Your First Week at University

Your First Week at University

You’ve suddenly found yourself washed up on the beach of an uncharted land called "German University." What now?

You may be disorientated and have a ton of questions, but have no fear, because Young Germany has mapped out an info-packed route to ensure a hassle-free first week.

Step One: Make peace with the bureaucratic natives

For international students, the first step towards surviving your first week is to register with the German authorities. YG partner DAAD offers advice for a smooth visit at the Ausländeramt (foreign authorities).

Like much of German bureaucracy, the paperwork required to register with the Ausländeramt, is, well, thorough to say the least (and that’s if we’re being polite). So keep in mind Survival Tip #1: be prepared. Jacobs University offers a great step by step guide.

Just remember to keep cool and be cooperative – after all, this is only step one and you’ve got a long way to go.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so Survival Tip #2 is to find a photo booth or photo studio. Both governmental and university offices will expect you to have several passport-sized photographs. If you bring multiple copies of your mug shot, you’ll be easing some of your pain along the way. Make sure the photos are the right size, too: German authorities require a different size than many other countries.

Step Two: Learn the uni-specific registration rituals

If you’ve registered with the German authorities and have proof of your German language skills, the next step is enrolling at the university.

The enrollment process, or matriculation, is different for every university, so check in advance. Some universities require students to register in person; others allow registration papers to be sent in by mail. Either way, registering at a university means filling out paperwork – lots of it.

For starters, every student must bring their official university acceptance letter and the university’s application, along with proof of qualification into a higher education institution. Students also need to show proof of health insurance and records to confirm that their tuition and other fees have been paid. In some cases, students may have to supply proof of their ability to finance their studies.

If you’re an international student, you must also remember to bring copies of your passport as well as proof of academic credits from semesters spent at institutions in your home country. To make sure you’re not missing any important info, call your university’s office before registration begins.

Step Three: Seek affordable shelter

The next brick on the pathway to first week survival is finding housing, a sometimes daunting task. But let’s face it – whether you plan on living in the dorms, in a shared flat, or alone in a tent by the river, housing is a must.

Luckily, technology can make your housing quest easier. Start with the search we have on our site with our partners WG-gesucht; it’s a great place to find a shared flat or to browse for a roommate if you’ve already got the apartment.

If you’re seeking a spot in the dorms, your uni’s Studentenwerk can help you. The Deutsches Studentenwerk’s page for international students, www.internationale-studierende.de, will direct you to your university’s Studentenwerk, which can offer international students a Servicepaket. It’s a package deal of insurance, housing, a meal plan, and other goodies like peer mentoring and day trips.

If you’re from Germany, Studentenwerk can provide a dorm room for you, too – just be sure to remember Survival Tip #3: the early bird catches the worm. Make sure you contact your Studentenwerk office to reserve a spot before rooms get snatched up by other students.

Once you find a place to live and have signed the paperwork, don’t forget to register for a residence permit. Everyone who lives in Germany for more than 90 days needs one, and international students are no exception. For your trip to the Einwohnermeldeamt (Resident Registration Office), you’ll need a copy of your rental agreement from your landlord.

Step Four: Form strategic alliances with your major department

There is no standard method of class registration in Germany. At some uni’s, students can enroll in classes online, while at others they are expected simply to show up to their desired classes on the first day. And then there are those universities where each department has its own individual registration methods. In other words, the best way to avoid confusion is to check with your department well in advance.

And how do you find the right classes for you? Unlike collegians in other countries, students at German universities don’t take classes in general subjects. Students typically focus only on classes in their major and sometimes minor departments. Each university releases a complete course listing about a month in advance to local bookstores and sometimes gives these class lists to students upon matriculation into the university.

While this listing doesn’t describe what the classes actually are, detailed class guides are issued specifically by department. Contact the office in your desired field of study to get your hands on the department-specific guide, then look through the descriptions so you know exactly what you’re getting into on the first day of classes.

The Final Stretch: Adjust to your surroundings

So you’ve taken care of all of this and you’re still standing? Congratulations! It looks like you’re going to make it. Now all you have to do is make friends, go to class, and settle into your new life at university. Sounds easy enough, right?

After surviving so much already, we know you can handle it.