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Germany is the world’s most popular non-Anglophone study destination, and the fourth most popular overall – only the US, UK and Australia welcome more international students each year. Find out what motivates so many to study in Germany, and how to choose and apply to a German university.
Germany is a country characterized by variety. Trendy and modern Berlin can seem a world away from the more traditional and conservative Munich. The gleaming skyscrapers of Frankfurt form a stark contrast to quaint Heidelberg. And if bustling and fast-paced Hamburg becomes too much, you can always retreat to the peaceful and picturesque Middle Rhine region.
In terms of higher education as well, universities in Germany offer plenty of choice, including some of the most prestigious institutions in Western Europe. Germany’s highest ranked university in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15 is Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (ranked 49th in the world), followed by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52=) and Technische Universität München (54th).
Beyond that, every major German city you can think of has at least one university ranked among the world’s best. A total of 17 German universities make the world’s top 250, and more than 40 are included within the world’s top 650. This establishes Germany well within the world’s higher education elite.
In addition to world-class universities, Germany also offers high quality of life, relatively low tuition fees, extensive support and scholarship schemes for international students, and decent post-graduation employment prospects. So it’s easy to see why so many choose to study in Germany each year.
Studying at master’s level? Read our graduate-level guide to Germany >
Discover some of Germany's top student cities...
Cities don’t get much trendier than Berlin, which competes with cities like London and New York in terms of the cool factor. It goes without saying that this tolerant, multicultural and creative city is known for being a great place to be a student – and it helps that it’s also a relatively inexpensive place to live. Universities in Berlin include three within the world's top 200 in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (134), Freie Universität Berlin (150), and Technische Universität Berlin (192=).
Despite being part of one of Germany’s most densely populated areas, Heidelberg manages to retain a certain quaint rustic charm. It is popular with tourists, who come to see its ancient castle and red-roofed town center. Universities in Heidelberg include the famous Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, which is Germany’s oldest and highest ranked university (49th in the world). It boasts a connection with more than 50 Nobel Prize winners, of whom 10 were (or are) professors at the university.
Cologne is known for its dramatic cathedral, Kölner Dom, and its liberal and tolerant nature. It is peppered with museums and art galleries, and does a good line in beer halls and independent stores, particularly in its Agnesviertel district.
Direct trains run to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and Luxembourg isn’t too far away either, so Cologne could be a good choice for those who want to get further acquainted with Western Europe. Among universities in Cologne you'll find Universität Köln, ranked just outside the global top 300, which is Germany’s largest and second oldest university.
The beating heart of Germany’s financial and business sectors, Frankfurt is also the home of the European Central Bank. Accordingly, its city center is a mass of gleaming skyscrapers, and its airport is the busiest in continental Europe.
However, it’s not all work and no play. Frankfurt is known for offering some of the best nightlife in Germany and hosts a number of colorful festivals throughout the year. As for universities in Frankfurt, the most prestigious is Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, ranked 217 in the world, and particularly strong in social science subjects.
Search and compare universities in Germany >
As of this winter 2014, Germany will be a country free of university tuition fees, for international students as well as domestic students. The nation, already marked as an extremely popular low-cost study destination, will become free of tuition fees following the decision to remove higher education charges from the last two German states (Lower Saxony and Bavaria) made earlier this year.
While tuition costs are free, however, students are required to pay a nominal fee per semester to study in the country. This fee covers administration, student support and other unavoidable costs, and is usually no more than €250 (US$330).
Those undertaking a master’s degree in Germany should be aware that some institutions do charge for master’s level courses, although this is mostly reserved for students enrolling in programs “non-consecutively”, i.e. those who have not completed a related bachelor’s program in the last year or two from within Germany. In some cases for non-consecutive master’s students, fees can amount to as much as €10,000 (US$13,100) per semester. For those going from undergraduate study in Germany straight into a related master’s degree program, fees should be expected to remain low or non-existent.
The application process varies depending on a few factors. If you have a European qualification, such as a baccalaureate or A-levels, then you will only need to prove you can speak German (unless you’re enrolling on a course taught in English) and you can then apply directly for a university-level course.
Students with qualifications from outside Europe may have to sit the Feststellungsprüfung entrance examination after attending a preparatory Studienkolleg. High-achieving students may be able to bypass this.
For most subjects, you can apply directly to the international office of the university. Alternatively, you can use uni-assist, a centralized admissions portal for international students. This is one of the services run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the world’s largest funding organization supporting international student and academic mobility.
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 (and Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein) need to apply through the Foundation of Higher Education Admission. Students from outside of the EU should apply as normal.
The requirements to get a student visa for Germany depend on your country of origin.
Applicants from the EU (and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein):
Applicants from outside the EU:
Find out more about applying for a German student visa >
Click to apply
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