Country Guide : Study in Germany

Germany is the world’s most popular non-Anglophone study destination, and the fourth most popular overall – only the US, UK and Australia welcome more international students each year. Find out what motivates so many to study in Germany, and how to choose and apply to a German university.

Germany is a country characterized by variety. Trendy and modern Berlin can seem a world away from the more traditional and conservative Munich. The gleaming skyscrapers of Frankfurt form a stark contrast to quaint Heidelberg. And if bustling and fast-paced Hamburg becomes too much, you can always retreat to the peaceful and picturesque Middle Rhine region.

Universities in Germany

Universities in Germany offer plenty of choice, including some of the most prestigious institutions in Western Europe. Germany’s highest ranked university in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15 is Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (ranked 49th in the world), followed by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52=) and Technische Universität München (54th).

Beyond that, every major German city you can think of has at least one university ranked among the world’s best. A total of 17 German universities make the world’s top 250, and more than 40 are included within the world’s top 650. This establishes Germany well within the world’s higher education elite.

In addition to world-class universities, Germany also offers high quality of life, relatively low tuition fees, extensive support and scholarship schemes for international students, and decent post-graduation employment prospects. So it’s easy to see why so many choose to study in Germany each year. Studying at master’s level? Read our graduate-level guide to Germany.

Discover some of Germany's top student cities...

Berlin

Cities don’t get much trendier than Berlin, which competes with cities like London and New York in terms of the cool factor. It goes without saying that this tolerant, multicultural and creative city is known for being a great place to be a student – and it helps that it’s also a relatively inexpensive place to live. Universities in Berlin include three within the world's top 200 in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (134), Freie Universität Berlin (150), and Technische Universität Berlin (192=).

Munich

Thanks to its world-famous Oktoberfest, a huge annual beer festival, Munich will forever be associated with Germany’s beer-brewing tradition. But there’s more to this southern city, which is often voted one of the world’s most livable cities. For one thing, universities in Munich include two of the world's best: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (ranked 52= in the world) and Technische Universität München (54th).

A sleek modern financial hub, Munich can be a little on the pricey side. But it won’t cost you anything to enjoy the beautiful Bavarian countryside which surrounds it. There’s plenty of history to enjoy too, and no visit to München would be complete without a visit to King Ludwig’s palaces and grottos.

Heidelberg

Despite being part of one of Germany’s most densely populated areas, Heidelberg manages to retain a certain quaint rustic charm. It is popular with tourists, who come to see its ancient castle and red-roofed town center. Universities in Heidelberg include the famous Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, which is Germany’s oldest and highest ranked university (49th in the world). It boasts a connection with more than 50 Nobel Prize winners, of whom 10 were (or are) professors at the university.

Cologne

Cologne is known for its dramatic cathedral, Kölner Dom, and its liberal and tolerant nature. It is peppered with museums and art galleries, and does a good line in beer halls and independent stores, particularly in its Agnesviertel district.

Direct trains run to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and Luxembourg isn’t too far away either, so Cologne could be a good choice for those who want to get further acquainted with Western Europe. Among universities in Cologne you'll find Universität Köln, ranked just outside the global top 300, which is Germany’s largest and second oldest university.

Frankfurt am Main

The beating heart of Germany’s financial and business sectors, Frankfurt is also the home of the European Central Bank. Accordingly, its city center is a mass of gleaming skyscrapers, and its airport is the busiest in continental Europe.

However, it’s not all work and no play. Frankfurt is known for offering some of the best nightlife in Germany and hosts a number of colorful festivals throughout the year. As for universities in Frankfurt, the most prestigious is Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, ranked 217 in the world, and particularly strong in social science subjects.

Tuition fees in Germany

As of this winter 2014, Germany will be a country free of university tuition fees, for international students as well as domestic students. The nation, already marked as an extremely popular low-cost study destination, will become free of tuition fees following the decision to remove higher education charges from the last two German states (Lower Saxony and Bavaria) made earlier this year.

While tuition costs are free, however, students are required to pay a nominal fee per semester to study in the country. This fee covers administration, student support and other unavoidable costs, and is usually no more than €250 (US$330).

Those undertaking a master’s degree in Germany should be aware that some institutions do charge for master’s level courses, although this is mostly reserved for students enrolling in programs “non-consecutively”, i.e. those who have not completed a related bachelor’s program in the last year or two from within Germany. In some cases for non-consecutive master’s students, fees can amount to as much as €10,000 (US$13,100) per semester. For those going from undergraduate study in Germany straight into a related master’s degree program, fees should be expected to remain low or non-existent.

Applying to universities in Germany

The application process varies depending on a few factors. If you have a European qualification, such as a baccalaureate or A-levels, then you will only need to prove you can speak German (unless you’re enrolling on a course taught in English) and you can then apply directly for a university-level course.

Students with qualifications from outside Europe may have to sit the Feststellungsprüfung entrance examination after attending a preparatory Studienkolleg. High-achieving students may be able to bypass this.

For most subjects, you can apply directly to the international office of the university. Alternatively, you can use uni-assist, a centralized admissions portal for international students. This is one of the services run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the world’s largest funding organization supporting international student and academic mobility.

For some subjects, there is a nationwide cap on the number of students who can enroll. For these subjects (mostly life sciences) students from the EU (and Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein) need to apply through the Foundation of Higher Education Admission. Students from outside of the EU should apply as normal.

Getting a student visa for Germany

The requirements to get a student visa for Germany depend on your country of origin.

Applicants from the EU (and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein):

  • You do not need a visa or a residence permit to study in Germany.
  • You must get a residence permit from the Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgeramt (registration authority).
  • You will need to prove you have or will have enough money for the first year of your stay (€659 – around US$870 – a month) and have purchased statutory health insurance if you’re under 30. Certain countries have bilateral agreements with Germany, which mean insurance policies in the student’s home country will be applicable in Germany.
  • If your course is in German, you will need to prove your proficiency in German at the application stage, for which a TestDaF or DSH score will be required. If your course is in English, as some are (though mostly at graduate level) then you’ll need to provide a TOEFL or IELTS score.

Applicants from outside the EU:

  • If you are from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Switzerland or the US, you will not need a visa to enter the country but you will need to register at the local Residents’ Registration Office and the Aliens’ Registration Office (Ausländeramt) to obtain a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis).
  • If you are from Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco, San Marino or Taiwan you will only need a student visa for Germany if you want to work before or after your degree. You will need to apply for a residence permit.
  • If you are from any other country you will need to obtain a visa from your nearest German embassy before you enter Germany, as well as a residence permit. Ensure that you apply for a National Visa for the purpose of study rather than a Schengen Visa, which will only allow you to stay in Germany for three months.
  • In order to get a residence permit you will need to present confirmation that you’ve registered at the Residents’ Registration Office, proof you have health cover (your university will help with this), proof of your financial means (see above), your passport (with visa if you need one) and a tenancy agreement which shows you have found somewhere to live. It will be valid for two years, after which time you must get it renewed.
  • To obtain a visa, you will need to present the same list of documents as for a residence permit. You may also have to show proof that you don’t have a criminal record and are free of certain diseases. The specific list will depend on the embassy.
  • The same language requirements apply as specified in the requirements for EU students. You may also need to produce this evidence at the visa stage