Extending the duration of your course or switching to part-time student status
You may be in the situation of wondering whether you can continue to manage your current full-time degree course due to the impact of your condition and possibly other stressors in your life. Many higher education institutions offer their students the opportunity to reduce their workload while retaining full-time status, which means they complete their course over a longer duration.
You should be aware that this route is not open to students in cooperative degree programmes, who, however, may be able to agree arrangements with their institution in exceptional cases. International students, particularly those whose residence permit has been issued explicitly ‘for study purposes’, should always seek advice before taking this course of action.
At most institutions, the enrolment regulations stipulate a maximum duration of study after which the student is deregistered. At Hamburg’s state-run higher education institutions, this maximum-duration is usually twice the standard duration (Regelstudienzeit) of the degree course in question plus two semesters, or four consecutive semesters in which the student does not complete any credits. Deregistration may be waived if the student can demonstrate that deregistration would cause them exceptional hardship. You should also be aware that the regulations governing your degree course may set out particular time limits for completing certain stages of a degree, which you will need to meet in any case. In practice, issues with finances and funding are what generally tends to put limits on the duration of a degree course, despite the existence of routes to extensions to (for example) BAföG.
Aside from and separately to this way of extending the duration of your studies, some higher education institutions allow students on some or all of their degree courses to apply for part-time student status. As a rule, this is granted for two semesters, and two semesters of enrolment (Hochschulsemester) in part-time study correspond to one course/subject semester (Fachsemester). You will need to be aware that switching to part-time status is likely to have implications for your funding (such as BAföG) or your residency status, and take account of these. It may make more sense for you to stay in full-time status and reduce your workload per semester as outlined above.
Taking a period of leave or pausing your studies
Perhaps you are considering taking a break from your studies for a limited period of time, or are finding yourself compelled to take time off because you are unwell at the moment. Most higher education institutions have procedures in place to enable students to take one or more semesters of leave due to illness. You will need to apply for a period of leave, and you will usually have to provide supporting evidence. Semesters during which you are on leave do not count as course/subject semesters (Fachsemester), which is likely to be of relevance to any BAföG funding you are receiving and may also be a factor for students in receipt of student loans. We strongly recommend you attend the advisory services run by your local Studierendenwerk (in Hamburg this is the Counselling Centre for Social & International Affairs – BeSI) to find out about the implications for your funding and any impact on your residency status.
Some institutions also allow you to pause your studies for a certain period of time. This may make sense for you if you are only entitled to a limited number of semesters of leave or you have already used them up. Pausing your studies means being effectively deregistered from your institution, so that you no longer have student status during this period (you will need to be aware of the potential implications for child benefit (Kindergeld) and your health insurance); however, you retain your place on your course and therefore the right to return to it when you are well again. However, once you rejoin your course, you may find that the regulations governing it have changed, in which case some of the credits you acquired before you took your break may not be recognised.
Please be aware that these are not routes that are open to students on cooperative degree programmes, who will need to request individual consideration as an exceptional case. International students, particularly those whose residence permit has been issued explicitly ‘for study purposes’, should always seek advice before taking this course of action.