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Many roads lead to Rome

Workshops teach students to cope with doubt and take good decisions

Freiburg, Dec 04, 2018

Many roads lead to Rome

Photo: WoGi/Fotolia

Doubt is part of science. But for many students it is also part of their studies – and can lead to fundamental, even crisis-inducing questions: is this the right university for me? Should I change subject? What is important to me in my studies and later career? Possible answers to these and other questions are the subject of the workshops “Weiter geht’s!? Vom Studienzweifel zu einer guten Entscheidung”, organized by the Central Academic Advice Office of the University of Freiburg over four evenings in December 2018 and January 2019.

Detours on the way to learning: there’s more than one road to Rome.
Photo: WoGi/Fotolia

“The point is not to see doubt about your studies as a failure but as an important and maybe even interesting situation that has to be grasped,” says Dr. Friedrich Arndt. The political scientist heads the Central Academic Advice Office of the University of Freiburg. Naturally it can be crisis-inducing if you have taken on a challenge but then have the feeling that you cannot manage it – regardless what internal or external circumstances are at the root. “But then the question arises: What shall I do about it now?” The Central Academic Advice Office is offering students the opportunity to learn coping strategies. University studies should not only convey content but also contribute to personal development, says Arndt – and here it can be productive to tackle doubts, uncertainty and change, “It probably won’t be the last time in their lives that students ask themselves, ‘What is happening to me, what decision should I take?’”

This is where the workshops come in: there are no lectures involved; instead it is designed to help the students to look at their doubts about their studies and take sound decisions. The four three-hour sessions are “very intensive”, says Arndt; each evening has a different theme: to begin with, students look at where they are at that point in time, in other words essentially at why they are unhappy at the moment. The second evening takes a look back – considering any good experiences and learning that the degree has offered so far, despite the doubts.

A matrix offers insight

“Who am I and what am I good at?” is the question that forms the basis for the third evening. Then the final workshop tries out practical strategies for decision-making. “This involves the use of tools that are also used in coaching, such as a complex decision-making matrix,” says Arndt. Students enter their goals, strengths and interests in the matrix. Tools like this can help to evaluate and balance personal criteria, “It’s fun to play with,” says Arndt – and it helps with decision-making. Group work is also very important to the entire series of workshops, “Exchanging ideas shows that doubts about studying are normal – and it helps to see oneself reflected in others.”

The workshops are taking place for the fifth time from December 2018, “It’s tried and tested, the feedback has been very positive,” says Arndt. Funding is provided by the Federal State for the Focus on First-Year Students project, however students from every semester and subject can take part.

Doubt can give rise to a crisis – the workshops teach students techniques for coping. Photo: Niklas Hamann/Unsplash

Drop-outs give answers

“The figures show that there is a real need for an offering like this”, says Natalie Boros. Together with her colleagues from Teaching and Learning Quality Management at the University of Freiburg, the psychologist has researched why students drop out without completing their degrees – whether in order to change university or subject, or to give up studying entirely. At German universities and in Freiburg, the drop-out rate for Bachelor’s degrees is around 30 per cent. Above all, students most often drop their studies in the first two semesters. “Our survey showed that the reasons were that the degree did not meet expectations and offered too little orientation,” says Boros. The early phase of studies is often decisive here.

Another common reason was that there was not enough connection to practice and profession. Boros emphasizes that there are many reasons for dropping studies. Family problems or personal reasons such as illness can also play a part. “And it may be that we aren’t even reaching the most fascinating group of drop-outs, because in some cases their frustration and resentment is so great that they don’t want to take part in our surveys.” Fundamentally, the results of her study are a stimulus for the university to give students better and more transparent advice on their degrees – before and after they start.

Developing self-reliance

In addition, there are now many offerings, says Arndt: from courses for school groups through information about “alternative career paths” that the university organizes together with companies, the Employment Agency, the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Trade, for instance, to classes on exam stress or organizing studies, as well as individual advice sessions. In the end, each of the participants in the workshops on doubts about studying choose different paths, Arndt has noted, “Many decide to change subject, some end their degree without graduating – and some complete their studies, but because they have clearly expressed their doubts they change the way they study.”

The workshops do not have a fixed approach, says Arndt: the idea is to reach a decision that suits you personally. “If, for example, a student is not doing as well as they expected on their maths degree, but has noticed that they are good at work for the student community and enjoy organizing things, maybe switching to a business studies degree is the right thing.” Discovering this is what Arndt calls “self-reliance”. But one thing is true for everyone, “This is exactly what a university that aims to promote personal development should be doing: taking detours.”

Thomas Goebel


The “Weiter geht’s!? – Vom Studienzweifel zu einer guten Entscheidung” workshops take place at 6-9 p.m. every Tuesday from 11 December 2018 at the Student Service Center, Sedanstraße 6. The individual evenings build on one another and can only be taken as a whole course. The service is open to all students.

Registration and more information