The German Academic System



The structure of the modern German academic system goes back to Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767 – 1835). Von Humboldt called for the “unity of research and teaching,” which explains the strong emphasis of German colleges on science and research. Scientific expertise and methods are imparted in a way that facilitates a flexible and sophisticated application of this knowledge.

German universities apply the so-called principle of “academic freedom,” which means that in many degree programs students do not have a fixed class schedule and are not obliged to take certain courses. Teachers and scientists can also choose topics of research and courses relatively independently. Apart from regular universities there are also the so-called universities of applied sciences, which rather focus on application-oriented teaching and practical knowledge.



RPTU has been divided up into different departments (Fachbereiche). Each department will have subdivisions like institutes (Institute), teaching areas (Lehrgebiete), study groups (Arbeitsgemeinschaft: AG), or divisions (Abteilung). The Department of Mechanical Engineering, for example, has a Division of Materials Science: Each division, institute, study group, or department is chaired by a professor and employs teaching staff for individual areas or subjects of study.

Common degrees at German universities were DiplomMagister and Staatsexamen. However, the German university and college system has been undergoing a reformation (Bologna - Process) to create a uniform system of higher education across Europe.

For this reason, Kaiserslautern University offers standardized degrees in the form of Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes, with features like:

  • a modularised structure
  • course exams
  • a credit point system

The Bachelor's degree represents the first academic degree and takes around three to four years to complete. After finishing, you can decide whether to join the workforce or to continue studying in a Master's degree program (corresponding to the German diploma).

The Master's degree is the second professional degree. However, each Master's degree also has its own specific admissions requirements. The standard period of study averages between two to five semesters.The Master's degree can be subdivided into two categories:

  • Consecutive Master's degree programs are study programs which do not require working experience prior to the begin of studies.
  • Continuing education programs are established as Master's degree programs. These study programs are based on Bachelor's degree and professional activity before the begin of studies.

All completed course requirements are converted into ECTS points, the Europe-wide standard for documenting progress in a course of study.

In German universities the academic year is divided into two semesters, the winter semester (WS), starting on October 1st and the summer semester (SS), starting on April 1st. Please make sure to have acquired your new student ID by these dates.

The lectures normally start a few weeks later.

The period between the semesters are instruction- free period of two or three months duration. These are not vacation as during these period students take rest and their respective semester exams, prepare for final exams, undertake practical work experiences and complete term papers.

  • You should begin planning your timetable as early as possible. Generally speaking, although there is an example of an appropriate time table included in the schedule, you do not inevitably have to stick to it. You will not find any fixed schedules in the German university system!
  • When you do not have enough time for particular courses during a semester, e.g., due to a language course, you can make up these classes during the following semester, or even later.
  • Please get the examination policy of your subject as quickly as you can. The examination policy contains detailed information about the lectures, seminars etc. you must attend during your studies.
  • Usually, there is no fixed lecture timetable but only recommendations about which subject should be taken in which semester. However, you are normally free to change the recommended timetable. But keep in mind that the examination policy can contain limitations (i.e. subject xy must be passed until 4th semester)
  • Note: Some courses are prerequisites for others, meaning you could eventually fall behind and exceed the time granted in your study account!
  • It is always good to seriously consider whether and for how long to put off taking a lecture course! This is especially applicable to the Master’s program, in these programs the choice of lectures is very often limited!
  • However, you are welcome to take part in additional courses which are not restricted to your subjects. Within the scope of the "Studium Integrale", these courses are accessible to all students.
  • If you have any questions, you can turn to the head of the particular department, the advisor or the student body representatives ("Fachschaft") of your department at any time.


The following terms which describe the form of the classes appear frequently in the list of courses and in the lecture timetable:


During a lecture ("Vorlesung"), a professor presents a different topic every week. Taken together, the lectures presented over the course of a semester deal with a comprehensive subject area, a new aspect of which is discussed in more detail each week. Usually, only the professor speaks during a lecture, though questions are welcome. Students are encouraged to take notes, as the content and structure of the lectures are often relevant for exams.

Guided Tutorial

Guided tutorials ("Übung") accompany certain lectures within the basic course or Bachelor’s program. Under the guidance of a Tutor (student assistant), students work on exercise sheets dealing with certain topics of the lecture. The advantages of this format are small group sizes and direct contact with the instructor. At the beginning of the semester, you will usually have to sign up for these classes, either on the faculty notice board (schwarzes Brett) or online: Make sure not to miss the deadline!


Seminars are led by a lecturer, but they are based on the students’ collective work. In the course of a semester or during a shorter period (block seminar), students work together to study special subject areas. Students attending a seminar must write and present a seminar paper as well as pass an exam in order to receive a "Schein" (Certificate) and a passing mark.

Independent Group Project

In a independent group project ("Tutorium" or "Lern- und Arbeitsgruppe"), students work independently on particular subjects in small groups (under the guidance of a tutor or a lecturer). The project can be in conjunction with a seminar, or it can specifically serve to prepare for an exam.


During a semester, every department offers excursions ("Exkursion") to research facilities, project sites or domestic or international companies. For example, sometimes these are even required constituents of your course of studies. Participation is limited and is usually based on certain prerequisites (participation in a special seminar or a particular semester level). The department manages the organisation of the excursion; students only have to pay a contribution to help cover costs.

Written Exam

  • In a written exam ("Schriftliche Prüfung"), the exam questions deal with the contents of a lecture or a seminar. Usually, the lecturer gives some advice and hints as to the type of questions asked.
  • When you appear for an exam, you must bring your national identity card or passport, as well as your student I.D.
  • Exams are mostly graded (grades from 1.0 to 5.0, with 1.0 being the highest), but you need grades of at least 4.0 to pass. Once you have received grade of your exam, it is possible to review your corrected exam. This is usually done at the department’s offices.

Oral Exam

  • Like written exams, oral exams ("Mündliche Prüfung") are also given at the end of a seminar or a lecture.
  • In presence of an examiner, your lecturer will ask you questions about a previously agreed subject area, or about the content of a particular course.

Please note:

  • you have to sign up for all exams
  • The exact examination procedure, however, depends on your program; in all cases, though, it is vital that you remember the registration deadline!
  • If you want to receive more information: read the examination policy or ask your examination office or the student body representatives for your department!