Many foreigners are interested to study in Germany, as it costs nearly nothing and offers a wide range of programs. Although the German education system is different from any other, so firstly future student needs to understand what kind of institution is the right one.
Germany has two main university types: Fachhochschule (University of Applied Science) and University. Both are universities but have significant differences, we will talk about them later on.
Fachhochschule (FH) doesn’t offer a PhD degree, they focused on practical education. Each student has to complete at least 3 months long internship and sometimes a semester abroad. Schedules and degree length are fixed. Some humanities majors are not available at FH, as well as to law and medicine.
Now you had a quick glance at the most common differences between Fachhoschule and University in Germany, let’s get into the details.
What is Fachhochschule
The University of Applied Science is the official translation for Fachhochschule. Fach means major, field, or department. These institutions focus on the practical side of higher education, and so offer more concrete specializations relevant to the labor market. They can be both public and private. Private once can cost up to 20,000 EUR per year.
Fachhochschule was first found in Germany and then widely spread all over Europe, especially in Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands.
The main characteristic of Fachhochschule, that it represents a close relationship between higher education and the employment system. Their practical orientation makes these institutions very attractive to employers.
Typically, Universities of Applied Sciences are rooted in the region, trying to provide employees for local businesses. The students also mostly come from the surrounding area.
Those who want to study close to home can often accomplish this at the Fachhochschule. The reason: because there are almost twice as many FHs as Universities and many also have several branches, the chances are good to find something nearby.
German University in Details
German University is the highest level of education, offering a broad range of disciplines. They are equivalent to public or private universities in other developed countries.
Universities are research and theory-based institutions. The most reputed kind of higher education in Germany. Most of them have a long history, compared to relatively newly opened Fachhochschule. These were mainly founded in the 90’s last century.
Some universities have specialized in certain subject areas, for example, technical universities, medical universities, and colleges of education.
What are These Differences
Currently, in Germany 216 Fachhochschulen and 180 Universities with more than 2.8 million students, including 375,000 international students (13.2%). First shortly about similarities: Fachhochschule or the University of Applied Science and University are both higher education institutions, funded mostly by the state but can be also private.
Due to the Bologna process, Universities and Fachhochschulen award legally equivalent academic Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
Fachhochschule (FH): At the University of Applied Science can be pursued a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, but no PhD. Degree length is fixed, Bachelor lasts 3 or 3,5 years, Master 1,5 or 2 years, which is equivalent to 6 or 7 semesters and 3 or 4 semesters.
Note that with a Master’s degree from Fachhochschule it’s hard to be accepted for a Doctoral program. Universities only rarely recognize the FH diploma, even if they are equal with a degree from University in other terms.
University: All classic Universities offer Bachelor’s, and Master’s, PhD degree. If you would like to pursue a doctorate (earn a PhD) at some point, a university is the right place for you.
University degree length isn’t fixed – this means you can set your study speed yourself, which means that it normally also takes longer to graduate.
2. Focus of Education
Fachhochschule (FH): Education in FH is heavily practical orientated, each of them has a strong connection with companies in the region. Each student has to complete at least 3 months long internship in one of these companies as a term of degree. It is counted as study achievement.
The studies at FH provide enough theoretical background and prepares students for the real-world requirements of professional life. Often spending a semester abroad is also part of the degree, which benefits your resume as well.
University: University is theoretically orientated with a research focus. Most of them offer plenty of courses in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine sector, also because it’s perfect fields for research work.
Normally no internship is required, but students can complete one, the same goes for a semester abroad.
3. Variety of Courses
Fachhochschule (FH): The courses of study at FHs are all close to practice, but overall you can study almost all common professions, which are important for today’s economy.
Such as engineering, computer science, business and management, arts and design, communication studies, social service, and other professional fields.
University: Philosophy, German Studies, History, and other humanities, on the other hand, can only be found at the University and not at FH.
The same applies – despite their practical relevance – to law and medicine. Even if you want to become a teacher, you have to go to University.
4. Entry Requirements
Fachhochschule (FH): You can get accepted at an FH with a high school diploma equivalent to German (Abitur or Fachabitur). You will need to finish 12 or 13 years of high school (Abitur), or higher secondary vocational school (Fachabitur), which has more relevance for someone in Germany.
However, before you apply to any German higher education organization you need to certify all school diplomas. You can check about it beforehand online on this website, it shows equality with german school certificates and your entitlement to pursuing a degree in Germany.
Some applicants need to have work experience before they can apply for Fachhochschule, so you get a lot of people at an FH that are a bit older and have actual real-world job practice.
University: While University only accepts people with high school diploma equivalent to German Abitur. There is no practical way through your work or higher secondary vocational school (Fachabitur).
That’s why students at Universities tend to be younger and without any work experience. The classic way is to complete your high school and right after applying for studies at University.
Fachhochschule (FH): The career path of FH professors is different from Universities. Both have doctorates, but if you want to become a professor at Fachhoschule, you must have worked outside the academic world at least for 3 years after your doctoral thesis.
This means that the typical business administration Professor at Fachhoschule could be head of marketing or human resources in the past, while his University colleague has only a research career at the University behind him.
Many FH’s professors just come to teach for a few hours a week and the rest of the time pursue a different profession.
University: At universities, besides the professors, work mainly scientific staff who conduct research in addition to teaching. They are academics who have continued with their careers in science.
Fachhochschule (FH): Universities of Applied Sciences also differ from universities in terms of research. Typical for them is a strong regional orientation, research often happens together with companies in the region. The research results should be immediately implementable.
Since FH professors usually have hardly any academic staff, students in higher semesters often take on this task: they assist university teachers during research as part of the course.
University: Research at Universities takes an important place. It is common to find the faculty actively involved in research with the regular submission of papers and scientific studies.
If research at FH is usually financed by the local companies, at University it’s often supported by the Federal Government with annual funding of 533 million euros.
Fachhochschule (FH): In terms of flexibility and decision making University of Applied Science offers only limited possibilities for students.
For example, you can’t choose courses other than which have been offered to you, fixed timetable, deadlines and often your presence on lessons is mandatory. Students have to finish their program in 3 sometimes 3,5 years, extension possible only as an exception.
At FH not only the course length but also the number of places available is fixed. This means that there are no overcrowded lectures in comparison to University.
University: University from another side gives students the freedom to choose their subjects, schedule, they even can postpone exams to the next year and complete a degree later and it’s supposed to be.
Classes aren’t compulsory at University and so many students tend to skip them. It’s good, they are overcrowded anyway.
8. Other Differences
Size: Universities of Applied Sciences are generally smaller than Universities. The average University has four times as many students as the average Fachhochschule. But having up to 5,000 students is common for FH.
Exams: FH has more exams than University and shorter examination periods.
Teaching: Universities of Applied Sciences practices more innovative didactics and intensive student support, due to its smaller size. Technology, equipment, and infrastructure also tend to be more cutting-edge and offered for each student.
Size: Universities much bigger than FH, often have a few buildings which can be spread all over the city or in one district. Typically one German university can have up to 50,000 students, starting from around 5,000.
Teaching: Many professors are researchers and employed full time only at University, in comparison to FH where lectors often have a job in companies or self-employed. Therefore teaching at University seems to be farther away from real working life.
Exams: fewer exams, longer examinations periods.
Fachhochschule Advantages and Disadvantages
Practical orientation, attractive to employers, teaching adjusted to the current situation and trends on market, cooperations with companies, shorter examination periods, easier to receive a job offer right after or during the studies, modern and innovative, professors have real experience in their fields, learning in smaller groups, familiar atmosphere.
Less theory, almost no flexibility, and decision-making for students, degree length is fixed, less salary in comparison with University degree, almost no PhD programs offered at FH, an internship is a part of the degree and must be accomplished together with a semester abroad.
Universities Advantages and Disadvantages
Prestige and well-known organizations, education is broader with theory and research focus, degree length isn’t fixed and can be adjusted by each student, students make their own schedule and choose courses they like, higher salary after graduation.
Lectures could be often overcrowded, more anonymous atmosphere, less practical experience due to theoretical orientation, fewer connections with employers, broad education without following the goal to become a specialist.
Which One You Should Choose?
In the end, the decision for FH or University depends on what preferences you have. Would you rather study in smaller groups at the University of Applied Sciences, even if this involves more control and less flexibility?
Do you want to learn at the university, more self-organized and free, but often also more anonymous? Do you want to gain a lot of practical experience during your studies, but study less broadly and more specialized?
FH is a good option for people who already worked before and want to gain more theoretical experience in their field. Or maybe your aim is PhD and research work, then choose University without a doubt.
Yet with time, the differences between the FH and University are reducing. Universities now offer some practical / industry-oriented courses. Some FHs, also have been legally allowed to offer doctorate degrees, at least where I study in Austria.
Some FHs are also teaching subjects that were in the past only taught by Universities, like more theoretical aspects. The foremost decision depends on your future profession and plans.
What is the difference between Hochschule and Fachhochschule?
The translation of the word Hochschule is high school. But in reality, it applies to Universities – all higher education institutions. Fachhochschule (University of Applied Science), University, Technical University, Educational University – they all belong to Hochschule.
You can read more above about differences particular between Fachhochschule and University.
Difference between Technical Universities (TU) and Fachhochschule (FH)
First, all the differences between Fachhochschule and University would apply here as well.
The main factor is that Technical University is more research-oriented and provides a very theoretical knowledge on the subjects. On the other hand, Fachhochschule (University of Applied Science) is focused on practical knowledge or industry-oriented studies.
Fachhochschule (FH): as we have spoken before there are big differences between Fachhoschule and University, you can read it above. A few notes to comparison with TU.
- FH’s are more practical and not as theoretical as traditional Universities. You have more exercises for classes.
- Study at FH might be easy then at TU, as second will normally have more requirements for students and involve them in the research. And since FH focuses more on practical experience than the theory.
- Many employers value Master from Fachhochschule less than from a Technical University, consequently employees receive less salary on average.
- TU has much higher flexibility than FH.
- Internship is a part of a degree at Fachhoschule, TU doesn’t require it in order to complete your program.
- Studies last 7 semesters at FH and only 6 in Technical University.
- FH doesn’t offer PhD, more importantly, you are eligible to pursue a Doctorate Degree with a master from FH, but it’s harder as it sounds. As many Universities don’t accept FH graduates or only under some rules. So if PhD is your final goal after Bachelor and Master, you should choose TU from the beginning to avoid the hassle.
Technical Universities (TU) or Technische Hochschule: It is a type of University focusing on engineering sciences in Germany. They also exist in Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Finland.
These institutes provide practice-oriented research and teaching, have excellent contacts with large and medium-sized organizations. Research partnerships and technology transfer enable students to gain practical experience.
TU Universities mainly focus on providing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and often perform research in the fields of climate, energy, efficiency, and sustainable mobility.
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