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Continental Europe's financial heart is also its most popular study destination. Read our guide to find out more about studying abroad in Germany.
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; if bustling and fast-paced Hamburg becomes too much, you can always retreat to the peaceful and picturesque Middle Rhine region.
Perhaps this range of variety is not too surprising for a nation that only came into being in the mid-19th century, and spent nearly half of the following century split in two.
One area in which Germany’s is more consistent is higher education. It boasts one of Western Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities in Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (55 in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings), while its highest ranking institution,Technische Universität München, ranks 53rd.
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Beyond that, every major city you can think of has at least one ranking university – and with 11 universities in the top 200, and a total of 42 making the rankings overall, you won’t struggle to find a quality institution. Many of these are newer establishments, which have climbed to the top in no time at all, demonstrating the strength of the German system.
Top it all off with a famously friendly and tolerant population, and decent prospects on graduation, and it’s easy to see why Deutschland is one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world.
Studying at master’s or PhD 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 cool. It goes without saying this tolerant, multicultural and creative city is known for being a great place to be as a student – and it helps that it’s famously inexpensive.
And like any capital city worth its salt, it has quality institutions to back this up: three of Berlin’s universities make the QS World University Rankings: Freie Universität Berlin (87), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (130) and Technische Universität Berlin (207).
Thanks to Oktoberfest, Munich will forever be associated with beer. But there’s more to this southern city, often voted one of the world’s most liveable cities. For one thing, in Technische Universität München (ranked 53) and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (60), it is home to two of the world’s best universities. For another, it is a sleek modern financial hub.
The downside of this is that it can be pricey, but it won’t cost you anything to enjoy the beautiful Bavarian countryside in which the city is built. There’s plenty of history to enjoy too, and no visit to München would be complete without a visit to King Ludwig’s palaces and grottos.
See where Berlin and Munich appear in this year's QS Best Student Cities >
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 dilapidated castle, and red roofed town centre. It is also famous for its university, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, which is Germany’s oldest (55) and most traditionally prestigious university. Need more proof of its reputation? Well, hopefully the eight Nobel Prize winners who have been through it will go some way towards convincing you...
Cologne is known for its dramatic cathedral, Kölner Dom, and its liberal and tolerant nature. It is peppered with museums and art galleries, does a good line in independent stores, particularly in its Agnesviertel district, and beer halls.
Direct trains run to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and Luxembourg isn’t too far away either, so it can be a good choice for those who want to get further acquainted with Western Europe. Universität Köln, ranked 247, is Germany’s largest (and second oldest) university.
A student's guide to Cologne >
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, none of this means that it lacks in other characteristics; for instance it is known for offering some of the best nightlife in Germany and hosts a number of colourful festivals throughout the year. Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main is ranked 201= in the world, and is particularly strong in social science subjects.
The fees charged at German universities depend on where you are studying. Universities in most Länder (regions) don’t charge fees, but some do (Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Hamburg – all which are home to popular universities); though at a maximum of €500 (around US$660) a semester, they are hardly the highest.
The application process you have to go through depends 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 can apply directly for a university level course.
Students with other qualifications may have to sit the Feststellungsprüfung entrance examination after attending a preparatory Studienkolleg. High-achieving students may be able to bypass this.
Your subject will also play a part. For most, you can apply directly to the international office of the university. Alternatively, you can use uni-assist, a centralized admissions portal for international students.
For some subjects, though, there is a nationwide cap on the number of students who can enrol. 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.
Visa restrictions depend on your country of origin.
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