Anyone studying in Germany is sure to have come across the term Werkstudent, or “working student”. But what exactly is a working student? What criteria do you have to meet to qualify as a working student? How much are working students paid and what (social insurance) benefits can they expect? This blog article provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about working students.
What is a working student?
Definition: A working student is a student who, in addition to their full-time studies at a university or a state-accredited university of applied science, is employed by a company on a more-than-marginal basis. A student must meet two specific preconditions to quality as a working student and benefit from the privileges it entails, based on the overarching assumption is always that the student’s primary focus is their studies, and work is a secondary priority. Therefore, a working student 1. must be a matriculated student on a full-time program at a university, and 2. must not usually work more than 20 hours per week. Working student status is suspended during semester breaks.
Securing working student status puts you in a different position to people who are marginally employed, also known as having a mini-job. From a tax perspective, working students are equivalent to permanent, part-time employees.
What roles can working students perform?
In principle, any company can employ working students, no matter their size or the sector they operate in. This creates numerous opportunities to find a position as a working student. In contrast to conventional mini-jobs – the German term for part-time roles, often in restaurants, bars or hospitality – a working student’s role will usually be linked to their studies. However, this is by no means essential. In any case, a position as a working student is also an excellent opportunity to explore new sectors and get a feel for different tasks and responsibilities. Working students are traditionally placed in teams where they actively support the project leader in their work, such as by helping to organize events, preparing and analyzing data, and drawing up marketing campaigns. Regardless of the precise nature of your activities, as a working student you will learn to collaborate as part of a team, present your ideas and think strategically while also honing your communication and time management skills.
Working hours: How many hours is a working student allowed to work?
The working hours of working students are subject to two specific rules: the 20-hour rule and the 26-week rule.
The 20-hour rule states that a working student may not work more than 20 hours per week. It is important to remember that this limits you to 20 hours of work as the combined weekly total for all forms of employment. This means that if you have a mini-job in addition to your role as a working student – which is both permitted and possible – your total working hours must not exceed 20 hours per week. Otherwise, you will be required to make higher social insurance contributions and pay more tax. Exceptions to the 20-hour rule apply in periods when no teaching takes place (i.e. during semester breaks), for work in the evening, at night and at weekends, and for mandatory internships.
Work during semester breaks and in the evening, at night and at weekends is subject to the 26-week rule. It states that working students may only work more than 20 hours per week for 26 weeks (182 calendar days) per year of employment. Important: When it comes to work in the evening, at night and at weekends, your health insurance provider (Krankenkasse) will decide whether and to what extent this exception applies.
If your time as a working student is regarded as part of a compulsory internship, it is usually also possible to have these limits increased. In this case, however, it is vital to conclude a separate contract to determine the general framework for this employment, which will also provide legal certainty for the employer and the employee.
Salary: How much do working students earn? How much can working students earn in addition to BAföG grants?
As a working student, you are considered a regular employee, which means you are entitled to the minimum wage. As of October 2022, the minimum wage in Germany is €12 per hour. A working student is therefore likely to earn a better wage than someone on a conventional internship, as interns are only entitled to the minimum wage in certain circumstances. If we assume that you work 20 hours per week at minimum wage, this equates to a monthly salary of €960 – and you can earn more in the semester holidays, as outlined above. It is not unusual for companies to pay above the minimum wage, sometimes around €15 per hour.
Incidentally, there is no maximum that caps the earnings of working students. However, the amount you earn has an impact on your entitlement to BAföG support, your income tax and your health insurance contributions (see sections on ‘Insurance’ and ‘Tax’ below).
As a working student, you will still be eligible for the full BAföG rate if you do not earn more than the gross allowance of €6,240 per year (as of August 2022). However, if your earnings exceed this allowance, the difference between your income and the allowance will be deducted from your BAföG funding. You must also declare activities as a working student and any other employment in your BAföG application; failure to do so constitutes a fraudulent BAföG application.
Leave: How much paid leave do working students get?
Of course, work students are also entitled to paid leave. This is regulated in Germany by the Federal Holiday Benefits Act (BUrlG). Even if this is not referenced in your employment contract, this is not cause for concern – you will still have a statutory minimum entitlement. The extent of your leave entitlement depends on the number of days you work per week. The regulation for part-time employees – including working students – is as follows: Working days per week x 4 = Days of leave per year. This means:
5-day week: 20 days of leave per year
4-day week: 16 days of leave per year
3-day week: 12 days of leave per year
2-day week: 8 days of leave per year
1-day week: 4 days of leave per year
As a working student, the number of hours you work is immaterial. When it comes to calculating your entitlement to paid leave, it is only the number of days you work that counts, regardless of whether you work for eight hours or for two. Your full entitlement to leave comes into effect once you have worked at a company for (at least) six months. Of course, your employer might have internal regulations on leave beyond this minimum statutory entitlement. You can usually find details of this in your employment contract. If you do not work fixed hours or shift patterns, you can calculate your pro-rata leave entitlement by working out your average working hours. You can find some useful example calculations here. In any case, it is important to put in leave requests well in advance and make sure they are processed and approved because, as a working student, you are not entitled to ‘sacrifice’ your leave for more money.
Insurance: Do working students have to pay social insurance contributions?
As a working student, you will benefit from what is known as working student privileges. This ensures that, at the end of the month, working students keep more of their wages than other employees due to special arrangements around social insurance contributions. Working students do not have to pay any additional contributions towards health insurance, nursing care insurance, accident insurance or unemployment insurance – provided that they meet the preconditions set out in the first section of this article. However, this does not mean that you are exempt from the general obligation to hold health insurance while in Germany.
As a student, you have various options when it comes to health insurance:
- Family health insurance: If your parents have statutory health insurance in Germany (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung), you can be co-insured until you reach the age of 25. However, your wage as a working student must not exceed €470 per month (as of 2022).
- Student health insurance: There is a specific form of statutory health insurance for students aged between 25 and 30 (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung der Studenten – KVdS). Which health insurance provider (Krankenkasse) you choose is entirely up to you. Premiums are usually around €90 per month.
- Voluntary statutory insurance: If you are aged 31 or over, you must take out voluntary statutory insurance. Although premiums vary, you should expect to pay at least €150 per month for statutory health insurance.
- Voluntary private insurance: You can also choose to waive your right to KVdS at the start of your studies and take our private health insurance. In this case, you can retain your student status until you turn 34. The monthly premiums vary depending on your chosen provider.
The question of which model is most suitable for you depends on a variety of factors. We recommend analyzing the options in detail at the start of your studies.
As a working student, the only social insurance contributions you are required to make are for pension insurance (Rentenversicherung). As of 2022, pension insurance contributions are 18.6% of an employee’s gross salary and are usually split 50/50 between the employer and the employee. Exactly how much your contributions will be depends on how much you earn. If your monthly wage is in the mini-job (marginal employment) range, i.e. less than €520 per month, you can even have yourself fully exempted from pension insurance – speak to your HR department about this. If your monthly wage is in the transitional bracket of €520 to €1,600 per month, your employer will cover the majority of the contributions, and you as the employee will pay between 4% and 9.3% of your gross salary. If your wage is above €1,600 per month, the regular arrangement applies and each party – the employer and the employee – pay a contribution of 9.3% of the employee’s gross salary.
Tax: Do working students have to pay taxes?
From a tax perspective, working students are treated as part-time employees. This means that, in principle, you will be subject to standard tax rules. However, whether you actually have to pay tax and in what amount depends on your income and your tax class.
Unmarried students fall into Tax Class 1 (Steuerklasse 1) and pay the lowest rate of tax. People in Tax Class 1 can earn up to €10,347 per year in Germany without paying any tax (correct as of 2022). This is known as the basic tax-free allowance (Grundfreibetrag). You only have to pay payroll tax if you earn more than €10,347 per year (€862.25 per month) after applying all deductions (e.g. employee deduction of €1,200 per year, special expenses deduction of €36, and any pension deductions). You will also have to pay church taxes (if you are a member of a church) if you earn over the tax-free allowance. Very few working students exceed the tax-free allowance because they work so few hours a week. However, with the increase in the minimum wage to €12 per hour, more students are likely to cross this threshold. Remember, that payroll tax is automatically deducted by your employer and transferred to the tax authorities, who retain it as a sort of pre-payment. So, if you have already paid payroll tax in Germany in a previous job, it’s vital that you submit a tax return. If you can demonstrate in your tax return that your wages did not exceed the basic tax-free allowance, any tax you have paid will be reimbursed to you.
If you earn more than the tax-free allowance, you only have to pay payroll tax on the amount above the threshold. However, as a working student, your tax burden is likely to be extremely low.
As a working student, you or your parents will continue to receive child benefits (Kindergeld) – provided that you are 25 or under and comply with the 20-hour rule detailed above.
Can a working student position benefit both the student and the employer?
Spending time as a working student can be a very rewarding experience – not only because certain privileges exempt working students from social insurance contributions, but also because it provides an opportunity to gain valuable practice experience Let’s look at a handful of the benefits of being a working student:
- As a working student, you can earn a good wage alongside your studies.
- You acquire practical experience and develop your competencies (incl. both hard skills and soft skills).
- You gain insights into the day-to-day activities at a company or in a specialist field.
- You find out more about yourself, including your strengths, weaknesses and preferences.
- As a working student, you often benefit from flexible working hours – and can work full time in the semester breaks.
- You can have your working student activities counted towards any compulsory internship requirements (following consultation with, and approval from, both your university and your employer).
- You enjoy specific working student privileges, making you exempt from health insurance, nursing care insurance, accident insurance and unemployment insurance contributions.
- It provides an opportunity to make new contacts and expand your network.
- As a working student you can write your final thesis in cooperation with your employer. [Find out why this is worth exploring here.]
- You can pave the way for the first steps in your career, with a good chance of being kept on by your employer after you graduate.
However, the working student model can also benefit employers, The Career Center of Munich Business School explains why:
“As working students usually spend longer at a company than most interns, hiring working students present a useful opportunity for companies to keep an eye out for the talented, up-and-coming professionals of the future. Students bring with them some expertise gained at university, which means they can be integrated more closely into projects. Their fresh perspective and the results they deliver offer genuine added value for the company. The working student model therefore opens doors for both parties – the student and their employer.”
Working student applications: What documents do I need?
If you’re eager to gain experience and find a position as a working student, start looking for suitable roles. Companies usually publish vacancies for working students on their own website. Students at Munich Business School benefit from an internal job platform where businesses exclusively post vacancies, which removes the need to check each individual company’s careers page.
As so often in life, you will usually have to submit an application for a working student position. Your application should comprise a cover letter, a résumé, references and/or certificates. Your cover should explain the motivation behind your application for a work student position and outline your skills, such as the skills you’ve developed during projects at university. Your résumé needs to provide an overview of you as an individual and your (academic) career to date. You can also attach references and certificates, which provide sound and objective confirmation of your skills.
You are interested in economics and want to acquire in-depth business know-how?
Then the international business degrees at Munich Business School (MBS) are just right for you! At MBS you won’t cram dry theory from old textbooks, but learn in a outcome-oriented way and gain valuable practical experience. Convince yourself:
Bachelor’s in International Business
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