The German higher education system stands out with the wide range of different kinds of higher education institutions that it offers.
You can choose from:
- traditional universities (Universitäten),
- universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen),
- universities of technology (Technische Hochschulen or Universitäten),
- universities of education (Pädagogische Hochschulen),
- universities and colleges of art, music and film (Kunst-, Musik-, und Filmhochschulen und Universitäten der Künste),
- universities of applied administrative sciences (Verwaltungsfachhochschulen)
- universities of the armed forces (Universitäten der Bundeswehr)
- distance studies universities (Fernhochschulen) and universities of cooperative education (Berufsakademien).
Most of these higher education institutions are public institutions. But higher education institutions supported by the church also exist, while recent years have seen the range of private universities grow.
Tuition fees in Germany
Most of the states in Germany do not charge any tuition fees to EU as well as non-EU students. Students usually just pay a couple of hundred Euros administration costs every year that often include a public transport ticket for the region or even the whole state.
Find more detailed information about tuition fees in Germany.
Long term tuition fees: Some universities request approx. 500 Euros each semester from those students, who need three to four semesters longer than their fellow students to complete their programmes.
Do not mix up tuition fees with semester contributions! The semester contributions have nothing to do with the tuition fees and vice versa.
This semester fee covers parts of the administration costs of your university as well as social contributions to the ASta and the Studentenwerk. In addition, many universities finance your semester ticket with this money. It allows you to use public transport facilities throughout the semester.
You can also find further information on the website of the Association of German Student Services Organisations (Deutsches Studentenwerk).
Higher education entrance qualification
To qualify for admission to studies at a German higher education institution you must be able to prove that you hold a higher education entrance qualification with which you can be admitted to higher education in your home country.
Firstly, this would be a secondary school leaving certificate (for example, High School Diploma, Gaokao, Matura, A-Levels, Bachillerato).
Secondly - if required in your home country - proof that you have successfully taken a university entrance exam. To be able to study in Germany, your school leaving certificate must be recognised as equivalent to the German higher education entrance qualification called Abitur.
Applicants from EU countries and from the European Economic Area
In general, if your school leaving certificate (possibly in conjunction with a university entrance exam) entitles you to study in your home country, this is also accepted when you apply for a study place in Germany.
Applicants from non-EU countries (third countries) and stateless persons
The International Office or the student registration office (Studierendensekretariat) at your chosen university or uni-assist will check whether your higher education entrance qualification qualifies you for admission to studies in Germany. If your certificate is not recognised as equivalent, you must take an assessment test called Feststellungsprüfung.
Assessment test (Feststellungsprüfung)
If your school leaving certificate does not qualify you for admission to studies in Germany, you must take the Feststellungsprüfung. Preparatory (or foundation) courses called Studienkollegs enable you to prepare for this test.
German language proficiency
Before you can take up a course of studies at a German university, you normally have to prove that your German language skills are good enough for studying. You can do this by passing one of the following two German language tests: "Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber" (DSH) or "Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache" (TestDaF).
You can only sit the DSH at your German university. TestDaF can be taken at many test centres located in Germany and abroad.
The following language certificates are also accepted:
- "Sprachdiplom der Kultusministerkonferenz Stufe II"
- The Goethe Institute's "Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung"
- "Großes Sprachdiplom"
- "Kleines Sprachdiplom"
The German language requirement does not apply to applicants who hold an Abitur school leaving certificate awarded by a recognised German school abroad.
Exemptions to the German language requirement for admission to studiesYou are exempted from the German language requirement if you want to study an International degree programme (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD). The language of instruction in these programmes is mostly English (and sometimes French). You acquire your German language skills by attending courses parallel to your normal studies.
Entrance qualifications for graduates and postgraduates
If you have already graduated from a study programme in your home country, you will also be able to study in Germany. But please remember that not every foreign academic degree automatically qualifies the holder to take up a course of postgraduate studies.
For example, Bachelor's degrees gained abroad are sometimes only recognised as an intermediate qualification in Germany known as Zwischenprüfung or Vorprüfung.
Before you apply for admission to a postgraduate programme (for example a Master's or Diplom), contact the International Office of your chosen university in advance.
Self Assessment international is a form of student advice and aims to support young people in their decision to study in Germany. Self Assessment international helps potential students from all around the world find out more about the requirements and standards of degree programmes in technical subjects. It also offers them opportunities to complete various (self-assessment) assignments.
They can submit their answers via the website and get feedback on the results, which enables them to learn about their own strengths and weaknesses and so helps them better, assess their chances in such a degree programme.
Some universities have a selection process which not only considers the purely formal requirements (higher education entrance qualification, language skills), but also special academic subject-specific qualifications or letters of motivation.
A growing number of universities are also using academic or general selection tests. In some cases, these will be taken in your home country. So please make sure that you contact your chosen university as soon as possible to find out whether and on which dates a specific selection procedure is carried out.
Registration, make sure you get a place in your courses!
You have to register (matriculate) at the university specified in his acceptance letter. The acceptance letter also specifies the registration date. After registering, you are entitled to commence your studies at the university. You should also register at your department (for example, the History Department). This registration is often a prerequisite for using the departmental library and for sitting examinations. Please go to the departmental Secretary's Office (Sekretariat) to ask when the registration dates are. It is also advisable to register for courses for which there is great demand.
Some courses have many more applicants than places (for example, language courses at the language centre). Make sure you secure your place by entering your name early into the list of participants.
Additional benefits: After completing registration you receive various papers and documents: a Course Record Book (Studienbuch) in which to collect all academic credits; a certain number of copies of the Registration or Enrolment Certificate (Studienbescheinigung) which confirm student status; one copy has to be presented to the health insurance carrier; a student ID card (needed for borrowing books, Internet access in the computer centre, re-registration). Upon presentation of the student ID card, students can claim many discounted prices (for rail tickets, newspaper/magazine subscriptions, insurance).
Summer and Winter Semesters
The academic year is divided into two semesters (= two six month periods) at German universities. Programmes can begin in the winter and summer semester, respectively. Dates may vary slightly from one university to the next. Please contact the Registrar's Office at your university of choice for the exact dates.
1. For Universities of Applies Sciences (Fachhochschulen)
Summer semester: March to August (lectures begin: 15 March)
Winter semester: September to February (lectures begin: 15 September)
2. For Universities (Universitäten)
Summer semester: April to September (lectures begin: 15 April)
Winter semester: October to March (lectures begin: 15 October)
3. Semester vacation/recess (non-lecture period)
Summer: end of July to September
Winter: end of February to mid-April
Students' rights and obligations in Germany
Germany is a constitutional state in which each and every citizen has documented rights and clearly defined obligations. This principle is also reflected in the relationship between student and university.
Know your rights and obligations well: The Higher Education Acts adopted by Germany's federal states clearly define the rights of students during their studies.
They also specify the students' obligations towards their university. But don't worry; the list of obligations is quite straightforward. Nevertheless, you should know what they are, otherwise, you risk getting into trouble that you could actually have avoided.
Check-list: You should be aware of these obligations
- Advise your university immediately of any change of name or address (Registrar's Office);
- Re-register on time each semester and pay any fees due (Registrar's Office);
- Apply for a leave of absence or sick leave in good time and get advance approval (Registrar's Office);
- Register for or de-register from examinations on time (Examinations Office);
- After graduating, supply the University Library with the specified number of copies of your thesis.
Always account for these costs
Non-EU students might have to prove that they can finance their studies by submitting a bank statement or similar. When calculating your budget, you must make sure that you include the fixed costs of studying. These generally include:
- the semester fee (once per semester)
- expenses for study materials and excursions (as needed)
- health insurance contributions (monthly)
- tuition fees (once per semester: not at all universities and not in all programmes).
The semester fee is due each semester. You have to pay it on time whenever you register or matriculate and each time you re-registration (which you are required to do at the start of each semester).
Depending on your institution and your federal state, the semester contributions can amount to between 50 and 250 EUR.
Additional study materials
How much you spend on study materials and excursions will depend strongly on what subject(s) you are studying. Many subjects (above all, arts and humanities) only require you to buy books. Although the university libraries hold the key textbooks you need, important standard works can often not be taken out on loan and can often only be read in the (reference) library.
If you are studying one of the very popular subjects (for example, business administration or law), you will have to reckon with longer waiting times before you can borrow a book.
So, it may make sense to buy the specialist books and literature that are important to you. You can buy many books second hand at reasonable prices, for example, via offers posted on the notice board in your faculty or in a second-hand bookshop.
On average, you would spend around 200 EUR per semester for books.
Cost-intensive subjects: You will generally find that artistic subjects and medical courses are much more cost-intensive (requiring about 50 Euros per month). For example, a student studying interior design will have to budget for the following costs per semester:
- modelling: 50 EUR;
- blueprints/construction plans:140 EUR;
- drawing utensils/copies: 60 EUR;
- specialist journals: 22 EUR;
- books: 40 EUR;
- printer cartridges: 56 EUR.
Another cost factor is the purchase of a personal computer plus software for use throughout your studies, amounting to an additional 2,000 or so EUR. If you do not need constant access to a computer, you can use the PC workstations in the libraries and computer centers.To ensure that you realistically assess your costs, you should first go to the departmental student advice service or to the departmental student society responsible for your programme.
Students: All students are obliged to have health insurance up to the 14th full study semester (Fachsemester) or up to a maximum age of 30 years.
Statutory health insurance premiums for students lie at around 280 EUR per semester. If you are over 30 years, make sure that you insure yourself with a private health insurance company.