Finishing a Bachelor's Degree in Germany

What happens after you've passed your last examinations and turned in your bachelor's thesis? In Germany, the correct answer won't be convocation or graduation ceremony; it's picking up your diploma at the university secretary's office.

That's right, no cap or gown, no shaking hands with the university rector, and no inviting your parents for a ceremony. In Germany, bachelor's degree doesn't amount to much, in fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a job that only requires a bachelor's degree (I can personally attest to this). Most jobs require at least a master's degree (often a PhD), or they'd prefer the graduates of the so-called Ausbildungsprogramm, or vocational trainees.

The reason is not due to a sub-standard quality of German universities qualifications, it's due to a higher expectation of the German job market. To enter it, you need to prove you have a thorough and deep understanding of your field, rather than a generalised understanding of some things.

In America, it's possible to not declare your major immediately upon enrolment, but this is not true in other countries, including Germany, where you have to apply for a specific undergraduates program, commonly with a single major. Once accepted, you will only actually study courses that are directly relevant to your major. For example, I study biochemistry, so there's no such thing as choosing an elective in social studies for me.

Most bachelor's programme with 180 ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) points is regulated to be done in 6 semesters (3 years), but there are many who needs longer than that, if they finish at all. I completed mine in 7 semesters, as most of my class did. It is not uncommon for students to dropout during the course of their higher education; many switch majors after a semester or two to a major that suited their interests better, but others are forced to do so under some circumstances. For further insight of the course load itself, read my blog posts on my second and third year.

I don't think very many people realise just how strict and tough the German education system is. It isn't easy to get into a university in the first place, but once you're in, it doesn't get easier.

In Germany, if you fail a course's exam 3 times, you're automatically dropped out, and you will never be able to study the same course (or its equivalent) ever again in any universities in Germany.
Let me put it into context. As I've mentioned, I major in biochemistry, and I had to take the basic math course at the beginning of my studies. Had I failed the course 3 times, I would've been dropped out, and I can never major in any subject that has a basic math course in it in any other university in Germany. So even if I wanted to switch majors to other science-related majors like pure chemistry or physics, I won't be able to. In short, I will be blacklisted for life. However, I can still pursue a degree in other majors that doesn't require basic math, like literature or history, even in the same university.

Personally I think that's quite hardcore, especially when you consider the fact that most of the time, your grade for the course depend on a single exam at the end of the semester. There's no safety net in terms of mid-terms or homework, much less in extra points from the professors for doing extra work!

I realise that I'm lucky to even be able to pursue a degree in a first-world country, and even luckier that I was able to get the degree. However, it wasn't without hard work and help from my friends, and it did take a toll on me in the end. It wasn't easy navigating a different education system in a foreign country you didn't know far away from your family, especially in a foreign language. But I'm glad I got through it, and here's to the next chapter!


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