Germany is the third most popular study destination, beaten only by the USA and the UK. Due to its well respected institutions, gaining a place at a German university can boost your career prospects
Often referred to as the 'land of poets and thinkers', Germany is home to renowned musicians, writers, scientists and philosophers. There's plenty to see and do during your stay, with a whole range of landmarks, museums, libraries and theatres to explore, plenty of speciality dishes to try and events to attend, such as the world-famous Bavarian folk festival Oktoberfest, which takes place in Munich each year.
By earning your degree in Germany you'll benefit from a generous fee system and the valuable opportunity to learn one of the world's most commonly spoken languages.
Germany is home to nearly 400 higher education institutions, which collectively offer more than 19,000 study programmes. Of these, an impressive 45 feature in the QS World University Rankings 2018, and three appear in the top 100. These include:
- Technical University, Munich (64th)
- Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München (66th)
- Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg (68th).
Roughly 95% 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 the following:
- University - university courses are academically focused and offered in a range of subjects, at Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate level. Within this group are some specialist institutions, such as technical universities, dedicated to engineering and the natural sciences, and colleges of education.
- University of Applied Science (UAS) - UAS institutions offer more practical courses in fields such as technology, medicine and social work up to Masters level. These courses are designed to prepare students for entering the workplace.
- College of Art, Film and Music - these specialist colleges are for students of creative disciplines and have varying entry requirements. While you'll need genuine talent to be considered, you may also need to sit an entrance exam and/or present a portfolio.
Some universities and UAS institutions also offer dual qualifications, where you'll sign a contract with a company and split your time between studying and working.
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Degree courses in Germany
Study programmes in Germany are similar to those in the UK. Undergraduate degrees are offered as Bachelors of Arts (BA), Bachelors of Science (BSc) and Bachelors of Engineering (BEng), and typically take a minimum of three years to complete. You can study full or part-time and many universities offer online or distance learning.
While it's more common for undergraduate courses to be taught in German, there are plenty of English-speaking options, with more available at postgraduate level.
To pursue higher education in Germany, you'll need A-levels or equivalent qualifications, proof of language proficiency where required, proof of your ability to support yourself financially throughout your studies and health insurance. A valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is sufficient, but without one you'll need to find a suitable policy.
Like in the UK, the academic year typically runs from October to September.
Search for a Bachelors course in Germany using the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) higher education database.
German Masters degrees are similar to those in the UK. Offered as arts (MA) and science (MSc) qualifications, Masters courses are typically two years in length and delivered through taught modules, including lectures, seminars and independent research, followed by a final project or dissertation counting for 25% of your final mark.
You'll be assessed on the basis of an oral presentation of your thesis. Unlike in the UK, Germany uses a five-point grading system for awarding Masters degrees, ranging from 1.0 at best to 4.0 for those who narrowly pass the course. A grade of 5.0 constitutes a fail.
- consecutive - Masters degrees follow on from a closely related undergraduate degree, such as studying for an MSc in biochemistry after completing a BSc in biology.
- non-consecutive - programmes involve taking your Masters in another direction, which you may need professional work experience, as well as your undergraduate degree, to be accepted onto.
Search for a Masters in Germany using the DAAD higher education database.
On average, 25,000 students per year study for their PhD in Germany in one of two formats:
- Individual PhDs - This type of PhD allows you to tailor your studies to suit your needs. You can choose to study in a university, research organisation or in industry, and are responsible for identifying and securing a supervisor. Individual PhDs take up to five years to complete and have no set deadlines or attendance requirements.
- Structured PhDs - This type of PhD is modelled around a curriculum, involves intense supervision and includes learning and development to help you improve your soft skills and research methods. Structured PhDs typically last three to four years.
To apply for an individual PhD you'll need to get in touch with potential supervisors directly with a research proposal, while structured PhD applicants should contact their chosen institution's registration office and begin the standard application process. As in the UK, it's likely you'll require a Masters degree.
Visit the DAAD higher education database to search for PhD courses in Germany.
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 occur.
The majority of publically-funded universities in Germany are free to attend for international students, besides a small semester fee of €50 to €250 to cover basic admin and registration costs.
The exception to this rule is the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where universities charge a fee of €1,500 per semester to non-EU students. Some universities may charge tuition fees to students enrolling on non-consecutive Masters courses, although this is rare.
Private universities have the freedom to set their own tuition fees, and they're a far cry from the free public education available - some institutions charge up to €20,000 per year.
You'll also have to factor into your budget the cost of living in Germany. €850 a month is the recommended amount needed to cover your accommodation, food and transport among other expenses, although if you're based in Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich costs will be higher.
Funding to study in Germany
Like in the UK, numerous organisations offer needs and merit-based scholarships and grants, such as federal states, foundations, religious organisations, and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Contact the consulate or embassy in your home country for more information on what you're entitled to and how to apply, or search the DAAD's Scholarship Database for funding options.
You could also receive Masters funding from Erasmus+. The loan offers €12,000 to recipients completing a one-year Masters, and up to €18,000 for those completing a two-year Masters, in a participating country - of which Germany is one. Visit Erasmus+ Master Degree Loans for more information.
If you're a citizen of the European Economic Area (EEA) - this includes EU member states as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - you won't need a visa to study in Germany, 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 from outside the EEA will need to obtain a visa. You can do this from the German consulate or embassy in your home country for a fixed fee of €60. Within two weeks of your arrival in Germany you'll need to register with the Aliens Registration Office and your local registration office to obtain a residency permit.
Contact the Germany embassy or consulate in your home country before you apply to find out which visa you'll need and how to apply. The approval process can be lengthy, so aim to submit your visa application at least three months in advance.
How to apply
As there's no centralised application system in Germany, you'll typically contact universities directly to get the ball rolling. However, some universities use a service called Uni-Assist to manage their international applications - check to see if your institution is involved in this. You're free to make as many applications as you'd like simultaneously.
To apply you'll need to fill out an application form, which you'll find either online or by contacting the university's registration office, and submit it with the required documents attached. This usually includes transcripts of your previous education and language certificates where appropriate. If you're successful, you may be invited to attend an interview or complete skills testing.
Application deadlines vary between institutions as each is run independently. As a general rule, if you're enrolling on a course starting in the summer you should aim to submit your application by mid-January. For courses starting in the winter, aim for mid-July.
Many German universities offer English-taught Masters courses, and as a native English speaker you won't need to prove your proficiency in the language. If you'd like to enrol on a course delivered in German however, you'll need to take one of the country's two recognised tests:
- TestDaF - TestDaF examinations are held several times a year. You can save money by taking the TestDaF from home - it costs up to €175 in Germany, but is cheaper in other countries - but ensure you do so far enough in advance to receive your results, as this process can take up to six weeks. See TestDaF.de for exact exam dates.
- DSH - the DSH can only be taken at German universities, and tests your proficiency and suitability for university study. The costs vary between institutions.
Comparison to UK qualifications
German higher education qualifications are directly comparable to those offered in the UK, as both countries subscribe to the European Bologna Process system. The Bologna Process guarantees equivalence of course standards across 50 participating European countries.
You shouldn't have any trouble explaining your German or UK qualifications to universities or future employers. For more information on having your qualifications recognised, see ENIC-NARIC.
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