Germany is one of the most popular non-Anglophone study destinations in the world, and with its trendy student cities and low (or no) tuition fees, it’s not hard to see why.
If you’re planning to study your first university degree in Germany, read on…
1. Choose a university
So, you’ve decided on Germany as your study abroad destination – now it’s time to choose the right course and university for you. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has a database of almost 2,000 programs available to search from, including 1,389 programs in English.
Unfortunately opportunities to study in Germany in English at undergraduate level are currently fairly limited, though there are some courses taught in both English and German (typically starting with English for the first two to four semesters and then changing to German). This allows you to study in English while improving your proficiency in German, particularly as your university may offer German language classes.
You may also like to consider the latest rankings of the top universities in Germany while making your decision, or check the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject to find the top German institutions in your field, using the compare tool to help you narrow down universities.
2. Check the admission requirements
Before applying, check that your current qualifications are recognized by your chosen university. To study in Germany you need to have a recognized Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (HZB), meaning ‘higher education entrance qualification’.
For prospective undergraduate students, a high-school diploma, school-leaving certificate or university entrance exam result is usually sufficient, and the DAAD has a database of information on admission requirements for selected countries. Students with qualifications from outside Europe may have to sit the Feststellungsprüfung entrance examination after attending a preparatory Studienkolleg, although high-achieving students may be able to bypass this.
You’ll also need to check the language requirements. Most courses are taught in German, requiring international applicants to submit proof of proficiency in the German language. Two main tests are available for this purpose: the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH, meaning “German language examination for university entrance”) and the TestDaF.
Likewise, if your course is taught in English, unless you are a native speaker or have previously studied in English, you will need to prove your knowledge of the language with a test such as IELTS or TOEFL. Universities will usually state the score/s they require on their websites.
3. Get your finances in order
In order to fulfill student visa requirements, you will need to show proof that you have, or have access to, around €8,700 per year (~US$10,000) to cover your living costs, although you may find you need more, depending on your lifestyle and spending habits (the average student spends €850/US$975 a month). Living costs also vary depending on the location; according to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey, Munich is currently the most expensive city in the country.
If you’re concerned about costs, there are scholarships available to support students studying in Germany at various study levels.
For most subjects, you can apply directly to the international office of the university. Alternatively, you can use the website www.uni-assist.de, a centralized admissions portal for international students, run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), although not all universities use this. You may wish to apply for numerous courses and universities separately to increase your chances of being admitted.
At many German universities it’s possible to apply for admission twice a year – to commence studies either in the winter or summer semester. In general, applications for winter enrolments need to be made by 15 July, and applications for summer enrolments by 15 January. However, application deadlines vary between institutions, and the same institution may set different deadlines for each program – be sure to carefully check the specific dates for your chosen course.
It’s recommended to submit applications at least six weeks before the deadline, to ensure time for corrections or additions if any information is missing. You should expect to receive a formal acceptance or rejection approximately one to two months after the deadline has passed.
The specific documents required and application process will be set by each institution, but you’ll typically be asked to submit:
- A certified copy of your high-school diploma or previous degrees, and any other relevant qualifications in the original language
- A translated overview of your course modules and grades
- A passport photo
- A copy of your passport (personal information and photo ID page)
- Proof of language proficiency (a test certificate or online equivalent)
You may also need to pay an application fee.
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 (plus Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein) need to apply through the Foundation of Higher Education Admission. Students from outside the EU should apply as normal.
5. Take out health insurance
Before you leave your home country you should ensure you’ve purchased health insurance to cover you during your stay in Germany. This is required both before you enroll and before you get a student visa and/or residence permit. If you’re a resident of a country within the EU or EEA, there should be a social security agreement in place between your country and Germany. This means that if you have public health insurance in your home country, you should be covered in Germany as well. You will generally need to get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to take advantage of this (free to obtain).
If your health insurance is not valid in Germany, expect to pay between €80 (US$92) and €160 (US$176) per month to cover this. The cost is higher if you’re over 30, and if you’re over 29 when starting your course you can only obtain private insurance.
6. Get a German student visa
The requirements for obtaining a student visa for Germany depend on your country of origin. You can find an overview of the countries for which a student visa is or isn’t required on the Foreign Federal Office’s website. You can also read this article to find out how to get a German student visa and a residence permit.
7. Find accommodation
Once you’ve gained a place on a course and your student visa (if applicable), it’s advisable to start looking for accommodation, as unfortunately most German universities do not offer accommodation to enrolling students. Rent is likely to be your biggest monthly expense, and will vary depending on which part of the country you live in. In big cities within Western Germany (i.e. Dusseldorf, Cologne etc.) and smaller, student-oriented cities such as Heidelberg and Freiburg, you should expect to pay slightly more than if you were living in eastern Germany (i.e. Berlin).
Once you’ve found a place to live, you need to register at the ‘residents’ registration office’ (Einwohnermeldeamt) or the ‘citizens’ bureau’ (Bürgeramt).
You must enroll before you can start your course and use university facilities such as the library. You’ll also need to re-register before the start of every semester. This usually costs between €150 and €250 (~US$170-290), depending on the university. There may be an additional charge of around €180 (~US$205) for a “Semesterticket”, which covers public transport expenses for six months.
The usual documents you need for enrollment are:
- Your passport with visa or residence permit
- Several passport photos
- Completed registration form
- Proof of higher education entrance qualification, either original certificates or officially certified copies and translations
- Notice of admission
- Evidence of adequate knowledge of German (or English)
- Evidence of statutory health insurance in Germany
- Payment receipt for the semester fee
Once enrolled, you will receive a registration certificate which acts as a provisional student ID, allowing you to apply for your residence permit and register for classes.
9. Settle in to student life in Germany
Congratulations, you should now be (mostly) all set to begin your studies in Germany! Don’t forget to pack all the essentials, as well as arranging a few more important affairs:
- If you haven’t already, once you’ve found accommodation you must register with the local registration office of your city (Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgeramt). Once registered, you’ll receive a document confirming your registration at that address, which you can then use for the next step…
- Get a student bank account. Most banks offer these for free, and it will make managing your regular payments (such as accommodation) much easier.
- If you’d like to find a part-time job while you study, you can find out how this works for EU and non-EU students here.
If you’re worried or unsure about anything, ask for help from the advisory service offered by the student committee (Fachschaft) or your university’s international office. Alternatively, if you have any questions, feel free to ask us in the comments below or view our frequently asked questions article.
This article was originally published in November 2015. It was updated in April 2020.