As one of the cheapest and safest countries to live in Europe, Germany has become a popular spot for international students. It offers high-quality education with courses taught in both German and English
Often referred to as the 'land of poets and thinkers', Germany is home to many renowned musicians, writers, scientists and philosophers. There's plenty to see and do during your stay, with a whole range of landmarks, museums and libraries to explore, including the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig, the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg and Cologne Cathedral.
The country is famous for its hospitality so you'll be able to enjoy a beer and bratwurst (grilled sausage) as you take part in the annual Bavarian folk festival Oktoberfest.
Alternatively, you can marvel at the light projections and video art of the Festival of Lights in Berlin or be enchanted by a performance at the Black Table Magic Theatre in Aachen. And if you're around for the festive period, you must sample the delights of the Christmas markets in cities such as Cologne, Frankfurt and Hamburg.
By choosing to study in Germany, you'll benefit from a generous fee system and have the perfect opportunity to learn one of the world's most spoken languages.
Germany is home to more than 380 higher education institutions, which collectively offer around 20,000 study programmes. Of the impressive 46 featured in the QS World University Rankings 2022, three appear in the top 100:
- Technical University of Munich (50th)
- Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (63rd)
- Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (64th)
Almost 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:
- Universities - 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.
- Universities of Applied Science (UAS) - UAS institutions offer more practical courses in fields such as technology, economics, medicine and social work up to Masters level. These courses are designed to prepare students for entering the workplace.
- Colleges 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. However, you'll need a good grasp of German to pursue this type of programme.
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Degree courses in Germany
The German academic year is typically split between the summer and winter semesters. The former runs from October to March, and the latter from April to September. Lectures will usually finish by late July and there's also the Christmas break and other holidays to take into account.
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.
To pursue higher education in Germany, you'll typically 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.
For exact entry requirements, visit the international student office (akademischen auslandsamt) at the university you're planning on applying to, or check yourself through DAAD's (German Academic Exchange Service) database of admissions requirements.
You can search for a Bachelors course in Germany by using DAAD's international programme database.
German Masters degrees are similar to those in the UK as they use titles such as Master of Arts (MA), Master of Laws (LLM) and Master of Science (MSc). Masters courses are typically one to two years in length and are delivered through taught modules, including lectures, seminars and independent research, followed by a final project or dissertation.
You'll then be assessed based on an oral presentation of your thesis. Unlike in the UK, Germany uses a five-point grading system for awarding Masters degrees. These range from 1.0 at best to 4.0 for those who narrowly pass the course. A grade of 5.0 constitutes a fail.
However, universities now also provide European Credits Transfer System (ECTS) grades alongside the German grade, with a Masters usually worth 120 ECTS.
There are two pathways to Masters study:
- 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 Masters degrees involve taking your qualification in another direction, which may require professional work experience, as well as your undergraduate degree, to be accepted.
Explore Masters courses in Germany by searching DAAD's international programme database.
Around 30,000 students a year study for their PhD in Germany, in one of two formats:
- Individual PhDs - This traditional path is taken by three-quarters of all PhD students, as you can tailor your research to suit your needs. You can choose to study at a university, research organisation or in industry, and are responsible for identifying and securing a supervisor. Individual PhDs usually take between three and five years to complete, but they 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. Again, structured PhDs typically last from three to five years.
To apply for an individual PhD, you'll need to get in touch with potential supervisors directly with a research proposal. Structured PhD applicants should contact their institution's registration office and begin the standard application process. As in the UK, it's likely you'll require a Masters degree.
To find out more, see the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research's Research in Germany site - info for PhD students.
You can also visit the DAAD higher education database to search for PhD courses in Germany.
The Turing Scheme, which is backed by over £100million worth of funding, enables thousands of students from schools, colleges and universities to gain study and work experience overseas.
The programme prioritises those from disadvantaged backgrounds and people with special needs. Check that your institution is involved in the programme and offers the Turing Scheme.
Every year, Germany attracts over 380,000 international students and one of the main reasons is that most publically-funded universities are free to attend - aside from a small semester contribution of up to €300 (£254) to cover basic admin and registration costs.
The exception to this is the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where universities charge a fee of €1,500 (£1,268) 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, with some institutions charging around €30,000 (£25,357) per year.
You'll also have to factor into your budget the cost of living in Germany. Under current law, international students need at least €10,236 (£8,651) in their bank account to cover their first year. This is based on the recommended monthly amount of €850 (£718) to cover your accommodation, food, transport and other expenses. If you're based in large cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich the costs will be higher.
Read more about the finances you'll need at Studying in Germany - What does it cost to study in Germany?
Funding to study in Germany
As in the UK, there are numerous organisations offering needs and merit-based scholarships and grants, such as federal states, foundations, religious organisations, and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. To get some ideas, visit Studying in Germany - Financing your studies in Germany.
Contact the consulate or embassy in your home country for more information on what you're entitled to and how to apply. You can also explore your funding options and search via the scholarship database at DAAD - Scholarships.
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.
For those that require a visa, including those from the UK (following Brexit), there are three types:
- German Student Visa - the standard student visa for international students who've been admitted to a German university and are about to begin a full-time programme.
- German Student Applicant Visa - if you need to physically be in Germany to apply for university admission this visa enables you to stay in the country during the application process.
- German Language Course Visa - for those looking to study a German language course in the country.
To discover what you'll need to apply, see Studying in Germany – German student visa.
All students from outside the EEA will need to obtain a residence visa. You can do this from the German consulate or embassy in your home country for a fixed fee of €75 (£63.39). 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. For UK residents, you'll need to go to the German Embassy in London. The approval process can be lengthy, so aim to submit your visa application at least three months in advance.
Read more about German student visa requirements and the application process at SchengenVisaInfo.com.
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 at one time.
To apply, fill out an application form, which you'll find either online or by contacting the university's registration office, and submit it along with the required documents. This usually includes transcripts of your 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, 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, as it costs €195 (£165) in Germany. While it's cheaper in other countries, you'll need to ensure you do it far enough in advance to receive your results in time, as this process can take up to six weeks (as opposed to four weeks with the digital test). 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. 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. This guarantees the equivalence of course standards across 49 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.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in Germany.
- Visit the official Study in Germany page.
- Get more information at Erudera and Studying in Germany.