Brief Background: In 2013, the German Academic Exchange Service
(DAAD) launched its Strategy 2020 campaign, which includes a goal of
hosting at least 350,000 international students in Germany by 2020.
Toward that end, Germany’s public universities offer more than 1,900
degree programs taught in English, though most are at the graduate
level. In 2017, Germany reached the goal set in Strategy 2020; it hosted
358,900 foreign students, 5,839 of whom were US students.
Germany is home to more than 427 state-accredited universities in 180
towns and cities countrywide, of which 120 are private institutions.
There are three types of higher education institutions in Germany:
universities, universities of applied sciences, and colleges of art,
film, and music. Universities offer strong theoretical and
academically-oriented degree programs in a broad range of disciplines.
Instruction at universities of applied sciences is very
practice-oriented, and internships are an integral part of the degree
program. Colleges of art, film, and music are for students who want to
develop their artistic talents, and instruction at most of these
institutions is in German only.
Subjects popular among international students include economics and
business administration, Germanic studies, electrical engineering,
computer science, and music. In 2016, approximately one-third of all
international students studied at the undergraduate level, though this
increases to more than 60 percent at universities of applied sciences.
Good to Know: More than 90 percent of all university
students in Germany, domestic and international, are enrolled in public
universities, where they must choose and specialize in a specific
course of study when they first apply. Students pursuing a bachelor’s
degree can complete their studies in six to eight semesters.
Undergraduate programs in Germany are very structured in terms of course
selection, when compared with programs at many American liberal arts
colleges. Students are encouraged to study the German language even if
they enroll in English-taught programs.
Private universities in Germany offer undergraduate and graduate
programs. These institutions typically offer more of a US-style campus
Academic Calendar: At German universities the
academic year is divided into two terms: the winter semester (October to
March) and summer semester (April to September).
Sometimes students sit for exams during breaks between semesters. They also use breaks to travel, work, or do internships.
Search: Several websites are designed to help international students find best-fit opportunities, including the DAAD-sponsored Study in Germany website
where students can plan their studies by searching and viewing programs
according to the language in which the course is offered.
Apply: Upon identifying their desired program of study, US students should check to see if the university offering it is a member of Uni-Assist.
Uni-Assist is an application service that evaluates international
documents and credentials for roughly 180 member universities. If the
university is part of the Uni- Assist network, international students
must apply using the Uni-Assist application service. If the university
is not a member of Uni- Assist, international students can apply
directly to the institution. Applications from international students
whose credentials are determined by Uni-Assist to meet the standards for
admission to German university study programs are forwarded to the
individual university. The university itself makes the final admission
In most cases, students can apply to as many programs as they would
like. For high demand subjects, including medicine, veterinary science,
pharmacy, and dentistry, the number of spaces available is restricted.
These programs are designated numerus clausus, referencing the
“closed number” of spaces. Students interested in these areas of study
are advised to directly contact their universities of choice for
“The hardest problem for me would be the cost of returning
home. Since I started my degree I have only been able to fly home one
time, whereas some of my friends can take a trip back home easily on the
weekends or during breaks. I miss my family and friends, but going
abroad has given me a new appreciation for the time that I do spend with
—Taylor Hafemeister, Wisconsin, Jacobs University
Deadlines: Applications for the winter semester can
be submitted from late May through mid-July, though some universities
have deadlines as early as the end of May. Applicants who will not
receive their high school diploma until after the application deadline
are advised to contact the specific university and program for guidance.
Decision notifications generally begin in August. Summer semester
submission season runs from early December to mid-January, with
notification beginning in February.
Application Fees: Uni-Assist charges 75 euros for
the first application, and 30 euros for each additional application
submitted for the same semester. Other fees for translation services,
notarized copies, and exams (see “Admission Requirements”) may also
Admission Requirements: Many German universities
require the equivalent of a German state-accredited Abitur
qualification, a document issued to German secondary school students who
have passed their final exams.
International students can either qualify for direct admission to a
course of study or general admission to a preparatory program, depending
on their preparation in high school. To find out if you meet the
criteria, use this Uni-Assist tool. Early academic planning will help ensure admission requirements are able to be met. Applicants should go to Uni-Assist for the most up to date information on requirements and consult with the International Office at the chosen higher education institution.
Direct entry is typically possible with a US high school diploma—as
long as the student has completed prerequisite courses—and one of the
following: two years at a college, an associate degree, or four advanced
placement exams for direct subject-restricted admission. An IB diploma
that fulfills Germany’s IB requirements also qualifies students for direct admission.
Applicants who do not fulfill direct admission requirements but have a
US high school diploma may qualify for general admission to a
preparatory program, undertaken at a Studienkolleg, which offers
foundational courses to prepare international students for university.
In some cases, students may sit for the university qualification exam,
known as Feststellungsprüfung.
An IB diploma that does not include six mandated examination subjects
would also qualify students for a preparatory program. See the Studienkolleg website for more information.
Please note that starting with the admission deadline for the winter
semester 2019-2020, the SAT and ACT will no longer be considered for
admission to a German institution of higher education.
For numerus clausus courses, admission is based on a
calculated average grade, which takes into account applicants’ high
school grades and standardized test scores. Because admission is
competitive, successful applicants usually have strong grades and test
GEDs issued by individual states are not accepted by German
universities. Moreover, students who were homeschooled for the entirety
or part of their studies in grades 9-12 would not be considered eligible
for admission to German universities.
With some exceptions, students who plan to enroll in programs taught
in German must submit scores from either the German Language University
Entrance Examination for Foreign Applicants (DSH) or the Test of German
as a Foreign Language (TestDaF). Completion of certain Studienkolleg
preparatory courses may also satisfy German language requirements. More information on language requirements can be found through Study in Germany.
Students applying to English-taught programs generally do not have to demonstrate German proficiency.
Letters of recommendation are usually not necessary, though some programs may require them.
Upon Acceptance: Universities typically accept or
deny students; conditional offers are uncommon. If accepted, the
university will advise students on what paperwork they need to complete.
Tuition and Fees: Tuition, even for international
students, is generally free at all German public universities, though
students are required to pay fees each semester for public
transportation, meals in the dining halls, use of athletic facilities,
and cultural programming. The fees average about 250 euros per semester,
but vary by university. Universities in the state of Baden-Württemberg,
however, charge 1,500 euros for students from outside the European
Union, with some exceptions for exchange students and researchers.
Private German universities charge tuition, some up to 20,000 euros
per year. Some schools offer flexible financing options, such as
allowing students to defer fee payment until after graduation when they
have secured employment.
The DAAD website
includes a database of merit-based scholarship opportunities for
international students; see the “Information for Foreigners” section.
Housing: Students typically live in either a student residence hall or private accommodation. The DAAD website
offers an online search tool based on a student’s destination; see
“Plan Your Stay.” This search feature allows students to view options,
locations and prices, the related application process, and deadlines for
securing a spot.
Campus life at German institutions is typical of European
universities. Many students live off campus in shared or single
apartments. Dormitories with cafeterias and meal programs are not
usually available at the larger public universities. Most offer only
shared kitchen spaces.
Visa and Other Permits: Although US citizens are
eligible to enter Germany without a visa, students can apply for a
student visa from a German embassy or consulate prior to departing for
Germany. This will facilitate their application for a residence permit,
which is required. Students must apply for a valid residence permit
within their first three months in Germany.
To apply for this permit, students must first find accommodations and obtain a confirmation of registration (Meldebestätigung)
document from the local Residents’ Registration Office. Students will
also need the following when applying for a residence permit: passport,
letter of university acceptance, evidence they can cover the expected
cost of their education and living expenses (approximately 7,908 euros
per year), and proof of health insurance. Additional documents may also
The residence permit is valid for two years and must be renewed
before it expires. An extension of the residence permit will usually be
granted provided the student shows proof from their university that
their studies are proceeding properly. For more information on German
visa regulations, visit the German Federal Foreign Office website.
Fees for residence permits vary according to location but cost up to
75 euros. Additional guidance about specific locations can be obtained
through the German Consulates General.
Non-European Union (EU) students can work 120 full days or 240
half-days per year—or more if a work permit is obtained—excluding
research assistant work. Germany has recently eased its post-study work
eligibility requirements for students. After graduation, international
students can extend their residence permits by 18 months in order to
find a job, beginning from the date their final exam results are issued.
If they obtain a job in Germany, after two years of work they can apply
for permanent residency status.
Advice from the Field: General queries can be directed to The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. DAAD also provides numerous resources about studying in Germany:
Academic standards across German universities are high and generally consistent among institutions.
While some programs in Germany may be taught in English, the majority
are not. To take full advantage of their experience, students are
encouraged to learn some German either before or during their studies.