Dual Studies in Germany for International Students

Would you like to earn a university degree in Germany with the intention of finding a permanent well-paid job there but the lack of financial resources prevents you from fulfilling your dream? If you are willing to juggle study and work and can handle stress and workload, a dual study programme in Germany might be an ideal option for you.

What Is a Dual Study Programme

For most international students, dual study programmes are a little-known form of academic education in Germany. They are characterized by a combination of academic studies and practical work experience or vocational training that are integrated and aligned with each other. About half of the time is spent at the university (or an equivalent institution of higher education) and half at work in the cooperating company or, alternatively, at vocational training.

In a dual study program you are a student and an employee at the same time and thus you get paid for your work in the partner company. The company you work for often also covers your study-related costs. In addition to earning a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree, you will, depending on the study model you choose, either complete a long-term internship or receive a vocational training in a recognized profession. As a result, right after school you will have valuable professional experience that will greatly improve jour chances in the German labour market. Nevertheless, you will most likely be offered a job in the company you worked for.

At the moment, more than 120 thousand students are enrolled in over 1,600 dual study programmes at ca. 300 higher education institutions in Germany, gaining practical experience at more than 50 thousand cooperating companies. Although the aforementioned number of students represents just a little over 4% of all university students in Germany, the popularity of this originally unique German educational model is steadily increasing.

Dual Study versus Dual Vocational Training

Make sure not to confuse dual study with dual vocational training. Students in a dual study programme do not primarily attend a vocational or technical school (both are secondary schools) for theory lessons like trainees in a dual vocational training programme normally do but an institution of higher education (i.e., university or academy). A dual study course ends with an academic degree as the primary degree. Official vocational qualification may or may not be obtained, depending on the type of programme (for more information read the section “Types of Dual Study Programmes” below). In contrast, dual vocational training is a form of practically-biased secondary education.

Institutions Offering Dual Study Programmes

Dual study programmes are offered by several types of higher education institutions in Germany as presented below. Differences exist among the federal states because in some states only certain educational institutions can provide dual study courses.

  • Universities of applied sciences (‘Hochschulen für Angewandte Wissenschaften/Fachhochschulen’) – as the name suggests these institutions emphasize practical application of science and are, therefore, the most likely place among universities where to find dual study programs. In fact, more than 70% of all dual study courses in Germany are provided by universities of applied sciences. Nonetheless, the majority of programmes offered by these institutions are regular academic study programmes. Most universities of applied sciences are public. But, do not get confused by the double terminology – the German term ‘Fachhochschulen’ (polytechnic colleges) was commonly used to describe this type of higher education institutions in the past but more recently they became better known as ‘Hochschulen für Angewandte Wissenschaften’ (universities of applied sciences).
  • Cooperative universities (‘Duale Hochschulen’), sometimes also called universities of cooperative education, specialize in offering dual study programmes and usually have a large network of partner companies. Nearly all of them are public. Cooperative universities provide ca. 15% of all dual study courses in Germany.
  • Vocational academies (‘Berufsakademien’) are exclusively dedicated to providing vocational-training-integrated dual study programmes (see below for explanation of a ‘vocational-training-integrated programme’). They account for just under 10% of all dual study programmes in Germany. The majority of vocational academies are private. However, these schools are not officially considered a university in Germany and their Bachelor’s degrees, though formally recognized by the state, are not an academic degree. For this reason, some vocational academies transformed themselves into cooperative universities in recent years.

In addition to the aforementioned three types of higher education institutions, the dual study programmes can be in recent years also found at some regular universities.

Types of Dual Study Programmes

The most characteristic feature of any dual study programme is the alteration of phases of study and work/vocational training. The periods of study and work can be as long as three months but as short as a few days. Precisely how this is structured depends on the program. In many programmes, students attend seminars on two days a week and go to work on the remaining three days. In others, there are two 3-month blocks per semester, one for study and one for work/vocational training.

But, not every practically-biased university study programme is automatically a dual study programme. For a study course to be considered a dual study programme, the phases of study and work must be in the same field and must be aligned and connected. The kind of work experience that is integrated into the study curriculum gives us three major types of dual study programmes (however, only the first two of them are of interest to international students):

  • Vocational-training-integrated dual study programme combines academic studies at the institution of higher education with vocational training in a recognized occupation which takes place in the partner company. In addition to attending lectures at the university and working in the company, students of a vocational-training-integrated dual study course also attend a secondary vocational school. Graduates of this type of dual study programme receive an academic degree such as Bachelor’s or Master’s from the institution of higher education as well as a vocational qualification, that is, a journeyman’s certificate from the respective chamber of trades. This is currently the most popular type of dual study programme.
  • Internship-integrated dual study programme combines academic education with practical work experience in the cooperating company. In this type of study programme students usually complete a long-term internship in one company, though in some programmes they can do several internships in different companies. The internship-integrated dual study course ends with an academic degree (Bachelor’s or Master’s). However, no vocational degree is awarded in this program.
  • Fulltime-job-integrated dual study programme allows employees to pursue academic degrees (mostly Bachelor’s) while working fulltime or nearly fulltime. There are two subtypes of this programme – in one the number of working hours is reduced to enable more time for studies while in the other the student must cope with the full workload. The fulltime-job-integrated dual study programme differs from distance study course in that study and work in a dual study course are integrated, that is, they are aligned and coordinated with each other.

Academic Degrees Awarded to Graduates of Dual Study Courses

Bachelor’s degrees are the most common academic degree awarded to graduates of dual study programmes in Germany but many schools also offer Master’s degree dual study programmes. Bachelor’s degree programmes usually last between 6-8 semesters (3-4 years) while Master’s programmes span over 4 semesters (that is, 2 years).

The Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees awarded by universities of applied sciences and by cooperative universities have the same acceptance and are equal to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees issued by traditional universities. However, the Bachelor’s degrees awarded by vocational academies are not an academic degree and should be rather called a state-recognized Bachelor’s degree (sometimes also referred to as a state examination degree). Vocational academies typically do not provide Master’s degree programmes. Therefore, those students who intend to later pursue a Master’s degree programme should better avoid vocational academies.

Subjects Offered as Dual Studies

The choice of study subjects at higher education institutions providing dual studies is large enough for most people. The focus traditionally was on technical and engineering professions, business administration, IT and healthcare professions but today you can study almost any subject you wish in a dual study programme. The only exceptions are medicine, law, teaching and theology.

Advantages of Dual Study Programmes

For international students, by far the biggest advantage of a dual study programme in Germany in comparison with regular university programmes is the salary they receive. They get paid from day one, so in case they earn more than 934 euros a month after tax (see below: this is the average monthly living cost in Germany and, if multiplied by 12, a requirement for a blocked account when applying for a visa), they do not need any financial support or to spend their own savings. Moreover, the cooperating company often also covers their students’ tuition fees and gives them allowances for rent.

Additional benefits include the practical focus of study courses that are provided in small groups and demonstrable work experience gained already during studies. Another advantage are corporate contacts that students establish in companies they work for and liaise with. So, in other words, the graduates of dual study courses are more ready for their jobs than their counterparts from normal university programmes because of the targeted knowledge and skills they receive and several years of professional work experience in their field. This enables them to immediately assume leading roles in their industry. Moreover, they usually have a guaranteed job offer from the cooperating company once they graduate.

Furthermore, graduates of vocational-training-integrated dual study programmes receive two diplomas – an academic degree (usually a Bachelor’s degree) and a vocational qualification in a recognized occupation requiring formal training that is accepted throughout Germany.

However, all good things come at a cost. Students in a dual study programme have to juggle study and work at the same time. High workload, tight and fixed schedule, no semester breaks but limited (though paid) holiday days are the challenges they have to cope with. As a result, they are a lot busier and stressed than their counterparts in regular university study programs and thus more prone to failure.

Salaries of Dual Study Students

As a student in a dual study programme you can expect to earn between 700 and 1,500 euros a month gross in the first year. That is without any extras. The average starting salary is 900 euros a month gross. However, the salary increases over time so that the average gross salary at the end of the programme is ca. 2,700 euros a month. The average across all semesters is just under 2,350 euros a month gross. There are no semester breaks in a dual study programme. In return, you have a holiday entitlement and thus you also get paid when on holiday. For more information on salaries of dual study students in major German companies check out the resources below.

Cost of a Dual Study Course in Germany

The cost of a dual study programme at German institutions of higher education largely depends on the type of university (whether it is public or private) and to a lesser extent on the federal state where the institution is located. Public institutions of higher education in Germany waive tuition fees to all students (that is, charge nothing at all) except for those schools located in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg which charge non-EU citizens around 1,500 euros per semester. Private institutions of higher education, on the other hand, finance themselves through tuition fees. The amount they charge varies significantly among the schools.

Furthermore, most schools also charge a semester fee (also known as an enrolment fee or re-registration fee) somewhere in the area of 250 euros per semester. However, as a benefit students receive a student card which entitles them to various discounts, e.g., a discount for public transportation.

In order to enroll in a dual study programme, students must have a signed employment contract with a cooperating company. The good news is that partner companies are often ready to take over tuition and enrolment fees and even provide additional benefits such as rent or commuting allowances.

You should also know that in order to receive a visa for study purposes you will have to prove that you have enough money in the blocked account for at least the first year of your stay in Germany, that is, 11,208 euros as of January 1, 2023. Luckily enough, as a student in a dual study programme you will receive a monthly salary which can be deducted from the required own funds. If your net salary is going to be more than 934 euros a month (that is, ca. 1,170 euros a month gross), you will not need a blocked account at all. 934 euros a month is roughly the amount of money you will need to have at your disposal to live normally in Germany. For detailed information on living costs in Germany read the article “Average Salaries and Cost of Living in Germany“.

Funding Your Studies

The average starting salary in a dual study programme in Germany is just 900 euros a month gross, so in the first year you will most likely need some extra money to finance your living costs. You may ask your partner company to allow you to work more hours or find a second job. International students from third countries (non EU and non EFTA) are in the second job allowed to work 120 full days or 240 half days per year. In an unlikely event that you would still not be able to support yourself financially and would need an additional source of financing, you can apply for a scholarship. You can try this database from the German Academic Exchange Service listing their own scholarships as well as scholarships from other providers in Germany. In later years your salary alone should be enough to cover your cost of studying and living in Germany.

How to Find a Suitable Dual Study Programme

There are several public as well as privately-operated websites listing dual study programmes in Germany. Some are in English but most of them are in German. You will find links to the most relevant of them below. You can search there either for dual study programmes advertised by institutions of higher education or for those advertised by cooperating companies.

You can also visit directly the websites of German companies you are potentially interested in working for and check whether they posted any dual study programmes on their website. A good example are the largest German automakers such as Audi, BMW, Porsche or VW who are in this way looking for talented young people interested in dual studies to become their future leaders.

Admission Requirements for a Dual Study Programme

To begin with, the most basic admission requirement to a dual study programme in Germany is a general university entrance qualification (‘allgemeine Hochschulreife’) or a subject-specific university entrance qualification (‘fachgebundene Hochschulreife’), that is, a secondary school-leaving certificate equivalent to German ‘Abitur’ or ‘Fachabitur’. This applies to vocational-training-integrated and internship-integrated dual study programmes. For fulltime-job-integrated dual study courses this condition is usually waived (but this type of programme is of little interest to international students). At this website you can check whether your school-leaving certificate is accepted by German institutions of higher education as a university entrance qualification.

When it comes to Master’s degree programmes, applicants should hold a Bachelor’s degree in a related discipline in addition to the secondary school-leaving certificate required for undergraduate programmes.

Secondly, you are expected to show good knowledge of the German language as most dual study programmes are taught in German. That is, you will need one of these German language proficiency certificates:

  • TestDaF (Test of German as a Foreign Language – level B2-C1)
  • DSH-2 (German Language Test for University Admission – B2)
  • Goethe-Zerifikat C2
  • telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule
  • DSD II (German Language Certificate of the Education Ministers Conference B2-C1)

Check out this page for more information on German language examinations and to learn which of them are available in your home country. Each of the above language certificates should be accepted by all institutions of higher education in Germany but they will decide independently what minimum score you must have.

Thirdly, in order to be allowed to enroll in a dual study programme at the higher education institution you must have a signed employment/training contract with a cooperating company. This is probably the most important requirement for admission.

Moreover, it goes without saying that you should have good grades in subjects related to your chosen course. For example, if you are applying for an engineering programme you must have good grades in maths, physics and other technical disciplines. Previous work experience in the chosen field of study is a plus.

Keep in mind that schools as well as employers may have certain specific requirements for admission. Therefore, get in touch with the international office of the higher education institution of your choice or with the company you wish to work for well in advance to inquire in detail about the desired study programme to avoid ‘late surprises’.

Age Limit for a Dual Study Course

In Germany there is no age limit for studying at a higher education institution. Generally, applicants should be 35 years old or younger when applying to a dual study programme.

How to Apply for a Dual Study Programme

Applying for admission to a dual study programme may at first glance seem a little complicated. In fact, depending on the programme you choose, you may need to apply to the company first, or to the higher education institution first, or just apply to the company and, if successful, you will be automatically accepted by the school. Hence, it is very important to get in touch with the institution(s) you are going to apply to so as to learn in detail about their admission requirements and how to apply. It goes without saying that you can apply to as many institutions as you like but do not apply for more than one study programme by the same institution.

Most dual study programmes in Germany impose no limitations on applicants but there are some very popular programmes (e.g., business administration or civil engineering), the so-called numerus clausus degree programmes that may require you to meet specific conditions (e.g., a certain average grade or work experience in the chosen field) so that you can apply. You can find more information on restricted study programmes and how to apply to them in this article.

There is no unified procedure for applying to a dual study program in Germany unless you are applying for a programme with central admission restriction. The application process generally begins with submitting the required documents to the respective institution. They typically consist of the following:

  • Cover letter
  • CV with your photo
  • Secondary school-leaving certificate for Bachelor’s programmes
  • Bachelor’s degree for Master’s programmes
  • Employment contract with a cooperating company
  • German language proficiency certificate (see the section for admission requirements above). For English language programmes, either TOEFL or equivalent certificate will be required if you are not an English native speaker or a graduate from a school in an English-speaking country.
  • Reference letters from previous employers
  • Grade Point Average (alternatively for some programmes)

If your application is well received, you will be invited to a selection process that can include any of the following procedures: an interview, an assessment center, an aptitude test or an entrance examination. Inquire whether these assessment procedures can be done online.

As an international applicant you should submit your application well ahead of the deadline. It is recommended to get in touch with the institution you will be applying to at least 12 months (preferably 15 months) before the programme is due to start to allow yourself enough time for providing additional documents (if asked for), or for arranging a visa (for visa-related information please refer to the article “Immigration to Germany“).

Germany’s dual study programmes are a unique, though not yet fully explored opportunity by international students that enables them not just to earn an academic degree and a vocational qualification in Germany but also to enter the German labour market without restrictions. It is an opportunity that is certainly worth trying, especially if you come from a non-EEA country.