How to Study a PhD in Germany | Top Universities

How to Study a PhD in Germany

By Sabrina Collier

Updated February 23, 2021 Updated February 23, 2021

Germany is one of the most popular destinations for studying abroad, with around 3,600 international graduates completing their doctorate there every year. Read on to discover how to apply for a PhD in Germany…

Why study a PhD in Germany?

It’s not difficult to see why Germany is popular as a study destination. It enjoys a global reputation as a world leader for technology innovation and research, has a robust economy and an attractive quality of life, and a particularly renowned tradition in fields such as engineering and manufacturing.

Many of its universities enjoy a strong international reputation, with 46 ranked within the top 1000 in the world in the QS World University Rankings® 2020. Among these, the prestigious research university Technische Universität München is ranked first in the country and 55th in the world, shortly followed by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in 63rd place.

As well as offering a high standard of living, Germany welcomes international students with low costs of study and good funding opportunities. PhDs in Germany do not usually charge tuition fees (see below), and more than a quarter of doctoral candidates in Germany receive public funding.

What types of PhD are offered in Germany? 

Individual doctorate

This is the traditional option and remains the most popular. In this type of PhD you will produce your thesis or dissertation under the supervision of a professor, but will mostly be working independently. The length of these PhDs varies, generally lasting three to five years. This option offers a great deal of flexibility, but also demands a high amount of personal initiative and responsibility. You are not limited to gaining your PhD by conducting research work at a university; you could also complete a project at a non-university research organization or at a German company in the industrial sector.

Structured PhD programs

You can also choose what is known as a structured PhD program. This involves a group of doctoral students being guided by a group of supervisors. There are around 600 programs of this nature available in Germany, often with an international make-up, with English as the language of instruction. These programs differ from individual doctorate programs as students’ research proposals have to fit in with existing PhD programs, whereas individual doctorates can be more freely structured to suit the individual research project. You will also need to attend lectures and seminars, and will normally have a mentor.

Which German universities offer PhDs?

Many universities in Germany offer PhDs. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)  offers a database that you can use to search for the right PhD program for you.

How much does it cost to study a PhD in Germany?

Good news! Although tuition fees were reintroduced for non-EU students in the state of Baden-Württemberg in 2017, doctoral students are excluded from this, meaning that PhDs remain free for all students at all public universities in Germany, regardless of nationality, for up to the standard length of a PhD (three years). Beyond this, you may be required to pay fees.

However, as with all levels of study in Germany, PhD students are also required to make a semester contribution of between €150 to €200 (~US$175-230) for administration and other costs.

This means that your main expenses will be the general costs of living in Germany. If you apply for a student visa you will be asked to prove that you have access to a minimum of €10,236 (~US$11,266) per year.

This money will be used to cover living expenses, which include rent, food, clothing, transportation, working materials, recreation and other costs. Even more than this may be needed to live in a particularly expensive city such as Munich.

Is there any funding available?

Most doctoral students work on a paid research project or receive a scholarship. If you want to apply for a scholarship to help with your expenses, you may be able to find these through the official website of the university you wish to study at. You can also consult our list of scholarships to study in Germany, including PhD funding opportunities. Other good sources for finding scholarships include and (website in German).

You may also consider taking on a part-time job to supplement your funding, either within the university or beyond – but be aware of any possible restrictions. If you are a full-time EU or EEA student (excluding students from Bulgaria and Romania), there are no restrictions on where or when you can work. If you are a full-time student from outside of the EU you will be limited to working up to 120 full days or 240 half days per year before you must apply for a work permit. Upon gaining paid work in Germany you should contact the German employment office to learn about the legal conditions.

What are the entry requirements?

Entry requirements will vary between universities and PhD programs, but generally you will need to have a good higher education degree which is equivalent to a German master’s degree. Alternatively, extremely well-qualified international applicants with a bachelor’s degree may be admitted as doctoral students via a fast-track program, which will involve taking an entrance exam and perhaps attending an interview.

If you are studying your PhD in English and this is not your first language, you will need to prove your English language proficiency with an English language test such as IELTS or TOEFL. If you are studying or submitting your PhD in German, you may need to prove your proficiency in the language with a test such as the DSH or TestDaF.

How do I apply for a PhD in Germany? 

There is no central admissions process or selection office for doctoral students in Germany, and the application process differs depending on whether you have chosen a traditional (individual) or structured PhD – for the latter, you will simply need to apply directly to your chosen university.

If applying for an individual PhD, you will first need to find a suitable professor who is willing to be your supervisor. You may be able to find a supervisor through contacts from your previous university, or by searching for institutes and research centers or teams which relate to your area of interest.  The following online search platforms might help you find a suitable supervisor:

Once you have found a supervisor, the responsible department or doctoral committee must confirm your eligibility as a doctoral candidate. This usually involves completing an application which includes a statement from your doctoral supervisor, certified copies of certificates, proof of recognition of your qualifications from the Dean’s office, academic references and the university degree that enables you to participate in doctoral study. Your application may also include an English or German language test result, if applicable. The Student Office of your chosen university will review these documents and grant permission for you to commence doctoral studies.

The next step is to enroll at the university. To be eligible for enrolment, the university must first accept your application for admission to doctoral studies. However, not all departments require doctoral applicants to formally enroll. You can find any requirements relating to enrolment on the university’s official website.

You must also make sure your postgraduate degree is recognized, obtain a residence permit and/or student visa, and ensure you have adequate finances for your stay.

Do I need a student visa? 

This will depend on your country of origin. Many students will find that they do not need a student visa, but do need a residence permit. You can read more about obtaining a German student visa here, or find an overview of the countries for which a student visa is or isn’t required on the Foreign Federal Office’s website.

Do I need to speak German?

No – however, we’d recommend learning at least basic German to help you get by in your host country, especially if you’d like to work during or after your studies. If you are studying an individual doctorate writing the doctoral thesis can often be written in English, while structured PhD programs frequently allow students to complete their doctorate in English.

For further information on studying a PhD in Germany, read the DAAD’s ‘FAQs – Doing a doctorate in Germany’ PDF.

This article was originally published in October 2015. It was updated in May 2020.

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This article was originally published in September 2018 . It was last updated in February 2021

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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Posted By Kennedy Okech
Sun, 10/18/2015 - 22:26


Hallo Sabrina i am Ken from Kenya, i am holding a first Diploma in Business Management, i would like to attain scholarship in Germany to do my degree in Business Management, please highlight to me how can i manage it. Much Thanks

In reply to by Kennedy135

Posted By shah hassan
Tue, 10/27/2015 - 18:21


Sabrina Collier, Respected maam, I just went with the link you shared with different people regarding admission in Germany, kindly if you could just let me know your email id , I just wanted to ask regarding scholarships. Regards

In reply to by [email protected]

Posted By zeynab sadat afzali
Sun, 12/13/2015 - 14:26


hello sabrina, i am zeynab from Iran
i want to have information about applying in PHD level in computer science or information technology (networking) at grade A Germany universities
what shall i do?
by detail i am at the end of graduating of master in IT networking.
thanks for your help

Posted By Deepak Panchal
Sun, 04/24/2016 - 16:48


Hi Sabrina Collier, i am Deepak Panchal from India. I have done my post grads (masters) in Environmental Science. I want to do Ph.D from Germany but for now i don't have English language certificate (IELTS or TOEFL). My bachelors and masters was in english medium only. Do i still require such certificate ? and please guide me for phd funding.

thanks a lot.

In reply to by Deepak740695

Posted By Sabrina Collier
Mon, 04/25/2016 - 10:18


Hi Deepak, usually you will not need to provide an English language test certificate to study at postgraduate level if you've previously studied your bachelor's degree in English - you should check with the institution/s you're interested in to see their preferences on this. 

Posted By Claudio Heimann
Wed, 05/04/2016 - 06:08


Hello Sabrina Collier, my name is Claudio Heimann and I'm in the final stage of my Diplom-Ingenieur title (6 years long) here in Uruguay. I have the wish to do a PhD in Germany (I have german nationality, too), since my title would be equivalent to the new European Bologna Plan Master's Degree.
The title I'm going to get here is Civil Engineer- Profile in Hydraulics and Environmental Engineering; and I want to focus on that area (Env. Eng.) in my post-graduate studies, but from an industrial perspective and not from an academic one.
I found out that since 1992 a special PhD called "EngD" was created in UK, and it fits all my personal desires (link to a short description of it:; but I still prefer to go to study in Germany, due to all the reasons you showed above in your article.

My ideal situation would be: to do that "EngD" in Germany, but I don't know if it is possible, because I don't know if a programme like that exists in Germany.
I think it should be possible, but I haven't found it yet.

UK's EPSRC has a list of all the EngD programmes available nationally, including the universities which have them of course.
I haven't found anything alike in German sites (DAAD, Research in Germany, Find a PhD, etc.), and I don't know how else should I go on with my search.

I would appreciate any kind of guidance in this search I'm trying to do, because I don't find my goal as a deluded one, but still I think I just haven't asked the correct questions yet.
I thank you any info or recommendation you could give me.

Kind regards

In reply to by Claudito9395

Posted By Sabrina Collier
Wed, 05/04/2016 - 09:53


Hi Claudio, Doctor of Engineering degrees in Germany do exist, and are known as 'Doktor-Ingenieur', but as you mentioned, they can be difficult to find! I'd suggest browsing the official websites of German universities that interest you to see if they offer a Doktor-Ingenieur course. To help narrow down your search, you may like to view our rankings by faculty for engineering and technology. Hope this helps. 

In reply to by [email protected]

Posted By gaurav shah
Sun, 05/29/2016 - 07:27


hi Sabrina I am an mechanical engineer and now i am planning to join M Tech in Foundry and forging from a govt college in India but my actual plan is to go for MS/Phd for a better career so can you please suggest me mam is this a right decision and can i switch to other subject for MS or is there any chances for MS/Phd in foundry technology from abroad? Please help me mam i am in perplexed situation and will i be eligible for scholarships please help mam

Posted By gaurav shah
Thu, 05/05/2016 - 14:26


Dear Sabrina,
I am an mechanical engineer and now i am planning to join M Tech in Foundry and forging from a govt college in India but my actual plan is to go for MS/Phd for a better career so can u please suggest me mam is this a right decision and can i switch to other subject for MS or is there any chances for MS/Phd in foundry technology from abroad? Please help me mam i am in perplexed situation and will i be eligible for scholarships please help mam

In reply to by manahari655249

Posted By gaurav shah
Tue, 05/31/2016 - 16:08


hi Sabrina I am an mechanical engineer and now i am planning to join M Tech in Foundry and forging from a govt college in India but my actual plan is to go for MS/Phd for a better career so can you please suggest me mam is this a right decision and can i switch to other subject for MS or is there any chances for MS/Phd in foundry technology from abroad? Please help me mam i am in perplexed situation and will i be eligible for scholarships please help mam

Posted By Upasana Baishya
Tue, 06/28/2016 - 04:59


Hello ma'am, I am Upasana Baishya. I live in India. I have completed my graduation degree and joined Tezpur Central University, India for my post graduation degree in Physics. I would like to know what kind of preparation should I do from now to get admission in PHD in Germen. I would also like to know whether I can join in other courses of Physics or not.

In reply to by Upasana174224

Posted By kapil singh
Sun, 05/14/2017 - 15:22


I am also loking phd programme in germany . If you meet to a supervisor of concerned university , please tell me the procedure to enroll in university that professor tell you.
thanking you.

Posted By Rakesh Bardepur
Sun, 08/07/2016 - 08:26


hi Sabrina
I am Rakesh, a mechanical engineer and I have completed M Tech (Masters degree) from National Institute of Technology in India. I am currently working for one of the prestigious R&D institute in India since four years. But to boost my career further, I am willing to pursue PhD in mechanical engineering domain. I found that German language proficiency is the toughest task to get into the German universities. What is your opinion on this? What German language proficiency level (Like A1or B1) is necessary to be cleared for structured PhD program in Germany and to achieve that how should I plan my exercise? Please help me out.


Posted By michel ilunga beya
Wed, 08/17/2016 - 09:04


i just want to find out, what is the solution for those who have done master without thesis and they want to continue with phd? i did master without thesis and i want to apply for phd what ca i do ?

In reply to by michel platini42000

Posted By Sabrina Collier
Wed, 08/17/2016 - 16:43


Hi Michel, I think in this case you'll need to check with your chosen university as to whether you need to take an entry test to be admitted to a PhD program, or whether they'll be able to accept you with your masters without thesis. Good luck!

Posted By nidhi manaktala
Mon, 09/12/2016 - 07:26


Hi Sabrina
I am looking for PhD in Germany mainly in oncology. I have done my masters in oral pathology and have around five years of experience in academics. I don't have any awards though during my period of study which apparently is asked by many of the universities abroad. Kindly suggest me as to where I could apply for a PhD program

In reply to by nidhi318197

Posted By Dush Dush
Tue, 03/28/2017 - 12:46


hello there..Dr. Nidhi. i have done the same courses here and looking to do phd in Germany or any other abroad countries. it would be kind if you share the knowlege about an oral pathologist can pursue career in PHD in abroad. Thankyou

Posted By mohammad taghi tazikeh
Mon, 01/23/2017 - 12:54


hi, i'm an english teacher. i want to get my phd in the field of english language preferably teaching in german university. i need some help to find a supervisor and what i have to do next.

Posted By Sunanda Ningthemcha
Wed, 07/05/2017 - 07:00


Hello, I am Sunanda Rajkumari. I have completed Masters in Physical Anthropology, with my master's thesis based on Molecular Anthropology. I have also completed my M.Phil. (a course which is counted as a research experience in the country) . i want to apply for Ph.D. in the field of Molecular and biochemical Anthropology. Kindly suggest universities with an open call for Ph.D. admission.

Posted By Sabrina Collier
Mon, 10/16/2017 - 17:37


Hi Hassanean, you can study your PhD for free in all public universities in Germany, excluding those in Baden-Württemberg. To help you choose a university, you can view our latest rankings by subject for civil engineering here (the results can be narrowed down to show only German universities). 

Posted By Humaira Abbasi
Fri, 11/10/2017 - 19:38


Hey Sabrina,
I am student of MS in Pakistan. I want to get admission in PhD in 2018. I want to know the details regarding the proposal criteria and can you help me by guiding me in the proposal making procedure? I really need help. my friends are sating that proposal of PhD is so difficult and it needs to be perfect with Gap. where at this level I am not so much good with the research. I need you help in this procedure.

Posted By Ruhail Andrabi
Sat, 12/02/2017 - 15:06


hey Sabrina
Im a student from India completed my masters degree in education. I want to pursue my doctoral degree in Germany . Please let me know the procedure how to get admisson in german universities

Posted By Awais Jutt
Wed, 12/13/2017 - 10:51


Hi Sabrina
i am from Pakistan Recently I'm done MBA. I want to Get Admission in PhD Topic Marketing ,Management or International Trade . please suggest me better way .your cooperation is highly appreciated for me. Thanks

Posted By Dush Dush
Sat, 01/13/2018 - 19:20


hey there, sabrina!!
I am a Dentist, i have completed my Graduation and Post Graduation in Dentistry (oral and Maxillofacial Pathology) from India and want to pursue PhD from Germany. Can you please guide me regarding the free public Universities in Germany where I can do PhD in Oncopathology or Oral Pathology.


Posted By Jay Soni
Tue, 01/16/2018 - 06:50


hey sabrina....!
i have completed my master in chemistry as a Goldmedalist from India.Now want to do Ph.D /research work from Germany.
can you please guide me about free public universities in Germany for ph.D in chemisty or medicinal chemistry.

thankyou in advance

Posted By Anam Ahmed
Sat, 01/27/2018 - 09:03


Hey Sabrina,
I am student of MS in Pakistan. I want to get admission in PhD in 2018. I want to know the details regarding the proposal criteria and can you help me by guiding me in the proposal making procedure? I really need help. my friends are sating that proposal of PhD is so difficult and it needs to be perfect with Gap. where at this level I am not so much good with the research. I need you help in this procedure.

In reply to by Anam Ahmed

Posted By Aamir Shah
Mon, 05/21/2018 - 14:13


phd germany sy krna boht mushkil ha, they prefer german speakers, who can speak german language. sb meetings etc german m hoti h so its difficult for u to find or convince a professor. scholarship py hojae to wo alag bat ha like eramus scholarship

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 09:26


Hello Sabrina, my name is Salem have Bachelor and master of science majoring in Medical Laboratories and Molecular Genetics respectively. Could you help me to study in Germany for a Ph.D. program in both languages but Have no languages proficiency certificate for both.
thank you

Posted By Khan Lala
Fri, 05/25/2018 - 04:32


hello,Sabrina I did my mphil in pharmacy and also have 4 international research papers. so how to find phd position in easiest way either in individual phd or structure phd programs .....

Posted By Fahad Abdullah
Sat, 07/21/2018 - 16:55


hi, i'm Inam and i have got my M.A in the field of English Language and Linguistics in Iraq/ Baghdad. I want to apply for ph.D in Germany. I need any information which help me to get my target please. By the way Iam living now in Germany in Regensburg. I have got my residency Ausweise. Would you please tell me what are conditions in my state? Best regards

Sun, 08/05/2018 - 09:22


Hi Ms Sabrina,
I am a post graduste in pharmacology from India, currently living in Dubai. Iam interested to do Phd in Germany. Kindly provide me details for getting an appropriate phd program in Germany. Also please let me know about scholarships, funding and how can I get it for my studies.
Appreciate your reply
Best regards

Posted By Rayan Haress
Mon, 08/27/2018 - 11:14


Hi im Rayan Haress from Beirut Lebanon holding an mba in marketing with 2.96 over 4 as gpa with 4 years of experience in a bank. Im interested in the PART TIME PHD program. I want to know more about the attendance since im working at my country and the tuition fees. If theres any university for free. Please advise

Posted By Vaibhav Gupta
Sat, 09/15/2018 - 09:03


Hi, I am Vaibhav Gupta from India, I want to do PhD. in Human Psychology form Germany, Currently I am working as A trainer in Hospitality Industry.
Kindly suggest me that How can I apply for a PhD. program and what is the Process along with a suitable university.

Posted By Rohit Kanojia
Wed, 10/24/2018 - 05:18


Hi I am Rohit, done my masters degree in Electrical engineering 2012, I want to do PhD in Electrical engineering related subjects from Germany 2019. kindly guide me about the required exam to gain scholarship as well as want to do job their. Please help, Thank you.

Posted By Olamide Olayinka
Tue, 10/30/2018 - 23:31


Hi there. I am Olamide Olayinka, a Nigerian national currently running a MSc in Transport Engineering and Planning at the University of Salford Manchester, UK. I intend commencing my PhD either in Germany or here in the UK around September 2019 and my research paper might center around Electro-Automation of decarbonized vehicles in the 21st Century European landscape.
I need a thorughbred supervisor as well as full funding for the proposed PhD research. Kindly assist me in whatever capacity you can.

Kind regards.

Posted By M Bilal Shahid
Wed, 02/20/2019 - 09:01


I have masters degree in English I want to get admission in PhD program that is especially based on English literature. How I can take admission in this program kindly guide me about all the procedure of getting aadmission in PhD program.

In reply to by [email protected]

Posted By Saqlain Kazmi
Wed, 10/30/2019 - 03:23


I'm Saqlain Kazmi from Pakistan I did LLM from Malaysia and now looking for scholarship for PhD. Is there any opertunty to get scholarship for PhD in Germany.

Posted By Ndifreke Solomon
Sun, 05/24/2020 - 19:51


Hi, I am Ndifreke Solomon, am a masters holder from the university of Ibadan and my course of study is Educational Management/Economics. Am looking for a tuition free University in Germany where I can further my PhD and I need guide on how to go about it including scholarship if available. Please kindly assist me. Thanks

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