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. You can find more detailled information in this article 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 then their fellow students to complete their programmes.
Attention! Please do not mix up tuition fees with semester contributions. The semester contributions have nothing to do with the tuition fees and viseversa. The specific amount of money depends on each university. This money 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. You can check whether your higher education entrance qualification is equivalent to the German qualification by going to the DAAD Admissions data base or to the KMK database www.anabin.de.
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: In general, 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", or the Goethe Institute's "Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung", "Großes Sprachdiplom" or "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 studies: You 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.
For graduates and postgraduates
If you have already graduated from a study programme in your home country, you will generally 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), please find out how you will be placed in the corresponding programme. Recognition of your previous academic and examination achievements and credits is an important factor in this respect. In most cases, the secretariat of your future faculty at your chosen university will be responsible for this.
You have to send the full set of your study documents (credits, transcripts, certificates, etc.) there for these to be checked. Please make sure that you contact the International Office in advance to find out who is responsible for you.
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
Examination regulations help your planning
If you wish to sit exams, you must register in the proper form and on time. If you do not adhere to the formal requirements (submission of defined papers and documents, deadlines and dates), you will not be admitted to the exam. Ask at your Examinations Office as early as possible which requirements you must observe.Important information on examination dates and registration deadlines are announced on the notice board (schwarzes Brett) in your faculty. Please check the notice board on a regular basis.
Rights and obligations
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).
Semester contributions: 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). If you miss the payment date, you will have to pay a late-payment fee or may even be struck off the university registry (exmatrikuliert).
Depending on your institution and your federal state, the semester contributions can amount to between 50 and 250 Euros. The fees collected can be used to pay for university administration services (e.g. registration and re-registration), student services and the Student Council. At some universities, the fee includes the costs of the semester ticket. The semester ticket is really useful, because it allows you to use all public transport in and around your university town without having to pay any extra. So, remember that semester fees are not identical with tuition fees.
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 do essentially hold the key textbooks for you to use, 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 should reckon with costs of around 200 Euros 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 Euros;
- blueprints/construction plans:
- 140 Euros;
- drawing utensils/copies: 60 Euros;
- specialist journals: 22 Euros;
- books: 40 Euros;
- printer cartridges: 56 Euros.
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 Euros. 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. This means that the statutory (public) health insurance fund has to insure you at favorable student rates up to this point in time.
Statutory health insurance premiums for students lie at around 280 Euros per semester. You must pay the sum to the health insurance carrier before you register at your institution. If you are older than 30 years of age when you enter Germany, you must make sure that you insure yourself with a private health insurance company.
Participants of pre-study language courses: If you belong to this group, you must take out private health insurance. To help with such cases, the Association of German Student Services Organisations has reached a special agreement with a private insurance company: insurance costs around 40 Euros per month for men, and around 80 Euros per month for women.
If you start a degree programme after finishing the language course (and are younger than 30 years of age), you can then switch to the statutory health insurance.
Student internships: Finding out what it's like in the working world
If you are not an EU citizen, internships will count as normal work. This also applies if the internships are unpaid. Each day spent on the internship is deducted from the maximum of 90 days per year that the law allows you to work. If you've already used up the 90-day allowance, you will need the approval of the Foreigners Authority and the Employment Agency before you start an internship. This ruling does not apply, if the internship is a required part of your course, a Compulsory Internship (Pflichtpraktikum).
If you don't do your compulsory internships, you can't take the finals: Check your aptitude for the programme by taking a practice test: Internships give students an insight into the working world. The earlier, the better. The pre-study internship, in particular, helps prospective and new students find out whether they have chosen the right programme. Many students decide for a programme without really knowing what their future career options are. During their studies they then discover that it would have been better to opt for a different subject area.
All about student advice services
Several university facilities offer advice to students. New students may find this a little confusing at first, because they might not initially recognize how the various services differ. Here a brief overview:
The Central Student Advice Service (Zentrale Studienberatung - ZSB) is the first point of contact for anybody interested in studying. The service mainly answers general questions relating to studying. You will be able to find out about the range of courses and studies offered, about application and admissions processes, about the study conditions, course contents and scholarships. The service will also help you decide which programme is right for you and will help you plan the start of your studies.
At the same time, it is the place to contact on all questions and problems relating to studies. It will help you change subject if you wish, and will provide tips and advice on organising your studies. It offers assistance in the event of psychiatric problems. And it organises special introductory seminars for foreign students.
The Faculty Student Advice Service (Studienberatung der Fakultäten) explains how the studies are structured in your subject or programme, the examination regulations and helps you organise your own studies. It is an important source of advice if you are planning to graduate from your German university.
Subject Advice (Fachberatung) is offered in the individual departments and is mainly given by academic assistants. Experts from your subject provide valuable information and tips on special features of your subject and on how to specialise. Make sure you use these services. You can profit particularly from their insider tips for your future study and career planning.
The Students Advising Students Service (Studentische Studienberatung) is offered at the Departmental Student Societies (Fachschaften), for example, or at the Student Council (AStA, UStA or StuRa). The students provide useful tips on examinations and on how these are organised. In addition, they also provide support if you have problems with university teachers or with the recognition of credits.
Plenty of help and support: Nobody's left on their own
Your decision to study in Germany gives you a special challenge. You specifically chose to take up a course of academic training, because you see it as the best possible foundation for your professional and personal future. You now want to begin or continue this new stage in your life in a foreign country. This means that you have to learn a new language, new customs, habits and manners. You need to cope with the complicated course material and demanding examinations.
That calls for great personal dedication and your best efforts and performance. Keeping control of all this is sometimes pretty difficult. But don't worry; you won't be left alone with your questions and problems. Germany's universities and their institutions maintain a wide and various range of - free-of-charge - advisory and helpful services for you to use. Don't hesitate, make early use of them. We'd now like to present some of the most common services below that are found at practically each and every university. Your university may possibly offer further support services locally. Just ask!
- The first few days in Germany are certainly very interesting, but also very strenuous. Universities offer various support services to help you settle in and feel at home. For example, many Student Services (Studentenwerke) run a Newcomer Service, which, for example, provides you with a tutor or helps you cope with bureaucratic formalities.
- A special service for newcomers is also offered by the International Offices, the Student Councils and the Protestant Student Communities (Evangelische Studierendengemeinden) and Catholic Student Communities (Katholische Hochschulgemeinden). They organise excursions, welcome parties and evening get-togethers. Take up such invitations. They are the best way to make contacts quickly.
- Also, are you scared of writing a paper or thesis? Postponing the submission because you don't know how to write such a paper properly? A training course in the Writing Lab (Schreiblabor) at your university can help you overcome this. The lab offers workshops to improve your writing techniques and provides tips on writing study assignments and final theses.
- If you're already parents and need reliable childcare for your under-school-age children? Many Student Services (Studentenwerke) offer appropriate childcare services for children up to school age. An overview of universities offering this service is available on the website: www.studentenwerke.de/main/default.asp?id=04301
- If you find yourself in a financial emergency during your studies, you should first contact the Social Counselling Service (Sozialberatung) offered by the Student Services (Studentenwerk) or the International Office (Akademisches Auslandsamt). They will tell you where you can find financial assistance. For example, many student services organisations have an emergency fund for foreign students or offer bridging loans.
- Emergency loans are also offered by the Student Council. Private associations like the Protestant Student Communities, the Catholic Student Communities, or the municipal and local authorities in the town will often be able to help.
- Internships and work placements enable you to gain initial career experience and help you get a clearer idea of your career wishes. The Internship Office (Praktikantenamt) will help you find a place. A successful career choice depends decisively on you being aware of what your own skills, abilities and goals are. Only if you know exactly what you are capable of and what you want will you be able to specifically plan your career.
- The Social Counselling Service of your Student Services Organisation (Sozialberatung des Studentenwerks) tells you when you have to pay social security contributions (statutory health insurance, nursing care insurance, accident insurance, unemployment insurance and pension insurance). This is also where you can find out whether your insurance covers you sufficiently when you take up a temporary job or do an internship or work placement. You can also find good advice at the Student Council's Social und Legal Advice Department (Sozial- und Rechtsberatung).
- In major cities, in particular, accommodation can be in very short supply and so expensive. Ask your student services (Studentenwerk) about accommodation as early as you can (at least 6 months before your studies commence). The student services organisations operate their own student halls of residence at student-friendly terms. These often have Hall of Residence Tutors (Wohnheimtutoren) who help foreign students. In addition, the student services maintain a list of who offers private accommodation in and around town.