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Financing university studies in Germany

...Finally a decision from the BaföG office?

In my last entry, I wrote about my motivation for founding the local chapter of ArbeiterKind.de in Mainz. Today I want to share some of the experiences I have had through my activities for this organization as well as those of my friends.

One statement comes immediately to mind for me:

“I didn’t tell them that I was receiving BaföG [educational loans and grants available from the state in Germany]. And I felt so terrible as they were criticizing ‘all of those cheaters who would steal money from the state’.”

I vividly remember how a friend told me about this situation. I could still see how much she had been hurt by her fellow students who were trashing recipients of BaföG. My friend is a hard-working young woman who always worked to support herself while studying. But she couldn’t earn enough money to pay for all of her expenses. She didn’t want to cheat anybody but just needed the money to be able to do her degree. Her family couldn’t finance her studies.

“The biggest issue is that many people don’t know how much information you need to give to the agency for receiving BaföG,” my friend told me. Through my work for ArbeiterKind.de, I know what she meant by that: You have to fill out piles of papers, and you need a lot of official documents that prove that neither you nor your parents earn or have saved more money than the regulations allow. This situation is especially difficult for students who don’t have any contact with their parents any more. The agencies normally don’t allow applications with missing documents, and it can be quite dramatic for young people to try to get back in touch with their families.

When we go to schools with ArbeiterKind.de, many students ask us how much BaföG they can count on. We can’t tell them. While there is an online calculator, the legal rules that define how much every person can receive are very complicated. Thus, normally, you can’t be sure whether you’ll get a student loan or not – nor how much money you’ll receive. The maximum amount you can receive is 670 Euro a month. Depending on the city you live in, this isn’t a lot of money. Moreover, students regularly have to turn in new requests for the funds. So they often do not know for sure how much money they will receive in the coming months.

There’s also the issue that it takes a long time from the time of requesting BaföG until you receive a decision. During that time, you don’t get any money. This is a terrible situation for young people depending on this state loan.

Many incoming students don't know all of their options when it comes to funding

What we realized by talking to parents and students who don’t know the BaföG system is that many are afraid of taking on debt. We explain to them that half of the loans don’t have to paid back to the state and that there is no interest on the other half. Martin, one of our mentors from ArbeiterKind.de, always explains it this way: “Of every euro you spend from your BaföG money, 50 cents are a present to you. So don’t be a fool. If you are in a financially tight situation, apply for BaföG.” While explaining, he always draws a circle and divides it into two halves, symbolizing what you have to pay back and what you are given for free.

Another thing many parents and even teachers don’t know is that high school students can receive BaföG, too. I never miss out on the chance to inform classes about this possibility whenever I’m making a presentation in a classroom. BaföG is a great opportunity to receive support – but as with scholarships and other benefits, often the people that need them most don’t know about them, have unjustified worries or wrong information. With ArbeiterKind.de, we try to work against this lack of information and to support people in the sticky situation of asking for help from the state.

Date

June 18, 2012 | 10:25 am

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