Frankfurt is undoubtedly a great place to study. Right in the heart of Germany, the city is a well-connected hub and easy to reach by car, train or plane. Public transport is well developed and distances are short. The city also boasts a vibrant cultural scene, many opportunities for internships and part-time jobs and a wealth of other amenities. Several polytechnics and one university offer a wide range of subjects in many disciplines. As a place, it seems ideal for any student. There is only one minor problem: the price tag that comes along with studying here.
As a city of big money, “Mainhattan” (as Frankfurt is often referred to because of its skyscrapers and its thriving financial district) is a rather expensive place to live. The average cost to rent student-quality properties is about €350 a month, which places Frankfurt along the top end in comparison with other German university cities. But often enough, even €350 won’t get you very far. Student housing is hard to get, and waiting lists are long. Unsubsidised accommodation on the housing market is often considerably more expensive. If one likens the situation to London, Paris or New York, Frankfurt is still laughably cheap – but for many students the high cost of living is a reason to opt for “cheaper” cities such as Berlin or Leipzig when faced with the choice of where to study. I have many friends at different German universities who shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them what is considered a “normal” rent in Frankfurt. However, exorbitant rents are only one side of the coin. Be it restaurants, shops or bars – nearly everything is slightly more expensive than in the rest of the country. While you notice these differences, many students get used to them. After all, there is not much they can do about it if they do not want to check their finances every minute.
While commuting from suburban areas is a feasible option in many cities to avoid the staggering rental prices, in Frankfurt this is only to some extent a solution. The city’s green belt, the Rhein-Main area, belongs to the costliest regions in Germany. A major factor for this delicate situation is those working in Frankfurt’s large financial district – employees of banks, insurance companies, consultancies and top-tier law firms – who often prefer to live in the countryside. As a consequence, rents outside Frankfurt are often only slightly lower than those in the city itself. Nevertheless, the situation is not entirely hopeless for students on a budget. Offenbach and Hanau, both cities in commuting distance of Frankfurt, still offer affordable living space and present an acceptable alternative. And there is yet another option. Many of my friends who study in Frankfurt, including myself, live at home and commute into Frankfurt every day. It’s not the best option if you want to enjoy student life to the fullest, and it can make studying unnecessarily complicated; but for many, it is either the only option (especially if they cannot afford moving to another city) or the choice that does not see them with a huge debt at the end of their studies. Especially if you know that you definitely want to study in Frankfurt, as I did, staying at home is an option worth considering.
Looking at the high number of students in Frankfurt (roughly 50,000), one might assume that many students find the costs manageable. This is only part of the truth. Many rely on their families or work part-time, sometimes in more than one job, to make ends meet. Only a handful benefit from scholarships. While I would not say that many of my friends feel overly stressed by managing their finances, I know that many of them think twice before spending their money all too easily.
Whether the high living costs are ultimately worth it comes down to your personal preferences. If you appreciate short distances, city life and many fellow students around you, living in a metropolitan university city is unquestionably the better choice. If you do not put such an emphasis on these points, you might as well save money by staying at home or moving to a more affordable city or area. For me, the benefits of studying in Frankfurt outweigh the costs, but I understand that quite a lot of students would disagree with me in this regard.
Thankfully, there are at least some things you can do to survive in places such as Frankfurt. One suggestion for anyone studying in an expensive city is student housing. It’s necessary, especially in Germany, that you apply as early as possible, but if you can get a place you are often better off financially than with a room rented under normal market conditions. Get in touch with your university. It will often have free consultation hours with experts who can advise you on funding options. If you can, try to find a job at your university or one close to where you live (it will save you valuable time); and if your grades permit, definitely apply for any scholarship available.
Felix Simon, 23, is a journalist and student. Raised in a small town south of Frankfurt (where he still lives) he is currently finishing his BA in film and media studies and English studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. He can be found on Twitter @_FelixSimon_.