Weggabelung am Campus Westend

Some issues you might want to consider right from the start

Choosing your Subject as a Student with Health Impairments

Your choice of study program should primarily be governed by your interests, aims, ambitions and abilities – whether you are living with an impairment or not. However, central aspects of your health influence your personal development in many respects – and this in turn is likely to affect your views and prospects in certain areas of study.

After all, you need to be in a position to pursue your academic path autonomously. Furthermore, it is advisable to choose your subject so that your impairment will not interfere excessively while you concern yourself with the various issues and challenges that are integral to any course of studies at university. This is essential: bringing your studies to a satisfying and successful conclusion is your personal task at university – regardless of your health or disability status. It is you who remains in charge.

Certainly, several details concerning the organisation of your daily life as a student may be adapted to accommodate your condition, and it is possible to take examinations in a different but equivalent form (“Nachteilsausgleich"), where necessary, or have certain deadlines extended. However, such adaptations never concern the academic content and intellectual level as such: you will have to deal with these "without limitations" as all students do, regardless of your circumstances. And this is exactly what you should be able to do well enough – and enjoy doing it.

There is no magic formula showing the right way to the right area of study – this is true of candidates with and without impairments alike. To be sure, many options are open to you regarding your individual situation.  Moreover, no university should endeavour to discourage you from choosing any particular course of studies right from the start. However, certain areas of study pose demands that are especially difficult to reconcile with certain kinds of impairments. To face the issue of such (mis-)matches straight away may help to avoid stressful dead-ends and detours.

In the following list, we have prepared a number of questions for (future) students with health impairments to consider when deciding on their course of studies. These proposals are based on our practical experience in advising students.  

You need not exclude a particular subject immediately if you identify a (potential) problem – but the sooner you recognise an upcoming problem, the better you can start looking for ways of dealing with it. Maybe a similar alternative suits you better than the subject you originally preferred.

Detailed information and advice is available from the study advisors for students with health impairments, general study advisory services, or study advisors in each of the individual disciplines. Guidance concerning the choice of a subject and area of studies is available at Studien Service Center. When you visit specialised job fairs or information events at the university, try asking specific questions to determine whether a specific subject can accomodate your personal needs and requirements.

Food for Thought - It's your Choice!

  • Basic considerations: What kind of professional activities and daily routine (roughly) are you aiming at with the choice of this subject? Can you imagine working and living in this way with your health issue? What information would help you answer this question with more confidence and feel secure?
    • Relevant to: all kinds of impairments
    • Advice/Sources: Career Advice at Goethe University or the Employment Agency (Arbeitsagentur), Study Advisors/ Guidance Counselling, friends and loved ones; concerning your own situations: also doctors, therapists and other care providers
  • Amount and range of subjects: Will I be in a position to cope with the range and amount of subject matter / content that is to be expected in this area? Does it suit me well or not?
    • Relevant to: all kinds of impairments
    • Advice/Source: Description of the study program/ course of studies, schedule of your study programme, catalogue of modules of your study program, area-specific study advisory services
    • Alternative: other subject domain, in some cases: other from of education 
  • Mobility requirements::  Does your subject or intended profession require frequent changes of location or personal appointments in different places?
    • Relevant to: (mainly) physical/ mobility impairments or visual impairments
    • Advice/ Source: Description and schedule of your study programme/ course of studies, area-specific advisory services
    • Possible alternative: in some cases: choosing a theoretical focus within one's subject; choosing a neighboring discipline with less mobility requirements
  • Laboratory work and hazardous material:  Does my intended subject require laboratory work or working with hazardous material and substances, radiation, fields etc.? Am I in a position to cope with that physically? Is this possible without additional risk for me?
    • Relevant to: Physical/ mobility impairments, some sensory impairments, certain chronic conditions
    • Advice/Sources: Description and module catalogue of your study programme/ course of studies, area-specific advisory services
    • Possible alternatives: a focus on theoretical work (if feasible), choosing a neighbouring discipline which includes less laboratory work
  • Technical skill and artisanship: Does my subject require certain technical / manual skills or craftsmanship? Will I be in a position to acquire those or do I have an idea how I will be able to cope with these requirements considering my specific situation?
    • Relevant to: Especially physical/ mobility impairments (concerning fine (!)/ gross motor manipulations), some visual impairments
    • Advice/Sources: Description of your course of studies/ study programme, the faculty's website, reports on job placements, internships and practical exercises available with the faculty, area-specific advisory services, module catalogue of your study programme/ course of studies
    • Possible Alternative: Find out, if the tasks in question may be completed with appropriate assistive devices; or: choosing a theoretical focus (if feasible), choosing another subject
  • Practical/ International Experience: Does practical (internships/ job placements) and international experience (stays abroad) form an integral part of my course of studies? Can I foresee gaining this experience – perhaps with appropriate personal assistance – in view of my impairments? – This is especially relevant to subjects in the area of modern languages, social sciences and cultural studies as well as in economics and business studies
    • Relevant to: Various impairments, especially if they implicate a need for continued medical attention or personal assistance/ care
    • Advice/ Sources: in cases of stays abroad: the International Office; on the requirements of individual study programmes:  description and module catalogue of your study programme/ course of studies; area-specific study advisory services
    • Possible Alternative: in cases of stays abroad: the International Office; on the requirements of individual study programmes:  description and module catalogue of your study programme/ course of studies; area-specific study advisory services
  • Health-related requirements and professional perspectives: Are there specific health requirements implicated in the intended academic qualification or profession? Can I cope with these. or are there special regulations regarding my situation? – This is especially relevant to subjects preparing for a state examination or certain "sovereign" tasks specially regulated by the state.
    • Relevant to: all kinds of impairments, albeit for different impairments/subjects in different ways
    • Sources/ Advice: Area-specific advisory services, examination regulations, examination board, organisations of professional representation (Ärzte-, Anwaltskammer: Medical Association, Incorporated Law Society) etc.
    • Alternative: choosing a profession / neighbouring discipline which is not subject to health-related restrictions, choosing a different course of studies
Please note: This may imply that health impairments rule out certain professional careers / fields, but this need not be the case. Sometimes a candidate can apply for special regulations to be put into effect or the applicant can fulfil certain additional criteria. In order to know your options and make best the use of them, make sure to collect sufficient information as soon as possible..
  • Communication & Discourse: Some subjects, especially in the humanities, cultural studies or the social sciences, build on the ability to express one's thoughts in a highly sophisticated way,  to analyse others' ways of thinking in minute detail, and to deal with tough criticism, clashing views and contradictions. Are my linguistic, imaginative and empathetic powers equal to this task? Is my ability to engage in teamwork and enter intellectual exchange with others sufficient?
    • Relevant to: mainly people with mental health issues and autistic individuals
    • Sources/ Advice: Area-specific or general study advisory services/ guidance counselling, in some cases: psycho-therapeutic counselling services
    • Possible Alternatives: Change of subject or readjust choice of specialisation (focus of study), if desired: consider correspondence courses leading to university degrees (Ger.: "Fernstudium") as an alternative to a conventional university, since this offers a higher degree of self-controlled, self-contained learning, centered on the individual learner.
  • Dealing with troubling topics and upsetting situations: Some subjects require intensive contact with situations of hardship, suffering and conflicts, both on an intellectual and practical level. This is especially relevant in the area of medicine or psychology, but also in several social sciences or disciplines of cultural studies. Am I ready to deal with this?
    • Relevant to: primarily people with mental health issues, also some disabled people who feel extraordinary pressure and strain due to their general life situation
    • Advice/ Sources: General or area-specific study advisory services; to provide insights about yourself:  friends and relatives (if you appreciate their support).
    • Alternative: Choosing a neighbouring discipline less concerned with problematic issues, choosing another area of study.


Advice and Support for Students with Health Issues
Beratung für Studierende mit Beeinträchtigung


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