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 17,000 programs available to search from, including 88 programs in English. Unfortunately opportunities to study in Germany in English at undergraduate level are currently quite 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. When choosing a university and a course you should also make sure the course content suits you. Check the information provided on the official websites of universities you’re considering, and get in touch to request more detail if needed.
You should also consider the location. Are you interested in living in cool capital Berlin, immersed in the traditional Bavarian culture of Munich, amidst the skyscrapers of financial hub Frankfurt, or in a quieter student city such as Göttingen?
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’. This can come in many formats, particularly for international students who have gained their school-leaving qualifications in a different country.
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 (formerly Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache, meaning “Test of German as a foreign language”).
The DSH is offered only within Germany, at various universities, while the TestDaF can be taken at centers in more than 90 countries worldwide. Both are equally well recognized, but you should check the test you intend to take is accepted by the universities you want to apply to.
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 €7,908 per year (US$8,722) or €659 (US$727) per month to cover your living costs, although you may find you need more, depending on your lifestyle and spending habits (the average student spends €800/US$877 a month). Living costs vary depending on the location; according to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey, Munich is currently Germany’s most expensive city, followed by Frankfurt am Main and Berlin.
If you’re concerned about costs, there are scholarships available to support students studying in Germany at various study levels including undergraduate level, despite the tuition itself being free.
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. The summer semester runs from March to August at Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences) and April to September at universities; the winter semester is from September to February and October to March respectively.
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)
To ensure the best chances of acceptance, take care to provide all the documentation requested, make sure all your documentation is certified (copies of documents also need to be certified by the awarding school), and check that you’ve filled out all your information correctly before submitting your application. An application fee may be charged.
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 (full list here). 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$88) 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 this 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).
When looking for accommodation in Germany, you should consider student residences, shared accommodation or an apartment. An unshared apartment is the most expensive choice, and this will generally cost in the region of €350-400 (US$386-441) a month. Shared accommodation is the most popular form of accommodation and would be cheaper at around €280 (US$309) a month, while student residences are cheaper yet again at around €240 (US$265) a month.
If you struggle to find suitable accommodation there are many temporary options available, such as hostels.
Once you’ve found a place to live, you need to register at the ‘residents’ registration office’ (Einwohnermeldeamt) or the ‘citizens’ bureau’ (Bürgeramt).
Enrolment turns applicants into students – 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$165-275), depending on the university. There may be an additional charge of around €100 (US$110) for a “Semesterticket”, which covers public transport expenses for six months.
Depending on the university, you may need to enroll in person or simply email or post the necessary documents before a certain deadline – if in doubt, check with the university for details of the enrollment process.
The usual documents you need for enrollment are:
- Your passport with visa or residence permit
- A passport photo
- 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 allows 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. You should open this account as soon as possible and ensure you have enough money in the meantime.
- If you’d like to find a part-time job while you study, you can do so if you are a full-time EU or EEA student (excluding students from Bulgaria and Romania), with no restrictions on where or when you can work. If you are a full-time student from outside of the EU (or from Romania and Bulgaria), you will be limited to working up to 90 days full time or 180 days part-time per year before you must apply for a work permit. Upon gaining paid work in Germany you should contact the German employment office to learn about the legal conditions. Click here for tips on finding a student job in Germany.
- Make sure your studies are organized. Students need to put together a timetable themselves – your Kommentierte Vorlesungsverzeichnis (KVV), or Annotated Course Catalogue, course schedule and examination regulations should help you with this, or you may be able to compile it online. You may well also need to decide on what course modules you’d like to attend.