Uni or City: Searching for the Perfect Fit

Every time we talk to a student who is interested in coming to Germany to study, we always ask them the same question: where do you want to go? In the States, most people would answer with the names of colleges, but the answers we almost always receive are names of cities. Why is this? Well, many students just don’t know many of the German universities, but most are at least familiar with German geography.

When deciding where you want to study, there are several factors that must be taken into account: the experience that you’ll have on campus, the content of the programs you’re looking at, and your odds of being admitted. But what part should the location play? In today’s post, we’ll discuss all the factors that go into the decision making process and try to give you a better understanding of what you need to think about before you choose a college in Germany.

The American Equation

Pierrot Raschdorff writes in his book “Study Guide for Political Science that “Two factors should influence your decision: availability and location.” For the German students who make up the target audience of Raschdorff’s book, this is solid advice. Traditionally, German students have made decision essentially based on where they could get in (availability) and where they wanted to live (location).

American students, though, need to take other factors into account when making their decision. Experience and the quality of support you’ll receive from the university should be added to the equation. Some German universities are still not equipped to deal with the kind of holistic approach that American students use in making their college choice, but it’s important to remember that many are. Just because your first pick doesn’t give you the type of detailed information that you ask them for doesn’t mean that there isn’t another university that will. 

Weigh Your Options

Many students jump into a program after a cursory glance, after finding the experience to not be everything they’d hoped it would be. It’s important, therefore, to do more than just typing “Bachelor’s programs in Berlin” into google. If you decide to study in many of the larger or more traditional universities, your professors will likely seem unreachable in your first semester. This is because many programs admit hundreds of students each semester and professors and administrators lack the time and resources to offer individual support to every student. The Business Administration program at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU), for example, enrolled over 500 students in 2015. As a result, introductory courses that cross disciplines can sometimes have as many as 1000 students enrolled at a time

If you decide to enroll in a program like this, you should expect to not have much interaction with your professors in your early semesters. Many larger programs also won’t be able to offer much support to individual students. On the other hand, there are many programs with much smaller intakes, like the International Business Management program at the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR), which only enrolls 35 students every semester.

When you’re deciding which school you want to attend, think hard about your expectations. How much support would you want from the professors and counselors at your university? If this isn’t something that’s important to you, then a larger university make be a good fit, but if you can’t see yourself functioning without at least some hand-on support, be sure to keep that in mind when you’re comparing programs.

Location, Location, Location

Ultimately, the reason why most students choose the big universities is because of the location. But there are other factors to consider, such as population size, demographics, and the relationship of the university to the community. Some of these may seem minor, but after 5 or 6 semesters they grow significantly in importance. The University of Siegen, for example, is a 20-minute bus ride away from the central district of the city and on top of a fairly steep hill. If if you live on campus, everything you need is either a bus ride or 20 minute walk down the hill, as well as a bus ride or 20 minute walk up.

And don’t forget to consider is the political/social makeup of the town. German regions vary significantly in their political and social allegiances, with some heavily progressive areas that may be uncomfortable for students from more conservative background, and traditionally minded locales that may not suit American liberals.

Big City = Big Opportunity?

The major city that draws nearly every student we encounter for advising is Berlin. Berlin is a natural draw Study there and you can attend an afternoon talk at the Otto-Suhr-Institute, spend the evening at a cocktail party speaking to famous professors, authors, or journalists, and then dance the night away in the city’s legendary discos. You’ll never run out of things to do, see, and learn in Germany. 

On the other hand, the highest-ranked Political Science programs were at Jacobs University in Bremen, the University of Mannheim, the University of Bamberg, the University of Tübingen, and Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen. Small courses with a better professor-student relationship play major roles in such rankings, as well as variables like the physical state of the buildings, the size of the library, e-learning opportunities, the WIFI-connection on campus, and the pedagogical techniques employed by the faculty. These are all factors to consider that may outweigh the appeal of the city. August institutions like Berlin’s Humboldt University can sometimes fall behind their more modern peers, and you need to weigh this reality when comparing and contrasting your choices.


When the time comes, weigh your options carefully, and don’t be too focused on one destination. There are over 400 universities in Germany offering nearly 20,000 different study programs, so regardless of what kind of experience you’re looking to have, and what outcome you’re looking to gain, you’re like to find in here.