University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Starting at Danish university: The 5 biggest surprises

Starting at a Danish university can be a big change in your life. So we want to prepare you with five things that might surprise you.

Like a tiny dot on the horizon that slowly recedes, the summer holidays are finally over.

This also means the beginning of a new life for you and your fellow new students at Danish universities. Student life at a Danish university is something that is likely a lot different from what you have known in your home country. So this is to help you get ready for it.

Here are five ‘terrifying’ truths that apply to Danish universities.

This includes shifting your perspective on what the time is, getting hold of something akin to a Holy Bible, and diving into your savings to get hold of the books. Take a deep breath:


At Danish universities you don’t turn up on time

… well you actually do, but the ‘time’ is 15 minutes later than you think. As a student at Danish universities, you automatically add an ‘academic quarter’ of an hour, or fifteen minutes to the start time of your lessons. If you, say, on the site for the University of Copenhagen, see that your lecture begins at 9 am, what it actually says is that the lecture begins at 09:15. A lesson lasts 45 minutes (unless the instructor is going off on a tangent, which can happen), you can usually expect a fifteen-minute break after each lesson.

The ‘academic quarter’ dates back to a time when it was not normal to have access to accurate watches or phones.

The ‘academic quarter’ dates back to a time when it was not normal to have access to accurate watches or phones. Instead, in the old university towns, you left home when you heard the church bells ringing.

Tip: Stop mentally including the academic quarter-of-an-hour if you tend to be late for things. Turn up on the hour, because then you can go and buy a cup of coffee or powder your nose after the bike ride in.


There are no lunch breaks in your schedule

After years of primary and secondary school, or your own university at home, with a nice long lunch break, it can be difficult to get used to the fact that it is only you, yourself, that takes the hole in your stomach around noontime into account. At the University of Copenhagen, your timetable does not include lunch breaks. This means that on some days you may have classes 9-17 with no scheduled time to eat lunch. Other days, however, you may no have classes at all, and so there is plenty of time to fatten yourself up for the lunch rationing on the other days of the week. Sometimes, however, you may strike lucky and have time off during the period 12-13, where you can hurry down to the canteen before the queue starts to back up. Unless of course you want to be involuntarily converted to the big lifestyle trend of the time, intermittent fasting.


The academic quarter can be a great idea on busy days – especially if you don’t have a packed lunch with you and just need to nip down to the canteen between two lessons.

Tip: Bring plenty of snacks for the long days at uni – teaching can take time and you may miss your break.


Books for university cost money. A lot of money

At school, or in your home country, you might have got the books for free or at least at reduced price. At Danish university you run the risk of standing in long queues to get hold of teaching materials, and you have to buy the books. And this bill can easily run up to DKK 3,000 every semester – or even more if you are on a degree programme that is really into hardcovers.

In the the curriculum and regulations for your study programme, you will find all the answers

Fortunately, the bookstore chain Academic Books, which you can find on campus, has books at student prices. Some teaching staff, especially at the Faculty of Humanities (and especially those who teach at the bachelor level), have compendiums made with syllabus texts so that you don’t have to buy ten different books. The compendiums are printed by Campus Print and can be purchased on campus or online.

READ ALSO: How to read a book at Danish university

Tip: It pays to buy books second-hand, and there are several fora on Facebook with students from older year cohorts selling their used books. See, for example, ‘Brugte Bøger Humaniora (KUA)’ or ‘Brugte Bøger Science KU’. Alternatively, you might be lucky and find the book in electronic form, free on the big internet. Sometimes you can save a lot of money by getting hold of an older version – but ask an older student for advice on the do’s and don’ts of your particular degree programme.


The regulations are your (new) bible

You will find he answers to all your questions in the academic regulations, the studieordningen. At least all those related to your study programme – including exam requirements. You’ll probably have to look elsewhere for answers to your existential questions.

The university is like a huge ocean – and students make friends with one another across both subjects and year cohorts.

At university, you are responsible for everything. This means that there is no teacher who will hold your hand and tell you how long your exam assignment should be. Or whether you need to have your problem formulation approved in advance. If your instructor does so, it’s still a good idea to check the regulations – don’t trust anything else! If you are a student of the University of Copenhagen you can find your academic regulations on your study page on the university’s intranet, KUnet.

Tip: Make friends with your regulations and curriculum early on, and you will quickly get an overview of the exams you need to take. This can save you blood, sweat and tears. And you will quickly become a guru on the formalities among your confused fellow students. Win/win.


Age – who cares?

Throughout both primary and secondary school, we were indoctrinated into believing that age meant something. In primary school, 9th graders bully the poor younger students. In secondary school it is the same story, with the older cohorts dominating the younger ones.

READ ALSO: 10 things I should have known before starting university

At university, you may well be called a ‘freshman’ when you start, but apart from that, age rarely matters in terms of who makes friends with whom. So prepare yourself for finding out that your best friend is some bearded 30 year old dude when you’ve just turned 19. And maybe you’re even on the same university year cohort – freshmen aren’t necessarily younger than the woman who’s just finished her bachelor’s degree. The university is like a huge ocean – and students make friends with one another across both subjects and year cohorts.

… well, maybe it wasn’t that bad after all, was it?

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