As of 2014, all public universities in Germany offer higher education free of charge,for both domestic and international students. This means anyone from around the world can now study in Germany at undergraduate level for free at a public university (with just a nominal administration fee per semester of about US$300).
For postgraduate students, however, tuition fees still exist. These fees may be avoided (or cut dramatically) if you have already graduated from an undergraduate program in Germany in the last few years. If you studied in another country at undergraduate level, you are classed as a ‘non-consecutive’ student and should expect to pay around US$12,000 per semester to study on a reputed postgraduate program.
2. What qualifications do universities in Germany offer?
Under the Bologna reform, all universities in Germany offer internationally recognized degrees. A BA or a BSc (Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Science) will usually take 6 semesters (3 years) to complete, and these are the most common undergraduate degrees. For postgraduate studies, an MA or MSc (Master of Arts / Master of Science) will take 2-4 semesters (1-2 years) and a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) will last 4-6 semesters (2-3 years).
More specialized degrees are also available at certain German universities. If you’d like more information about gaining an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) in Germany, visit this guide on our sister site TopMBA.com.
3. What are the entry requirements to study in Germany?
To study abroad in Germany you need to hold a ‘higher education entrance qualification’ or ‘Hochschulzugangsberechtigung’ (HZB). This qualification can come in many formats, particularly for international students who have gained their school-leaving qualifications in a different country.
For prospective undergraduate students, a high-school diploma, school-leaving certificate or university entrance exam result is usually sufficient. For postgraduate programs, students need to provide an undergraduate degree certificate. Usually, if your qualification would allow you entry into higher education in your home country, it will also be sufficient to allow you to apply to German universities. To check whether your current qualifications are recognized for study in Germany, use the form on this page.
If you find that your qualification is not recognized, you are also able to take a preparatory course at a ‘Studienkolleg’ before taking a compulsory assessment test known as a ‘Feststellungprüfung’. This assessment will cover areas that are relevant to the program you wish to study on and will prepare you for university.
If you wish to undertake a program being taught in German (the teaching language of most undergraduate programs in Germany), you will also need to prove your German proficiency (see Question 4 for more information).
In addition to German-language proficiency and an entrance qualification, you may also need to meet the specific entry requirements of your chosen university program. These requirements depend on the reputation of the school and of the program, and can be found by looking at the program information in the university’s prospectus or online.
4. Do I need do speak German?
The language of instruction at most universities in Germany is German. All students undertaking a German-taught program will need to be able to demonstrate a firm knowledge of the language, either by means of a language test result or by taking a preparatory course. Accepted proficiency tests are the DSH (German Language University Entrance Examination for International Applicants), TestDaF (Test of German as a Foreign Language), GDS (Goethe Institut German Language Diploma) and the DSD (German Language Diploma of the Standing Conference of the Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs, Level II). If you are only studying in Germany for one or two semesters you may not need to provide this evidence.
If you have a limited knowledge of German, you could consider taking an English-language program. There are a growing number of English-taught programs at universities in Germany, particularly at postgraduate level. If you are a non-native English speaker, you may be required to provide proof of your English-language proficiency with a TOEFL or IELTS result. If your chosen school requires this, they will list ‘proof of English-language proficiency’ as an entry requirement.
5. How do I apply to universities in Germany?
Admissions processes vary between institutions, so make sure to check the information given by your chosen university before submitting an application. If you are unable to find the entry requirements of a program you want to apply for or you aren’t sure howto apply, visit the university’s International Office (‘Akademisches Auslandsamt’) and either read the information provided online or contact the office directly. There should be staff members available to provide support and advice on any topic relating to international student applications.
Generally, you’ll be asked to provide the following documentation with your application:
A certified copy of your higher education entrance qualification (e.g. a high-school diploma) and any other relevant qualifications in the original language
A translated overview of the subjects and grades of your qualifications
A passport photo
A copy of your passport (personal information and photo ID)
Proof of language proficiency (a test certificate or online equivalent)
For the majority of public German universities, the application period for the winter semester begins in early May and ends mid-July. For the summer intake, the application period is between early December and mid-January. You should expect to receive a formal acceptance or rejection approximately one to two months after the deadline has passed.
To ensure the best chances of acceptance, take care to provide all the documentation asked for, make sure all your documentation is certified (copies of documents also need to be certified by the awarding school) and check that you’ve filled out all your information correctly before submitting your application.
Do I need a German student visa to study in Germany?
Whether or not you need a German student visa depends on your country of origin. If you are from a country within the EU or the EEA you do not need a student visa. If you are from Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland or Israel you still do not require a student visa, but you will need to register for a residence permit upon arrival in Germany. If you are from Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco, San Marino or Taiwan, you only need a visa if you plan on working in Germany before or after your studies. If your home country hasn’t been mentioned above, then you will need to apply for a German student visa at least three months before you are due to travel.
7. Where can I study in Germany?
Very good question! There are a total of 42 German universities featured in the latest edition of the QS World University Rankings®, meaning that you have a great selection of world-leading universities to choose from. If you want to study in a world-renowned student city, you might consider Munich or Berlin, both ranked among the world’s top 20 cities for students in the QS Best Student Cities index. But there are lots of regions of Germany with lots to offer students, including North Rhine-Westphalia (home of cities such as Dusseldorf and Cologne), Baden-Wurttemberg (home of Stuttgart), Bavaria (home of Munich), Hesse (home of Frankfurt am Main), Lower Saxony (home of Hannover), Saxony (home of Dresden) and Hamburg (a state which is also a city).
8. What’s the difference between a university and a ‘Fachhochschulen’?
While all degree programs in Germany lead to a recognized bachelor’s or master’s qualification (or the German equivalent), there are some institutions, named ‘Fachhochschulen’, which are more geared towards practical learning. ‘Fachhochschulen’ or University of Applied Sciences, typically offer degrees in fields such as engineering, natural science and business administration. Attending a University of Applied Science may give you a closer relationship with industry contacts and offer more opportunity for practical learning, including internships. If you wish to pursue an academic career, on the other hand, ‘Fachhochschulen’ may not be the best option, as there is less focus on theoretic work and they do not award PhDs.
9. Are scholarships available to cover living costs?
Although tuition fees in Germany are non-existent at public universities, you still need to consider how you’ll cover living costs. If you don’t have a sponsor or supporting family member, there are various opportunities to gain scholarships to cover these costs.
Scholarships to study in Germany can be obtained in various ways. The German government offers some funding to international students through the DAAD or the European Commission’s Erasmus+ scheme, but many opportunities are offered independently by German universities or external funding bodies. Browse the funding options on your chosen university’s website to see if they offer any international scholarships –these are often awarded based on merit, subject of study and/or country of origin.
10. What is studying in Germany like
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11. Where will I live during my studies?
Unfortunately, most German universities do not offer accommodation to enrolling students. This means that finding accommodation is up to you. With no tuition fees in Germany, rent is likely to be your biggest monthly expense, and this will vary depending on which part of the country you live in. In big cities within Western Germany (i.e. Dusseldorf, Cologne etc.) and smaller, student-oriented cities such as Heidelberg and Freiburg, you should expect to pay slightly more than if you were living in eastern Germany (i.e. Berlin).
When looking for accommodation in Germany, you should consider student residences, shared accommodation or an apartment. An unshared apartment is the most expensive choice, and this will generally cost in the region of €350-400 (US$430-500) a month. Shared accommodation would be cheaper at around €250-300 (US$300-370) a month, while student residences are cheaper yet again at around €200-250 (US$250-310) a month.
If you struggle with finding your accommodation, you can also look for temporary accommodation to cover your first few days or weeks in the country. In these instances, emergency housing may be provided by the university or you could try couch-surfing, staying in a hostel, B&B or hotel.
12. Can I work in Germany during my studies?
Yes, you can! If you are a full-time EU or EEA student (excluding students from Bulgaria and Romania) there are no restrictions on where or when you can work. If you are a full-time student from outside of the EU (or from Romania and Bulgaria), you will be limited to working up to 190 full days or 240 half days per year before you must apply for a work permit. Upon gaining paid work in Germany you should contact the German employment office to learn about the legal conditions.
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