If you want to apply to a German institution of higher education as a first-year student, a higher education entrance qualification will be required. This means that before being admitted to take a course of academic studies in your chosen discipline, you must prove that your school leaving certificate or secondary education qualification is equivalent to the German one.
Meeting Enough Requirements
Most courses are taught in German, requiring international applicants to submit proof of proficiency in the language. Two tests are available for this purpose: the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH, meaning “German language examination for university entrance”) and the TestDaF (formally 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. As always, check the test you intend to take is accepted by the universities you want to apply to.
While German remains the main language of instruction overall, a growing selection of English-taught programs is available – particularly at master’s level and for students participating in short-term exchange programs. A searchable database of English-taught courses is provided by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). If you do decide to study in English and it’s not your first language, you’ll need to prove your proficiency with an English language test such as IELTS or TOEFL
Get Ready With Your Finances
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.
Get Ready To Apply
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.
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
Take Out A 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.
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.
Get Your 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.