Are university studies right for me? What does a university degree involve? Where should I study? How do I pay for my studies? These are some of the questions people ask themselves when they're thinking about whether they should pursue a university degree. We've compiled the information you need to consider before you decide for or against going to university.
1. University degree, apprenticeship or cooperative degree programme?
- With a university degree, you can develop yourself personally, professionally and intellectually, expanding your horizons in many directions and gaining in-depth knowledge of an academic area.
- You don't need much more time to complete a Bachelor's degree than you would for an apprenticeship (six to seven semesters, or three to three and a half years).
- A Bachelor's degree enables you to do a Master's degree (standard programme length: three to four semesters) and a subsequent doctoral degree at a university.
- A university degree generally provides you with a wider range of career-entry and further-education opportunities, as well as better career positions than an apprenticeship. This is usually linked to higher earnings.
- Certain qualifications can only be obtained through a university degree – for example, to work as a doctor or an engineer.
- The unemployment rate for people with a degree is significantly lower than for people who haven't studied. HAW Hamburg graduates in particular often experience a quick and secure start to their careers.
- An apprenticeship enables early financial independence, making it possible for you to support yourself.
- If you are most interested in or feel most suited to practical and organisational tasks, a vocational apprenticeship may be more appropriate for you than a university degree.
- It is still possible to study after completing an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship can be helpful as preparation or orientation for a subsequent university degree course.
- You can find more information about apprenticeships at
- Your studies will be more practice oriented. You will complete your pre-study practice, your main internship, your Bachelor's thesis, and your projects and research papers at the company or organisation where you are employed. A cooperative degree programme is therefore ideal for people with theoretical and practical interests who want their education to focus on the application of their skills.
- The company or organisation where you have your apprenticeship or internship contract pays you a monthly salary for a regular study period of six to nine semesters because you work there during your semester breaks.
- It is usually necessary to submit your application for a cooperative degree programme a year in advance of the start date. You should be highly motivated to learn and demonstrate a great deal of commitment. This will help you successfully manage the course's demands and convince employers that you are the right choice.
2. Are university studies right for me?
- Ideally you have solid school-level knowledge of the subjects required in the degree course. You should look closely at the curriculum and the module handbook for the particular degree. Take time to understand what the individual subjects mean.
- You can take the online self-test (HAW navigator) (in German only) for the specific degree course to test your expectations and skills based on information about the course and typical practice exercises.
- You can use the video-based and interactive viaMint (in German only) prep courses to test and practice your math skills and learn anything else you need to know. This is especially useful for technical and engineering-related subjects.
- You have a strong interest in the subject matter of the particular degree course.
- You enjoy acquiring new knowledge and are prepared to deal with theoretical questions.
- You are well organised and able to work very independently. You have excellent study skills, are willing to learn on your own, can manage your time effectively and are self-disciplined. This makes it possible for you to cope with the significantly increased performance demands relative to school.
If you are not sure whether university studies are right for you, take some time to think about the following questions:
- Do I enjoy thinking about complicated questions and theoretical subject matter?
- How good am I at working independently?
- Which subjects do I like (school grades can reflect subject-related abilities)? Does the degree I want to study reflect this?
- Am I motivated enough to also get through rough patches during my studies?
- Do the degree course and the career it leads to fit with how I imagine my future?
The risk that people will drop out of their university degree course because it doesn't live up to their expectations is high. This is why it is important to look closely at the subject matter and structure of the degree course in advance, as well as the accompanying demands, and to think carefully about your own motivations:
- Find out about opportunities to 'try out' university studies. For example, ask if you could visit a lecture from a particular degree course.
- If you already have some ideas – or doubts or questions – come in person to the Student Counselling Team.
- Talk to your friends and family. Ask them what they think would best suit your personality.
- Talk with students from the different subject areas. For instance, you could attend a HAW Insight event, where prospective students can get information from the students in a particular degree course.
- Use the online self-testing tools: the HAW navigators and the Federal Employment Agency's self-assessment tool.
- Sleep for a night on all the information you've gathered, and then try to get a sense of what feels best to you. Ultimately you are the one who has to make the decision.
- Recognise that (important) decisions take time and that doubts are normal. Even detours aren't a bad thing; in the process you'll know more and more.
And what if I make the 'wrong' decision?
- Don't be afraid to take the next step. In most cases you can reverse this 'wrong' decision without significant consequences if you recognise it early and take it seriously.
- And if you look at the situation from a different perspective, it isn't even possible to make the wrong decision. At every point in time you make exactly the decision that is best for you at that time. This means the decision was right, otherwise you would have decided differently.
3. What does doing a degree involve?
Some degree courses require pre-course experience or an internship that prepares students for the course. In most cases an orientation unit is offered at the beginning of the degree course. In the first part of the degree, foundational knowledge is taught. This knowledge is then built upon and deepened in the second part of the degree through the practice-oriented phase, among other things. A Bachelor's degree ends with the writing of a Bachelor's thesis. A Master's degree ends with the writing of a Master's thesis.
Depending on the degree course you will be awarded a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) or a Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.). The standard programme length is six to eight semesters. A Bachelor's degree qualifies you to carry out a specific occupation. This means that you can take up employment directly after graduation.
Alternatively, you can follow-up your Bachelor's degree with a Master of Arts (M.A.), a Master of Science (M.Sc.) or a Master of Engineering (M.Eng.). The standard programme length is two to four semesters. This degree qualification is comparable to a Magister or Diplom qualification from a German university. A Master's degree with a good grade makes it possible to undertake doctoral studies at a university or in cooperation with a university.
A semester is made up of a lecture period and a subsequent lecture-free period. During the lecture period, courses and modules take place over several weeks (15–19 weeks). During this time you will usually attend lectures, seminars, tutorials and other teaching units each week. If you are studying full-time, you will spend approximately 20 to 25 hours per week at the university in these courses. You will spend another 20 hours working independently on your studies (preparation and follow-up, group work, etc.). During the lecture-free period (approximately 5–12 weeks) you will complete your exams and be able to use the free time for studying, internships and similar activities.
You can find detailed information about the exams and the structure of the degree courses in the Course and Examination Regulations and in the module handbook for the particular degree course. These documents are usually available on the individual degree course pages.
A degree course is generally divided into modules. Each module deals with an overarching topic in different course formats (e.g. lectures, seminars) over one or two semesters. At the end of the module your knowledge is tested in a module exam.
A lecture usually provides an overview of a topic. An instructor holds a larger-scale lesson for roughly 90 minutes. The students write down the most important points. You don't usually have to sign up for this unit. Preparing for and following up on the lecture materials is important preparation for the exam.
In a seminar, the course content is usually examined in more depth. There is more discussion between the students and the instructor. Because of the limited number of places, you generally need to register before the beginning of the semester.
Some lectures are accompanied by exercises which examine certain topics and questions in a concrete and practice-oriented manner.
Tutorials are usually led by more advanced students. These sessions are used to review the more difficult material from the lectures or seminars and to practice scientific techniques.
In the lab courses students can conduct experiments on particular topics in small groups and apply the theoretical material in a practice setting.
Assessments take the form of extended essays, seminar essays, tests, written exams, oral exams and presentations. These are usually given a grade.
Credit points do not have to do with grades. They represent a course's workload, including preparation and follow-up time. One credit point (CP) is roughly equivalent to 25 to 30 hours of work. Students generally complete 30 CPs per semester and 180 for a six-semester Bachelor's degree course.
The number of credit points awarded for each module (which consists of several courses and teaching formats) varies and depends on the number of courses, the material, and the amount of reading. Some modules count for only a few CPs and others count for up to 15 CPs. In some cases students can receive the CPs simply for participating, in others for completing particular assessments – for example, an extended essay, a presentation, exams or tests.
The results from all the modules and the Bachelor's thesis are calculated to obtain an overall grade, which is later stated on the degree certificate. The grades are weighted differently depending on each module's workload. The modules with more credit points are weighted more heavily. These regulations are based on the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), which is intended to make academic achievements across Europe comparable.
4. A university of applied sciences or a conventional university?
In contrast to conventional universities, applied sciences universities are generally more practice oriented:
- They provide contact to companies and institutions through internships and final thesis projects.
- The instructors come from the professional field they teach about and maintain close ties to practitioners.
- They allow students to apply what they are learning in labs, workshops, studios, etc. and to regularly carry out projects during their studies.
The lecture period is approximately 18 weeks at applied sciences universities and 15 weeks at conventional universities. Accordingly, the lecture-free period at universities is longer than at applied sciences universities. Exams at conventional universities often take place throughout the entire lecture-free period, while at applied sciences universities a compact exam period of one to two weeks follows the lecture period.
The length of the degree courses is another frequent difference between the university types: the Bachelor's degree courses at applied sciences universities are often seven semesters long, while at universities they are normally six semesters long. Graduates of both types of universities have equally good labour market prospects, but applied sciences graduates generally find jobs more quickly after completing their Bachelor's degree due the practical orientation of their studies. Students who want to continue on to do a Master's degree will find that most applied sciences universities offer three-semester programmes, whereas conventional universities usually offer four-semester programmes.
To attend university you generally need to have a higher-education entrance qualification equivalent to the German Abitur; you can attend an applied sciences university if you have a higher-education entrance qualification equivalent to the German Fachhochschulreife.
Studying at a university would be advisable if you
- would like to engage methodologically and theoretically with an area of study (the amount of time spent learning independently is somewhat higher at a conventional university than at an applied sciences university),
- want to work in academia and research,
- would like to do a PhD,
- are well organised.
Studying at an applied sciences university would be advisable if you
- are looking for a practice-oriented degree course,
- prefer learning in small seminar groups rather than large, impersonal lectures,
- want more structure and clarity – applied sciences universities are generally smaller and more manageable and the organisation of the degree courses provides more structure.
5. What support is available?
When the lecture period starts, so-called 'orientation units' are offered. The format varies between departments and degree courses. Additionally, almost all technical degree courses offer supplementary math courses, which usually start two weeks before the lectures begin.
The student-orientation team helps you at the beginning of your studies by offering weekly first-semester tutorials led by more advanced students. All the issues and questions that arise at the start of your studies can be discussed here – for example, questions about study skills, time management, exams, study abroad, and much more.
The departmental advisor for each degree course is responsible for content-related questions. You can find the contact person, address and office hours on the department website or on the specific degree course page.
You should definitely plan for a bigger learning workload than at school and make sure you allow enough prep and follow-up time. Study and learn on an ongoing basis, set-up study groups, and use the advisory and support services that are available.
If you are having difficulty learning and staying motivated or you have exam anxiety, take advantage of the support services offered by the Student Counselling Team – for example, by taking a study-skills seminar or having a one-on-one conversation. The HAW Hamburg student-orientation team helps you at the beginning of your studies by offering regular tutorials led by more advanced students.
In general, you can repeat exams up to two times. You can find more information about the rules for your degree course in the Examination Regulations. You can also turn to the Student Counselling Team or the student advisor for your degree course.
You can contact the International Office, your faculty's student-exchange coordinator or the contact people in your department. They will help you organise your stay abroad and give you tips on programmes and scholarship opportunities.
If you have a child, university studies can be particularly challenging. For this reason, the Student Counselling Team, the Family Office, the Students' Union and the Studierendenwerk Hamburg offer special services for students who are parents or parents-to-be.
Studying when you have a child
Students or prospective students with health-related impairments often have questions or experience difficulties that require individualised support and information. Prof. Dr. Dieter Röh and his colleague Meike Butenob represent and look after their interests. Katrin Schumann is the contact person in the Student Counselling Team.
6. How much does it cost to study? Is there funding available?
You are required to pay a semester contribution at the beginning of each semester. It includes fees for the Studierendenwerk, the Students' Union (AStA), the hardship fund, the semester ticket for public transport and an administrative fee.
There are also some professional Master's degree courses which charge extra fees.
The first thing you should do is determine whether you are eligible for BAföG (federal financial aid). This funding, allocated in accordance with the Federal Training Assistance Act, is the most economical form of student financial aid. Following the fourth semester of study, students are required to provide a record of study to date. In general, half of the monthly BAföG amount is given to students as a grant. The other half is an interest-free loan that does not have to be repaid until the completion of studies, as income-dependent instalments.
You will only receive this funding as of the application date, never retroactively. For this reason, it is very important to obtain information from the Studienfinanzierung des Studierendenwerks (Advising Centre for Student Financial Aid). They will also advise you of other funding possibilities.
Another option is to obtain funding through scholarships, training loans, education funds, or part-time jobs:
The degree courses are generally full-time, which means you need to plan for approximately 20 to 25 hours of on-campus study time per week as well as approximately 15 to 20 hours of prep and follow-up time. This makes combining work and study difficult.
Nevertheless, this is the reality for many students. If you have to or want to work, you should be prepared for your degree to possibly take longer than the standard amount of time.
In addition, special rules may apply. For example, in order keep your student health insurance coverage, you may not work more than 20 hours a week during the semester.