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.
I am going to attempt to explain the German education system in the simplest terms possible. For those with further education who can handle the exceptions, I have listed them at the end.
When a child is born in Germany, it has the right to a place in a daycare from the age of one year, starting in 2012. Daycare is referred to as Kinderkrippe, Kleinkindbetreuung or Kindertagespflege, although the latter only refers to the care of children in private homes with a Tagesmutter, not to a daycare center.
From the age of 3 years until they are old enough to start first grade (usually age six by the end of September), children attend Kindergarten. Kindergarten in Germany is usually mixed-age preschool and American “kindergarten” all jumbled together. The preschools on offer are almost all publicly subsidized, and fees vary in each city. Often the fees reduce with the number of children you have (and they don’t even have to be attending preschool), sometimes are linked to your income, or taken from a table based on the number of hours your child attends. There are preschools that are half-day, some are all-day, some serve lunch and some do not. The good ones have a waiting list, and for the most part, parents wishing for their children to start after their 3rd birthday need to get them registered at preschool by February of that year. The number of spots varies from state to state – in Baden-Württemberg, space is tight, especially in Stuttgart. In Berlin, there is much more on offer. Continue reading →