Considering a master’s in Germany? Read on for a quick guide to types of master’s degree in Germany, language requirements, how to apply, and how to get a student visa.
Types of master’s degrees in Germany
Master’s degrees in Germany are usually categorized as either “consecutive” or “non-consecutive”. Those in the first category are designed to build on the academic knowledge gained during a related bachelor’s degree. Non-consecutive programs tend to have a greater focus on professional development, often requiring applicants to have both an undergraduate degree and some relevant work experience. Most master’s in Germany take four semesters (two years) to complete, though some are shorter or longer.
Most courses are taught in German, requiring international applicants to submit proof of proficiency in the language. Two tests are available for this purpose: the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH, meaning “German language examination for university entrance”) and the TestDaF (formerly Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache, meaning “Test of German as a foreign language”). The DSH is offered only within Germany, at various universities, while the TestDaF can be taken at centers in more than 90 countries worldwide. As always, check the test you intend to take is accepted by the universities you want to apply to.
While German remains the main language of instruction overall, a growing selection of English-taught programs is available – particularly at master’s level and for students participating in short-term exchange programs. A searchable database of English-taught courses is provided by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Applying to study a master’s in Germany
To apply to study a master’s in Germany, the first word to get to grips with is hochschulzugangsberechtigung (abbreviated to HZB), meaning “higher education entrance qualification”. An undergraduate degree completed in another country is usually accepted as a suitable HZB for admission to a master’s in Germany, but specific requirements will vary depending on the course, institution and where you’ve previously studied. For some master’s degrees, applicants are required to have earned a minimum number of credits in specific fields of study. These conditions are set by the department offering the program.
Applications for master’s programs are either submitted directly to the university, or via the online portal Uni Assist. This is a centralized service, which screens applicants and passes on those which meet all the requirements to their chosen institutions, for further assessment. Not all German universities use this service, and those that do may require applicants to complete their own application process as well.
The specific documents required and application process will be set by each institution, but you’ll typically be asked to submit an official copy of your academic qualifications, a passport photo, a copy of your passport and a copy of language proficiency exam results (if applicable). An application fee may be charged.
When to submit your application
At many German universities it’s possible to apply for admission twice a year – to commence studies either in the winter or summer semester. The summer semester runs from March to August at Fachhochschulen and April to September at universities; the winter semester is from September to February and October to March respectively.
In general, applications for winter enrolments need to be made by 15 July, and applications for summer enrolments by 15 January. However, application deadlines vary between institutions, and the same institution may set different deadlines for each master’s program – be sure to carefully check the specific dates for your chosen course. It’s recommended to submit applications at least six weeks before the deadline, to ensure time for corrections or additions if any information is missing.
Student visas to study in Germany
Students from countries within the EU, EEA or Switzerland do not need a visa to study in Germany. These students simply need to register at the nearest registry office on arrival, to obtain a residence permit. This also applies to students coming from a number of other countries, including Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and the US. Students from Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco and San Marino can also follow this path, as long as they don’t intend to work during their time in Germany.
Students from elsewhere will need to apply for a visa before arrival in Germany, via the nearest German embassy. Those already accepted onto a program can apply for a student visa, while those awaiting confirmation or sitting entrance exams will need an applicant visa. It can take several months for visas to be issued, so apply as early as possible. Visa applicants will be asked to submit a valid passport; confirmation from a German university that an application is in process or completed; health insurance; and proof of adequate funds to cover living expenses.
This article is adapted from the QS Top Grad School Guide 2015/16. For more information, including details of tuition fees, living costs and post-graduation employment opportunities, the full guide can be accessed online free of charge.
This article was originally published in October 2013. It was updated in November 2015.