This paper provides new insight into the question how higher education students acquire knowledge. More precisely, we investigate the significance of different learning environments and of the time allocated by students to different study related activities for the level of generic and discipline-specific competencies possessed by the graduates at time of graduation. The learning environment will be classified according to two scales: (1) the emphasize placed on the teacher as the main source of information and (2) the emphasize placed on activating learning methods such as problem-based learning. With respect to the time allocation of the students, we will distinguish between time spent on (1) formal education, (2) self-study, (3) extra-curricula activities and (4) paid work. Using a unique data set on European higher education graduates, providing detailed information on these crucial factors, we investigate the competencies acquisitions process by stochastic frontier production function methods. The results suggest that activating learning methods are effective in both, the acquisition of generic competencies and the acquisition of discipline-specific competencies. However, for the latter effect to hold, the role of the teacher has to go further than just controlling the group’s process. Their relative stronger effectiveness for generic competencies implies that graduates confronted with activating learning methods achieve on average a more generic competencies oriented learning output than students attending more traditional types of higher education. Moreover, the results show that discipline-specific competencies are in particularly acquired by following formal education to the extent that attendance is required, by self-study and by paid work, as long as there is a strong link between the work and the study one follows. Generic competencies are acquired by self-study and paid work in general.