Studying & PhD - most asked questions

Updated on
October 16, 2022

Why choose to study in Germany as a foreign student?

Well, for starters, you’ll get first-class education (German universities are among the highest ranking in the world – right below a few of the American Ivy League and prestigious British universities) and a formal degree to show for it, that is recognised all over the world.

On top of that, the guiding principle of the German higher education being ‘The Unity of Teaching and Research’ (also the cornerstone of what is referred to as the ‘dual education system’), there is strong emphasis on apprenticeships and the students hands-on involvement to their learning, in both the practical application of a large part of what gets learned theoretically and in researching novel ways of problem-solving (at many universities and ‘Fachhochschulen’ access to cutting-edge research facilities is available).Finally, Germany is an important country with a great culture, so every international student stands to benefit greatly from experiencing it.

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What exactly is ‘Studienkolleg’?

‘Studienkolleg’ is a one-year preparatory course which has to be joined by individual candidates who wish to study at a German higher education institution but whose school leaving diploma is deemed insufficient to apply for a degree program.

The course covers full-time education in the subjects of a degree program as well as the German language, for five days a week. A passing score on the final Assessment Examination qualifies you to apply for a degree program that is suitable for you at any German university.

Can I study my course in English at German Universities?

Yes. There’s plenty of International Degree Courses taught in English (at least in the first semesters,) for students whose command of the German language isn’t sufficient  to warrant their studying be done entirely in German. Both before and during the program there are German language courses offered. A large number of postgraduate courses (Master’s and Ph.D.) are designed and taught entirely in English.

Go to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and select “English” from the field “Course Language” to find all programs in English!

What exactly is an International Degree Course?

International Degree Courses have been introduced by institutions of higher education in Germany with the express aim of facilitating the process whereby international student applicants realise their educational objectives in Germany. The medium of instruction is primarily English, gradually introducing more use of the German language.

These courses, which have been designed to high academic standards and are available to both international and German students, covering undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

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Do I need to have passed a TOEFL or IELTS in order to enroll on a study program that is taught entirely in English?

Unless your native language is English, you will need to hold a TOEFL or IELTS certificate in order to apply for a program which is taught entirely in English at a German university.

If you’re applying for a postgraduate program and have already completed a Bachelors degree with English as the language of instruction, you do not need TOEFL or IELTS.

What are the “Fachhochschulen,” and how do they differ from universities?

Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) are a type of German institution and typically offer degree programs for subjects in professional fields such as Engineering and Applied Science. There are also courses in business administration, but to a lesser extent; courses in Humanities and Social Science are rarely offered.

The purpose of ‘Fachhochschulen’ is to maximise the practical utilisation of theoretical knowledge; they are suitable for candidates who have no intention of pursuing academic careers, but would rather acquire as much practical experience as possible. In addition to full-time study there are also practical training semesters to provide hands-on experience in real working environments.

‘Fachhochschulen’ do not award Ph.D. titles; in order to obtain a Ph.D., you must complete a postgraduate course at a university.

Will I have access to free library and computer facilities at German universities?

As a general rule, all higher education institutions in Germany provide Internet access and set up email accounts for their students. In addition to that, they have libraries and archives that are very well stocked full of useful material for students. Many supply much of the mandatory reading material required for their course, which helps keep costs down for students.

Are there any age limits to apply for postgraduate study programs (Masters and Ph.D.) in Germany?

No, there are no age limitations to study postgraduate study programs.

When is the deadline for direct enrolment?

The entrance application for the summer semester (commencing April 1st) is January 15th . The deadline for enrolment for the winter semester (commencing October 1st) is July 15th.

Students from outside of Germany now have the opportunity to apply to several universities with only one set of documents through the Application Services for International Students (ASSIST). ASSIST will check that all necessary documents have been included and that they meet the necessary formal requirements, and will then forward them on to the respective universities.

Which authorities deal with the assessment and recognition of degrees earned by foreign students in Germany?

The assessment of degrees and academic credits for admission purposes is the responsibility of universities. In assessing foreign higher education qualifications and degrees, the ‘Central Office for Foreign Education’ (ZAB) The Conference of German Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs’ (KMK) assists with provision of recommendations that are country-specific.

Pursuant to the ‘Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications Act of 2012,’ the authorities of the federal state of residence (or the state in which the applicant intends to reside.)

Those authorities are responsible for the recognition of international students higher education and enrolment onto degree courses/advanced study programs.

How much do higher education institutions charge for tuition fees in Germany?

In the last few years tuition fees were much lower than other developed countries. However, as of October 2014, Germany decided to waive tuition fees in all provinces making higher education literally free of charge.

Postgraduate courses (Master’s and Ph.D.) however, are liable for some extra costs, varying between €650 and a few thousand Euros per semester; it is advised that prospective foreign postgraduate students exercise research relevant to their desired course of study and perform their due diligence.

Will it be expensive to finance my stay in Germany?

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The fact that there are no tuition fees mustn’t lead you jump to the conclusion that studying in Germany will be cheap.

Yes, there are creative and commonsensical ways to significantly reduce your overall cost of life there, but first and foremost you need to realistically assess the resources at your disposal – You should assess your financial situation in detail.

Don’t be under the impression that working part time while studying in Germany will provide complete financial support, as that’s highly unlikely – your student visa and residence permit entitles you to only 120 full (or 240 half) days of work.

A scholarship and/or support by a sponsor (parent, relative, etc) may be necessary, in which case the sponsor has to explicitly state their intention of supporting you.

Where can I apply for a scholarship if I want to study in Germany?

When it comes to applying for a scholarship in Germany, the options  will either be provided from the government, such as from the largest EU scholarship provider, Erasmus+ which also offers grants for living costs when students are taking part in the Exchange Program within Europe.

There is also the German Exchange Service (DAAD), an organisation ran by the government offering scholarships of various levels to international students.

You can apply directly to Universities scholarship programmes, alternatively, you can visit the websites of the German Research Foundation

Non-Governmental associations offering scholarships to international students include: the Einstein International Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Kurt Hansen Science Scholarships , and the Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowships (IIF) for Developing Countries.

Will I be allowed to work while studying in Germany?

A student who is not a citizen of an EU or EEA member country – studying full-time in Germany is legally allowed to work a maximum of 120 days (or 240 half days) in a one year period, without having to obtain permission from German employment authorities.The maximum amount of days, non EU or EEA citizens (with the exception of Bulgaria and Romania) are legally allowed to work is set at 120 full or 240 half days out of a 365 day period. The only exception to the law is if you were to undertake occupation of an academic or student assistant, but you must request permission from the German employment authorities before you work more than the maximum amount of days legally allowed.Remember, the law stipulates that work includes actual part/full-time employment and also voluntary placements, and this stands for both paid and unpaid positions.

Foreign students may not be self-employed, not are they permitted to work on a freelance basis.

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Can my spouse and/or children apply for a Visa to live with me in Germany during my studies?

If you have a residence permit in Germany and if the duration of your stay is expected to be longer than one year, than family reunification is possible. However, in order for them to join you in Germany, you have to be able to support them without burdening social assistance in any way.Your spouse/children will be permitted to come and live with you in Germany, Depending on certain factors such as when you got married, if you have a residence permit and your stay is expected to be longer than one year. You can find more details and exceptions on the website of the German embassy from your home country. It is important to check your eligibility to apply with the German embassy or consulate in your home country.If you or your spouse are not in possession of a ‘Blue card’ you are also expected to meet the following requirements:

  • Both be over 18 years old
  • Both be proficient in German

Your spouse must also demonstrate their ability to speak basic German, although there are some exceptions for this, such as if they are highly qualified or is already in Germany as a researcher.If your children are under 16 years old, they are not required to meet any requirements for a German family reunification Visa.

If my spouse is granted permission to live with me, are they legally allowed to work?

Spouses accompanying foreign students may, under certain conditions, be permitted to work. To be able to work your spouse must have a residence permit, and/or EU Blue Card. (Unless they are already working in Germany as a researcher or is a highly skilled/qualified person)  If your spouse is planning to work in Germany, they must disclose this information when first applying for their Visa.

Will I be liable to pay taxes in Germany?

You may be liable to pay taxes in Germany, depending on the duration of your stay and your income acquired during that time. You are exempt from paying income tax if you are staying in Germany for less than 6 months and/or your monthly income does not exceed €450 per month. This income would also be exempt from pension contributions.If your annual gross income is above €9,984 you will be eligible to a tax refund, and will have all tax refunded back to you at the end of the year, which can be claimed when you file your tax return with the relevant tax authorities.

Do I need to open a German bank account?

It is recommended to open a German bank account if you are planning to stay in Germany for an extended period of time.A bank account will be needed in order to receive your salary if you plan on getting a part-time job alongside your academic career. Most current accounts are free for students to open and you will also be able to use your cash card to withdraw money, free of charge, everywhere in Germany and set up ‘standing orders’ to make regular payments for rent, health insurance and any university semester contributions.

Do I need a student visa to study in Germany?

Your eligibility to apply to a student Visa in Germany depends on your nationality; citizens of EU or EEA member countries do not need a visa – only a valid ID card and a document confirming they have the right to reside in Germany. (This can be obtained by registering with the local authorities at the city they’ll be studying in – the ‘Einwohnermeldeamt’.)Citizens of the following countries can apply for a residence permit within three months of entry: Andorra, Australia, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Canada, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, South Korea and the United States of America.If you’re not a national of an EU or EEA member country, nor of any of the above-mentioned countries the citizens of which can apply for a residence permit while still in Germany) then you must be issued a national type visa before leaving for Germany if your intention is to stay longer than three months.You must apply for a student visa well in advance of planned departure for Germany at the German embassy or consulate general in your country.

What documents do I need to apply for a student visa?

You have to enquire at the German embassy or consulate general in your country in order to be certain; usually the following documents need to be submitted:

  • Certificates from your previous studies (and a higher education entrance qualification which is recognised in Germany)
  • An acceptance letter, from your university (or confirmation that you are soon to receive an invitation of study)
  • A valid health insurance coverage Contract
  • Bank statements, or other documentation proving possession of sufficient financial resources (income or assets of roughly €8000 per year)
  • Certification to show you have a competent command of the German language (or documents proving your intention of attending a language course during your stay)
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If I have proof of admission from a German university providing a full scholarship, is it necessary that I produce other financial proof in order to obtain the student visa?

Usually, a full scholarship is considered as sufficient financial support in order to apply for a visa; whether the embassy requires additional proof or not, depends on your country of nationality. It is important you find out your eligibility well before your desired study program commences.

Do I need to demonstrate my ability of German if my study program is taught entirely in English?

No, if the exclusive language of instruction will be English you are not required to have any level of German; however, a little knowledge of German will take you a long way in your everyday life as a student living in Germany.

Once I complete my studies at a German higher education institution and therefore the reason why I got issued the student visa ceases to exist, do I have to leave the country immediately?

Not necessarily, it’s possible to extend your student visa for one year, after completing your Bachelor’s degree.

How do I apply for a residence permit?

People who are coming to Germany with a visa and who intend to stay for a longer period in Germany must apply for a residence permit.A residence permit for the purpose of studying is issued for a period of two years and must be extended before that date otherwise the permit may expire. When you are going to extend your visa you always have to produce a valid health insurance contract.

What is the typical path to a Ph.D. in Germany?

Assuming the degree currently held qualifies the  for a doctoral program in Germany, the typical path a candidate would have to follow to a doctorate, would be as follows: Once the area of study is selected, the candidate needs to find an academic supervisor/mentor a.k.a. the “Doktorvater” or “Doktormutter”, who will guide the doctoral candidate through the research phase leading to the writing of his/her dissertation.There are different ways to find an academic supervisor in Germany:Either through personal contacts your professors may have in Germany or through online research of various scientific publications, e.g. Higher Education Compass

Once an academic supervisor is found, the doctoral candidate has to enroll at a university program for several semesters, where the student will be gaining practical scientific experience and working as an assistant, as well as conducting research and writing their dissertation.Another increasingly popular way to obtain a Ph.D. in Germany is through a ‘structured doctoral programs’ wherein a team of professors supervise and support a group of doctoral candidates.

Which qualification do I need to present to be admitted for Ph.D. Programmes?

If you wish to gain a Ph.D. in Germany, then you definitely need to hold a university degree which is equivalent to a degree gained at a German university. Equivalency is decided by the university in question and you should contact your chosen institution directly. You can find more information on Higher Education Campus, or from the ‘Akademisches Auslandsamt’, which is an administrative department all German Universities have for international students and exchange programmes.

How can I apply to study for a Ph.D. in Germany?

As soon as you have chosen a topic area, you need to find a professor, who will act as your academic supervisor. Once you have an academic supervisor for your doctoral thesis, you will be required to enroll at the relevant university for a number of semesters and attend certain courses. Please enquire as soon as possible, whether the degree you currently hold is qualified for a doctoral program.German universities are now creating special programs for foreign doctoral candidates which have been specifically designed to meet the needs and interests of international applicants. These special measures primarily involve preparation, guidance-counselling and the provision of favourable research conditions. Not only can the thesis often be written in English or another world language, but study-integrated German language courses also help students overcome any language barrier the students may face.Such program include:

  • PhD Support Programs
  • Bi-national Doctoral Arrangement
  • Graduate Schools

Information on these programs as well as the addresses of all ‘HEI’ and all doctoral programs and doctorates can be found on the Higher Education Campus

What is the admission/enrollment criteria at German universities and other higher education institutions?

In Germany, the traditional route to enrolment into a tertiary level education institution (University, University of Applied Sciences a.k.a. ‘Fachhochschulen,’ College of Art and Music, etc..) is passing score the final examination whereby a certificate called the ‘Abitur’ (or Fachabitur) is obtained.As a general rule, Abitur – formally enabling students to attend university – is necessary for enrolment into most universities, but exceptions to this rule are not infrequent. An alternative way is to pass an Aptitude test (Begabtenprüfung).As an international student, however, you need to apply well in advance in order for the International Students Office (Akademisches Auslandsamt) to consider your application – including previous academic record – and determine whether it meets all admission requirements; for this purpose you will need to produce proof of completion of secondary education (e.g. High School diploma, (‘Matura,’), ‘A-Levels,’ or if required in your country, proof of having passed a university entrance examination) that is an equivalent to an ‘Abitur.’ certificate.As to whether your high school diploma permits you to study in Germany, depends on which country it was issued in; if your high school diploma was issued in a EU or EEA member country, then it is accepted for direct application at a university, otherwise you may have to undergo (again depending on the country in which your high school diploma was issued) a ‘Feststellungsprüfung’ assessment examination, after having attended a Studienkolleg (preparatory course).Certain universities of applied sciences a.k.a. ‘Fachhochschulen,’ may require that you complete a working internship prior to enrolling. In order to be admitted to a post-graduate (Master’s or Ph.D.) program, a formal recognition of your university degree is required, from your home country or another country.

Can I send copies of required documents in my application?

You may only send certified documents; certain additional documents, however some documents, such as proof of internship, etc. are exempt from that rule.

What level of knowledge of the German language do I need in order to attend a ‘Studienkolleg’?

Your German language skills need to be at the B1 level on the Common European Language Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) which is considered an equivalent of roughly 600 hours. You must provide proof of your level.

Will my school-leaving qualification be recognised?

In order to be allowed to study in Germany, you need a ‘Hochschulzugangsberechtigung’ (university entrance entitlement): This simply means a school-leaving qualification that entitles you to study at university. In Germany, this is the ‘Allgemeine Hochschulreife’ (Abitur) or ‘Fachhochschulreife’. On the Anabin website you can see if your qualification is accepted. you can submit enquiries regarding the qualification which you have obtained, and in which country. you will then receive a detailed explanation of whether or not your qualification is adequate for direct university entrance.

What exactly do I need to enroll at university?

  • Valid insurance in Germany
  • Documentation of admission to your course, from your university
  • A receipt of the payment to the student organisation
  • A Passport photograph
  • To produce your passport and valid visa

What exactly is ‘Studentenwerk’?

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Studentenwerk is an organisation which acts in the interest students in each particular region of Germany.

Each German region has its own ‘Studentwerk’, but they cooperate closely on a national level.‘

Studentenwerken’ generally organise and run cafeterias, restaurants, housing units, the ‘BAföG’ for the government, and even psychological and low level health services.

You can also find information regarding leisure activities, student welfare and local housing options.

Some regions and universities mandate a certain yearly fee by each student for the ‘Studentenwerk’, maintaining a legal relationship between the semi-independent organisation and the local government(s).

Am I eligible for “Dual Studium” as a foreigner?

Most universities in Germany offer the so called ‘Dual Studium’. This special way of studying makes it possible for students to study theory at a traditional university and at the same time practice what they have learned at companies who partner with the university or program.Depending on your visa you will probably only be able as an international student, to work only 120 days out of the year. As long as this is in agreement with your university’s program you can participate in the highly successful ‘Dual Studium’ program.

Will my driver’s license be valid in Germany?

As a general rule, the validity of foreign driver’s licenses is limited to six months. If, as a full-time student you claim residence in Germany, and after six months your driver’s license expires, the only way for you to continue to drive legally would be to transfer your license. Whether the transferring of your license requires you to undergo the theoretical and driving tests administered by driving schools, depends on the country of issuance of your driver’s license (find out what regulations apply to your home country by contacting your local department of motor vehicles/driver’s licenses).For the purpose of transferring your driver’s license in Germany you will need to produce the following:

  • Original Valid Driver’s License
  • Passport Photograph
  • Proof of Residency in Germany
  • Your Passport or ID card.

Which are the best universities for my field of study?

Each year, the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE) publishes Germany’s most comprehensive ranking of higher education institutions. This multidimensional ranking uses up to 40 different factors to provide a detailed view of the strengths and weaknesses of German higher education by subject areas. This is complemented by research being published every Autumn to provide specific information on the ranking of, and research contribution made by German higher education institutions. On the CHE website you can find out what the top-ranked German universities are in every subject area.

What are the requirements for getting a Ph.D. in Germany?

The most important formal requirement is a very good university degree that is recognised in Germany. Generally, your degree must be equivalent to a master’s degree, awarded after at least eight semesters of university study. There is one exception: Especially qualified international applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree may be admitted to a doctoral program in what is called a “fast track program”. In such cases, applicants are usually required to pass an examination.Each German university is responsible for submitting candidates to its PhD programmes and recognising prior academic achievement. This is why candidates must apply directly to the Dean’s Office or the faculty’s doctoral committee to have their past degrees recognised. In certain cases, admission to a PhD programme is determined by an additional examination which assesses whether the candidate’s knowledge is equivalent to that of a holder of a degree from Germany.You can obtain more information from the professors who are responsible for the subject in question. It may also be helpful – and in some cases, necessary – to include letters of recommendation from your university professors at home.

What kind of insurance do I need to matriculate at a university?

In Germany there are two kinds of health insurance: Public and private. Without insurance it is not possible for you to matriculate at a university. Up to the age of 30 or until your 14th term of study you normally have to be insured with a public insurance company. But you also have the possibility to exempt yourself from the public insurance company if you would like to buy private insurance instead.You would have to go directly to the public insurance company before you are going to matriculate yourself at the university. But please note, if you exempt yourself from the public insurance company you can´t be re-insured with them while you are still a student. SBK is a perfect choice for foreign students in Germany!

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How can I find student accommodation in Germany?

If you would like to register for a room or an apartment in student accommodation you should contact your local ‘Studentenwerk’ directly. On their website you can also view listed accommodation, and information on prices and furnishing. The offers are varied and range from simple rooms to self-contained flats for couples, students with children and also for students with disabilities.The furnished rooms are mostly equipped with a writing desk, a bed, a wardrobe and shelving. Some items such as pillows, blankets, bedding and towels are not provided. There may be the option to buy or rent other items. If possible please avoid arriving late at night, or on Saturday or Sunday. If this is unavoidable please make prior arrangements to collect your keys. If you don´t have a flat upon your arrival in Germany, please go to the ‘Studentwerk’  as soon as possible, they often have emergency accommodation available at the beginning of term.

Will I be allowed to bring my pet to Germany?

If you want to bring your pet to Germany,you must prove that the animal has been duly vaccinated against rabies (at least 30 days prior to crossing the border to enter Germany, but not date back more than 1 year for dogs and six months for cats).There is a tax being levied for bringing dogs to Germany, to be paid after you’ve registered the animal with the local authorities.

Is it easy to travel around Germany – how mobile can I expect to be?

It is fairly easy to travel within Germany without a car; – owing to its outstanding public transportation network – the ICE high-speed trains, Deutsche Bahn AG, the suburban S-Bahn network, tram and subway lines cover the entire territory of Germany together.Domestic flights between all major cities are becoming increasingly popular due to being affordable and readily available.  Bus and taxi services are frequent and easily accessible. For those who enjoy cycling, special cycling lanes and suitable places for bicycle parking are widespread and secure.

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