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Technical University Munich as a start for my career in Tech

Software Engineering
Tech
Computer Science
Sep 15, 2022
12 mins read

English



🐝

@laylazadina
from
Kazakhstan🇰🇿
💼 Bachelor: Computer Science
⏳ Oct 2021 — Oct 2024
📍 Munich,
Germany🇩🇪
🗣 German, English
Residence Permit
Technical University of Munich (TUM)
Technical University of Munich (TUM)
🎓university
Research
📍 Munich,
Germany🇩🇪
🗣 English, German
🌏 37% International

Hi there! My name is Layla 🙋‍♀️ I am a Bachelor student for Computer Science (in German "Informatik") at Technical University Munich (TUM). In October 2022, I am starting my third semester here. In this post I will share with you some of the insights about the application process, study curriculum and student life at TUM Informatik. As I originally come from Kazakhstan, it will also bring you an honest impression how it is to be an international student at TUM and in Germany in general.

Mathematik Informatik (MI) Building at TUM with the famous slides - they are made in form of parabola!
Mathematik Informatik (MI) Building at TUM with the famous slides - they are made in form of parabola!

Application Process

Germany has relatively late application period in May-July, what personally I found very inconvenient. In my practice, I was accepted to other universities much earlier. For example, application process at TU Delft (Netherlands) started in January and in April I already knew I was admitted. Only in late August I got the invitation to interview to TUM. I got my interview in early September and one week later or so my studies at TU Delft should already have started. The student visa application takes some time (and a lot of nervous cells), so I physically could not apply for visa both in Netherlands and Germany. I would not say that the application process itself was extremely hard, but the timing was quite stressing for me. Probably that is one of the aspects to consider if alongside Germany you would want to apply to universities in other countries.

Application Documents

The Application itself was pretty standard. If you ever applied at American universities (I was crazy in my senior year at high school - I applied at 20+ universities in general), application process to European universities is pretty chill (and acceptance rate is much higher). You need your diploma (preferably with good grades - I always have had 5.0/5.0 GPA - which is the maximum in my country, so I do not exactly know what is the recommended minimum for TUM). I have had 2 diplomas - one standard Kazakhstan Diploma and one so-called 12 Grade NIS Certificate. Since I had an A-level program at my high school, we had Cambridge exams at our 10th and 12th grade. This Certificate shows my results from the Cambridge exams. For Informatik program at TUM only results for Math, Physics and CompSci were relevant. I also applied my transcripts (the total grades in the last 4 years of school), the resume (they also call it CV in Europe), Motivational Essay, German Language Certificate, VPD („preliminary review documentation“) and the Application Form itself.

CV Tipps

Resume is a classical document that is useful not only for university but also for job application. You usually include schools you have been studied at, job positions you had, volunteering and other projects you participated in. There are plenty of tools online where you can build your resume for free. I personally prefer to do it in MS Word, as it is easier to make changes and always have it on your computer. After changing it, I save it in PDF format.

The resume should be simple and concise. If you have many achievements, include only those which are relevant for the place you apply for. For example, for the Informatik TUM application, I included the previous courses I took on Data Science and the science projects I participated at school. You may also include the tests results that are not explicitly asked for this application if you have good results on them. For example, TUM asked only my German language proof certificate, but I also included my results for IELTS, SAT Reasoning, SAT Subjects and my Cambridge Exams (only those where I had A and A*). That is a good way to highlight your strengths. I also have separate sections for the Technical Skills, Soft Skills (do not write too much there) and Languages. If you had some extra-curricular activities besides your classes, you may also include them with some short summaries what exactly you did there. For example, I wrote that I was a part of Student Body at my high school and ran for School President position twice. I also mentioned I was a founder and leader of the TEDx club at my high school and we hosted official TEDx events for 300+ audience and I leaded the group of 20+ students within our TEDxTeam. Such activities is a good way to highlight your team and leadership skills.

Motivational Essay

In German it is called Motivationsbrief. There you write about why you want to study at that specific university. Motivational Essay is a very common type of essays when applying at universities. My tip would be to keep it brief and concrete. Usually you start with introduction of yourself and description of your motivation, why you want to study the specific program. I wrote about my previous academic and personal experience that brought me to decide to study CompSci. Then you describe what exactly you like in the program you apply for. There you should show your honest interest at the university and the program. For doing that, you need to do a quality research about the program and uni. While describing what you like in the program you need to be very specific. For example, I wrote that I like that Informatik program at TUM has opportunity to choose elective courses and apply the theoretical knowledge in practical courses. It is crucial that you demonstrate your genuine interest at the uni and show that you fit in.

German Language Proof

The majority of undergraduate programs in Germany are taught in German language, so is the Informatik BSc at TUM. The Proof of German at level B2 is required (unless German is your native language or you finished high school in Germany with Abitur). I started to learn German relatively late. Overall it took me 2 years to learn German until C1. I took several tests including Goethe Zertifikat B1, Goethe Zertifikat B2 and I took TestDaF twice (since the first time I did not get the desired result). German was my second foreign language (and forth in general), so for me it was not extremely hard to learn new language from zero in 2 years. However this made my last year at high school a bit stressful, since along with German tests I also took SAT Reasoning and SAT Math Level 2 and Physics (each tests 2 times), I took IELTS 3 times and A-level Cambridge exams for 5 subjects at the end of my school year. 

From my practice, I would recommend to take more time to master a new language and keep in mind that most likely you would need to take some tests more than once to achieve desired results. So do not do it at the end of your final year of school. Even if you have a good knowledge, there is still probability that you can have some stress or bad timing during your first exam.

VPD

Vorprüfungsdokumentation - here we go, if you consider living in Germany, at some point you will get used to super long and sometimes impossible to pronounce words 😆 In English it is called Preliminary Review Documentation. This document demonstrates the Admission Officers that your education outside of Germany is equivalent to German Abitur (the type of Diploma German students get after Gymnasium). I applied to VPD via uni-assist. My Cambridge Certificate (which I was supposed to apply for VPD) came out relatively late (in July). The whole process of the Review takes around a month (there is no fast bureaucratic processes in Germany) and the deadline for TUM Application was on July 15. Since they needed the VPD for the application, but I could not send it with other documents I sent my application without VPD, but I wrote them an e-mail explaining that my school gives diplomas only in July and I will send them the VPD after Review as soon as I get it. Different countries have different deadlines, so that might be the case that you will not be able to send all of the documents on time. It is normal, there is nothing to worry about. However it is important that you let the Admission Officers know why you send documents late and write them before the deadline. 

If you apply from abroad you need to make sure that your school education is actually eligible for German universities. I finished the International school with A-level certification. So my school leaving diploma was eligible to apply directly at any uni in Germany. However if I finished the regular school in Kazakhstan I could not apply directly at the uni. I would need to apply to the Studienkolleg program first. Studienkolleg is the foundation year where you learn German and other subjects in German language. The program prepares international students to apply to universities in Germany. After a year of Studienkolleg students write an exam with which they apply to university.  

TUM: First Impression

My first semester at TUM was very stressful. In October 2021 it was still mainly online. I could not meet new people and participate in lectures alive. The winters in Germany are very grey and cloudy. The bureaucratic processes such as KVR Wohnsitzanmeldung (Residence Registration) and Aufenthaltstitel (Resident Permit) takes a vast amount of time and nerves. I had to vaccinate second time, since Germany did not accepted the vaccination from my country. It took some time for me to get used that supermarkets, pharmacies and a lot of other services close early and do not work on Sundays. I had to rethink my schedule. It was my first experience in German system of education and in German language. I learned German, but I never learned special terms for CompSci/Math in German before. So before my first semester I did not even know how to say “odd and even number” in German. I was constantly stressed, so I could not enjoy my studies. The lectures were interesting, in fact I really liked their structure, but the level of difficulty for homework was overwhelming. I failed 2 classes out of 4 on the exam phase. I think I never felt more frustrated on a regular basis before.

My Second Semester

Luckily after the first semester, the sun started to shine in Munich and coronavirus regulations weakened. We could finally participate on lectures and tutoriums offline. I could go on campus and meet new people. On the exam retake phase I could pass all the failed courses from my first semester. Some of my friends would tell that the second semester was harder than the first one (especially considering we had 5 courses as opposed to 4 in the first one), but personally for me it was much more enjoyable. It was definitely still pretty challenging and I failed 2 exams (again 😂), but I did like every single class. For me it was much easier to understand the tasks and I spent a lot of time socializing and studying with other students. 

TUM Features: Excellence and Pinguins 🐧

TUM is a good place to be. Even though it is pretty hard to keep up with their “excellence” (they like to use this term a lot), the university is one of the best not only in Europe, but in the whole world. The German system of education is different, you need to be ready that Germans expect you to work hard and they like to be perfectionists. I had experience with American system of education before. There they split the tasks into small digestible pieces and their lectures are designed in a way that it is POSSIBLE to at least start doing homework. At the homework you would get 30 exercises, so that the first 10 would be pretty easy and they would give you a sense of confidence in your skills. The last 10 exercises might be extremely difficult, but at that stage you are already ready for that. In German system of education it is very different. The lectures are heavy on theory and long (usually around 1.5-2 hours). Instead of a lot of small tasks on homework, they would give you one massive exercise which you either can do perfectly or cannot do it at all (that is what I meant with German perfectionism). The grade is dependent only on the final. For me, it was very inconvenient at first, since I am a type of student who may understand everything pretty well and still perform bad on exams.

Given all of that, the lecturers at TUM are great (sadly, number of participants on the lectures is pretty high - up to 1000-2000 people - so usually you do not have a direct approach to professor). The technical support is well organized and student community is very smart. There are a lot of clubs and projects students can participate in (if they only had time XD). Studying facilities are convenient. Within the Informatik program you learn a lot of fundamentals: low level programming on C and Assembly, object-oriented programming on Java, functional programming and much more. You get the knowledge that are heavy in theory and practical courses where you may gain the coding skills. The program is rigorous, but it is well-rounded and sophisticated. TUM alumni have one of the highest employability rate in the whole world. One of the main advantages of studying in Germany is that it has no tuition fees. Education is completely free and of indeed excellent quality.

That is not the most important, but probably an interesting detail: unofficial TUM Informatik mascot is Pinguin 🐧 Thus the first programming task we got on Java, was not classical "Hello World!", but "Halo Pinguine!" :)

Study Curriculum

The Academic year is divided into 2 Semesters: Winter Semester and Summer Semester. At the end of each semesters you would have an Exam Phase, which usually lasts around a month. At the beginning of each semester you would have a couple of weeks when the Retakes ("Nachklausuren" in German) take place. The study curriculum is mainly fixed, what I find very convenient. As opposed to American system of education you are guaranteed to have a fixed place in class and there are no extra-classes that are not related to your major. That is probably why the program lasts only 3 years (what is common for undergraduate in Europe), but to be honest I do not know a lot of people who can finish the TUM Informatik program in 6 semesters (there are some courses that have 80% fail rate on the exams so that the students have to take retakes or repeat the class next year). Some students also decide to take internships or Semester Abroad, for which they have to skip the semester (or at least they cannot do all of the courses in that semester). I think usual time of completion is around 7-8 semesters (that is however my rough estimation and non of the official statistics).

Starting with third semesters students may pick the "Anwendungsfach" (Application Subject) which is some sort of the minor. There are Medicine, Math, Electrical Engineering, Economics available, as well as it is also possible construct your own Anwendungsfach. I am thinking to take Math, since it is something that I enjoy the most. In the last 2 semesters students may choose the "Wahlmodulen" (elective courses) among a huge list of absolutely interesting courses, such as Statistics, Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Algorithms, Robotics, etc. There are also Bachelor Praktikum, Seminar, and Bachelor Thesis included in the Informatik program. I think one of the main challenges/must-have-skills for your university studies are time-management, self-discipline and good organization. These are skills that I am still actively working on and definitely they will be much needed long after my studies.

Career and Opportunities

One of the main reasons why I chose Germany as my destination is that it has the most developed economy in the EU and one of the lowest unemployment rate in the world. Germany has been having a low birth rate, that is why they have a lack of young specialists. Working conditions in Germany are very humane and social security is high. There are a lot of working and internship opportunities in Germany (and EU in general) and not that many visa working restrictions for citizens of non-EU countries (as opposed to the US, for example).

It is quite common for students to have a Student Job. Usually you would get around EUR 11 per hour - the minimum hourly salary in Germany (for my best knowledge in 2022) and students legally are not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week during lecture time and 40 hours per week during lecture-free time. International students (who live on the Aufenthaltstitel) also have additional restriction that they are not allowed to work more than 120 full days (8 hours per day) or 240 half-days (4 hours per day) in a year. With the Student Job you usually get the flexible schedule and position at the university or company.

I am very excited to start my own student job this semester at SAP - the largest company in Germany and Europe! I think combining work with studies can be extremely beneficial. You are not only gaining the working skills and getting the realistic picture of the job market in your field, it also increases the motivation for your further studies and (of course) brings you some pocket money.

Beer and Pretzels🍺 🥨 or Life in Munich 🇩🇪

Marienplatz, Munich, March 2022
Marienplatz, Munich, March 2022

Munich is a Bavarian city with beautiful architecture and long history. It is the main place for famous Oktoberfest. Unfortunately I am not a big fun of beer (I usually do not risk to tell that to my German friends), but Munich has the best beer of the world and there are literally thousand types of it! Bavaria has one of the most beautiful nature in Germany with Alps and mountain lakes. It is located in close proximity to Austria. The train connection (as well as overall public transportation) is well organized. I could easily travel to Salzburg, Austria and within Bavaria. In 1.5-2 hours you can get to many small authentic Alpian towns. Within 7 hours I could get to Berlin and around 10 hours to Milan, Italy. Within a couple of hours I could get to Bulgaria with a plain (there I made a little sea vacation between my exams). I am still planning to visit Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain while I am studying in Europe.

Bavarian Alps is one of the main perks of life in Munich!
Bavarian Alps is one of the main perks of life in Munich!



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