The main motivator to the scarring was to attract German lady students. Everyone who writes a contemporary account of the fencing scars says that if you wanted a date with a lovely lady, you’d better have a face covered in scars.
The best part was that your handsomeness wasn’t totally wrecked, as many sources said the cuts tended to be on the left side of the face (presumably, no southpaws were allowed in the door), leaving the right side to show off how good looking you still were.
And in terms of life and career, the scars were no joke. Many of these students were part of Germany’s elite and would go on to become prominent figures. Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany, had a prominent dueling scar on his own cheek, as did many later German officials. In other words, if you didn’t have the scars, you might miss out on a sweet job, political advancement, etc.
But what if you were a scared punk who didn’t want to fight with real swords with your entire face exposed? You used razor blades, or even paid doctors to make the cuts for you. Rub some salt in, or even stick a piece of horsehair in the cut to wreck the healing process and boom! You’ve got yourself a big scar.
Then, presumably, you had to tell all your friends that you dueled a guy from out of town. He’s from Leipzig, you guys totally wouldn’t know him.