During my first year at Miami University (the year I also first came to Germany through their Intensive German Summer Program), we had to attend a lecture on time-management. The coordinator explained to us that we would be expected to spend the same amount of time out of class working on assignments and studying as we spent in class. Three credits meant three hours in class and three hours of homework per week. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I generally found this to be a good rule of thumb, at least if I wanted to receive an "A" at the end of the semester. But when I started my graduate studies in Germany, I realized that things work very differently here, and I would have to spend a lot more time at the library if I wanted to be successful.
One of the biggest differences between the American and German systems is the amount of time spent in class. Most classes only meet once per week, not including additional labs or group meetings. This means that every student is expected to do significantly more work outside of the classroom on homework. In my first semester, we were required to submit one 6-7 page paper nearly every week, but only met on a bi-weekly basis. Now, this is an experience very particular to my study program, but every nearly every student in Germany has a similarly challenging workload.
This is one of the most important things for students to consider before they make their decision to come to Germany to study. The academic workload throughout the semester will be high, and this only gets more intense as the exam period at the end of the semester approaches. One of our advisers, Melinda, recently told me about her experience as a graduate student at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
I originally thought that if I was just more disciplined and went to the library everyday before and after class, and completed the exercises on time that it would be equivalent to taking a course in the US. Even after doing that, it's necessary to study for up to 8 hours a day during the weeks approaching exams. The overall time needed to prepare for exams is still more than in the US, even a disciplined student would require more time.
In most study programs, the majority of your grade (if not the entire grade) is determined by your final exam. My program didn't have exams, but we were expected to submit papers up to 25 pages long for eight credits (the equivalent of 4 credits in the American system).
For those students who find this a bit daunting by still want to take up the challenge, we will be offering a free workshop for any students interested in finding out more about the expectations of the German system. You can hear about the experiences of other American students and ask questions to help prepare yourself for your first semester. The workshop will take place on September 26 in Cologne. Find out more information on our website or by emailing email@example.com.