Undergraduate Studies

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German Studies at Cornell enables students to develop the linguistic, literary, and cultural competency required of world citizens in the twenty-first century.  The interdisciplinary and cross-cultural orientation of our curriculum is designed to fulfill the needs of our diverse student population.  We encourage students to choose from the broad range of courses we offer in collaboration with other units such as Government, Philosophy, History, Comparative Literature, Jewish Studies, and Performing and Media Arts.

Our curriculum is inspired by three core tenets:

  1. The literary and visual arts are unique realms of thought and experimentation that constitute a source of knowledge in its own right.  
  2. Engagement with the distinct ways these domains have been investigated in the German intellectual tradition provides a crucial basis for critical reflection on society and culture.  
  3. The greatest insights that teachers and students produce arise in a dynamic environment that fosters cooperative learning, the pleasure of discovery, and rigorous intellectual mentoring.

Our courses emphasize close analysis of texts and artifacts, as sustained at all times by thoughtful reflection on the concepts that guide our investigations.  We regard essay writing in both English and German as central to our core mission of teaching students to think critically and develop cogent, rhetorically effective arguments.  Our curriculum closely integrates the study of language and culture at all levels of instruction.  We regularly offer seminars on such topics as modern literature and aesthetics; space and architecture in fictional worlds; avant-garde movements and artistic perception; contemporary literature, globalization and migration; critical theory; the detective novel; politics and history on stage; homo oeconomicus; Marx, Nietzsche, Freud; political theory and cinema; psychoanalysis; web culture. 

We warmly welcome and encourage students to pursue German Studies as a vibrant part of their general education, whether as a major or minor; as a double major alongside another discipline; in preparation for graduate school; or as a stepping stone to an international professional career.  Our diverse course offerings fall in the broader themes of:  

  1. Culture and Society, 
  2. Literature and Philosophy, 
  3. Aesthetics and Media, and 
  4. Critical and Political Thought.  Therefore, we seek to engage our students' intellect and imagination by valorizing the plurality of intellectual impulses that comprise our field and relating them purposefully to each student's academic goals.  


Majors pursue individual interests in courses addressing literature and philosophy, culture and society, aesthetics and media, as well as critical and political thought. In consultation with the director of undergraduate studies, courses with a substantial German component from other departments may also be included for the major.

To complete the major, a student must take 8 courses to fulfill both categories below:

  • Demonstrate competence in the German Language by successful completion of two 3000-level courses with intensive language work (GERST 3000-3209) or the equivalent.
  • Complete six courses in German Studies at the 3210-level or above. One of these must be 'The Seminar" (GERST 4100). No more than one course per semester taken as part of a study-abroad program may be counted toward the major.

There is a wide variety of courses co-sponsored with other departments (Comparative Literature; Government; History; Music; Theater, Film and Dance; Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies).

The department encourages double majors and makes every effort to accommodate prospective majors with a late start in German.  The department also encourages study abroad. 
Students interested in a major should consult Elke Siegel, es744@cornell.edu


The undergraduate minor in German Studies is intended for students enrolled in any of the seven undergraduate colleges at Cornell who wish to gain a broad understanding of the culture, literature, and society of German-speaking countries while refining their language competence. The minor is designed to provide for breadth while permitting flexibility to emphasize areas of interest in German Studies.

The course GERST 2000 or equivalent is the prerequisite for declaring the minor. Students must complete a minimum of four courses starting with GERST 2020 or above selected from the offerings of the German Studies Department. At least one of these courses must be taught in German at the 3000-level or higher. One of the four courses may be from another department as long as it has a substantial German component. No more than one course per semester taken as part of a study-abroad program may be counted toward the minor. GERST 4510-4520 Independent Study may not be counted at all. 

Interested students in the German minor should consult with Elke Siegel, es744@cornell.edu.

German Placement & CASE Exams

Basic German Placement Exam

Friday, January 17, 2020 at 10:00AM, GSH G24

Makeup exam: Tuesday, January 21, 2020 at 6:00PM, GSH G24

German Placement CASE Exam

Friday, January 17, 2020 at 11:00AM, GSH G24 

Makeup exam: Tuesday, January 21, 2020 at 7:00PM, GSH G24

Pre-registration is not necessary for either exam.  Please come with a pen.  Please contact Gunhild Lischke (gl15@cornell.edu; 255-0725) if you have any questions, or if you are unable to attend either of the scheduled exams.

Honors Program

Honors in German Studies are awarded for excellence in the major, which includes overall grade point average and completion of the honors thesis. Students are awarded either honors (cum laude), high honors (magna cum laude), or the highest honors (summa cum laude) in the program based on the honors advisers’ evaluation of the level and the quality of the work completed toward the honors degree. The honors distinction will be noted on the student’s official transcript and it will also be indicated on the student’s diploma.

Prerequisites for admission. Students must have upper-class standing, and an overall GPA of a B or higher and a GPA of 3.5 or higher in the major. Students must first consult with Gunhild Lischke, gl15@cornell.edu regarding eligibility for the honors program.

Procedure. Students who wish to be considered for honors ideally should apply to the DUS no later than the second term of the Junior year. Students who are off campus in their junior year must apply by the third week of classes in the first semester of their senior year. Students should secure the consent of a faculty member to serve as the director of both the reading course (GERST 4530) and the writing of a thesis (GERST 4540). With the help of their thesis adviser students choose an area of special interest and identify at least one other faculty member who is willing to serve on the honors committee. An oral thesis defense concludes the process.

Study Abroad & Internships

Study Abroad:

The department strongly supports Study Abroad as an opportunity for students to put their German to use by living and studying in the German cultural context. The experience of living abroad promotes enduring personal growth, provides new intellectual perspectives through cultural immersion, and opens up academic and professional opportunities.

Berlin Consortium:

Students interested in studying abroad are encouraged to consider the Berlin Consortium for German Studies (BCGS), of which Cornell is a member. The program is run in conjunction with the Free University of Berlin and is of very high caliber. Six weeks of an intensive German Discourse & Culture course held at the center of the consortium are followed by one or two semesters of study at the university. Participants enroll in regular courses at the university. Academic-year students have been assisted in finding internships between semesters. Prerequisite for participants is fourth semester level of German language study (GERST 2020, 2040 or 2060).

Students interested in this or other study abroad options in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland should consult the language program director, Gunhild Lischke, gl15@cornell.edu (G75 Goldwin Smith Hall, 255-0725) as soon as possible.


The department works with the USA-Intern program to provide summer internships to qualified students with German companies and agencies. Interested students should contact Elke Siegel, es744@cornell.edu early in the fall semester.

Undergraduate Prizes & Awards

Department Awards:

  • Simmons Award in German: A $75 book award is given each May to the undergraduate who has done the best work in German. Gift under the will of Dr. Lucretia V. T. Simmons.
  • Goethe Prizes: The Goethe Prize, endowed in 1935 by Ludwig Vogelstein, is awarded each April for the best essay on any topic connected to German literature or culture. Freshmen and Sophomores can win up to $250 with an essay (5-10 pages in German or English). Juniors and Seniors can win up to $250 with an essay (7-15 pages in German or English) and Graduate Students can win up to $500 with an essay (10-20 pages in German or English).
  • Book Prizes: Books are donated to the Department of German Studies by the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany and are awarded to outstanding students nominated by their German instructors.

Certificate in German Language Study:

The Certificate in German Language Study (level B2+ based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) is issued to recognize substantial language study beyond the GERST 2000 level in the Department of German Studies. Students are awarded the certificate after passing with a grade of B or above in three language or German Studies courses held in German. No more than two of the three courses can be taken with an s/u option. Two of these courses must be at the 3000-level or above. Independent Study may not be counted at all. 

Applications are available here or in the Department of German Studies office, 183 Goldwin Smith Hall. Certificates are awarded at the end of the year award ceremony/reception.

Certification in German:

Every April students may register for these Goethe Institute exams:

  • Zertifikat Deutsch als Fremdsprache
  • Deutsch für den Beruf
  • Mittelstufenprüfung
  • Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung

Awards available to undergraduates with a background in German:

  • The Frederic Conger Wood Fellowship for Research in Europe: The Institute of European Studies sponsors the Wood Fellowship which supports the European Summer Research Program for undergraduate research in Europe. Juniors are invited to submit applications to pursue summer research projects in Europe. Selected students spend the spring semester prior to departure preparing the project under the guidance of an adviser. During the summer, the students spend 6-8 weeks of field study in Europe and on their return write up the results of their research, often in the form of an honors thesis.
  • DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellowships: One or more DAAD fellowships are awarded directly to Cornell University annually by the German Academic Exchange Service. The fellowships enable graduating seniors and doctoral candidates to study at a German university or to work on a research project in Germany.
  • Fulbright Grants for Graduate Study Abroad: Various awards for graduate study, travel grants, and teaching opportunities for graduating seniors as well as advanced graduate students. Open to U.S. citizens with a good academic record and proficiency in the written and spoken language of the country of interest.

 If you need accessible versions of any of these documents, please contact as_communication@cornell.edu. You will receive a response within 2 business days.