The fifth most popular country in the world for international study, Germany boasts ultra-low tuition costs and enables visiting students to live at the heart of Europe
More than 200,000 international students descend on Germany every year. A country renowned for its writers and musicians, it is home to one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and a bucketful of culture. You'll find everything that you need to be entertained, including museums, libraries, theatres and festivals.
Universities in Germany
There are more than 300 higher education institutions in Germany, collectively offering around 18,000 study programmes. More than 90% of students in Germany are based within the public university system. Regardless of whether the institution is public or private, it will be one of these types:
- Research universities (Universitäten) - Courses at these institutions involve lectures and seminars, and are supported by practical work and independent study;
- Technical universities (Technische Universität) - There's a strong focus on science, engineering and technology, but many TUs offer qualifications in other subject areas too;
- Colleges of art, film and music - These creative institutions often have special admission requirements, usually a strict entrance examination;
- Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) - These widespread institutions offer practical Masters courses in engineering, business administration, social sciences and design, and are often partnered with commercial or professional organisations.
Four German universities feature in the QS World University Rankings 2015/16: Technical University of Munich (60th); Ruprecht-Karls-Universitaet Heidelberg (66th); Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen (75th); and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (93rd).
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Students currently attending a UK university can take part in the European Union's (EU) education, training and youth support programme, Erasmus+. The scheme offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to many young people, with opportunities lasting from three months to one academic year.
Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative, for any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation that is actively involved in education and training. However, your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in another EU country, of which Germany is one. Speak to your institution for information on how to apply.
This information is still valid following the UK's decision to leave the European Union and will be updated if changes happen.
Degree courses in Germany
Undergraduate degrees in Germany are fairly similar to those in the UK; for example, most last for three years. However, like Masters degrees, there's often a greater emphasis on group work - and most programmes involve compulsory internships.
You typically must possess four A-levels to apply - with one being a second language and another being either a natural science or mathematics. As with a Masters or PhD, you may have to take a written examination, confirm your language proficiency, get health insurance and prove that you can pay for your stay in Germany. Like in the UK, the academic year usually runs from October to September.
You can search for Bachelors degrees at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Masters degrees in Germany are very similar to those in the UK. Most programmes are taught MA or MSc qualifications, lasting between one and two years and involving a dissertation worth 25% of the final mark - though, unlike in the UK, you may be required to present your findings. In addition, research Masters (MRes) degrees are rare.
The course format is similar to the UK too, with most programmes involving lectures, seminars, workshops, fieldwork and independent study. However, Germany uses a five-point grading system for awarding Masters degrees - ranging from 1.0 (the highest) to 4.0 (the lowest).
The main entry requirement is usually a suitable Bachelors degree, though you may also have to meet language requirements, attend an interview or sit an entry exam. Like in the UK, the academic year usually runs from October to September.
You can search for Masters degrees at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Around 18,000 international students undertake PhD study in Germany at any one time. There are two types of PhD in Germany: the traditional doctoral programme, which usually lasts for four years and has no compulsory attendance, deadlines or curriculum; and the structured doctoral programme, which is usually conducted in English, leads to qualification within three years, and involves working both individually and in wider research projects. The award of both types of PhD is based upon examination of a thesis, and both routes are recognised by UK employers.
Traditional PhD applicants should first contact potential supervisors directly with their PhD proposal, while structured PhD applicants are required to contact the selected university and begin the standard application procedure. As in the UK, applicants to either of these routes usually require a Masters degree, and the academic year typically runs from October to September.
You can search for PhDs at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Most universities are public and therefore funded by the government, making the majority of them free to attend (or with minimal charges to cover administration costs). Private higher education institutions will charge considerably higher fees for their courses.
Since the German education system is not centralised, each of the country's 16 federal states has its own higher education laws. These extend to tuition fees, funding and quality control.
Unlike in the UK, all students pay the same level of tuition fee - regardless of whether they're a German, EU or non-EU national.
Funding to study in Germany
If there are costs associated with your course, don't panic - there are substantial funding options for students of all nationalities. Like in the UK, numerous organisations award scholarships and grants - such as federal states, foundations, religious organisations, and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Visit your international office for further assistance, or search DAAD's Scholarship Database.
Traditional Doctorate students of universities that charge tuition fees usually have to raise funds themselves, through teaching appointments, scholarships or part-time work. Students taking a structured Doctoral degree should include an application for funding when applying for their course. If accepted, you can expect to receive an allowance of €1,000-1,400 per month.
How to apply
Admissions aren't centralised, so you usually apply directly to the individual institution. However, some universities use a service called Uni-Assist to manage international applications. You can make multiple applications simultaneously.
If your course begins in the winter semester, apply by mid-July; if it begins in the summer semester, aim for mid-January. You should begin the process as early as possible, as you may be asked to provide translated supporting documents or to attend an interview.
Many universities in Germany offer English-language Masters courses, and many of these offer German language courses in parallel. However, to study many courses that are taught in German, you'll need to sit an exam to prove that you have an adequate grasp of the language. There are two tests that you can take:
- TestDaF, which is held six times a year in test centres throughout the world. You can save yourself time and money by taking the test beforehand in your home country. In Germany, the test costs between €150 and €175.
- The DSH, which is administered only at German universities and tests your proficiency and suitability for university study. The cost of the DSH varies with each university.
International degree courses are taught primarily in English, so you won't need any prior knowledge of the German language.
If you are a non-EU student, you'll need to apply for a German student visa. You can do this at a German consulate or embassy in your home country, and it typically costs around €60. However, if you're an EU citizen, you're permitted to live in any EU country while studying, as long as you:
- are studying for more than three months;
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution;
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support;
- have comprehensive health insurance cover.
All students must acquire a Residence Permit within 90 days of arrival, which costs a small processing fee. EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss students register with the local resident registration office, while other students have to take their confirmation of registration to an Alien Registration Office. Find out how to register at Europa.eu and German Missions in the United Kingdom.
This visa information is still valid following the UK's decision to leave the European Union and will be updated if changes happen.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Existing undergraduate qualifications earned in other European countries will usually be recognised and accepted by German universities without difficulty. Your German Masters degree will also be internationally recognised and familiar to UK employers.