Study Mathematics in Germany

Germany is a great place to study mathematics, having given birth to some of the most famous mathematicians in the world.

Study Mathematics in Germany

Germany’s Mathematics Tradition

Germany has a very special place in mathematics history. Giants like Leonard Euler, Carl Friedrich Gauß, Karl Weierstraß, David Hilbert and Felix Klein founded schools and established traditions that made Germany the number one place in the world for mathematics in the world.

After Poincaré's death 1912 in Paris, Göttingen was the place to be - and mathematicians from all over the world travelled to Göttingen, a small university town that was home to David Hilbert (1862-1943); Felix Klein (1849-1925); Edmund Landau (1877-1938) and Richard Courant (1888-1972). This tradition was interrupted with the exodus and persecution of Jews and others under Nazi rule in the 1930s.The restart after the war took some time, and of course it was not a simple continuation of traditions that were cut off, it was a culture that had been destroyed. Nevertheless, slowly but surely new mathematical centres in Germany arose, among them Göttingen, Münster, Heidelberg, Bonn (which is now featuring the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics, founded 25 years ago by Friedrich Hirzebruch), as well as Berlin (cf. the Weierstrass Institute of the GDR Academy of Science, and the Humboldt University, in East Berlin).

The Mathematics Research Institute in Oberwolfach which hosts more than 50 weeklong international conferences and workshops each year plays a key role for international communication in mathematics. Germany was brought to the attention of the international mathematical world with the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) held in Berlin in 1998. Today German mathematicians play a leading role both in "Pure" Mathematics (one German mathematician, Gerd Faltings, has been awarded a fields medal) and in "Applied" Mathematics (where the DFG Research Centre MATHEON `Mathematics for Key Technologies' and the new Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences play important roles).

Study at German Universities

The German Universities (there are about 80 major public universities, all of them state-financed, and a few small private universities, including the International University Bremen IUB) have a lot to offer for students coming from outside Germany who wish to study mathematics, in terms of studies, research experiences, cultural setting and career opportunities. However, it is good to know that some things differ from many other countries, and some important aspects are changing substantially right now:

1. German students typically enter university after their Abitur (a comprehensive high school degree), at age 19 or so. Thus, at university they start with their major (and a second, minor subject) right away -- they do not go to university to get a broad education in many subjects, learn a language, etc. Thus the first two years at a (US) college might correspond roughly to the last two years at a German high school (Gymnasium).

2. Traditionally, there is no tuition fees for studies at German universities. However, again this is changing, and many of the German Länder (states) now force their universities to charge tuition -although fees of, say, 500 Euro per semester are still very low in comparison with the prices at good US universities.

3. The traditional course of studies at German universities takes one from a high school degree (Abitur) via an intermediate exam (Vordiplom - roughly at bachelor level) to a diploma (Diplom). Thus, there is no "good way out" before one has reached a diploma, which is roughly at a masters degree level. However, this is changing: All German universities are replacing their diploma degree programs by Bachelor/Master programs, modelled after the standard model in the Anglo-Saxon world. This move (known as the "Bologna process", enforced by the European Union) is meant to make university degrees more comparable. The new degree programs may make it easier to move between universities - and to/from Germany - in the course of one's studies.

4. Many German students at German universities do not have an individual advisor (a faculty member that would feel responsible for the student and her/his success -- and that the student would feel responsible to report to). Thus, if you want to get personal support, advice etc. you have to ask for it. When studying at German universities, do use the faculty office hours -many German students entirely miss this opportunity.

5. Courses at German universities typically are held in German, but that may not be as high a hurdle as it may sound. If you are living in a foreign country you will want to learn its language anyway. Moreover, mathematical terminology is quite international and most foreign students find it very easy to adapt to the language used in lectures and are fluent in it much quicker than in every day language. On the other hand, many courses at German universities are offered in English these days (possibly "on request"). After all, mathematics is an international subject. There is no such thing as "German mathematics", a large part of the faculty at German universities have studied abroad, or made extensive postdoc or research stays, so they can teach in English without problems. Moreover, some degree programs are offered entirely or to a large part in English. This includes the "Mathematics with Computer Science" BS/Diplom program at TU Darmstadt and the new Berlin Mathematical Scool which starting this fall will offer a full mathematics graduate program (leading from a bachelor degree level to PhD), with all courses offered in English.

6. An excellent option for Graduate studies in Germany, after completinga Masters degree (or equivalent) is to look for Mathematics Research Training Groups (Graduiertenkolleg). These are thematically focused programs that provide scholarships, advising and mentoring, and a well-equipped research environmentfor first-rate mathematics PhD studies. Here are some links that may be of interest:

If you are seriously considering studying mathematics in Germany, there is a great number of other research programs that are available, many funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG), which provide interesting opportunities for PhD studies/projects in mathematics.

7. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) offer many exchange programs, scholarships and opportunities that could very well be worthwhile for you to check out! In summary: Germany offers ample possibilities to the international student for mathematics studies, both at undergraduate and graduate levels.The scientific standards in Germany are very high. Thus there are many different opportunities to check out!

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