Resist the Ramen: Financing your Student Life in Germany

So you’ve heard the good news: you can get your university degree for free in Germany. It almost seems too good to be true, an education from a highly-respected institution of higher learning, the opportunity to learn and grow without the stress of thousands of dollars in student debt awaiting you upon graduation. But while the terror of tuition no longer mars the pristine German university landscape, that doesn’t mean your study experience will be free; you still need to pony up for food, rent and recreation. Here are a few ways that you can cover your living expenses as a student in Germany.

1. Scholarships Considering the fact that the costs of studying are so much lower in Germany than in most countries, it’s amazing how many scholarships are available to students here. Often, the problem is finding one that fits your particular circumstances, needs, and background, rather than a lack of money in general. An indispensable resource for international students in pursuit of funding is the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst). On the DAAD site, you can search for scholarships which will cover your expenses at various points during your studies. For instance, there are scholarships for students who are writing their theses, so they can focus on their academic work instead of on earning money. It’s also a good idea to search for organizations in your area that might have an interest in supporting you. While I was studying in Siegen, the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Gesellschaft paid for some of my expenses, and many other organizations with specific political or religious viewpoints have similar initiatives, links to which you can find on your university’s website.

2. Student Jobs As with most American universities, student jobs on German campuses tend to be low paid and fairly dull. But if you can’t find a scholarship, you might be forced to check out the Jobvermittlung on you university’s website. During my time in Siegen, I had several friends who used our job center and were able to find jobs that paid enough, usually between 10 and 12 euros per hour, to support them during their studies. Better yet, for students who plan to work in academia, is to find a position as a Studentenhilfskraft, a similar position to that of a Teaching Assistant at an American university. This also pays better with a fixed number of hours in a contractual period.

3. Teaching English For those of us who were fortunate enough to have been born in an Anglophone country, teaching English is without a doubt the best way to finance your studies. While I studied at Siegen Universität, I worked as an English teacher for approximately 30 euros per hour. I was fortunate in that I’d previously taught, which meant that I could ask for a higher rate, but even amateurs in the right setting can expect 20 per hour or higher. The important thing is to avoid big companies like Berlitz and Wall Street, because they tend to pay very low rates (12-14 euros per hour), and focus on contacting small companies run by teachers. These companies have less overhead, so they can afford to pay their teachers more. Plus, if you study in a small town like Siegen, they’ll probably be excited to have a native-speaker joining their team, which will lead to a higher rate for you.

When you first move to Germany, it’s important to plan ahead regarding work. I have several friends who struggled to pay their most basic expenses throughout their studies, and this was in large part because they didn’t have anything lined up before they came over. You should start contacting prospects at least two months before you arrive, and start researching scholarships a year before you start to study, since the applications will be due long before the semester starts. As with most things, success as a student in Germany is all about planning.

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