Studying as a Free-mover in Germany - The Alternative to Exchange

One of the biggest reasons why many students decide not to study abroad is the cost. In Europe, this has been address through the Erasmus program, which provides scholarships for exchange within the EU and a few neighboring countries, and through national organizations like the DAAD, which provides students enrolled in German universities with funding to study abroad. Unfortunately for many American students interested in studying abroad, even though scholarships are available, they often don't completely offset the additional costs.

One way to experience studying abroad without the stress of paying your home tuition is to study as a free mover exchange student. As a free mover you organize your study abroad on your own, without participating in an exchange program. This means that you won't have any support from your home university in the process, but it also means that you won't have to pay tuition to your home university during your studies.

There are a few things to keep in mind before you apply to a German university as a free-mover.

  1. You'll need to speak proficient German. Requirements vary by university, but generally you'll have to prove B2 level proficiency or better.
  2. You'll need to have a background in the subject of the program you apply to. Most programs will require at least three semesters of prior experience as evidenced by your home university transcripts
  3. It isn't possible to earn a degree a free mover, but it is possible to change your status. If you discover that you really like the program and want to stay, you can apply to become a degree-seeking student.
  4. Space is limited, and the selection process is strict. 
  5. You won't be able to apply as a free mover if your home university has an exchange agreement with the university where you want to study.

Before you apply, it's important to talk to the department in which you want to study and to make sure that your home academic department will accept the credits when you return. Otherwise, you may be in for a rude awakening.