Hallo meine Lieben,
First of all, congratulations on the study abroad application results, I hope you all got the option you wanted – and wherever you do end up going, it’s going to be amazing!
It is so weird that the second semester in Glasgow is quickly coming to an end, while my first semester in Berlin isn’t even done and finished. The teaching period did end two weeks ago, but I’m still busy with my essays. Now that it actually looks like I will be able to gather the credits I need for this semester
and to procrastinate a tiny bit, I thought I should share you my wisdom with tackling the scary world that is the German university credit system. My initial image of German universities was the same as the stereotype of the German people: organised and punctual. However, very soon into the start of my studies, this image came crashing down. Let me explain.
(This is how I felt in the beginning of the semester, lost and and with an urgent need to sit next to the Spree with my gaze down, pondering the difficulties of a new university system)
Across the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, different faculties have very different customs regarding the course selection and forms of assessment. So, I can only speak of my experience on how things are handled at my faculty, the faculty of Theology. I’m in a great position, as I can basically pick any courses I want from my faculty or any other one, as long as 1) I can relate it to my degree; 2) the professor teaching the course approves; 3) my Erasmus coordinators both in Berlin and Glasgow approve. Universities in Berlin do a lot of co-operation as well, so if the previous three conditions are fulfilled, I can also choose courses at the Freie Universität.
So, let’s get to the credits: during your Erasmus year, you’re expected to gather 60 ECTS credits (30 ECTS per semester) per year to correlate with the 120 credits you would do in a year in Glasgow. As if you needed a third credit system to confuse your poor brain, at Humboldt they talk about SWS (Semesterwochenstunden),’semester weekly hours’. It simply means the amount of teaching you have for that course – for example, a weekly two-hour-seminar is 2 SWS. For one SWS, you will be awarded 1,5 ECTS and you get these points by merely attending the class. So, for a weekly two-hour-seminar you get 3 ECTS (2 SWS), and then in order to get a grade and more credits, you’re expected to do some sort of an assignment, depending on the nature of the course / what the professor wants / what you want. It can be either a presentation, a written or an oral exam or an essay to name a few options. For presentations and exams you get 1 ECTS and for essays you get 1 ECTS per five pages. However, some courses, like language courses or courses designed for exchange students, use ECTS and have the assignment included in the amount of credits presented.
At the end of the course, the professor will have to sign a Leistungsnachweis (a transcript of records), stating how many SWS the course entailed and stating the form of assessment you did and what grade you got. You should hold on to this piece of paper with all you have in you, as it’s the only proof there is that you actually attended the course (How about digitalisation in 2017?).
My calculation for the first semester looked like this:
3 ECTS + 2 ECTS (essay)
3 ECTS + 2 ECTS (essay)
3 ECTS + 1 ECTS (assignment)
This vagueness of assignments really confused me with some courses, as when I decided I wanted to do an essay, the professors did not provide me with a deadline (?!?! ‘You’re staying for the second semester, right? There’s really no hurry, just get it done sooner or later!’) or a topic (good practice for dissertation here). So, if independence and setting your own deadlines are your virtues, good on you – if not, now it’s the time to learn the art of it! I for one found it very challenging after being used to Glasgow Uni’s straightforwardness with learning outcomes, essay topics, deadlines and exam dates. It is up to you and only you that you’ll get enough credits and good communication with professors is essential.
I hope you understood something of my ramble – it sounds more complicated than it actually is, it just requires some getting used to. The system is not necessarily good or bad, it is just different from Glasgow and depends on what you prefer. Initially I was horrified, but after holding the grasp of it I’m actually grateful for the new kind of a challenge I got because of it. Next semester will be a lot easier now that I know how to handle this!
As always, whether it is about the credits or general Erasmus life, feel free to contact me for advice: firstname.lastname@example.org.