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Studying in Germany and then coming back to the US?

  1. Jul 11, 2014 #1
    Hey everyone! I'm going to be a college freshmen this year. I will be doing at least one year of college in the US, I am going to Rhodes College. However, it is rather expensive for me (even with scholarships, I need to take out about $20,000 in loans per year). That amounts seems like it will haunt me and I don't think it's a good idea to take out that much. However, I've taken german in highschool and I have a few friends who live in germany. This has made me think about going to germany to study in college. My list of possible colleges has LMU Munich, TU Berlin, and ETH Zurich(switzerland). I'm actually set to go there after taking some intensive german courses for the next year, except for a few issues I'm having.

    First, say I did a bachelors in physics in Germany and then decided I wanted to come back to the US for graduate studies. Would my prospects of getting into grad school here with scholarship/internship be hurt if I were to study and do research in germany as opposed to studying and doing research in the US?

    Secondly, if I were to do my complete bachelors And graduate studies in germany, and wanted to come work as a teacher or a researcher in the US, what would my prospects be? Would I have extra difficulty finding a job or degree recognition in the US, coming with a german degree? An example of a place I think I'd like working at is Oak Ridge Labs, in TN. If anyone has any insights on this type of thing, I'd love to know more. Thanks!

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  3. Jul 12, 2014 #2
    Why do you think a bachelor's degree in Germany for a US citizen (?) will be any cheaper than in the US? And second of all no bachelor's degree in physics is worth going into 80,000 dollars in debt for.
  4. Jul 12, 2014 #3

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    It's probably too soon to plan for graduate school. These are fine universities. Be aware that these are all very expensive cities to live in.

    I took German in college. I find Schweizerdeutsch incomprehensible.
  5. Jul 12, 2014 #4
    I think that if you go to Germany with a student visa, the colleges are free there? Or close to it. I'd also read that "on campus" rooming wasn't overtly expensive, somewhere around $200-300?

    Though, language may be a bit of a problem in switzerland. I'm going to try and see if I can find some courses for it here though. Why do you think it's too early to plan for grad school? I mostly just don't want to regret studying outside of the US as far as a career in concerned
  6. Jul 12, 2014 #5


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    They are. You pay from ~100 to 1000€ per 6 months (plus living expenses of course).

    Depends on the region, there are variants I don't understand at all, and German is my native language. Fortunately the Swiss can speak German as well.

    That would be cheap (even in € or SFR). Don't expect that everywhere.
    You can see two prices here for the same thing - one without heating/power/water ("Kaltmiete" - literally "cold rent") and one with ("Warmmiete" - "warm rent").

    In physics, Master/PhD courses are often in English, Bachelor courses can be in English.
  7. Jul 13, 2014 #6
    I did some more research and it seems like I wouldn't get any financial benefit from studying in Switzerland. Actually, it may be the opposite, since living is so expensive. Fortunately however, Germany still seems relatively cheap. I'd imagine I wold understand German a lot easier than Swiss German as well. But I guess that still leaves the initial concern, would a physics degree from germany be worth anything coming back to the US and wanting a University/Researcher position?
  8. Jul 14, 2014 #7


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    Dear zonova,
    you are right that studying in Germany would be much cheaper than in the US. I personally studied in Dresden, which was (and I guess still is) one of the cheapest places to live in the entire western world. I highly recommend it. As a EU citizen one could probably qualify for studying aid (BAFöG), but I think this does not apply to US citizens.

    The quality of education is very good, but the style of studying is different to the US. Basically, you are expected to be self-motivated, highly organized, and to work hard on your own account. If you do not do that, no one will come and take your hand. This is not for everyone---I have seen extremely intelligent people fail in this environment due to a lack of organization. But if you can deal with this, it is highly effective.

    As for going back to the US: I guess applications to US graduate schools could be hurt if you have a German B.Sc., as not everyone understands that the 3-year bachelor in Germany (and many other European countries) puts one on the same level as a 4-year Bachelor in the US (because the former contains nearly no general education and starts with more assumed prerequisites, which are assumed to have been prepared in A-Levels/Abitur/Matura/etc. by the point of starting with the B.Sc.). However, I have seen a number of German PhD students a top universities in the US, so admission is possible.

    Going back after a Masters may also be a problem, as doing the Masters is common in Europe, but not in the US. They would typically treat someone with a M.Sc. degree at the same level as people with a US B.Sc. degree, which means you would likely have to repeat much coursework if going to an US graduate school after a M.Sc..

    Going as postdoc, however, is perfectly fine. I do not know about applications to national labs. Applications to faculty positions also could be somewhat hurt, because a strong US network is generally required in order to be considered (in the US process letters of recommendation are the key element to your application, not your graduate or postdoc work). You would have to establish contacts while postdoc'ing or in some other way. But again, this is entirely possible if you are aware of it. There are plenty of foreign faculty at top US universities.

    Regarding Switzerland: Switzerland is extremely expensive, and Zurich even more so. It is a good option for graduate studies, as in this case you would be (highly) paid by the university (in the German/Austrian/Swiss system, "graduate students" are not students but regular employees as research/teaching staff of the University). But for undergrad, if you have to live on loans or support from your parents, it is a dangerous choice.
  9. Jul 14, 2014 #8
    Wow, thanks for the lengthy reply, that was really good information! I'm between TU Munich and LMU Munich right now. While LMU seems to rank better for physics, TU seems to be better ranked overall. Would you have any recommendation between those two? Perhaps one has a better program than the other, or one has better support for international students?
  10. Jul 15, 2014 #9


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    It would not be relevant. Generally speaking, potential employers only look at how well you did in your previous job. When applying for a position as a research this means they would look at how well you did as a post-doc and possibly to some extent as a PhD student (depending on how many post-docs you've done). Where you did your bachelors degree will be completely irrelevant.
  11. Jul 15, 2014 #10
    I do not understand why someone wants to go to Germany or Switzerland because of monetary problems and then focusses on the two respectively single most expensive cities in the two countries (Munich and Zurich). Well, actually I do understand it. But I advice to reconsider. To repeat what everyone will tell you in every thread, and what no one ever listens to: Forget university rankings. The number of papers written by the average post-doc at university X has very little relevance to the quality of your life as a student in that university's city. Same goes for the number of citations these papers receive. It has also very little relevance to the quality of teaching of 100+ year-old physics (which is what undergrad is about).
  12. Jul 15, 2014 #11
    @f95toli: Huh, that's really good to know, I didn't expect that. My school counselors paint a different picture, so I had no idea.

    Although I admittedly looked first at the university rankings to find out about them, I really chose TU and LMU Munich because they were listed as two of the best colleges for international students. I guess I don't know much about the other colleges and how they work for people studying internationally, would you have any recommendations? Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the problem of Munich being expensive be cut if I were to live in the student housing? I think, in germany, student housing is around 250 euros.

    Thanks for all the help so far guys, I'm just trying to piece all this together into a plan, and I really appreciate your help :)
  13. Jul 15, 2014 #12


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    Everyone wants his own part of education to be important :D. The previous job or education step matters, maybe the one before that a bit, everything else is something you did many years before, and no one cares about it any more (just don't forget it in applications).

    University rankings are often research-oriented - while this is interesting for research positions (not including Bachelor), exactly those positions require some specialization. And then it does not help you if the university is amazing in solid-state physics if you work in particle physics.

    Look for things like the average size of tutorial classes, courses in English, ...

    Student housing prices depend on the town in the same way as all other prices. The difference can be a factor of 2 (even more for some small towns in the middle of nowhere, but they don't have universities).
  14. Jul 15, 2014 #13
    Hey guys, I will contribute for the "Swiss" part. I'm Swiss, but I'm don't speak Schweizerdeutsch. They normally speak German too and I think that the lectures are given in German, not in Schweizerdeutsch. The ETH is great, but Zurich is quite an expensive city, housing and such stuff will cost you cheaper in Germany than in Switzerland that's for sure.
    Now, you may consider the ETH because it has got great "rankings". As Timo pointed out, it's often just based on how many papers the university published, but it doesn't tell you much about the student life and the overall quality of the school. If you really want to go to Switzerland and study abroad (which is great!), you should also consider other universities such as the EPFL, the University of Geneva or the University of Fribourg, which are all great colleges.
    I must warn you though, studying in Switzerland is quite expensive.
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