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Studying in Germany: How It Works

Germany’s Universities are open to students from all over the world, and the country is one of the most popular destinations among international students. If you want to attend Ludwig Maximilians Universität München, Technische Universität Berlin, or any other German Hochschule, read on for more info!
Even when studying in Germany, red tape is inevitable.

Tuition Fees

As of 2014, studying at state-funded German universities is free of charge again, after a few short years of tuition fees which proved widely unpopular and were criticized harshly. Ranging from 150€ to 800€ per semester (i.e. a maximum of 1,600 € per academic year), depending on the federal state, they were relatively low compared to many other countries, though.

Students still have to pay administration fees, however. Ranging from 50€ to 150€ per semester, they usually include a compulsory contribution to the local student union and a ticket for public transport. The fees also support the Studentenwerk, an organization providing student housing and other student services (e.g. university cafeterias with cheap meals, support for pregnant students or students with disabilities, mental health counseling, etc.).

Private universities set their own fees for tuition and administration. They are usually far more expensive than state-funded institutions.

Admission Requirements

Entrance requirements depend on the degree course you are planning to take and on the university you’d like to attend. Some popular subjects may not have any special requirements at all, whereas more prestigious degrees may require good grades at secondary school, a local admission test, letters of reference, etc. To study at an arts college or a similar institution, you usually have to hand in a portfolio or pass a creative entrance exam.

Medicine and dentistry in particular are well-known for their strict selection criteria nationwide. If you want to enroll in a prestigious program with limited capacities (medicine, veterinary studies, pharmacology, dentistry, architecture et al.), you can apply either directly at the university or at the Central Office for the Allocation of Places in Higher Education (ZVS – Zentralstelle für die Vergabe von Studienplätzen). If you apply for admission at the ZVS, be prepared to be informed about your result on short notice. 

Admission of Foreign Students

There are two major obstacles for international students who want to study in Germany. The first one is the language barrier. If you obtained your high school diploma abroad, you need to prove sufficient knowledge of the German language before you are admitted to any German university. International degree programs are the sole exception. The second obstacle is having your high school diploma accredited by Germany universities.

This can be very difficult depending on where you are from. Students from most countries outside the European Union need to take additional tests, whereas an EU diploma is accepted as equivalent to the German Abitur (final exam in German secondary education). If necessary, the required assessment tests (Feststellungsprüfung) are conducted at many universities. There are special preparatory courses as well: They review all necessary qualifications for your subject of choice and teach international students about German universities in general.

The online database of the German Academic Exchange Service tells you which educational certificates from abroad require additional admission tests.  

Taking a German language course is also a good opportunity to make friends and to familiarize yourself with German culture. Many foreign students allow half a year or even a year for their German language classes. Universities often offer courses themselves or cooperate with local language schools. There are two certificates that are accepted as sufficient proof of German language skills: The DSH certificate (Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber) can only be taken at German universities. The Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (TestDaF ), on the other hand, can already be taken abroad.

Universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen), music colleges or arts colleges may have less strict admission requirements for foreign students. We recommend you to contact their admission office directly.

If you have already begun with a degree course abroad and want to transfer your credit points to a German university, you need to talk to the university you are switching to. The decision is entirely up to them. Try to find out as much about your new degree program as you can beforehand -- you might need academic transcripts and letters of recommendation as well.

Where to Get Help and Advice

All German universities have an administrative department called Akademisches Auslandsamt. It is responsible for everything connected with international students and exchange programs. The Auslandsamt often employs foreign students to share their first-hand experiences with newcomers and help them with routine problems. To find out more about local housing, leisure activities, and student welfare, get in touch with the Studentenwerk at your university.


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