19 March, 2015

Graduate School, Here I Come!

There's been an important development in my life recently that it's about time to share: I was accepted into a Masters degree program at the Stiftung Universität Hildesheim in Hildesheim, Germany! I'll be studying Internationale Fachkommunikation - Sprachen und Technik (International Communication - Languages and Technology) for the next two or maybe two and a half years (or as the Germans say, for four or five semesters).

The red dot is Hildesheim. (Image source: Location of Hildesheim in map of Germany.) It's a 5.5 hour drive from where I live now, near the southern border of Germany.

I was notified of my acceptance unofficially on March 5th and finally got my official acceptance letter in the mail more than a week later (I think on the 14th). Waiting a little over a week for an acceptance letter wouldn't normally be a big deal, but to me it was, and here's why: I only have until March 31st (12 days and counting!) to get all the paperwork sent in to claim my place at the university, and then classes start on April 13th (25 days). I feel like my life now revolves around shuffling papers or thinking about said papers, and I just don't know how I will have time to get it all done.

This is my one huge critique of the German university admissions process: everything is done SO last minute! This is especially true for this particular Masters program, because the application deadline wasn't until February 28th, or six weeks before the semester starts. Normally all the application deadlines for the summer semester (the upcoming one that starts in April) are in January, but for some reason this program does things on an even tighter schedule than everyone else.

If I were applying for Masters programs in the US, I would be doing all the same things I'm doing now but for the fall semester, which starts in September. I would have submitted my applications around the same time (January 15th), I would have gotten acceptances (or rejections; I've gotten one of those here in Germany too) sometime in February or March, and I would have until May 1st to commit to a particular university. After that May 1st deadline, the paperwork would start: enrollment, health insurance, housing, signing up for classes, etc. As you can tell by my current tight schedule, the excess time given to applicants at American universities is not the case here.

I now have two weeks to submit paperwork for health insurance, enrollment at the university, my rent contract and personal liability insurance (which I need for the rent contract). But I can't do these things all at once; no, that would be too easy. Germans love certificates, so I have to do things in a specific order and get the right certificates to prove that I have taken all the necessary steps, and I can't take the next step until I have the proper certificate from the previous step. In order to apply for German public health insurance at the student rate, I had to wait for my Zulassung, or the official acceptance letter I mentioned above. Now that I have my Zulassung and I've submitted it with my health insurance paperwork, I have to wait for written confirmation of insurance coverage (which will take about a week to arrive) so I can submit that along with my enrollment paperwork to the university. After I submit the enrollment forms to the university, I have to wait -- I have no idea how long -- for my official certificate of enrollment, or Immatrikulationsbescheinigung (yes, I promise it's a real word), and submit that with my rent contract. Did I mention that all of these things have to arrive at their respective destinations before March 31st? And that I'm probably moving to Hildesheim on April 1st? I know now why people dislike German bureaucracy.

And I haven't even mentioned my visa yet. I'm currently in Germany on a 90-day tourist visa, one of the benefits afforded to me as an American citizen in Europe. I'm allowed to enter Germany unannounced (meaning without a visa) and remain here for 90 days before I either need to leave or procure another type of visa. Those 90 days expire on April 10th, which means I will have 9 days after moving to Hildesheim to register my residency with the appropriate office (a requirement for anyone moving into or within Germany) and then submit my student visa application to a different office. There is no way that the visa will be processed before April 10th, so I will once again (same as during my last visa process) be in a legal grey zone after my tourist visa expires and before I get my new student visa. As long as I submit the application before April 10th I should be fine, but it still stresses me out to even think about it.

Which brings me back to my frustration with the university for giving me so little time to do all of this stuff. Don't they realize that people need time? It's like the university has never dealt with admitting students before, or maybe they just don't realize that people, especially international students, need time to figure these things out and don't just magically have all the right paperwork or, you know, a place to live. This is one of the few completely non-sensical things I've discovered about how things are done in Germany, but since it's Germany, it's not going to change anytime soon. That's how it's done and I just have to deal with the stress.

What I should be focusing on is... I GOT IN! I was accepted to my first-choice university, I can legally stay in Germany, I will have a focus in life again and, best of all, I will finish this experience with a Masters degree, something I didn't even dare to consider in the US because of insane tuition costs. I certainly have a lot to be excited about.

Now I just hope all the paperwork arrives on time...


  1. gawd German bureaucracy is hell! That's an incredibly tight time frame! Too bad if you need to move house or find a new job (like most people)!

    1. Yeah, it's like no one at the uni has ever done something like this before. How can they think this is enough time to comfortably complete all the necessary steps? Luckily housing sort of fell into my lap, otherwise I would also have apartment hunting on my list of stress-inducing tasks. At least I sent my Mietvertrag (rent contract) today, but I'm still waiting for one of the papers that is supposed to go with it. There's no way that paper will arrive in time, so I got permission from the dorm I'll be living in to send the contract without it.