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Programs and Deadlines
About Penn Abroad
Berlin Consortium for German Studies (BBN)
Berlin, Germany (Fall Spring Academic Year Outgoing Program)
Program Terms: Spring,
Homepage: Click to visit
Restrictions: UPENN applicants only
Budget Sheets Spring,
Fact Sheet:
Language of Instruction:
Language Prerequisite:
4 Semesters of college level language, 5 Semesters of college level language, See Program Description
Minimum Cumulative GPA: 3.0
Credit Available For:
College, Huntsman
Other Eligibility Requirements: See Program Description
Type of Program:
Application Deadline:
Fall/Year: March 1, Spring: October 1
Program Description:

Program Snapshot
(click on the links highlighted in blue below to learn more)
The Academic Program
  • Hybrid program
  • Spring Semester: late-February to late-July
  • Academic Year: late-August to late-July
  • Students cannot participate in this program for only the fall semester.
  • Minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA
  • Minimum 4 semesters of college-level German or equivalent (5 semesters for spring semester)
  • At least a B grade in German courses
  • Homestay and off-campus accommodation or university housing
The City of Berlin
  • Official language: German but English is widely understood
  • The nation’s capital, Berlin, dates back to the 13th century and was also the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1918), the German Empire (1871-1918), the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and the Third Reich (1933-1945)
  • Since the city's reunification in 1990, Berlin has been characterized by change and invention. A vibrant nightlife, exciting art scene, contemporary architecture, and myriad cultural venues contribute to Berlin's status as one of Europe's most cosmopolitan and sophisticated urban centers.
  • Population: 3.5 million, the largest city in Germany
  Special Features
  • Cultural Activities and Excursions
  • Internships
The Application Process
The Penn Abroad application requires applicants to submit two academic recommendations. Both recommendations must be from professors that taught and graded the applicant at Penn. One recommendation must be from a language professor, while the other can be from any other academic discipline.
Financial Matters
Penn Resources
This program requires an advising session with a Program Manager prior to opening an application. To view the schedule for upcoming group advising sessions, or to schedule an individual appointment, select the ‘Schedule an Advising Appointment’ button on the Penn Abroad homepage.  

The Academic Program

The Freie Universität in Berlin

Founded in 1948 by students and staff who were relegated because of their political views from Humboldt University of Berlin, formerly the traditional Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Freie Universität Berlin is the city's largest university. In 1968, it was the center of the left-wing German student movement parallel to those in Paris, London, and Berkeley. By the 1980s, it had become the largest German university with 66,000 students. However, with the democratic restructuring of the Humboldt University after the German reunification in the 1990s, the Freie Universität Berlin was downsized to about 39,000 students. The BCGS provides students with the opportunity to enroll in courses at the Freie Universität Berlin (F.U. Berlin) for a single semester or a full academic year.
Primarily located in Dahlem, which around the beginning of the 20th century was established as a center for research of the highest caliber, in the southwestern Berlin district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, the campus includes offices and classrooms housed in villas, some large lecture halls, parks, and wooded areas. Freie Universität's central campus consists of building ensembles within walking distance of each other. The planners oriented themselves along the type of campus found in the United States – a novelty in post-war Germany. In addition to many research institutes, the F.U. Berlin also has a large library system, computer facilities, a center for recreational sports, and a wide array of student organizations. Like most European universities, it is not a residential university, and its student body commutes to the campus from all over greater Berlin.
The broadest spectrum of research in the humanities in Germany is to be found at Freie Universität under the auspices of the Dahlem Humanities Center. One unique feature is the large number of specialized subjects such as Byzantine Studies and Jewish Studies. Governance research is one highlight of the Otto Suhr Institute, one of the most renowned political science institutes in Europe. In the natural sciences, major focus is placed on the life sciences and Earth sciences, as well as physics, mathematics, and computer science.

BCGS Program

The BCGS makes it possible for science, social science, and humanities majors who have completed at least two years of college German or the equivalent to become German university students during their study abroad. The program involves full immersion in the German language, enrollment directly into courses shared with German students at the Freie Universität Berlin, access to university libraries and student housing, internship opportunities during vacation periods, and maximum exposure to the cultural and political life of contemporary Germany and Europe. The program begins with a six-week intensive German Discourse and Culture course, taken during the orientation period, which, in conjunction with a month-long homestay, prepares students for study at the FU Berlin.
In addition to the language practicum, students enroll in a BCGS course entitled, Selected Topics in German Studies, which changes each year but focuses on some aspect of German history and society.
Students majoring in a variety of disciplines may choose from an array of appropriate courses. Those with special interests may also enroll in courses at other local institutions such as the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Technische Universität Berlin, the Universität Potsdam, the Universität der Künste Berlin, the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weissensee, and Hochschule für Musik "Hanns Eisler." Please note that students may only take theoretical or historical classes at the art schools. Cultural activities and field trips support the academic program. Some students also intern between the fall and spring semesters and occasionally during the semester.


The BCGS program begins with a 6 week transition period that functions as a bridge between American and German life. During this time, students refine their language skills, adjust to living in Berlin, and begin to explore the city.
·       Formal Orientation: A 2 day introduction to the city and the BCGS. Participants meet each other, their host families, and the BCGS staff, and learn more about the program, Berlin, and what to expect during their stay in Germany.
·       German Discourse and Culture: A 6 week academic course that helps students assimilate to Berlin both linguistically and culturally. Taught specifically for BCGS students, the course hones language skills in preparation for enrolling in German university courses.
·       Living as a Guest in a German Household: A 4- week homestay with a family in Berlin. This gives students the opportunity to practice their German with native speakers daily and provides insight into the local lifestyle.

Required Courses

Every student enrolls in a six-week German language intensive course (20 hours per week) appropriate to his or her proficiency level. After completing this course, students are required to take the FU German language examination. As a result of this diagnostic examination, some students may be required to enroll in an FU German course for foreign students and to reduce the number of non-language courses they take that term.
Normally students enroll in three courses in their first semester in Berlin beyond the German Discourse and Culture course, four courses in their second semester when they do not enroll in German Discourse and Culture. Spring semester only students typically enroll in three courses beyond the German Discourse and Culture. A broad range of courses in the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities are available. All course registrations must be approved in advance by the BCGS Academic Director. All Penn students must notify their home school and major advisors of final course selections.


Students are required to take examinations, to complete papers, and to fulfill all other requirements of the German courses. Faculty at the FU, Humboldt and other Berlin universities grade BCGS students as they do their German counterparts. In keeping with German academic practice, students are responsible for securing Scheine (written appraisals of their work from their professors) and turning them into the Berlin office of the BCGS. The course titles, weightings, and grades are translated into U.S. terms by the Academic Director of the BCGS and are in turn forwarded to the home schools of students from BCGS institutions. Students should keep syllabi, bibliographies, notes, corrected papers, and examinations for eventual submission to their home school. For each course taken, students receive a performance rating according to the German grading system. The performance rating is then converted to an American grade according to the following scale:
0.7 = A+
1.0/1.3 = A
1.7/2.0 = A-
2.3 = B+
2.7 = B
3.0 = B-
3.3 = C+
3.7 = C
4.0 = C-

As on all Penn Abroad programs, grades are recorded on the Penn transcript and are calculated in the cumulative grade point average. The pass/fail option can be exercised according to the Penn on-campus policy.
Learn More About back-to-top


Upon arrival in Berlin, students spend the first weekend in a student hostel where they meet with each other and the Resident and Academic Directors, and attend a 2-day Orientation. When the two-day orientation is over, each student is placed as a guest with a German family in Berlin. The homestay is an invaluable opportunity for students, as it provides a window into the daily rhythms and customs of Berliners, and, because students are expected to speak German exclusively with their families, an excellent jump-start to the improvement of their language skills. Every effort is made to place each student with a compatible host family.
By the end of their home stay, BCGS students will have independently found an apartment share or similar accommodation for the rest of their stay in Berlin. While program housing through the FU Berlin is available and apartment hunting can be challenging, most BCGS students choose to find their own shares, as doing so provides another opportunity to improve their language skills, benefit from cultural exchange with their roommates (usually German students), and to explore the local neighborhoods.

The City of Berlin

Berlin is the capital city and one of sixteen states in Germany. With a population of 3.4 million in its city limits, Berlin is the country's largest city. It is the second most populous city and the ninth most populous urban area in the European Union. Located in northeastern Germany, it is the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan area, comprising 5 million people from over 180 nations. First documented in the 13th century, Berlin was successively the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1918), the German Empire (1871-1918), the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and the Third Reich (1933-1945). After the Second World War, the city was divided; East Berlin became the capital of East Germany while West Berlin became a Western enclave, surrounded by the Berlin Wall from 1961-1989. Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, the city regained its status as the capital of all Germany.

Since the city's reunification in 1990, Berlin has been characterized by change and invention. Emerging from the fall of the Berlin wall as a cultural and economic capital city, Berlin is alive with a sense of transformation and progress. A vibrant nightlife, exciting art scene, contemporary architecture, and myriad cultural venues contribute to Berlin's status as one of Europe's most cosmopolitan and sophisticated urban centers. It serves as a continental hub for air and rail transport. The city's economy is primarily based on the service sector, encompassing a diverse range of creative industries, media corporations, environmental services, congress, and convention venues. Berlin is the third most-visited tourist destination in the EU. The metropolis is home to world-renowned universities, research institutes, sporting events, orchestras, museums and personalities. Berlin has evolved into a focal point for individuals attracted by liberal lifestyle, modern zeitgeist and its relatively low cost of living.

Special Features

Cultural Activities and Excursions

The program organizes a series of excursions and cultural activities in and around Berlin to orient students and provide a deeper understanding of Germany, such as musical and theatrical performances and a visit to Deutscher Bundestag, including a political discussion with a politician or administrative representative, attendance at a plenary session, and a tour of the dome. Each semester, students participate in three- or four-day study trips. Past destinations have included Cologne, Bonn, Nuremberg, Dresden, and Munich. During these trips, students participate in guided visits to places of historical or cultural interest, listen to program-exclusive lectures, and usually have an afternoon free to explore on their own. Freie Universität has several extracurricular clubs and activities, including an International Club which organizes multiple events throughout each semester. Past events include film screenings, trips to museums, tours of the city, and panelist discussions.


Some BCGS students participate in internships during the two-month break between semesters. Students who are motivated to apply their German in a professional setting and gain experience in a particular field can apply for an internship. The BCGS staff provides assistance in finding internships, but students must be proactive in pursuing and securing placement with their chosen organization. Past students have held internships with local government offices, banks, consulting firms, cultural centers, and political organizations. These positions are not for academic credit and are usually unpaid.

Financial Matters

Students are charged Penn tuition and student fee (called study abroad fee the semester abroad) for all Penn programs.  Additional expenses will typically include items such as housing, meals, and airfare.  Please see the program budget sheet to determine other costs. 

Scholarships & Financial Aid

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offers Undergraduate Scholarships to highly qualified undergraduate students for study abroad. For more information click here and ask your Penn Abroad Overseas Program Manager.

In most cases, financial aid applies to Penn-approved programs.  Student Financial Services reviews program budget sheets each semester to determine how to appropriately adjust your aid package. back-to-top

Penn Resources

Students who study abroad are encouraged to take advantage of Penn's many resources for students, even if you haven't used them before going abroad.  There is an extensive list of resources on the Penn Abroad website that can help you to explore issues that might pertain to you and to help you prepare for a term abroad. 

In addition to these resources, we encourage you to reach out to a past program participant or ambassador to learn more about the program from a student perspective.

Student Video Feature

Penn student, Rebecca Chen, studied abroad with the BCGS Program in spring '14.  She captures her love for Berlin is this video.
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