Higher Education

Studying in Germany

Find out all about what you need to study in Germany, including information on courses, visas, costs, and student life.

study in Germany

By Gary Buswell

Updated 19-2-2024

With many desirable cities and affordable education at some of the world’s best universities, Germany is a country full of opportunities for international students. It is a popular choice as a study location, with many graduates staying on to work for top German businesses.

You can study higher education in Germany if you have a placement offer from a recognized institution and fulfill the requirements for staying in the country. This may mean getting a visa or permit if you’re from outside the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

If you’re thinking about applying to study in Germany, you’ll need to consider the following:


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Higher education in Germany

The German higher education system is renowned worldwide for its quality. Seven of its universities feature in the 2022 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and it has two cities – Munich (2nd) and Berlin (6th) – listed in the top 10 worldwide student destinations.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that Germany has a large proportion of international students. 416,437 enrolled in 2021, just over 14% of the overall student population. The affordability and quality of education are two main draws – Germany abolished tuition fees for all undergraduate students in 2014. Other degrees and PhDs are now free in most German states.

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There are over 400 universities in Germany teaching over 20,000 courses, with over 1,000 in English. The majority of universities are state-run, however, some private universities charge fees. Over 95% of German students study in public universities. Types of universities include:

  • General universities
  • Universities of applied sciences
  • Universities of technology
  • Colleges of art, film, and music

Students in most states in Germany start higher education from age 18 onwards. The academic year is divided into two semesters: winter (October to March) and summer (April to September), although exact dates vary across the states.

Undergraduate degree programs in Germany

Like many other countries, Germany refers to undergraduate courses as bachelor’s degrees. These qualifications include:

  • BA (Bachelor of Arts)
  • BSc (Bachelor of Science)
  • BEng (Bachelor of Engineering)
  • BMus (Bachelor of Music)

Degree courses in Germany typically take at least three years if studied full-time, although many universities have part-time options.

You can study either singular degrees focusing on one particular subject or specialty, or joint degrees with a major and a minor element, such as psychology with criminology. Popular degree subjects in Germany include engineering, business management, humanities, and computer science.

Requirements to study in Germany for undergraduates

Those who attend secondary education in Germany receive an Abitur certificate at the end of schooling. This allows them to study at university. Meanwhile, international students typically require at least a Level 3 qualification or a university entrance qualification (Hochschulzugangsberechtigung – HZB).

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Unless you are studying a course taught in a foreign language, you will also need to know German. You’ll need to take the Test of German as a Foreign Language (Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache – TestDaF) to make sure your skills are sufficient to study in Germany.

Postgraduate programs in Germany

Master’s degrees

Master’s degrees in Germany are postgraduate degrees equivalent to Level 6 qualifications. They continue from undergraduate study and enable students to attain more in-depth specialist knowledge in a subject area. Courses are a mix of classes and independent research that typically culminates with a piece of field research work and a dissertation.

In Germany, you can study consecutive or non-consecutive master’s degrees. Consecutive degrees follow bachelor’s degrees directly, often at the same university or institution. These are usually free. Non-consecutive degrees are typically separate from the student’s undergraduate qualifications and might focus on a different subject entirely. You generally have to pay tuition fees for these degrees.

Master’s degrees in Germany can last up to two years full-time. Types of degrees include:

  • MA (master of Arts)
  • MSc (master of Science)
  • LLM (master of Law)

PhD programs

The highest level of study in Germany is the Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD), a Level 7 qualification. PhDs tend to be less structured, with a strong focus on independent research. They can take around five years in Germany, although there is often no formal deadline.

To apply for a PhD, you usually need a master’s degree and will need to write a strong research proposal. It is typically up to the student to arrange their research supervisor and organize their study plan.

Many German universities also offer structured PhD programs which follow a more set curriculum, although students are still expected to work largely independently.

Other study programs in Germany

University of applied science degrees

In Germany, universities of applied sciences (Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften – HAW) are reformed technical colleges that specialize in vocational and practical learning. They offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees that last for the same amount of time as a standard university, and the qualifications on offer are of equivalent level.

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However, they differ in terms of entry criteria. The Abitur and other standard university entry qualifications are accepted but not always necessary, and many universities accept vocational qualifications or experience. Another difference is that these German universities do not teach PhD level qualifications.

In Germany, you’ll also find academies and colleges offering specialist training in specific fields. For example, Deutsche POP academy provides training and BA courses in creative subjects such as music, design, and gaming.

Diplom/Magister Artium qualifications

Diplom and Magister Artium are traditional German qualifications that have largely been phased out. However, you can still find some universities and colleges that teach them. They consist of a combination of undergraduate- and postgraduate-level study and last for 4–6 years. Diploms are mostly awarded in engineering, natural, and social sciences, whereas Magister Artiums are mainly in social sciences and humanities.

What are the requirements to study in Germany?

The requirements to study in Germany depend on your nationality, qualifications, and the course you choose.

German study visa

Some prospective students need a visa to study in Germany. EU/EFTA citizens do not need a visa or residence permit to live and study in the country. In addition, students of some other nationalities – including Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, and the US – can enter Germany without a visa and stay for up to three months. After that, they will need a residence permit.

All residents need to register with the local registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) if they stay for longer than three months. You can check the requirements for your country on the Federal Foreign Office website.

Language requirements

Most degree courses in Germany are taught in German. However, some universities offer international courses in English. You may need to demonstrate proficiency in one or both languages.

If you want to study a degree in German, the language requirements vary, but bachelor’s and master’s programs typically require a minimum language proficiency of CEFR level C1. Some bachelor courses accept CEFR B2, but you may need to take German lessons to bring your language up to speed.

Overhead view of students working in a library

If your study course has a German language requirement, you will usually need to provide a certificate showing your proficiency. The standard certificate is the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH).

Meanwhile, students taking English-language courses usually need to show evidence of English language proficiency. They may also need at least basic knowledge of German. Requirements vary across universities, so check the admissions criteria before applying.

Getting overseas qualifications recognized

You can use qualifications earned in other countries to gain admission to German higher education programs. You’ll usually need a level 3 qualification (such as A-Levels or International Baccalaureate) to study a bachelor’s degree or a foreign undergraduate degree to study a master’s degree.

All EU/EFTA countries, including Germany, are part of the Bologna Process, making recognizing overseas qualifications easier.

If you are from a country where you need to get qualifications translated or formally recognized in Germany, take a look at the anabin database (in German) to find out how to do this.

You can find general information about recognition of foreign qualifications on the ENIC-NARIC website and details concerning professional qualifications on the German Recognition Portal.

Other entry requirements

In addition to the admissions requirements mentioned above, universities may have specific criteria that students must meet. All general and course-specific criteria should be clearly listed on the university website, so be sure to check this before applying.

Students from outside of the EU/EFTA generally have to meet more requirements. For example, some students may need to take a Studienkolleg course before starting their degree in Germany.

If you need a student visa, you will must prove you have sufficient financial resources to support yourself.

You can find out about special requirements for students from different countries on the uni-assist admissions database.

Costs of studying in Germany

One of the major advantages of studying in Germany is the affordability. State universities do not charge tuition fees for undergraduate degrees. PhDs are also usually free. Consecutive master’s degrees are also usually free, but some universities charge for non-consecutive ones. Costs for these vary but are typically between €2,000 and €3,000 per semester. The exception to this is in Baden-Württemberg where non-EU/EFTA students have to pay fees, typically around €3,000 a year.

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Although there are generally no tuition fees in public universities, students in Germany have to pay a small administration fee at the start of each semester. The amount varies across universities but can be up to €300 per semester. Some universities also charge fees (typically between €250-500) per semester for long-term students who exceed their standard period of study.

Meanwhile, private universities in Germany usually charge tuition fees. These can be up to around €20,000 a year for international undergraduates and €30,000 a year for overseas students taking master’s degrees.

Funding available for studying in Germany

Although study fees in Germany are lower than in many other countries, there are still funding streams available to cover costs. For example, you might be able to get help with your living costs or administration fees, or if you want to study at a private institution.

Available funding for higher education studies in Germany includes:

Amounts available, eligibility criteria, application processes, and deadlines can vary greatly, so it’s a good idea to research all available options and find something that best suits your funding needs.

Study exchange programs in Germany

Many German universities offer international student exchange programs with other top universities worldwide. If you study in Germany, you can spend a semester, or even a whole year, in another country. The DAAD provides funding for these international exchanges.

The EU funds overseas study for EU/EFTA and third-country nationals through its Erasmus+ program. There are also partnership schemes aimed at international collaboration with specific countries, such as the German-American Fulbright exchange. Some countries also have programs that let university students study in Germany for a short period, such as the Turing Scheme in the UK.

Logo of the Erasmus student network on a computer screen
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You can check exchange programs and opportunities with individual German universities or educational institutions or authorities in your home country. Students interested in business and law could look at the University of St. Gallen over the border in Switzerland for specialized degree programs.

Qualifications awarded in Germany

German universities and colleges follow the Bologna European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), consisting of two study ‘cycles’ where up to 60 transferable credits are awarded each year. The cycles are:

  • Bachelor’s degrees – lasting 3–4 years, comprising 180–240 credits
  • Master’s degrees – lasting 1–2 years, consisting of 60–120 credits

PhD study equates to a third ‘cycle’ in which the use of credits varies.

There are a few variations on this system. For example, although it is being phased out, the Diplom or Magister Artium qualification consists of both undergraduate and postgraduate study. Additionally, some professional fields, including medicine, dentistry, law, physics, and food chemistry, culminate in a state examination (staatsexamen) to obtain a professional license.

Private university degrees in Germany fall under the ECTS system as long as the authorities recognize the university.

How to apply to study in Germany

You can apply for most university courses in Germany directly through the university itself. Alternatively, the DAAD-run uni-assist service can guide you through applications to around 170 member universities.

Certain subjects, such as medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy, impose a restriction on the number of study places. For these courses, you need to apply through the Foundation for University Admission (Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung – SfH).

The application process varies across institutions, but you can generally apply at two points throughout the year. Deadlines are mid-January to start in the summer semester and mid-July for the winter semester.

Students in a library working on laptops, tablets, books, and blackboards full of text
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Along with your application form, you will typically need to provide:

  • Valid ID, for example, a passport
  • Passport photo
  • Proof of educational qualifications
  • Evidence that you meet the language requirements

Some universities charge an application processing fee of around €75. You will also need to pay to get documents translated. Once your application is processed, you may have to attend an interview or pass the university entrance exam (Hochschulzugangsberechtigung – HZB).

If you are offered a place, you can proceed with the next steps. This may include applying for your student visa or arranging student accommodation.

Each university has its own induction process. In general, you must pay the administration fee (plus any other fees) at the start of each semester.

Student accommodation in Germany

German universities do not automatically organize accommodation for students – it’s up to you to sort it out. Thankfully, most universities have halls of residence. As rooms are cheap (usually between €200 and €300 a month) and conveniently located, they are often in great demand. Around 40% of international students live in halls of residence.

Places where you can look for dorms on campus include the DAAD website and information on accommodation from the Study In Germany website.

Other options include looking for a private room in a shared apartment. Many sites advertise rooms specifically for students, including:

You can also find short-term lets on sites such as:

If you don’t want to rent a room in a shared apartment, you can look into renting an apartment yourself. This is a more expensive option, and it usually involves more administrative requirements and a larger deposit.

Working while studying in Germany

If you’re an EU/EFTA student, you can work without restriction or a work permit, but if you work more than 20 hours per week, you’ll have to start paying into the German social security system.

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If you’re from any other country, you can work for 120 full days (or 240 half days) per year on your student visa or residence permit. However, if you’re working as an assistant at your university, there is no limit to the number of days you can work. Third-country nationals wanting to work over the allowable limit must apply to their local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde) for a work permit.

Volunteering while studying in Germany

Students often like to volunteer in their spare time or during the holidays, and many German universities encourage volunteering, have charity societies, and provide information on helping out in the community. Check your university website for details.

You can also check websites such as Vostel, which links non-profits with volunteers. If you are 18–30 and are interested in volunteering in Germany or abroad for 2–12 months, you could also take up a placement with the European Voluntary Service (EVS).

Student healthcare in Germany

Germany has a high-quality public healthcare system supplemented by many private healthcare providers. However, you must make social security contributions in Germany to access public health services. As international students generally don’t make social security contributions in Germany, they don’t have automatic access to state-funded healthcare.

Therefore, students from abroad must usually take out a private health insurance policy to cover medical treatment in Germany. If you require a student visa, you will need to show proof of health insurance coverage as part of your application.

Several countries, including the EU/EFTA, have social security agreements with Germany so visitors such as students are covered by their home country’s health insurance policy. For example, EU/EFTA students can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to cover most basic medical treatment in Germany.

If you need private health insurance in Germany, many companies provide good international medical insurance. These include:

Student life in Germany

As most major cities have at least one excellent university, many German students go to the nearest one and return home at weekends. Therefore, student life can be quieter from Friday to Sunday in typical student cities. Workloads are often heavy, consisting of a mixture of lectures and seminars, but students generally plan their individual study schedules, so the number of study hours per week varies.

Young people dancing and drinking in Berlin
Partygoers at Zug der Liebe in Berlin (Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)

However, there are still plenty of opportunities to get to know your fellow students. Most universities have a wide selection of clubs, associations, social events, and activities that allow students to network and make the most of their time in the country. Furthermore, cities such as Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg have a vibrant culture and nightlife, and the cost of living is more affordable than in countries such as the UK and France.

After studying in Germany

Studies show that over two-thirds of international students intend stay to and look for work after graduating. And that’s hardly surprising, as Germany has one of the strongest and most stable economies in Europe and is home to many reputable global companies. EU/EFTA students can do this without restriction, whereas non-EU/EFTA students have a limited time to find a job and switch to a work-related residence permit.

There are many resources to help graduates find work in Germany. If you’re looking for an ethical or sustainable career in Germany or want to work for a charity or NGO, you can try sites such as Acre or ImpactPool.

International students can also extend their student visa or permit if they want to continue with their studies, for example, if they complete a bachelor’s degree and wish to enroll in a master’s.

Useful resources