The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, or NRW, lies in the west of Germany on the Belgian/Dutch border, and is the most populous and productive region of Germany. It boasts internationally recognized centers of culture, politics, and economics like Cologne and Duesseldorf, and has an incredible historical importance, both ancient and modern, featuring the former seat of Charlemagne in Aachen, the site of the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in Munster, and the former capital of Germany in Bonn.
NRW is also the home of dozens of accredited universities (Universitaeten), universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen) and private universities. Two of these universities, the Universitaet zu Koeln (University of Cologne) and the RWTH Aachen, have been awarded the prestigious status of “University of Excellence,” a standing that affords them access to additional funding from the federal government and the prestige of being considered among the universities hand picked to compete on the international stage with the top universities in the world.
And NRW offers a wide variety of choices in addition to these two prestigious universities. For students interested in the widest possible breadth of course offerings, the Ruhr University Alliance offers students enrolled at either the University of Bochum, the University of Duisburg/Essen or the University of Dortmund the chance to take courses at all three universities. This type of cooperation extends across the region, as all students enrolled in universities within the state have access through their semester fees to free use of public transportation, free use of all university libraries throughout the state, and free use of university wireless internet at all university campuses.
Regardless of what you want to study, you’re likely to find it in NRW. Both the University of Munster and the University of Cologne have business schools that are ranked in the top 10 in Germany. RWTH Aachen has one of the top engineering programs in the country, and the University of Paderborn receives high marks for its computer science department. The University of Bielefeld has the top program for teachers of German as a foreign language. For those interested in studying to become a high school teacher in Germany, the University of Siegen has an effective program, and the University of Bonn is considered to be an international leader in the humanities and social sciences.
But one shouldn’t only consider academic programs when choosing a German university. The system has an egalitarian design, meaning that the difference between the top and bottom isn’t nearly as significant as in some other countries, such as the United States. It’s also important to consider the city you’ll be living it. If you want a more bucolic setting, Paderborn is a great option, offering a campus experience removed from the high industry of the Ruhr region, or Siegen, which sits in a valley far removed from the region’s giants. If you want to be surrounded by people, the Ruhr Alliance universities in Bochum, Duisburg, Essen, and Dortmund, are probably for you. If you want a party atmosphere, Bielefeld has a great reputation, as does Munster and Cologne. To be close to the political action, Bonn and Dusseldorf are great choices, and Aachen is a beautiful place to study for those interested in history and close proximity to other countries.
In the end, NRW has something for nearly everyone. You’d be hard pressed to find an academic program that isn’t offered within its borders, and every university has courses that can be taken in English or in German. As a result of the heavy bombardment of World War Two, many of the cities were reduced to pale shades of their former selves, but the beauty is still maintained in several University towns, such as Munster and Aachen, and industrial centers like Essen and Duisburg have been able to renew themselves thanks to state funding and their status as European “Capitals of Culture” in 2010, which led to a plethora of art installations throughout the cities. Sometimes bigger is better, and North Rhine-Westphalia is definitely proof.