A recent article by the Rev. C. R. Gillette contains many valuable hints to an American student proposing to study in Germany. We quote from this article: "The young German who passes the examination at the close of his gymnasial course, is admitted to the university upon presentation of his testimonials. He comes after having gone through a strict and severe drill in the Greek, Latin, and, in some cases, Hebrew, besides the ground principles of mathematics and science. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that the gymnasial course is more extensive than the ordinary course in an American college arts department. We cover more ground and our graduates are more developed and better able to engage in the struggle of life. But in the matter of close training and drill, we are inferior. The German University finds its men prepared to build an edifice upon a foundation already laid There is no preliminary work done in the university except in the case of some studies which are not within the scope of the gymnasium, and even here the elements are compressed into a very few lectures, and the student is left to fill in the outlines by private study. An American will find himself somewhat at a disadvantage, when he listens to Latin and Greek citations, unless he has had the advantage of a good grammar-school training; for he will find that he goes back to this, rather than to his college work.
The preparation being presupposed, the university lecturer soon plunges inmedias res. The work laid out before one is work in special branches and along special lines. One of the troubles found by the enthusiastic American, is to know, not what to take, but what not to take. The great richness of the field is rather a drawback than an aid, for it is seldom that one is reduced to a "Hobson's choice." The subjects to be "read" upon are so varied, so alluring, so rich, that only the man of fixed purpose, or of one idea, can pass through a couple of years without wasting some valuable time outside of his specialty. The method of instruction is by lectures in every case where it is possible. There are certain courses which each candidate for a degree must hear before presenting himself for examination. A record of these is kept in a book given to each student for this purpose, in which he enters the subjects of the lectures and to which the lecturer signs his name at the beginning and close of each semester by way of attestation. In this the extreme freedom of the system is seem, for many a student only attends a course twice, viz., when the book is signed. That is the student's affair and he must take the risk on the day of examination. But the hardest work of the student is not in the lecture room proper, though he may hear five lectures each day. The foundation of the work of after-life is often laid in the "Uebungen," or practical exercises. There are societies formed for the study of special branches, in which papers are read by the members in rotation, giving the results of special work. The writer knew of one man who prepared a paper for one of Prof. Mommsen's societies, which covered 78 pages of foolscap, written in a painfully fine hand. The number of members in most of these classes is very small compared with the number of applicants, and a name may stand on the list for two years before its bearer finds admittance.
Graduation in our sense of the word does not exist. After a man has heard lectures for a minimum of three years, he is allowed to apply for permission to "make an examination." It is seldom that any one tries the ordeal in a shorter time, six semesters being the ordinary university course. A friend of the writer, an American, however, went up for examination at the end of his third semester in Berlin, in Physics, and what is more, he passed the examination and received his degree of Ph. D. This case may be taken as showing what is possible, but it is an occurrence seldom recorded.
Among the difficulties met by the American, the following may be mentioned. The language is, of course, the main one, but six months of honest hard work will overcome this in nearly every case, and in some special branches enough can be gained in four to answer all practical purposes. The script is peculiar and must be learned, for nearly all notices on the bulletins are written in it. The choice of lectures is often a problem, but as it is permitted to hear the various courses for about two weeks without settling down upon any particular one, this is reduced to a minimum. The advice of an experienced friend is valuable, but a fixed purpose and the wisdom to avoid outside allurements is of still greater advantage. In applying for admittance it is by no means necessary to show an American degree, for no attention is paid to it, but the man who would enter without a pass from Washington, will have a hard time of it. Whether this is a reflection on our colleges or not is a question that the writer cannot decide. Any one of proper age, armed with a pass, can gain the advantages of university lectures, owing to what appears to be a special courtesy.