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Germany is the second most attractive destination (after the UK) for international students wishing to obtain a university degree in Europe. German universities are renowned for combining studies with scientific research and are a steady source of innovations and patents. High international rankings of many German universities, free tuition, relatively low cost of living in Germany, reasonable funding opportunities including generous scholarship programmes and promising employment prospects after graduation are among the most compelling reasons that convinced 416 thousand international students to enrol at German universities in the academic year 2020-21.
If you wish to join the ranks of hundreds of thousands international university students in Germany, this one-page guide is for you. It has been compiled to help international applicants for university study in Germany answer all their most common questions regarding admission requirements, application and visa procedures, choice of study programmes, funding options and general opportunities to study at German universities. Read on to learn more.
- Why Study in Germany
- Who Can Study at a German University?
- Requirements to Study at a German University
- Choosing the Right University
- Application and Admission Procedure at German Universities
- Overcoming Initial Entry and Settlement Hurdles
- Cost of Studying in Germany and Financing Options
- Finding Work in Germany after Graduation
- Summary of Steps for Applying to Study in Germany
1. Why Study in Germany
- Tuition-free education at some of the highest-ranked universities in the world
- Access to cutting-edge technology and world-class research facilities in the universities-owned research centres
- More than 15,000 different study courses to choose from
- Hands-on education as many German universities have close links to the industry
- Truly international environment as all German universities accept foreign students and offer study programmes in English
- Opportunity to learn German and improve your English while studying in Germany but there is no need to learn German if you do not want to
- Excellent reputation and worldwide acceptance of German university degrees
- Reasonable cost of living for university students in Germany
- Good funding options including scholarships for international students
- No age limit for students in Master’s and PhD programmes in Germany
- Possibility to work while studying in Germany
- Endless opportunities to find a job and stay in Germany after graduation
2. Who Can Study at a German University?
Citizens of any country can pursue a university degree in Germany. Some will have it initially easier than others, though. EU and EFTA (European Union and European Free Trade Association) nationals do not need a visa or a residence permit to stay or study in Germany but they will have to register with local authorities (Einwohnermeldeamt) in their town like anyone else living in Germany. Likewise, citizens of many countries outside of the European Economic Area (EU + EFTA) do not need a visa to travel to Germany but they need a residence permit to study in Germany. Once admitted to the university, they can apply for a residence permit within 3 months of their entry to Germany. However, citizens from countries that need a visa to enter Germany will have to apply for a study applicant’s visa before their arrival in Germany. Once accepted to the university, this type of visa can be converted into a residence permit for study purposes.
3. Requirements to Study at a German University
Universities in Germany are autonomous and, therefore, in order to find out about exact admission requirements you will need to contact their Akademisches Auslandsamt (AAA) or International Office in English. Higher Education Compass (Hochschulkompass) will help you find contact details for the International Office at any university in Germany. The International Office staff will not only inform you about requirements, admission restrictions (numerus clausus) and application deadlines but also about applicable fees and available degree programmes. There is absolutely no discrimination, so anyone wishing to study in Germany at the university will have to meet the same admission criteria of that university.
3.1. Language Requirements to Study in Germany
Generally, many universities offer international study programmes taught in English and for these programmes German proficiency is not required. However, students coming from non-German speaking countries will need to provide proof of German language proficiency if they wish to pursue programmes taught in German. Most likely they will have to pass one of the two tests – Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber (DSH) or Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (TestDaF). Please refer to this article for more information on language examinations for international students.
3.2. University Entrance Entitlement
An appropriate school qualification is no less important than language competency. Your school qualifications will be reviewed by the International Office staff to ensure Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (or university entrance entitlement in English). That is, for a Bachelor’s programme they will need to determine whether your high school graduate certificate corresponds to the German Abitur. In general, most school-leaving certificates from a higher education institution in the EU and EFTA country will entitle you to study at a German university. Depending on the university entrance entitlement (general or subject-specific) granted by the International Office, you will be allowed to pursue any study programme or only some specific programmes.
In fact, even if you do not possess an adequate qualification you may still be able to pursue studies at the German university. But, before you can enrol in a regular degree programme you will need to complete preparatory courses (Studienkollegs) provided by the university of your choice. Preparatory courses typically take one year. In addition, some Fachhochschulen may also require you to complete a working internship.
In some cases, school-leaving certificates of applicants from countries outside the European Economic Area (EU and EFTA) may not be accepted as readily as those from the EU and EFTA countries. Therefore, students are advised to check the anabin database (available only in German) for school qualifications in their home country that are recognized in Germany as a university entrance entitlement. Click on the tab “Suchen” and then choose your country and type of school-leaving certificate and school.
3.3 Aptitude Test
Some German universities may require international applicants for undergraduate programmes to pass the TestAS (Test für Ausländische Studierende or Test for Academic Studies in English). The aim of this test is to assess the student’s ability to study at the German university. High scores can help greatly improve your chances of being admitted.
3.4. Requirements for Graduate/Post-Graduate Studies in Germany
Regarding graduate/post-graduate studies, students who have earned a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree from a foreign university need to get in touch with the International Office of the German university of their choice to have their degree recognized in order to be allowed to pursue Master’s or Ph.D. studies in Germany.
4. Choosing the Right University
There are over 300 public and 100 private universities in Germany, offering more than 15,000 degree programmes. German universities are classified into classical universities (Universitäten incl. Technische Universitäten), universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen), cooperative universities (Duale Hochschulen) and colleges of art and music. Unlike largely research-oriented Universitäten, Fachhochschulen are, as their name suggests, practice-oriented with strong links to the industry and do not provide Ph.D. degrees. Cooperative universities, too, are practice-biased combining study and work and specialize in dual studies. In contrast to many other parts of the world, German public universities tend to have better rankings than private ones. In the academic year 2022-23, 46 German universities are ranked among the top 1,200 universities in the world and all of them are public. See this article for a complete list of the top German universities and their highest ranked degree programmes.
4.1. Finding Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Programmes in Germany
German universities provide plenty of degree programmes designed for international students as well as courses for exchange students staying for one or two semesters which are all taught in English. Most undergraduate foreign students begin with courses conducted in English while taking free German lessons at the university. Once their command of the German language is good enough to study in German, they continue with courses taught in German. The website of DAAD will help you find degree programmes in English. TOEFL or IELTS are generally required from non-English native speakers who wish to pursue international programmes in Germany.
International students who are seeking programmes taught in German can use the search engine of Hochschulkompass to find out about all study programmes available at German universities. Alternatively, students can also use a portal of studieren.de to search for all Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes offered at German universities. A useful tool for identifying highly regarded degree programmes and to see how they compare with each other are the German university rankings compiled by the German Academic Service (DAAD) in cooperation with the largest German national weekly newspaper “die Zeit”. Those who already have an idea of what programme suits them best should contact “student advisory services” at the selected university to have any specific questions regarding their chosen study programme answered.
4.2. Finding a Ph.D. Programme in Germany
The two types of doctoral studies that are offered by German universities are an individual doctorate and a structured Ph.D. programme. International students who wish to earn their Ph.D. in Germany via an “individual path” need to find a supervisor called ‘Doktorvater’ or ‘Doktormutter’ either through personal contacts or searching through the database of doctoral studies of hochschulkompass.de. At the moment, an individual doctorate (i.e., traditional form of Ph.D. studies) is still the more common option of the two chosen by three quarters of students in Germany.
Another possibility is to find a structured Ph.D. programme (alternatively check also this link). A structured Ph.D. programme resembles those in the US, Canada or the UK where Ph.D. students form a small group and attend lectures, seminars and assessments together and are supervised by a team of professors rather than a single supervisor. Yet another useful place where to find listings of open positions in doctoral programmes in Germany is the database of the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD.
5. Application and Admission Procedure at German Universities
When applying for a degree programme at a German university you need to find out whether there are any limitations imposed. Some programmes at German universities, such as medicine, are extremely popular and thus have a limited number of places. These restricted programmes are also called numerus clausus degree programmes. Some programmes are restricted on a national level and then we speak of a central restriction whereas others are restricted only locally at a particular university.
5.1. No Admission Restriction
If no restriction is in place you can directly enrol in the programme of your choice provided you have been issued a university entrance entitlement certificate by the university’s International Office. You will need to fill in the application form and provide a copy of your university entrance entitlement certificate as well as your CV, proof of health insurance covering Germany and a photo. Please note that you will need to meet a certain deadline to be admitted.
5.2. Local Admission Restriction
For restricted degree programmes only the best applicants will be admitted. Selection criteria include the average grade as well as other factors such as assessment test results, applicant’s interview scores and specific practical experience. Applications are submitted directly to the chosen university and will be handled by the university staff.
5.3. Central Admission Restriction
The major difference between applying for a programme with central and local restriction is that for nationally restricted programmes you need to apply with the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (University Admissions Foundation) and not directly with the university as is the case with locally restricted programmes. Therefore, applications for nationally restricted programmes are handled centrally by the University Admissions Foundation.
5.4. Applying through Uni-Assist
If you want to apply for several degree programmes at different universities you can use the paid service of Uni-Assist which will handle all your applications for you. This service is specifically designed for international applicants. The staff at Uni-Assist will review your documents and make sure they are complete before forwarding them onto the universities you are applying to. However, please note that Uni-Assist cannot be used for applying to the University Admissions Foundation for nationally restricted programmes.
5.5. Application Deadlines
In most cases, application deadlines are the 15th of July and the 15th of January for the winter and the summer semester, respectively.
5.6. Applying for a Ph.D. Programme
The application procedure mostly depends on whether you are applying for an individual doctorate or a structured Ph.D. programme. In case of an individual doctorate, once you have found a supervising professor willing to act as your ‘Doktorvater’, you can enrol at the university provided you meet the qualification criteria (i.e., Master’s degree in your intended course of study that is equivalent to the German degree). Your suitability must be usually confirmed by the doctoral committee of the faculty department where you are going to conduct your research.
Applicants for structured Ph.D. programmes should contact the International Office of the selected university to begin standard application procedure. Just like in classical Ph.D. programmes (i.e., individual doctorates), a corresponding Master’s degree will also be required. Since most Ph.D. programmes in Germany (and structured doctoral programmes in particular) use English as the sole language of instruction and communication and the thesis is also written in English, proof of German proficiency is typically not required. For tips on how to make your application for a Ph.D. study programme successful and how to write a research proposal check out this webpage of Research in Germany.
6. Overcoming Initial Entry and Settlement Hurdles
Although there is absolutely no discrimination against anyone from anywhere at German universities, certain things are beyond their control. That is, some students, depending on their nationality, will have to deal with visa and/or residence permits. If you are not a resident of any EU or EFTA country, you will certainly need a residence permit to study in Germany. Moreover, citizens of most non-European countries (excluding the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Korea, etc.) will also need a visa before they can travel to Germany either as applicants or as prospective students. The following lines briefly explain which documents you will need to be allowed into the country and to arrange a residence permit as well as some other necessities.
6.1. Documents Needed for Visa Application
Citizens who need a visa to enter Germany will be required to submit the following documents to apply for a student visa or an applicant visa:
- Passport that is valid for at least another twelve months
- Confirmation of application from the German university for an applicant visa
- Admission letter from the university for a student visa
- University entrance entitlement for an applicant visa
- Proof of adequate language skills (minimum B2)
- Health insurance coverage for Germany
- Proof of sufficient funds for at least one year (i.e., 11,208 Euros in blocked account as of January 1, 2023) which may also include scholarship
For more detailed information get in touch with the nearest German consulate or embassy.
6.2. Documents Needed for Residence Permit
In order to convert a student visa into a residence permit for study purposes you will need the same documents as above plus a certificate of resident registration and a rental contract but instead of the admission letter from the university you will have to submit a certificate of enrolment. Please note that if you are a citizen of a third country with visa-free entry to Germany, you also have to submit all these documents at the local aliens’ office (Ausländerbehörde) because you too need a residence permit. Residence permit for study purposes is issued for two years, so make sure your passport is valid for at least as long.
6.3. Health Insurance
Citizens of the EU and EFTA countries can use a statutory health insurance from their home country that is registered with a German statutory health insurer. Nationals of other countries may be able to use a health insurance from certain private insurers in their home country (it must cover Germany and must be accepted in Germany) or they will need to get an insurance cover from a German statutory insurer. German insurers are obliged to offer discount rates to all students under 30 years of age (in 2022, 110 Euros a month). Please note that students have to provide proof of the health insurance coverage to be allowed to enrol at a German university.
7. Cost of Studying in Germany and Financing Options
Public universities in Germany do not charge tuition fees to undergraduate students. Most public universities also waive tuition fees for graduate students, especially for consecutive Master’s programmes (building directly on a Bachelor’s degree earned in Germany). However, there is a small one-off enrolment charge (typically around 250 Euros) that becomes payable at the beginning of each semester. This amount often also includes a semester ticket that entitles the holder to a reduced rate for local public transportation. Private German universities, on the other hand, usually do charge tuition fees. However, there are a few exceptions among public universities. Since the beginning of the academic year 2017-18, the federal state of Baden-Württemberg charges the non-EU university students a tuition fee of ca 1,500 Euros per semester for all degree programmes except for PhD. The new rule applies to all public universities in this federal state (i.e., the University of Freiburg, the Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the University of Konstanz, the University of Mannheim, the University of Stuttgart, the Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen and the University of Ulm).
According to DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), the average monthly budget of a German university student in 2022 was 867 Euros (for 2023 it is estimated at 934 Euros) whereas international students in Germany can usually get by on a slightly smaller budget. The most significant and also the most variable part of this expense is rent, that is, on average 332 Euros a month in 2022. The average monthly cost of a room in a student’s dormitory is 260 Euros while a small studio can cost between 450-700 Euros a month, depending on the town and other factors (more information on the cost of living in Germany). In addition, Ablöse (compensation for investments made by the previous tenant) and 1-3 months deposit will often be required. Since acceptance to the university does not guarantee anybody a room in a dormitory and renting a flat alone is too expensive, many students live in shared apartments (Wohngemeinschaften) to save on rent and initial investment. By doing so, they can reduce their rental expenses to around 310 Euros per month. In order to secure inexpensive accommodation in dormitories students are advised to contact their local Studentenwerk immediately after enrolment.
7.1. Scholarships for International Students
There are plenty of scholarship options for international students in Germany, both governmental and non-governmental from private foundations, to help them finance their studies. Below are the links to the most comprehensive lists of scholarship programmes available to foreign students in Germany.
7.2. Working while Studying in Germany
Students who come from countries outside of the European Economic Area (EU and EFTA) are only allowed to work part-time, that is either for 120 full days a year or 240 half-days a year (140 full days a year or 280 half-days a year from March 2024) or 20 hours a week (remember this also includes voluntary work). Still, this may help them cover part of the living costs. It goes without saying that those from the EEA countries can work full time.
8. Finding Work in Germany after Graduation
Citizens of the EEA countries (EU and EFTA) may stay and seek employment in Germany for as long as they wish just like any German national and they do not need a work permit. Other nationals, including those who normally need a visa for Germany, can extend their residence permit and stay in the country for a period of 18 months after graduation while seeking employment. If they find a job, their residence permit for study purposes will be converted into a residence permit for work. In addition, those who need a visa to enter Germany and decide to leave the country after finishing their studies can still seek employment in Germany. They will, however, need to apply for a six-month visa (a twelve-month visa from March 2024) for the purpose of job search (also known as the jobseeker’s visa) to return to Germany for job hunting. From June 2024 there will be an opportunity to apply for a so-called ‘opportunity card’ instead of the jobseeker’s visa as defined in the new Skilled Immigration Act.
9. Summary of Steps for Applying to Study in Germany
We hope this concise guide has strengthened your desire to study in Germany. To get you started here is a summary of what you need to do to apply for study at a German university:
- Take up an intensive German language course
- Find a German university and a study programme. You can choose more than one
- Enquire about admission requirements
- Do the necessary paperwork and have your school diplomas recognized in Germany
- Sort out your financing (do not forget to check out scholarships options)
- If you need an applicant visa, take up an insurance policy that covers Germany
- Apply in due time
Germany is the home of 416 thousand international students benefiting from tuition-free education in Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD programmes at some of the world’s most renowned universities. Why not join them and study in Germany too?
Study in Germany FAQs
Is Germany a good place for international students?
Most international students in Germany agree that Germany is a great place to study and live. German university degrees are highly valued across the world and come at a cost that is affordable to most foreign students thanks to minimal university fees and reasonably low living costs. Statistics show that for international students, Germany is just after the UK the second most popular destination in Europe where to earn a university degree.
Is Germany inexpensive to study?
Relative to its high education standards and excellent quality of living, Germany is an inexpensive place for university students to study and live. German public universities, which are among the best in the world, charge no tuition fees while students enjoy a number of discounts. The monthly living cost of an international student in Germany in 2023 is estimated at 930 euros per month, which is less than in most other countries of Western Europe.
Can foreigners study at a German university for free?
Since public universities in Germany charge no tuition fees, everyone can study at a German university nearly for free, no matter which country they are from. The only money the student will ever have to pay to the university is an enrollment fee at the beginning of semester, which is on average ca 250 euros, that is, 500 euros per year. One exception is the federal state of Baden-Württemberg where public universities are allowed to charge tuition fees to non-EU students of approximately 1,500 euros per semester. But, keep in mind that students from the non-EU and non-EFTA countries will have to demonstrate to immigration authorities that they are able to cover their cost of living in Germany.
How much money do I need to study at a German university?
Most German universities charge no tuition fees, just a small enrollment charge payable at the beginning of each semester. Hence, the cost of studying at a German university mainly consists of the rent and everyday living expenses. For 2023, the monthly budget of an international university student in Germany is estimated at 930 euros.
Can I study in Germany without speaking German?
Yes, you can as there are plenty of international study programmes at German higher education institutions (i.e., universities) provided exclusively in English. And, just like the regular German-language programmes, many of the international study programmes are tuition-free.
Can I study at a German university in English for free?
Yes, you can, if you choose a tuition-free international study programme at one of the public German universities.
Is it hard to study at a German university?
Germany prides itself in its high quality of education, so you can expect that graduating from a respected German university will require some effort on your part. At exams you will have to demonstrate that you understand the matter rather than just mechanically cramming the stuff from the textbook.
Is it worth going to Germany for university studies?
For many young people it certainly is worth. Higher education at public institutions in Germany is practically tuition-free for citizens of any country while the quality of education is among the best in the world. Moreover, the living standard in Germany is very high though the cost of living is affordable for most students. Scholarships and student jobs are easy to find to help finance the studies. Yet, German degrees are recognized worldwide but if a graduate of German university from a non-European country wants to start a career in Germany they can if they find a job that corresponds to their qualifications. Furthermore, foreign graduates of German universities are allowed to stay in the country for 18 months after graduation searching for a job. The chances to stay are great especially for those who earn a degree that is in high demand in Germany.
What are the requirements to study at a German university?
The most important requirements are a university entrance entitlement and knowledge of the German or English language at B2/C1 level. If you come from a non-EEA country you will also have to show to the immigration authorities that you have enough money to finance your stay in Germany (11,208 euros per year in 2023).
Is B2 enough to study at a German university?
In general it is but for some study programmes C1 or even C2 proficiency level can be required.
Can I study in Germany at the age of 40?
Yes, you can as there is no age limit for admission to German universities. In fact, students who are in their late 30s or early 40s can be commonly found in Master’s and MBA programmes at German universities.
Can I apply for two programmes at the same university in Germany?
Technically you can, although it is less common than applying for two or more study programmes to different universities.
Can a foreign student work 40 hours a week in Germany?
Students from the EEA countries are allowed to work full time, that is, 40 hours per week but those from the non-EEA countries can work 40 hours per week only for 6 months a year. Or in other words, students from third countries are allowed to work 120 full days or 240 half-days a year (140 full days a year or 280 half-days a year from March 2024), or 20 hours a week.
How much can I earn in Germany as a student?
If you are a citizen of another EEA country (that is, the EU or EFTA), you can work full time while there is no limit on how much you can earn. However, university students from the so-called third countries are allowed to work only 120 full days or 240 half-days a year (140 full days a year or 280 half-days a year from March 2024) or 20 hours a week. Likewise, there is no limit on how much they are allowed to earn. But, remember that the annual tax exemption threshold for a working student in Germany in 2023 is 10,908 euros. So, if you earn more than that you will have to pay taxes and social security contributions.
Can I stay in Germany after graduation?
Yes you can, if you find a job that corresponds to your qualification. As a matter of fact, you are allowed to stay in Germany for additional 18 months after graduation, searching for a job. Once you have found a job, your residence permit for study purposes will be converted into a residence permit for work. It goes without saying that citizens of the EU and EFTA countries are free to stay in Germany irrespective of whether they finish the university or not.
Are German degrees recognized internationally?
Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from respected German universities are accepted worldwide. Diplom and Magister degrees are usually accepted too but their recognition in foreign countries may not be always as straightforward as with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
Which degrees are most in demand in Germany?
The university diplomas that give you the best chances to succeed in the German job market include degrees in medicine, natural sciences (e.g., biotechnology, nanotechnology) , different fields of electrical and mechanical engineering, mathematics, computer science and technology as well as nursing.