Abitur-equivalency, you can use your ACT or SAT scores combined with an unweighted high school G.P.A. of 3.0 or higher.
    • SAT 1300 combined Math/Critical Reading (Writing is not considered)
    • ACT 29
  • AP Classes Depending on what you would like to study, you can also use a AP classes to show Abitur-equivalency. This also needs to be combined with an unweighted high school G.P.A. of 3.0 or higher. You need to score at least a 3 in each subject.
    • If you would like to study math, science, medicine, pharmacology, or a technical subject (engineering, computer science)
      • Math (AP Calculus AB or BC)
      • Natural Scinece (AP Biology, AP Chemistry or AP Physics)
      • Language (AP French, AP Spanish, AP Latin, AP German, AP English Literature or AP English Language and Composition)
      • One alternative subject (AP European History, AP American History, AP Computer Science, AP Macroeconomics or AP Microeconomics)
    • If you would like to study a subject in the humanities, law, social sciences or economics

      • English (AP English Literature or AP English Language and Composition)
      • Math or Natural Scinece (AP Calculus AB or BC, AP Biology, AP Chemistry or AP Physics)
      • Language (AP French, AP Spanish, AP Latin, AP German)
      • One alternative subject (AP European History, AP American History, AP Computer Science, AP Macroeconomics or AP Microeconomics)
  • Further Studies Students who don’t have the necessary test scores or AP classes can also spend either one or two years at a community college or university before enrolling in a German university.
    • If you have an 1150 on your SAT or 25 on your ACT, you only need to complete one year of coursework.
    • If you do not have the necessary test scores, you need to complete two years of coursework.

Only approximately 1/3 of German students graduate from high school and enroll in university verses approximately 66% of Americans. This is largely due to the fact that approximately half of German graduates are technically unqualified to enter university. By this standard, the requirements on Americans are more stringent, as only 7 percent of students pass the ACT with the necessary score (29) to enroll directly in a German university.

So yes, it’s difficult to enter the German system as an American. But students who are serious about pursuing their studies in Germany should consider that less than a quarter of students at public universities in the United States graduate in four years and only around 2/3 manage to finish in six. And remember, a German Bachelor’s degree generally only requires three years of coursework, meaning that it’s very realistic that students can complete their studies in five or six years.

2 thoughts on “Amis and Abis: Roadblocks to Getting your Bachelor’s Degree in Germany

  1. What about pursuing your master’s in Germany. I am an American finishing up my bachelors this year. I would like to move to Germany and get my Masters there. Any info would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Ron

    • Hello Ron, most students who come to Germany to study actually come to complete a Master or to do a PhD. The rules for graduate students are much more friendly to American students; generally, as long as you have an accredited American degree, you can study here. One thing to remember, though, is that most graduate programs here are consecutive, which means that you can only study a subject that you have previous experience in. That means that if you want to get an M.Sc. in Economics, you need to have a Bachelor’s degree in Economics.

      Feel free to write me through my website if you have any specific questions: http://www.eighthoursandchange.com.

Leave a Reply