Why Going to School Germany Will Save You a Sh*t Ton of Money

Author: Mackensie Graham

At the end of summer, students pack their bags and set-up their futons. The season means back-to-school, with homework, textbooks, and exams for the 20.2 million students attending American colleges and universities. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of it all — new friends, exploring campus, setting up a dorm room — and forget the exorbitant price tag behind it all.


In the 2014–15 academic year, the average cost for a four-year U.S. college rose 2.9 percent year-over-year. Yearly tuition clocked in at an average of $9,410 for a public four-year, in-state institution and even more so at a private four-year school, with tuition at $32,405. The cost of college is only getting more expensive; from 1985 to 2013 college tuition has increased over 500 percent. While there is financial aid, scholarships, and grants, it’s not enough for many to cover the upfront cost of college. This is where loans come in. Student loans stack up fast, interest accrues, and an increasing number of Americans are defaulting on their loans. In 2015, there were nearly 7 million Americans with student loans that hadn’t made a single payment toward the amount and millions of others are behind on monthly payments.

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Education is important and should be accessible at a more affordable price point. This is where Germany gets it right…and their education system has opened the door, inviting students around the world to enjoy the benefits of a world-class education, for cheap.

What it means for International Students?

What’s the draw for so many students? In addition to free tuition, Germany offers an affordable cost of living, compared to many U.S. major cities, as well as a rich history, cheap healthcare, and lively nightlife scene (at least in Berlin and Munich).

Behind the U.K. and Canada, Germany is the third most popular country for American students who choose to attend university abroad. As of 2015, over 4,600 U.S. students are enrolled full-time at German universities. This number has increased 20 percent over the past three years. 61 percent of those U.S. students are pursuing master’s degrees.

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Student semester dues are charged (usually a couple hundred dollars) and vary in cost between German universities. The fees support a wide range of benefits including clothing and food discounts as well as cheap or free public transportation passes. (Traveler’s side note: if you’re enrolled in school outside of Germany and are just visiting, still bring your student ID for admission discounts at museums and attractions. Most places will accept it!) International students will be expected to be more independent than the inclusive live-and-study situation in the U.S. Therefore, rent will likely be the biggest cost for international students. (Some cover this by applying, and being granted, a scholarship from DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service.)

Why?

Why is Germany willing to welcome international students despite the cost? It’s an economic investment. Germany is facing a population decrease projected for the next few decades and if something doesn’t change the drop in population, (which translates to lack of human resources for skilled jobs and spending for economic growth) will only increase. With free education Germany has the opportunity to attract intelligent, qualified young people who may want to stay in the country following graduation. And, apparently it’s working — 50 percent of foreign students are staying in the country.

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How Do They Do It?

Germany, the land of bier halls, castles, and sausages, is a leader in free college education. The country joins the ranks of other countries around the world that offer free education, including Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Norway as well as Mexico and Brazil.

In 2006 the ban on tuition fees was lifted giving German states the largely determine how to deal with postsecondary education financing. Some instituted modest fees (ranging from about 600 to 1,000 euros) that were met with protest by academics, students, and professors. One by one, states that instituted the fees dropped them and in 2014, Lower Saxony was the last state to abolish tuition and fees.

In an interview with Great Britain’s The Times, Hamburg Senator Dorothee Stapelfeldt said, “Tuition fees are socially unjust. They particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

So, who is paying for the university system in Germany? The rest of the Germans through higher taxes!

These taxes (that of course pay for more than education) go to spendthrift practices throughout the university system. Overall university costs are also kept lower by not providing all the amenities that U.S. school provide. Campus facilities may not be as aesthetically pleasing and there’s no large parking garages or huge university sports teams. Students rent their own apartments and German students often still live at home, compared to the dorms of the U.S.

(Things to Think About)…Final Lesson

Before making a giant jump to study in Germany, be sure the program offerings fulfil expectations and will be recognized as legitimate in your field of study.

German is not exactly the easiest language. Living abroad is a fantastic way to learn and hone your language skills but, if you’re not already fluent, it could be incredibly difficult to try an obtain a degree in the language. Luckily, there are an increasing number of programs being offered in English. When searching for these degrees look for the word “international” in the title. DAAD offers a helpful search tool to find degrees instructed in English.

Applying for a German university looks different than an American institution. It’s important to do your research at the individual location you’re looking at attending as well as reading up on some general tips (like these) as there are different exams or qualifications than expected in the U.S.

But, let’s be honest, it’s a sweet deal. The opportunity to save tens of thousands of dollars, be immersed in a rich culture, and expand horizons all while obtaining an education toward a future career means you should be putting German universities on that school search shortlist!


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