Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Zentrum für Transdisziplinäre Geschlechterstudien

Tips for International Students

Moving abroad to study is an exciting opportunity — but it can also be a rather stressful experience. The ZtG strives to support all of its international students as they get acclimated to living and studying in Berlin. On this page you’ll find some information to help get you pointed in the right direction as you plan your studies and settle into the program.


The application process varies depending on what program you are seeking admission to. Below are links to program-specific requirements:

  • ERASMUS, Exchanges, and Research Programs (non-degree programs, information here).
  • Bachelor's and Master's Programs. To apply to degree programs at HU as a student without a degree from a German Gymnasium, you need to send your application to UniAssist. UniAssist checks to make sure that your degree fulfills the requirements set out by the HU. It is important to note, however, that UniAssist offers no advising to applicants. If you have questions, you need to go to the HU international applicant advising office. Should your current degree not qualify you for entrance to a BA program, you maybe be eligable for a year at the FU and HU's shared Studienkolleg, after which you would be a qualified  applicant to the German university system.
  • Doctoral and Post-doctoral Programs have no application deadline because the application depends on the approval of an individual's dissertation supervisor. Before applying, be sure to find out more about the German PhD, as well as enrollment requirements at the specific university and department you are applying to. 

However, regardless of which program you are applying to, we highly recommend that you get your application materials in at the beginning of the application period (Bewerbungsfrist). The date that is considered when determining if an application is valid is the date that the complete application packet arrivesnot the date that it is sent in the mail. Getting your materials in early gives HU and/or UniAssist the opportunity to notify you if anything is incorrect or missing with enough time for you to fix the problem.


Visas and Residence Permits

The student residence permit application procedure varies depending on your nation of origin. Most students will enter Germany on a Schengen entrance visa and then apply for their student residence permit after they are already registered at a residence in Berlin.

Prospective students can apply for a number of student residence permits depending on where they are in the application process. For example, students can apply for language learning visas, university study visas, or research visas.

  • Einreise Visum – Entrance Visa. While some students will be required to apply for an entrance visa and/or student residence permit in their home country, others (students from the USA, Canada and Israel for example) can enter the country on Schengen entrance visa, for which no application is necessary. Check with your country's embassy in Germany, and/or the Ausländerbehörde at the links above to be sure.
  • Aufenthaltserlaubnis – Residence Permit. While many English speakers may call their "Aufenthaltserlaubnis" a visa, it is really a permit to reside in Germany for a certain purpose. This permit outlines how long you may stay and what occupation(s) you may take up while in Germany. So it is really a medium-to-long-term visa+work+study permit rolled up into one.
  • Ausländerbehörde – Foreigner Registration Office. This is the office that will handle your visa and residence permit application (or extensions) in Berlin. If you've entered Germany on a Schengen visa, you will need an appointment after you've registered your address, but within 90 days of arrival. It is about a 15 minute walk from S-Bahnhof Westhafen or S & U-Bahnhof Wedding.
  • HU Visa Service. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you can bring your passport and visa (what is meant here is an Aufenhaltserlaubnis) application materials to the HU Visa Service. They can answer questions and often make the application on your behalf. 


Learning German

If you are interested in coming to Germany to take language classes, to prepare for the TestDAF (or equivalent), or if you would like to broaden your knowledge of the German language after you've already been accepted to a degree program, there are a number of places and ways that you can take language classes.

  • Berliner Volkshochschulen offer a broad range of classes in almost all neighborhoods in Berlin at highly competitve rates. Some locations may require you to enroll for German as a foreign language class in person, so be sure to write or call the school you're interested in to find out. 
  • Private language schools sometimes offer courses that aren't available elsewhere. There are a number of very popular private language schools in Berlin, among of the most popular are the Hartnack Schule, the GLS Sprachschule, and the semi-private Goethe Institut.
  • Freie Universität Vorkurs Deutsch is a 6-week intensive language program offered by Free University to all incoming exchange and international students, regardless of which Berlin university they will be enrolling in. The program takes place just before the start of both winter and summer semester. HU also offers a pre-semester program, but only to students coming to the HU through exchange programs, such as Erasmus students.
  • The HU Summer and Winter School is a program of college-level courses open to any one interested in participating. Credits may transfer, and many of the classes are themed or hands-on language classes.
  • FU Summer Language Classes are intensive language classes, offered at three levels A2/B1 (Grundstufe), B2/C1 (Mittelstufe/Obsterstufe), and B2.2/C1 (Obsterstufe). (If these level-designations are new to you, be sure to read this to find out more.)
  • Tandem partners offer not only a chance to have fun while practicing German, they are a chance to share what you love about your native language too. (And, more often than not, tandem partners become good friends.) There are a number of tandem exchange registration websites, for example at the HU, the FU, and the TU
  • The TestDAF and other German language tests. While it is technically possible to apply and be accepted to a German university before you have your language test results, it is not possible to enroll as a student before you've met the language requirements. We recommend that you get your results before applying. This gives you the chance to see if your German is strong enough for university life before it's time to enroll. It also takes the pressure off for after you've been accepted. If your language test scores are not available at the time of your acceptance, you will be required to present them before enrolling.


German as a Foreign Language Tests

Most degree programs at German universities require students to have C1-level German before they can enroll. Humboldt University requires proof of C1 level for all degree programs, and B2 level for the one year pre-university (Studienkolleg) program.

All German universities accept a number of language tests. The most popular is the TestDAF. If you don't (or can't) submit language test scores with your application, don't panic! Humboldt University will send you an invitation to take the HU's language test – the DSH, which is offered only by German Universities – together with your acceptance letter. You can then take the HU's DSH shortly before the start of your first semester. While you may be provisionally admitted without submitting test scores, you will only be able to enroll after either passing the HU-administered DSH, or submitting scores from another test. You'll find more specific information here

Some programs, such as exchange programs, will accept B1- or B2-level language capabilities. ERASMUS and other exchange students at HU are generally required to reach the B2 level on the language center's C-Test before they can enroll in classes. For many, that means participating in a B1.2-level intensive language program in the weeks before the semester starts. You'll find more information about Erasmus and exchange program language requirements here.


Living in Berlin

Berlin is a lively, and yet very livable city.  

  • Most German students, and especially students in Berlin, live together in small communal apartments called Wohngemeinschaften or WGs. You can find a room in a WG at a number places online, such as WG-Gesucht, Immowelt, and Studenten-WG.  
  • Studentenheime – Dormatories and Student Apartments are popular especially among international students. Studentenheime can be single dormatory rooms, or full apartments, depending on the location. All Studentenheime in Berlin are run by the Berlin Studentenwerk.
  • For some people, renting their own apartment may be the best option, and they are in good company– 85% of all Berliners rent. You’ll find a lot of good information and advice on renting an apartment at the Berlin Renter's Union (Berliner Mieterverein) and some good tips in English here.
  • Getting around in Berlin is easy. The public transportation system consists of buses, elevated trains, subways, and trams. Your semester ID card will include an unlimited public transportation pass for the Berlin area. You can check for the best connection to your destination here. In addition, most of the streets in Berlin have bike paths. If you’d like to look for a bike, you can check the Kleinanzeigen, and flea markets for second hand bikes (generally 50-150 Euro); or look at a bike shop for a new or used one (generally 200 Euro and up).


Advocacy, Advising, and Other Resources

In Berlin being away from family and friends doesn't mean being without a support network. There are a number of places international students can turn for help with a variety of problems.


Working and Finances

International students, like their German counterparts, are allowed to take up part time employment to help fund their studies. During the semester, no student is allowed to work more than 20 hours per week and maintain their student status. International university students are further restricted to working no more than 90, 8-hour days per year. You can get more information here.

  • If you need help finding a job, the Stellenwerk career portal offers a list of vacancies and help.
  • You can find postings for Studentische Hilfskraft, student assistants, at HU here. You are also eligible to work as a student assistant at any of the other universities, such as at FU or Potsdam.
  • Sometimes you can find employers seeking English or foreign-language speakers at websites such as craigslist, the local, and Kleinanzeigen. But please keep in mind that many of the positions are for freelancers, and therefore positions that only students who are EU citizens can legally fill. 
  • You can find a list of scholarships, fellowships, and federal student loans available to international students here


Learning the Ropes: German Academia

The German university requires students to be very independent. The beaurocratic jargon alone can be be overwhelming. To get you started, here’s an introduction to signing up for classes, understanding the credit system, and getting your grades.

Signing Up and Getting Online:

  • Enrolling After You’ve Been Admitted

After being admitted, you need to go to the Immatrikulationsbüro in person to hand in your enrollment forms. Every semester thereafter, you'll have to mail in a written form and wire the fees for the upcoming semester electronically.

  • Getting Online – HU Email and VPN

As a HU student you need a HU log-in name and password. You’ll be sent an assigned name and temporary password with, or shortly following, your acceptance letter. You can use that name and password to get into your HU email, Agnes, Moodle, and to access many of the library’s resources remotely by first logging into the HU’s VPN. You’ll find more information on all that here, and more on Agnes and Moodle below.

  • Signing Up for Classes – Agnes

You can look up what classes are available to fulfill your program requirements at the online course catalogue, Agnes. During course enrollment period, you should sign up for the classes you’d like to take online via Agnes. While there is a Nachfrist, or a late course enrollment period, signing up during the Nachfrist means that you are not guaranteed a place in the course if it is already filled.

  • Connecting to Your Classes – Moodle

Many classes will use the online platform Moodle to post readings, notify students of syllabus changes, and to help students contact their peers for presentations or projects. Teachers will typically announce on the first day of class if they have set up a moodle account, and if so, what the password to sign up for the class is. (Tip: After you first sign into moodle you have the opportunity to update your profile and a upload profile picture. While not required, it is often helpful to other students to have a picture to place with a name, especially when it comes time to find your presentation partners.)


Prüfungen – Earning Your Grades

When you take a class at a German university, you'll earn a certain number of credits just for participating (Teilnahme). Your participation will, however, not be graded. If you need a grade for a class, you'll have to sign up for a Prüfung. Prüfungen, or exams, can be written tests, oral exams, short papers, research papers, presentations, or a combination thereof. The type of exam you sign up for will depend on your professor and your program of study. That means, in the same class some students might need to take an oral exam, while others will write research papers, and others will give presentations. Below, you'll find more information about the regulations regarding different types of Prüfungen, as well as a quick overview to what the gender studies program requires (under "The Module System").

  • The Credit System – What is an LP?

Some classes take up more time in terms of classroom presence and preparation than others. Classes, therefore are given an LP (Leistungspunkte), or a credit, value. This is supposed to reflect the amount of work per week that should go into that class. That’s why students don’t generally sign up for a certain number of classes per semester, but rather a certain number of LPs, or credits. Students typically sign up for around 25-30 LPs-credits per semester, but there is no minimum number of LPs-credits required to be a full time student. Only you can know how many LPs-credits are too few or too many for you.

  • The Module System – What is an MAP? 

To complete a degree in gender studies, you have to complete a number of modules. A module is a combination of classes and Prüfungen centered around a certain theme, with a specific combined credit value. Students in gender studies will often use the acronym "MAP," which stands for "Modul Abschluss Prüfung," – "Module Completion Exam," to talk about the graded work they do to complete a module. Here you'll find links to PDF explainations (called the Studienordnung) of the modules required for the bachelor's and master's degrees. Exchange students are not bound to the module system.

  • Übung, Seminar, Vorlesung – Different Types of Classes

There are a number of different types of courses you can take. Each different course format is worth a different number of LP-credits. Here is a list of the types of courses offered within the gender studies department:

- Übung – similar to a "section" in the American system, an Übung provides students the opportunity to get aquainted with a subject, to practice applying a theory, or to investigate primary documents, etc.. Übungen do not typically prepare students to write research papers (Hausarbeiten), however, some students may write shorter essays or take oral exams for Übungen.

- Seminar – a seminar is a course in which students meet weekly to discuss readings. Students may write research papers (Hausarbeiten) for seminars, as well as take oral exams, or almost any other type of Prüfung (in gender studies, also called MAPs). Some seminars are further defined as "Pro-" or "Haupt-" seminars. Proseminaren are designed for bachelor's students, and Hauptseminaren are designed for master's students.

- Vorlesung – a Vorlesung is simply a lecture. Some students may sign up to take an oral or written test at the end of a the semester.

- Projekttutorium or Q-Tutorium - are conducted by groups of students, who learn together by working on a communal project. You'll find more information about Projekttutorien here and about Q-Tutorien here.

  • Hausarbeiten – Handing in Papers

All teachers in gender studies will ask you to register that you will be writing a paper on Agnes. This obligates you to writing the paper by a specific due date and allows teachers to distribute grades electronically. If you are taking a class outside of gender studies and haven’t been asked to register online, the professor will announce the due date in class or discuss it with you during office hours. Key here is communicating with your teachers. When in doubt, ask.

  • Klausuren – Tests and Exams

Some exams, such as oral exams, are taken directly with the professor. They therefore follow the same guidelines as papers – most teachers will ask you to register via Agnes in advance. Other exams, however, are centrally administered. To be eligible for those exams you must sign up ahead of time on Agnes. The deadline for signing up for exams is often weeks before the exam takes place, so don’t wait until the end of the semester to think about what exams you need to take! If you have questions about a specific exam, or the registration period, you should ask the Prüfungsbüro. Professors may have some limited information about centrally-administered exams, however, the Prüfungsbüro can answer all questions authoritatively.

  • Scheine – Getting Credit for Your Classes

A Schein is a piece of paper that certifies that you successfully participated in a class, and sometimes it includes information on the Prüfung you took, if applicable, and your grade. It basically consists of the course information, the teacher's signature, and the department secretary's stamp. You'll find links to the Scheinformulare (Schein forms) to print out for bachelor's, master's and exchange students here

It is a good idea to have your Schein with you in the last week of classes. Most teachers will sign Scheine at the end of their last class. If you do forget your Schein, you can sign up for office hours to collect it later.

Once you have your Schein filled out, you need to bring it to the Prüfungsbüro to have them give you credit for the courses you took. Gender studies professors will automatically submit any grades they are giving you by sending the grade along with the form you provide them and your Prüfung directly to the Prüfungsbüro. The results are then shared with you via Agnes. (However, if you take classes outside of gender studies, there is a chance that your professor could ask you to collect the grade and bring it to the Prüfungsbüro on your own.) 

If you have questions about how the Schein system in gender studies works, feel free to contact our academic advising office.

  • Understanding Your Grades

The German grading system is a scale of 1 to 6, where 1 is the best, 3 is a passing, and anything below a 4 is a failing grade. Teachers give grades in between whole numbers (such as 1.3, or 2.7) to further refine them. In general, grades are translated and described as follows:
1-1.3 (excellent), 1.7-2.3 (good), 2.7-3.3 (satisfactory), 3.7-4.0 (sufficient), less than 4.0 (not sufficient)


The Library System

There are a number of libraries available to HU students in Berlin. While searching for books, it is important to remember that the library system is decentralized. That means it is worthwhile to look through the catalogues of as many libraries as possible, or the KOBV, which can conduct a simultaneous search of multiple libraries in Berlin, Brandenburg and throughout Germany.

If you have questions about the library system, we highly recommend that you visit the Gender Library. There, you’ll find courses on conducting searches for academic literature, and a whole lot more.

Here are some links to get you started:

  • Research

Comprehensive all-HU search engine: Primus
Academic Journal Databases (Zeitschriftendatenbanken): EZB and ZDB
Berlin-Brandenburg Libraries Simultaneous Search: KOBV

  • Libraries

Grimm Zentrum
Gender Library
Other HU-Subject Libraries
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
Berlin Public Libraries
Free University Libraries
TU Libraries