In the summer of 2016, Maya Rodgers came to Germany on a college visit to learn more about graphic design programs offered by universities across the country. During her time in Europe, she visited 7 universities in three cities. In today's entry into our American in Germany series, she describes her experience and what she learned from her visits.
Last July, I embarked on a three and a half week trip to Germany. I currently live in Pennsylvania, but for the first two weeks of my adventure, I participated in an exchange with 15 other Americans from Buffalo, New York where I spent the first six years of my life. In those first two and a half weeks, I lived with a host family outside of Dortmund, Germany. When the exchange was over, my mom flew into Dortmund to meet me and we began our college search.
Before I talk about the schools I visited, there's a couple things you should know about me. One, I am planning on studying for bachelor's degree in graphic design, and have looked at schools in the US, Canada, and Germany. Two, I had just begun a German 1 course one month before this trip, and had taken Spanish for the past four years before I started German. This being said, finding out that I would have to be going to school and speaking in all German was slightly terrifying, if not totally overwhelming.
I chose to visit universities during the summer holiday, which did complicate the process a bit. I'm sure if I were to visit in the winter months that I would find more professors and administration available to talk. But what I did find out was that going on "campus tour" or a "college visit" was basically unheard of in the German culture. For us Americans, we are pushed to visit schools, starting from early in our high school careers. Visiting a campus or school gives you a picture of whether or not you'd like to spend the next four or more years of your life in that given place. In Germany, however, many students apply to nearby universities, commute from home, and aren't pressured to apply to numerous schools like teenagers back home. This could explain some of the quizzical looks I received in the international offices at many of these universities when I had told them that I had travelled 4,000 miles away to visit their school.
Day 1: Folkwang University
On my first day, I travelled from Düsseldorf to Essen to visit Folkwang University of the Arts. After visiting their first campus in Werden, a small town just outside of Essen, I travelled to another campus in Essen to meet with a woman from their international office. Getting there was the complicated part. The one thing I have learned about German universities is that while many are smaller and do not have the traditional "campus", they are usually combined with other nearby universities. Not only does this get confusing, but it also makes it extremely difficult to locate a certain building on your Maps app while walking around a foreign city in the pouring rain.
My mom and I finally found the office, and even though we had missed the office hours, were still able to meet with a very nice woman who answered all of our (many) questions. The biggest thing that I learned on this visit was to ask the schools what level of German was needed in order to apply and what level of German was needed in order to attend. Some schools require a B2 German speaking level by the time of the application, but need proof of a higher level of German knowledge (usually a C1) by the time that you are actually enrolled in courses. At Folkwang, I learned that I would need a B2 level of German in order to apply and that admitted students are put through a 5 week intensive course to bring their German speaking level up even higher after enrollment. I learned about the design program, and the requirements I need for my portfolio. I found out that I would also need to return around January/February to have an interview and my portfolio reviewed.
Day 2: TH Köln International School of Design, University of Köln
I was unable to meet with anyone at the International School of Design, so I went to University of Köln (Cologne) right after. It had the most campus-y feel out of all the schools in Germany that I had visited. As an old, traditional German university, it had many buildings, with a mix of modern and traditional. There were many students buzzing around, and the cafeteria was even filled. While University of Köln did not have a degree or major that I was interested, I enjoyed the atmosphere and also learned that they have a summer program for international students that is held for a few weeks every summer. Even if I don't end up studying in Germany until my Master's, I think the Cologne summer college is definitely a good option.
Day 3: Design Akademie Berlin, HMKW
From Köln, I travelled with my mom to Berlin. After a few incidents, including missing our flight, we arrived in Berlin at 4 am. Design Akademie was the first on our list, and I absolutely loved it. If any of these schools had spoken to me, it was this one for sure. I had already been to Berlin with my exchange program, and had fallen in love with the city at first sight.
The secretary we were supposed to talk to was out sick, but I was able to talk to a communication design professor, which was even better. She told us about their 3 year bachelor's program, and informed us on their internships, which last 6 months. During this required internship, I could choose an internship anywhere, and even go back home to the US to work.. This school would give me the option to learn all about design in Germany, as well as work with German companies, but would also let me have the option of becoming established in my home country. While Design Akademie Berlin was a private school, they are very accredited and are recognized by the state of Berlin and the ministry of Köln. These accredations are very important in a private unvieristy to ensure that you are getting the best quality education.
I also visited HMKW, another private university of applied science (Fachhochschule) in Berlin. I also really liked this school, with its smaller feel and 4 year apprenticeship option which allows students to complete 2 "normal" years of their studies after which HMKW helps students find a company that they work for full time for a year. After that one year, the student takes a test from the Chamber of Commerce (Handelskammer) and then writes their bachelor's thesis.
Day 4: Kunsthoschule Weißensee, Berlin University of the Arts
Both of these schools were wonderful, and their programs, especially at University of the Arts, are accredited and internationally-recognized. However, these schools didn't seem like they would easily allow me to get the job that I want after graduation, even though their programs overall were very hands-on and flexible.
I still have no idea where I'll be after high school graduation, but I do know that I have many different options to study graphic and communication design. I'm a little overwhelmed just thinking about it, but I know that no matter where I'll end up, Germany will always be somewhere I return to. Whether it's on another exchange program, for my bachelor's degree, or even for my master's, I know that I will be back one day.