How do I apply for a degree?
Regardless of whether you want to stay in Germany or not, studying at a German university can open up many opportunities for your future professional life. Entering university, however, is not always easy. You have to meet some requirements and observe many deadlines and regulations. Here you can find out if and what you can study in Germany and how to apply for a degree. Furthermore, you will learn if you can continue the studies you have already started abroad in Germany.
What do I need to know?
Whether you are allowed to study in Germany depends on various factors:
- In principle, you need a university entrance qualification ("Hochschulzugangsberechtigung"). A university entrance qualification is a high school diploma that qualifies you to study at a university. If you have a university entrance qualification from your home country, you must first check whether it is recognised in Germany as such. The International Office or the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of your preferred university is the authority responsible for the recognition process. Furthermore, on the anabin database and the DAAD admission database, you can check whether and for what types of programme or subject your certificate is recognised in Germany. Even if the admission database does not accept your certificate, it is worthwhile to inquire directly from the university in which you wish to study. If you are not sure which university to opt for yet, you can have your certificate recognised by a State Recognition Office ("staatlichen Anerkennungsstelle")- to find one nearby, visit anabin.kmk.org. For their service, however, you usually need to pay a fee. If your school-leaving certificate is not sufficient for entering university in Germany, you can attend a so-called "Studienkolleg" or take an assessment test ("Feststellungsprüfung"). At the Studienkolleg, i.e. preparatory college, you have the chance to prepare for university and can improve your German. Keep in mind that you have to decide (in advance) which subjects you would like to study at the university before enrolling in a preparatory college. Students usually attend preparatory college for one year and take the assessment test at the end. If you pass this exam, you may then study the subjects you have chosen. To attend preparatory college, you must take an entrance exam and speak German at (at least) B1 level. In some preparatory colleges, you can take the assessment test without attending courses. To find a preparatory college in your area, visit studienkollegs.de. For some preparatory colleges, you can apply directly; for others, you have to go through uni-assist.de. The preparatory college of your choice can tell you more about the application process. Please note: If you have completed vocational training (recognised in Germany) and worked for some years in your profession, under certain conditions, you can study in Germany without a university entrance qualification. To learn more, seek advice from the International Office or the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of your chosen university. You can also contact the Central Office for Foreign Education ("Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen" or ZAB).
- You must have sufficient knowledge of the German language. Apart from some international courses of study, German proficiency (at C1 or higher) is a prerequisite for studying in Germany. In principle, you can prove your language skills with the "Zertifikat Telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule" or "Goethe-Zertifikat C2" or by passing the DSH exam or TestDaF. The International Office of your chosen university can tell you what certificate you need to present. The cost depends on which organisation and the country where you take the exam. You can search for a suitable German course in the DAAD database, at a Volkshochschule, on the Goethe-Institut's website or at private schools. For more information about learning German, visit our chapter "Language".
- If you currently live abroad but would like to study in Germany, you need a residence permit for students. For more information about this type of residence permit, visit our chapter "Immigration to Germany". If you have come to Germany as an asylum seeker, you may apply to university, regardless of your residence status- which means those who are still in their asylum procedure and asylum seekers who hold a tolerated stay ("Duldung"), can also study in Germany.
In Germany, a distinction is made between admission-free and restricted-admission study programmes: In the admission-free ones, there are enough spots for all applicants. In restricted-admission programmes, however, there are more applicants than available places. As a result, you need to apply for the latter separately. In the case of admission-restricted degree programmes, a distinction is made between the degree programmes in which admission is locally restricted (i.e. only at certain universities) and the degree programmes which are subject to a nationwide admission-restriction (i.e. in all universities in Germany). The national admission-restricted degree programmes are Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Veterinary Medicine. You can find out whether your desired degree programme at your chosen university is subject to admission restrictions on the homepage of the university or directly ask the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of the university. Currently, about 40% of all subjects in Germany are considered to be admission-free. In the case of admission-restricted programmes, the available spots are granted according to the criteria of the numerus clausus (NC). "Numerus clausus" comes from Latin and means "limited number". In NC, the Abitur grades and the length of time you are ready to wait to get into a programme play a significant role. In addition, the universities can select suitable applicants through interviews or based on the results of the TestAS. You can read more about TestAS in the section "What else do I have to consider as a foreign student?".
Yes. Without health insurance, you cannot study in Germany. As a student, you can choose between private and statutory health insurance companies, but the statutory health insurance is usually cheaper. If you are privately insured, you cannot switch back to the statutory health insurance during your studies. In Germany, an international health insurance can be recognised under certain circumstances.
If you have a statutory health insurance, you can simply submit your membership certificate to the university to enrol. If you have a private or foreign health insurance, you first have to submit this certificate to a German statutory health insurance company. They can then certify in a document that you are exempt from the insurance obligation. You can then submit the certificate to the university.
To learn more about health insurance in Germany, check our chapter “Health Insurance”.
Some universities require participation in the so-called TestAS. The TestAS is a test for international students- it verifies whether the person is suited for a particular degree programme. The test examines whether your intellectual abilities are sufficient for successful participation in the field of your choice. Among other criteria, the university chooses the candidates who have passed the test. Passing the test can be crucial, particularly for those who want to study in a restricted-admission subject. The test can be taken in English or German. If you do not have your school certificates or university degrees in hand because of your refugee/migrant history, an adequate TestAS result may suffice for your admission to a university. You can find some sample questions from the test on testas.de. On refugees.testas.de, you will also find free exercise books. Furthermore, on the website of testas.de, you can register for the actual test. There you can also learn about the applicable fees. Please note: Refugees can participation in TestAS free of charge- you can register via refugees.testas.de.
On the website of the hochschulkompass.de, you can search for a fitting university. Furthermore, on Zeit Campus, you can see the current CHE university ranking in which students and professors rate nearly 300 colleges and universities according to various criteria. Many students move to another city to study at the university they favour. Others prefer to stay and study in the city where their family or friends live.
Please note: If you have come to Germany as an asylum seeker and have been issued a residence permit, you may not move inside Germany during the first three years after your recognition. However, such residence restriction ("Wohnsitzzuweisung") does not apply if you start studying or find a spot in a vocational training programme in another city. Get in touch with the responsible Immigration Office and inform them about your plans. You can find the responsible Immigration Office at bamf.de. If you are still in the asylum procedure or have a tolerated stay ("Duldung"), however, you will, in principle, need to comply with the applicable residence restrictions. That means you cannot move to another city even to study.
The academic year in Germany (like most other countries) is divided into two semesters: the winter semester, which begins in September/October, and the summer semester, which starts in March/April. When you join a degree programme, you usually have to start in the winter semester, as only a few programmes start in the summer semester. To begin in the winter semester, in principle, you must apply by 31 May of the same year. If you have graduated from high school in the same year, the application period usually extends until 15 July. If you are applying for the summer semester, in principle, you have to send your application before 15 January.
For your application, you must present at least a certified copy of your university entrance qualification and your German language certificates. Some colleges and degree programmes also require further qualifications, such as an internship certificate. To learn more about the requirements of your desired programme, contact the International Office or the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of your chosen university.
If you wish to apply for a free admission or locally restricted study programme, you must, in principle, apply directly to the university. Many universities, however, have outsourced the application process to the organisation uni-assist. You can visit the International Office or the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of your desired university or check their website to see whether the university receives your application or you need to apply via uni-assist. In principle, the Uni-assist collects your documents, assesses your abroad-obtained certificates and informs the university about your application. You need to pay for their service. Until the winter semester 2019, uni-assist’s service was free for refugees. Since the summer semester of 2020, however, refugees also have to pay.
If you would like to apply for a restricted-admission programme in Germany, you must submit your application to the Foundation for University Admission ("Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung" or SfH).
Please note: After the confirmation by the university, you need to enrol ("Immatrikulieren"). If you miss the enrollment deadline, your place will be awarded to another candidate. You can register either per mail or in person in the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of the university. The admission letter you receive will specify how you should enrol. In the same letter, you can also find a list of documents that you need to present to register. These usually include your university entrance qualification, your ID card, a health insurance certificate and your German proficiency certificates.
If you failed to apply within the deadline or got rejected by university and programme of your choice, you can still try to apply for an empty seat through the so-called "Losverfahren". In "Losverfahren", the university gives away spots in degree programmes for which there were not enough applicants. It is best to inquire directly from the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of your chosen university for free spots and the deadlines of "Losverfahren".
Yes. You can have your degree certificates or other academic achievements you have acquired abroad recognised by the International Office or the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") of your university. Some of your certificates can be verified directly there; others must be forwarded to the so-called "Landesprüfungsamt" via the International Students' Registry ("Akademisches Auslandsamt") or the Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat"). The International Office or Student Registration Office in the university in question can tell you more.
If you do not meet all the requirements yet or are not sure what you would like to study, you can first register as a so-called "guest student" ("Gasthörer"). A guest student is not a regular student, but only a visitor who attends lectures and seminars. Sometimes you have to ask the teacher for permission to participate in the class. Whether you are allowed to take exams as a guest student differs from university to university. The Student Registration Office ("Studierendensekretariat") or the International Office can provide you with more information in this regard. Keep in mind that as a guest student, you cannot graduate and obtain a degree, so becoming a guest student is a sort of temporary solution.
Guest students do not have to apply for a spot in the programme but can register without providing qualification proofs to the university. However, they have to pay a small fee.
Enrolling as a guest student can be useful if you want to get to know more about the higher education system, improve your German language skills, or bridge the waiting period until the next application deadline. If you are uncertain about what to study, it may be quite useful to register as a guest student for a semester.
To make sure that you find a spot in a degree programme, you should always apply to several universities. If several programmes accept you, you will have several options from which you can choose.