The top 5 universities in Germany

The top 5 universities in Germany

by Leona Quigley

Updated November 7, 2022

Germany has become a highly welcoming country for international students and is now one of the most popular destinations for students from around the world. With world-class institutes of higher education, great career opportunities, a welcoming culture, low costs of study and a variety of funding options available, there is good reason to choose Germany for your tertiary education. With such great educational prospects, there are now over 350,000 international students attending third-level colleges and universities in Germany. It’s an ideal destination for ambitious scholars, language learners and those seeking to experience a rich new cultural landscape. So let’s take a look at some top-ranked universities in Germany and what they have to offer.

1. Free University of Berlin

The Free University of Berlin (Freie Universität Berlin or just FU) was founded in 1948 in southwestern Berlin, as Berlin’s main university, the Friedrich Wilhelm University (now Humboldt University Berlin) was located in the Soviet sector. Despite being a relatively young university, FUB has built an outstanding international reputation and is associated with 5 Nobel laureates. Offering 150 degree programs across 15 field departments, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation ranked Freie Universität Berlin as the most attractive in Germany for foreign researchers. From its outset, FUB has had an international orientation and today boasts about 180 partnerships with other international academic institutions. Of over 38,000 students attending the FU Berlin, more than over 20% are international.

2. Heidelberg University

The beautiful town of Heidelberg, perched on the Neckar river in southwestern Germany, is known for its Gothic architecture and for producing some of the greatest academics and thinkers in German history. Founded in 1386, Heidelberg University is not only Germany’s oldest university, but one of the oldest in the world. It has more than 30,000 enrolled students, offers a wide range of over 160 courses and prides itself on fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and dialogue across conventional subject boundaries. About one in five students is international but as the language of instruction of all bachelors and the vast majority of masters programs is German you will need to take the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH, meaning “German language examination for university entrance”) or the Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (TestDaF, meaning German as a Foreign Language) if you wish to gain admittance. Among the illustrious list of Heidelberg alumni, you will find philosophers and psychologists such as Max Weber, Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm and Karl Jaspers, the composer Robert Schumann and former Chancellor, Helmut Kohl to name but a few.

3. Technical University of Munich (TUM)

With its main campus located in the heart of Munich, the Technical University of Munich is an  ideal destination for international students with ambitions in the areas of engineering and science. Recognized as one of the best technical universities in Germany and one of the top research universities in the European Union, it offers potential students a choice of 182 degree programs, including 69 English language study programs. With strong ties to top companies and scientific institutions around the globe, TUM is an excellent place to start your career journey as an ambitious fledgling scientist. The great German novelist, Thomas Mann and the inventor of the diesel engine, Rudolf Diesel, the industrialist and politician Walther Rathenau and humorist Wilhelm Busch were among the many famous alumni of the TUM.

4. Ludwig Maximilian University Munich

Ludwig Maximilian University Munich (also called the University of Munich) is to be found in the center of the city near the vibrant English Garden and the famous Alte Pinakothek art gallery.   Founded in 1472, it now has more than 50,000 students, making it Germany’s second-largest university by headcount, and is recognized for its excellence in teaching and research. Almost 1 in 5 students is from abroad and LMU cooperates with 600 partners from all five continents. LMU offers a broad variety of academic disciplines ranging across the Humanities and Social Sciences, Law, Economics and beyond. Unusually for German universities, there are 31 English language study programs and many double-degrees taught in partnership with other universities. Ludwig Maximilian University can also boast of a Medical Center that is second in Germany only to the Charité in Berlin. Its researchers and alumni have included 23 Leibniz Prize winners and 16 Nobel Prize winners including physicist Max Planck, novelist Thomas Mann and the chemist Otto Hahn.

5. Humboldt University Berlin

Strolling through central Berlin, it’s hard to miss the grand campus buildings of the Humboldt University on the beautiful Unter den Linden boulevard. Named in honor of two of Germany’s most famous polymaths, Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt, the impressive list of Humboldt alumni matches the esteem of both its prestigious buildings and namesakes. These include such major figures as Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, Felix Mendelssohn, Walter Benjamin, W. E. B. Du Bois and Angela Davis and too many other big names to mention here. Approximately 18% of its current student population of nearly 34,000 is international. Most renowned today for the fields of Arts and Humanities, Humboldt continues a long history of excellence in research and innovation, making it an academic oasis in the heart of Berlin’s cultural metropolis. Jointly with the Free University, Humboldt runs the Charité, one of Europe’s largest and most highly regarded university hospitals and research hubs.

Other top-ranked universities in Germany

Of course, we could only give a small in-depth look into the German university landscape. And because we don’t want to deprive you of other great universities, we have compiled a list of institutions that closely follow the five we presented according to international rankings:

  • University of Tübingen
  • Freie Universität Berlin
  • RWTH Aachen University
  • University of Freiburg
  • University of Bonn
  • University of Göttingen
  • University of Hamburg
  • TU Berlin
  • Ulm University
  • University of Mannheim
  • University of Würzburg
  • Bielefeld University
  • TU Dresden
  • University of Cologne
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

The road to studying in Germany

If you see the school of your dreams here, it’s time to get cracking on your application, working on your language skills, and getting ready to start a brand new life adventure at a top university in Germany. Even if your dream course is not taught in English, accessing the German education system is a great reason to learn German as well as a stellar way to open exciting new opportunities in the job market both in Germany and abroad. 

Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.

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