Our top tips on how to apply for university in Germany

Our top tips on how to apply for university in Germany

by Jakob Straub

Updated November 8, 2022

Germany is a popular study destination and leading among the non-English-speaking countries to attract international students. Exciting cities such as Berlin, low or no tuition fees and of course Germany’s top universities with a high international ranking are among the pull factors for foreign students. Whether you want to get a first university degree in the country or plan on postgraduate studies, we explain the steps of applying to study in Germany.

Steps to studying in Germany

1. Choose your university or course

What you want to study will of course determine where within Germany you’ll study it–and the earlier you know it, the better so you can meet application deadlines. The German academic year at universities is split into the summer and winter semester, but keep in mind that some courses or programs will only accept applications for the winter semester.

Your language skills will also play a factor in selecting your field of studies: your options for studying exclusively in English at undergraduate level in Germany will be limited. If you’re a diligent language learner, though, you can begin with courses taught in English and then catch up as the schedule changes to German.

Allow yourself enough time to identify all possible opportunities and familiarise yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of each as well as the individual requirements. You can of course send out as many applications as possible, but there are a few tips to help you compile a selection and make a decision:

  • Consult the database of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). They list study programs and allow you to filter for ones in English.
  • Check a list of university rankings to find the top German places of study for the field or degree that interests you.
  • Get an overview of which universities offer the degree you want to get or the studies you’ve chosen.
  • How to learn a language before studying abroad

2. Admission requirements

There is no complete list of general admission requirements as they will differ depending on the university and program. But in order to study at a German university, you’ll need a higher education entrance qualification, or “Hochschulzugangsberechtigung” in German. This can be in the form of a high-school diploma or other graduation certificate as well as a successful university entrance exam result. In some cases, especially if you’re applying from outside the European Union, you might have to take an additional entrance exam, which can be waived for highly qualified students.

Common language requirements are either German or English. Proof of German language proficiency can be supplied by taking a German language examination for university entrance such as the DSH, short for “Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang”, and the TestDaF, or “Deutsch als Fremdsprache”.

As a non-native speaker, you can prove your knowledge and proficiency of English with an IELTS or TOEFL test result. The required score will be among the admission requirements for foreign students.

3. German university application process

The specific admission requirements posted on a university’s website will also tell you how and where to apply. In many cases, this will be through the international office. If you’re applying through a program such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), they’ll help you with the process.

In Germany, the application deadline for the winter semester is the preceding July 15 and January 15 for the summer semester, though these can vary depending on the program and institution. Send your application as early as possible to allow for enough time in case you need to correct something or supply additional documentation. Typically, your application needs to be complete before the deadline.

The required documentation commonly includes:

  • The filled out application form
  • A certified copy of your university entrance qualification
  • A university of study transcript or proof of credits earned for a postgraduate degree
  • A copy of your passport
  • A passport photo
  • Proof of required language proficiency
  • Proof of payment for the application fee, if any

Note that programmes, subjects, courses and universities can have a cap on enrollment numbers, so the application route for EU students may also lead through the Foundation of Higher Education Admission. Students from outside the European Union normally apply directly with the institution.

4. Enrollment at university

Once you’ve been accepted into a university or program, you’ll have to enroll before you can begin your studies and before classes start. You’ll have to do this before the beginning of each semester and the process may include paying a service fee. A “student ticket” or “semester ticket” for access to public transport can be part of this or might be available at additional cost.

The documentation necessary to complete enrollment includes your notice of admission, your passport with your student visa, and possibly proof of language proficiency as well as payment of the fee. Once you are enrolled, you’ll receive a certificate as well as your student ID.

5. German student visa

The German student visa enables you to study and attend school, university or an educational institution in Germany. The application typically involves filling out a form, having a valid passport and providing a recent photograph, proof of health insurance and possibly details on your financial situation.

The German embassy in your home country is your point of contact for obtaining a checklist of student visa requirements as well as starting the application process. However, if you plan to come to Germany on a study or student exchange program, a representative of the respective organisation will also be able to assist you with visa requirements and the application process.

We’ve outlined the general visa application process for Germany and explain the level of German needed to get various German visas.

6. German health insurance

To study in Germany, you’ll need to prove you have adequate health insurance. It’s a requirement for both your student visa and for enrollment. As an EU citizen with health insurance in your home country, your coverage should be sufficient for Germany and you’ll need your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)–many European countries have social security agreements with Germany.

Without valid health insurance, you’ll need to take out a student policy for coverage. Your monthly cost can vary between around €80 and €160, depending on your age and whether you opt for public or private health insurance.

We’ll give you a quick general guide to health insurance in Germany and explain the details of private health insurance.

7. Student housing

Studying in Germany doesn’t mean you’ll have to move into dorms or student housing, but in many cities, student accommodation might be your most economic option. There might be housing available specifically for attendees of your university or institution, though in general, student housing in Germany just requires proof that you’re currently enrolled. For more information, you can ask at the enrollment office or “Studienbüro”, the study office, about what’s available in your city.

Are you ready to take the jump? Our guide will explain how to prepare to move to Germany!

It’s a good idea to get your German language skills up to date before moving to the country. Visit the Lingoda website and sign up for your free 7-day German trial today! You’ll experience 3 group classes, have access to thousands of materials and have the chance to take online quizzes. 

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