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How to Study a PhD in Germany

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Germany is one of the most popular destinations for studying abroad, with around 4,000 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? 

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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 German universities enjoy a strong international reputation, with 43 ranked featured among the world’s top 800 in the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16. Among these, the prestigious research university Technische Universität München is ranked first in Germany and 60th in the world, followed by Ruprecht-Karls-Universitaet Heidelberg in 66th 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? PhD student

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 you 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 over 700 programs of this nature available in Germany, often with an international make-up, with English as the team language. 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.

Which German universities offer PhDs?

Many universities in Germany offer PhDs. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)  offers a database which 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 master’s courses in Germany are not free unless you have studied your undergraduate degree in the country, at PhD level, tuition is once again free at all universities in Germany – for the first six semesters at least. As at all levels of study in Germany, PhD students are also required to make a semester contribution of between €150 (~US$170) and €200 (US$230) to cover administration and other costs.

This means your main expenses will be the general costs of living in Germany. If you need to apply for a student visa, you will be asked to prove that you have access to a minimum of €8,000 (US$8,990) per year. However, according to statistics published by the German Studentenwerk, this figure may not be a sufficient amount, as the average student in Germany needs about €820 (US$921)  per month to cover living expenses, including rent, food, clothing, transportation, working materials, recreation and other costs.

Is there any funding available? PhD scholarships

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.

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 (or from Romania and Bulgaria), you will be limited to working up to 190 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? How to apply

In Germany there is no central admissions process or selection office for doctoral students. Therefore, 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 own 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 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? Student visa Germany

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. Although being able to speak German would be useful in your host country, if you are studying an individual doctorate, the doctoral thesis can often be written in English, while structured PhD programs frequently allow students to complete their doctorate in English.

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
Sabrina is a content writer for TopUniversities.com, providing guidance on a wide range of topics. A graduate of Aberystwyth University, Sabrina is originally from the West Midlands but now lives in London. 

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25 Comments

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.

i am looking for phd mainly in climate and weather forecasting in germany ,kindly help me in this case as i help my youngers who want to wish phd in that topic

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.

Hi Mam i have done Masters(Non thesis) suggest me a university i Europe where i can get admission in PhD.

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
Regards
Nidhi

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

Hello
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 ?

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!

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.

Regards,
Rakesh

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.

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.

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
Regards,
Gaurav

I am poor. So i can not bear my education expanse. But i want to obtained in PHD in literature. Please How i can it. Please inform that i can schoolrship in this regard.

Hello, please have a look at the article above for information on how you can fund your PhD in Germany. :)

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
Regards,
Gaurav.

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: https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/coll/engdoctorate/); 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

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. 

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
Regards,
Gaurav.

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.

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. 

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

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

Hi Shah, please take a look at our article on the frequently asked questions on scholarship applications, and let us know in the comments if you have any other queries :)

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

Hi Ken, please take a look at our list of scholarships to study in Germany. Hope this helps.