Germany is the world’s most popular non-Anglophone study destination, and the third most popular overall – only the US and the UK 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.
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® 2016-2017 is Technische Universität München (ranked 60th in the world), followed by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (joint 68th) and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (72nd).
Beyond that, every major German city you can think of has at least one university ranked among the world’s best. A total of 15 German universities make the world’s top 250, and 31 are included within the world’s top 500. 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? Find out about postgraduate study in Germany in the latest edition of the QS Top Grad School Guide.
Discover some of Germany's top student cities...
Cities don’t get much trendier than Berlin, which easily competes with the likes of 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 for students – and it helps that it’s also a relatively inexpensive place to live. Top universities in Berlin include three ranked within the world's top 200 in the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017; these are Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (ranked joint 121st), Freie Universität Berlin (joint 123rd) and Technische Universität Berlin (joint 164th).
Thanks to its world-famous Oktoberfest (a huge annual beer festival), Munich will forever be associated with Germany’s beer-brewing tradition. But there’s more to this southern German city, which is often voted one of the world’s most livable cities. For one thing, Munich is home to the two highest ranked universities in Germany: Technische Universität München – ranked 60th in the world, and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, ranked joint 68th in the world.
A sleek modern financial hub, Munich can be a little on the pricey side. But it won’t cost you anything to enjoy the beautiful Bavarian countryside which surrounds it. 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.
Despite being part of one of Germany’s most densely populated areas, Heidelberg manages to retain a certain quaint rustic charm. It’s popular with tourists, who come to see its ancient castle and red-roofed town center. Top universities in Heidelberg include the famous Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, which is Germany’s oldest and third-highest ranked university (ranked 72nd in the world). It boasts connections 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, its pleasant riverside, and its liberal and tolerant nature. It has a vibrant student community, is peppered with museums and art galleries, and does a good line in beer halls and independent stores, particularly in the 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 keen to explore Western Europe. Universities in Cologne include the flagship Universität Köln (University of Cologne), ranked joint 347th in the world, 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 joint 264th in the world, and particularly strong in social science subjects.
If you want to study in Germany at undergraduate level, great news! There are no tuition fees at public universities in German for undergraduate students, and this includes domestic, EU and international students.
While tuition costs are free, however, students are required to pay a nominal fee per semester. This fee covers administration, student support and other costs, and is usually no more than €250 (~US$280).
If you want to study in Germany at master’s level, you may need to pay tuition fees. This is usually only the case for students who have not completed a related bachelor’s program at a university in Germany within the past few years – classed as “non-consecutive” students. Fees for non-consecutive master’s degrees vary, but can amount to as much as €10,000 (~US$11,100) per semester.
If you plan to progress from undergraduate study in Germany straight to a related master’s program at a public university, fees are likely to remain low or non-existent. To find out more, read our article about the costs of studying in Germany.
The application process for universities in Germany 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 (plus 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: