I Finally Finished My First Semester

I have just finished my first semester of graduate school in Germany. What do I think?

It’s difficult. I took four classes for my Master’s program and two German classes. That’s quite a lot already. Add in the unfamiliar education system and professors’ accents, and I’m pretty confused on an average day.

During my undergraduate studies in the States we just had “classes.” Sometimes those classes came with a lab, but in general we only had one type of class. However, the way the professors taught varied from class to class and day to day.

In Germany, to put it simply, we have lectures, seminars, and tutorials. Lectures are the classes in which the professor, well, lectures. Seminars on the other hand are more discussion-based.

Tutorials are something different altogether. They are sessions taught by students or someone other than your lecture professor. Tutorials are a chance to ask questions and further discuss the material, often with solutions to practice problems if it’s that kind of class.

Another major difference is the composition of the final grade. In the States I’ve always had a lot of papers, homework sets, lab reports, chapter tests, midterms, etc. They’ve been a lot of work, but it was a great way to benchmark progress and know how you’re doing. With all that work, your final exam almost always counted for less than 50% of your final grade.

With my classes here, and perhaps graduate studies in general, there is a lot less work to hand in. The few assignments and exams you do constitute a big part of your final grade. In one of my classes, the final exam is worth 100% of the final grade, and nothing else influences it. Terrifying.

Perhaps the best and worst part at the same time is the independence you have. Graduate school expects you to take care of yourself. No professor will follow up if they think you’re struggling or excessively remind you to hand in your paper. This can be both a blessing and a curse. I’m glad that I’m able to be more autonomous, but annoyed sometimes that the professors seem so distant and unapproachable compared to my small liberal arts college professors.

Except for one term paper, I’m done. I finished my last exam on Friday. Now I just have to endure the long wait for my grades and see how I did. Other than that, I have the whole break to work, relax, and prepare for the next semester.



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