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Studying in Germany: These are the words you need to know

We break down the words you need to know when starting your studies in Germany, whether it's your first day or you're well into the semester.

Studying in Germany: These are the words you need to know
Archive photo shows students at the University of Jena. Photo: DPA

Settling into student life can often involve a lot of admin, and Germany universities’ love affair with having physical copies of every document may leave you drowning in paperwork.

Knowing the basic vocabulary you are bound to encounter on arrival – whether physically or virtually amid the pandemic – at your host university will remove some of the stress from your first few weeks.

Sich immatrikulieren 

Let’s start at the very beginning. The phrase sich immatrikulieren, close to the English matriculate, means to enrol yourself at your new university. This is something you will likely have to do before you even step foot in Germany and is definitely not a step you can skip. Remember to check how you should go about enrolling at your host institution well in advance of arrival. 

READ ALSO: Studying in Germany: Seven unusual academic traditions

Die Immatrikulationsbescheinigung 

At German universities you will find you need a Bescheinigung (certificate) for almost everything, so this is not a term you should forget. The Immatrikulierungsbescheinigung is your certificate of enrolment. It is good to keep this to hand as you may have to present it to receive funding such as an Erasmus grant. 

Sich anmelden

This phrase means to enrol yourself, or register for something and is generally used when signing up for teaching modules in Germany. Very little of the enrolment process is handled by your subject faculty and in many cases you will be solely responsible for registering for each individual class you want to take, as well as making sure they fit well into your timetable – look out for the ‘sich anmelden’ button on your university’s online learning portal.   

Das Semesterticket 

This is something you will want to make the most of during your time in Germany. The Semesterticket, often doubling as your student ID or library card, entitles you to travel for free across the region you are living in. Your university website will usually include information on the exact boundaries of the travel area, but the pass is generally valid for all regional transport links within your city and its surroundings. 

Die Vorlesungszeit

The concept of a holiday or vacation period does not really exist in the German education system and instead the calendar is split into die Vorlesungszeit (lecture period) and die vorlesungsfreie Zeit (non-lecture period). During the months where there is no teaching, you may still have coursework deadlines or online/in-person exams. There is some time for rest, but don’t get too carried away by the holiday spirit!

READ ALSO: Studying in Germany – nine very compelling reasons to do it

Die Mensa 

This is perhaps the most important piece of vocabulary you will need to get to grips with. The Mensa is your university canteen or cafeteria, and will often serve food for every meal of the day. It is worth making use of this as at most universities you can buy a whole meal for under €3.

                              University of Cologne’s Mensa. Photo: DPA

Here are some other useful terms you may come across:

die Kommilitonen – classmates/fellow students

der Dozent/die Dozentin – tutor/lecturer

das Seminar – seminar

die Vorlesung – lecture

die Bibliothek – library

die Klausur – exam

das Referat – oral presentation

der Hörsaal – lecture hall

das Hochschulbüro für Internationales – university international office

der BAföG – government loan system for German students

ECTS Kredite – international system for module accreditation. These credits can then be converted into your home country’s own credit system

die Pflichtleistung – compulsory coursework

belegen – to take (a class)

absolvieren – to pass

sich exmatrikulieren – to de-register

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EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

Germany has a system of financial support for students known as BAföG. In many cases foreigners are just as entitled to apply as Germans. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

What is BAföG?

Bafög is an abbreviation for a word that would surely be the longest in pretty much any other language expect German: Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz. This tongue twister breaks down to mean Federal Training Assistance Act. 

Ever since the 1970s it has helped Germans from poor backgrounds to take up a place at university to at a training colleague, with the idea being that financial hardship should never prevent someone from entering higher education.

In its current form the law provides for students form poorer families to receive €853 a month, half of which is a stipend and half of which is a loan that you will need to pay back once you’ve entered the workforce. 

The maximum you are expected to pay back is €10,000.   

Some 460,000 students were being assisted with Bafög payments in 2020, the last year for which there are numbers.

READ ALSO: How to finance your master’s studies in Germany as an international student

Who is entitled to BAföG?

There are two basic conditions attached to BAföG: you have to be under the age of 30 to apply and you parents have to be low-wage earners.

There are some exemptions for the age restriction. If you can show that you were not able to start a course of study before your 30th birthday due to health or familial reasons then you might still be eligible later. Also, if you are applying for support for a Masters degree then you can apply for Bafög up until the age of 35.

According to German law, your parents have an obligation to financially support your education. This means that German authorities ask for evidence of their income to assess whether you are in need of state support.

And this applies whether your parents work in Germany or abroad, the Education Ministry confirmed to The Local.

“Income calculation under the BAföG rules takes place regardless of whether one’s parents live in Germany or abroad. This applies both to German nationals and to people with non-German nationality who are eligible for support under BAföG,” a spokesperson for the ministry confirmed.

What about foreigners?

Bafög is by no means only available to Germans. A whole variety of foreign nationals can also apply.

The rules on which foreign nationals are entitled to financial support are fairly complicated. But the following list on eligibility is somewhat exhaustive:

  • If you are an EU citizen, or from an EEA country, and you have lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If you are married to, or are the child of, an EU citizen who has lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If your are an EU citizen who lives and works in Germany and whose intended course of study is connected to your current job
  • If you are not an EU citizen but have obtained permanent residency in Germany
  • If you have received refugee status
  • If you have lived in the country for at least 15 months as a ‘tolerated’ person (ie you applied for asylum and weren’t given full refugee status)
  • If at least one of your parents has lived and worked in Germany for three of the past six years
  • You are married to a German national and have moved to Germany.
  • You are the spouse or child of a foreign national who holds a permanent residency permit.

Due to the relative complexity of these rules it is advisable to speak to local organisations that support students such as the Studentenwerk Hamburg, the StudierendenWERK BERLIN or the Studentenwerk München.

READ ALSO: Essential German words to know as a student in Germany

How do repayments work?

The Federal Education Ministry states that you are expected to pay back your loan even if you return to your home country after completing your studies.

Repayment begins five years after you received the last installment of the loan at which point you are expected to pay back €130 a month. Although this amount can be reduced if your salary is low.

If you haven’t paid everything back after 20 years then the rest of the debt is dropped.