Graduate studies in Germany vs. USA — Overview and links

Many Germans would like to complete part of their university studies in the US. Fewer US-Americans study abroad, but when they do, Germany is the most popular non-English-speaking destination country. There is a long and rich history of academic exchange between the two countries.

But what are the relative merits of doing graduate studies at a German university vs. a US-American university in today’s world? How do the systems vary in terms of education and funding? Is one system “better” than the other overall? What hurdles might be encountered by Americans (or other foreigners) planning to study in Germany?

“Matt” asked some of these questions in a recent blog comment. Since the answers might be interesting to a broader audience, I’m turning my reply to him into a short series of new blog posts. I’ll also point to some other resources that might be of particular use to US citizens (but also other non-Germans) considering graduate studies in Germany. The focus will be towards the natural sciences, because that is the area I’m most familiar with (and that Matt is applying in).

What qualifies me to answer Matt’s questions? I’m a U.S. citizen currently working towards my PhD in Germany. I finished my Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in December 2005 in the US and enrolled as Diplom student in Atmospheric Physics at the University of Mainz in the Spring of 2006. I also spent a year in Germany at a high school before my BA and a year as an exchange student during my BA. As a result, I have a lot of personal experience as well as second-hand knowledge about being a student at various levels of the educational system in both Germany and the US.

In the next few blog entries, I will cover the following topics, as they apply to graduate studies [in the natural sciences] in Germany, particularly as compared with the US:

  • Education (coursework, degrees, requirements, exams)
  • Funding (amount of funding, stipends vs. contracts, living expenses)
  • Cultural and general observations (major differences in university culture and expectations)

Posts on the above topics will appear soon. For now, let me point you to some general resources on exchange opportunities and German culture that might be helpful:

  • The Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD), or German Academic Exchange Service sponsors fellowships for foreigners studying in Germany and also provides an online database of scholarship opportunities. DAAD fellowships are highly regarded and may include dedicated funding for attending an intensive language course at the beginning of your stay in Germany.
  • The German-American Fulbright Commission sponsors German-American exchange fellowships for both students and scientists/scholars, which are highly regarded in the US. Their website has a nice collection of links to resources on Germany for Americans/foreigners. I highly recommend their primer on Germany for an overview with a lot of good cultural information and practical tips (although it is from 2001 and therefore slightly out of date).
  • The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation sponsors post-doctoral research fellowships and research awards for foreigners to work temporarily in German research institutions. They also have a nice collection of “practical hints” for foreign researchers coming to Germany.
  • A subjective comparison of Germany and the US that I find insightful can be found here. The author is Axel Boldt.

Although the main focus of these entries will be to explain German graduate-level education to Americans, here are some German-language resources on the US and university studies / doctoral studies in the US:

  • TransatlanTicker is a blog by Carsten Bösel about studying in the US.
  • From DAAD: Gebührenpflicht bei Promotion in den USA
  • The “” blog has a category that deals with the US academic system called “Amerikanische Verhältnisse“.
  • USA erklärt is a German-language blog that attempts to explain the USA to Germans in a humorous yet informative way, and to clear up common misunderstandings and misperceptions of the US by Germans — some of which are so common that they are generally held to be unquestionably factual and have even become “sprichwörtlich” (proverbial). It is written by Scot W. Stevenson, who I gather from the blog is a US citizen and long-time resident of Berlin.

Additional suggestions for this link list are welcome, please add them in the comments!


2 Responses to Graduate studies in Germany vs. USA — Overview and links

  1. Aaron Wilson says:

    this post doesn’t stay on topic, the beginning really caught my attention but then it leads into a bunch of links meant for advertising …

    • Susannah says:

      The links are ones that should be useful and relevant to the topic. Please click through the next couple of posts for more detailed discussion.

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