College life started about a week ago. Well, officially the semester starts somewhat in mid October but that is for the regular students. Aside from those regular students, there is us, the ones that take extra courses to pass the entrance exam in May next year so we start a little earlier.
The most fascinating thing is not only the fact that I have finally some routine back in my life but also the fact that the significant majority of my classmates are internationals.
There are a lot of them. Some are American or Brazilian with very, very typical German last names. Some are Asian, some Columbian but the vast majority is, has always been and will probably always be Russian, Ukrainian and Uzbek.
I see them every day from Monday to Friday. I see them make new friends, hear them enthuse over how awesome Berlin is to them and I also see them struggle. Struggle with that quotidian little thing that all of us have encountered at some point of our lives. Yes, I mean bureaucracy. To be more specific, German bureaucracy.
Because I feel quite sorry for my classmates who are now drowning in a sea of phone calls and various types of forms, here is a list of things that the newcomers among you will maybe find useful to know ahead of applying to German university and ahead of eventually moving to Germany.
1. Uni- assist will get the best of you
Those of you who finished school anywhere other than Germany will have to apply over uni-assist, which is something like the German version of UCAS. Uni- assist checks all of your documents and determines whether you qualify for university in Germany. However, getting their approval will be anything than easy. Get ready for tons of E-Mail telling you that your documents could not be forwarded because you were missing this and that. Get ready for receiving these E-Mails 24 hours before the end of the application deadline (story of my life). It will be a hard way to go. You may find yourself crying yourself to sleep and curse all the German bureaucrats who work in the field of education while throwing dart arrows at anything within your reach. But eventually there is always the option to contact the university of your choice directly because sometimes uni-assist will refuse to forward your documents by any means. If there are any problems with uni- assist and negotiating with them over the phone won’t help, call the university itself.
2. No address, no bank account
In order to get a bank account, as you may already know, you need to have an address in the country of your bank account. That is not any different in Germany.
When you fill in your enrollment form, which in German we call Imatrikulation, you will be asked to pay a fee of € 291.78 to the university each semester. Normally you have about a month to do so but you want to take care of that ASAP.
You will be able to create a bank account in any of the several banks in Germany but in order to make actual use of it, you will need an address, meaning that you will also have to register your new address in one of the district red halls. You are obligated to register with the red hall after about two weeks of your stay or else you may get in trouble.
Getting an appointment in the red hall will take you about a week. Also a couple of days until the bank will send you your debit card. So plan that time in.
My suggestion is to take care of a place to live as soon as you can. Chances are that you will be searching online anyways, so start searching while you are still at home. At least as soon as you know for sure that you got accepted to uni. Getting an apartment in Germany is very difficult and there is a huge competition so you want to be fast. Send as many requests as you can ahead of time.
3. Medical insurance
You will be asked to present a medical insurance for your stay in Germany. Unless you are a German citizen or are married to a German, you are not allowed to get a governmental insurance so you will buy a private one. What you may not know yet, is that international insurances are allowed as well. In case you want save time and energy, try and get an international medical insurance in your home country. Just make sure the insurance will cover the costs if you get sick while in Germany.
4. Applicants under 18
The enrollment form needs to be signed on the last page. If you are under 18, you may not sign any official documents. It has to be signed by your parents our guardian. In case your relatives live abroad and not in Germany with you, plan in some extra time and money to travel back home or try to fax the document. As far as I know, the Germans won’t make any exceptions. That is why you have one month to take care of everything.
5. Keep all the data
Whatever it is you get, be it your uni- assist applicant number, E-Mails confirming that your documents were received, keep it! You never know what the university will ask you for. Especially keep in mind that you will need your uni- assist applicant number and the evaluation of your report card which will be sent to you by E-Mail by uni- assist. When you fill in your enrollment form, you will be asked for your German average GPA which you will find in the evaluation letter aka Uni Assist Prüfbericht.
6. Simple copies won’t get you anywhere
The times when a simple copy of any document was enough to prove something is way over. Especially since Adobe launched Photoshop. Nowadays in Germany, whenever you want to present some sort of official document, you will either need the original of it, or a certified copy unless you are told otherwise by whoever requested the documents. Anything else will be rejected, except for copies of your student visa or any passport page.
Usually you can get your documents certified in the red hall or any other governmental instituation. Sometimes even at the pastorate. However, if your documents are not in German, the governmental instituations won’t certify them for you. If your documents are not German, you should either go to your embassy (which in my case didn’t help either) or you see a notary. They usually take something like € 20 per document plus 19% tax.
And with that said, good luck applying and surviving life in the unknown!