Last year saw a record enrollment at Germany’s Fachhochschulen (also sometimes called Hochschule or Hochschule Angewante Wissenschaften). With over 1 million students and 232 recognized campuses across Germany, Fachhochschulen (FHs) continue to grow in popularity and profile. But what are they, exactly? And how is a university of applied science different than a regular university?
The most important thing to know is that all study programs at FHs are practice-oriented. This means that, generally, degree programs found at FHs tend to fall into the categories of Business, Engineering, and Health Care, whereas the Humanities, Languages and other subjects requiring a deep theoretical foundation are usually offered by universities. The exceptions to this practice vs. theory dynamic are law and medicine, both of which are generally found at universities.
Most Fachhochschulen are deeply rooted in their local regions. This means collaboration with local business and industry and a focus on preparing workers for engagement in the area. As a result, most students at FHs come from the region. This regional orientation also tends to keep Fachhochschulen small – the average FH is only a quarter as large as the average university.
Smaller size translates into one of the biggest advantages of studying at an FH – fewer massive lectures. Courses at Fachhochschulen tend to take place in seminars of 40 or fewers students, giving professors a better chance to engage directly with students.
FHs also require practical experience as part of the study program. Students are required to completed a four to six-month internship for credit. This so-called “Praxissemester” has been adopted by many universities as well, but is a feature of nearly every Fachhochschule program.
Professors at Fachhochschulen in Germany have different backgrounds than their peers at universities. All professors are expected to complete post-graduate degrees, but FHs also require work experience in the field. Most professors at universities, on the other hand, spend their entire careers in academia, either in research or teaching. This can be advantageous for students, as professors can draw on real-world experience to inform their lessons.
Fachhochschulen have traditionally had lower entrance requirements for German applicants, but require the same basic qualifications from American graduates as universities. At graduation, the degree conferred by an FH is the same as that awarded by a university, but within Germany the qualifications are not strictly equivalent. Many graduate and post-graduate programs are hesitant to accept students with FH diplomas because they lack the theoretical background considered necessary for rigorous academic work. This is changing, though, and younger professors and administrators tend to be more open-minded about degrees from Fachhochschulen.