With a strong economy supporting a historic higher education system and large numbers of courses in English, it’s no surprise that Germany is one of Europe’s top postgraduate study destinations.
In fact, Germany has more top-ranked universities than any other country outside the UK or USA. Better yet, the majority of German Masters degrees charge no tuition fees.
This guide provides detailed and up-to-date information on Masters study in Germany for 2018-19. We’ve explained how the German university system works, along with advice on postgraduate applications and student visas.
Postgraduate opportunities in Germany – what’s on offer for 2019?
Not every country can get away with calling itself ‘the land of ideas’, but then few can boast an association with some of history’s most formidable thinkers. From the philosophy of Immanuel Kant to the theoretical physics of Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg: Germany is well established as an intellectual powerhouse.
Here are some of the reasons to consider Germany for your Masters in 2019-20:
- A history of innovation and ingenuity – As a hub for both the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, Germany’s developments in science and engineering are as renowned as its contributions to philosophy, theology and the arts.
- The invention of the modern university – German thinkers such as Wilhelm von Humboldt lead the development of the modern research university in the nineteenth-century, with an emphasis on academic freedom, rigor and integrity.
- A proudly international outlook – Around 13% of the students at German universities come from abroad. The country also offers generous post-study work opportunities to both EU and non-EU graduates.
- World-renowned qualifications – Germany has more top-ranked universities than any European country besides the UK – and its degrees are globally recognised.
- Affordability – The majority of German universities charge no tuition fees for Masters courses. Living costs in Germany are also modest in comparison to other European countries.
What’s it like to study abroad in Germany?
Want to know more about life for international students in Germany? Our consulting package covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.
There are over 500 universities in Germany, offering more than 19,000 degree programmes. That’s quite a lot of choice!
Here’s how to make sense of your options:
Types of German university
There are four types of German university:
- Research Universities (Universität) carry out original academic work (i.e. research) in various subjects. They award a range of Masters and PhD degrees.
- Technical Universities (Technische Universität) traditionally specialise in science, technology and engineering research. Many now offer qualifications in other subject areas.
- Universities of Applied Science (Fachhochschulen) focus on practical subjects such as engineering, business or social science. They are often partnered with commercial or professional organisations.
- Colleges of Art, Film and Music offer specialised practical instruction in creative disciplines. Candidates are normally required to demonstrate appropriate creative skills and experience.
Germany is also renowned for its research institutes, such as those run by the Max Planck Society. These carry out important research projects and often work in partnerships with universities, businesses and industry. However, they don’t normally award qualifications below PhD level.
Public vs private universities
Germany is divided into 16 states, or lander, each of which is responsible for administering its own public universities. This extends to providing them with state funding and regulating the fees they can charge.
There are 400 public universities in Germany and the DAAD (the official German Academic Exchange Service) estimates that they teach around 95% of students.
Around 120 other institutions are private universities. They don’t receive state funding and are free to set their own tuition fees. This can mean that they charge more than public universities.
Both categories of university offer properly accredited courses and are free to develop their own degree programmes. The main difference between them concerns the fees they might charge you.
German university rankings
Germany is a major power in higher education, with the third most institutions in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (after the USA and the UK).
German Masters degrees
Postgraduate education in German follows a common European format developed as part of the Bologna Process.
This means that German Masters degrees are ‘second cycle‘ qualifications: they usually follow a Bachelors degree (first cycle) and may prepare a student for a PhD (third cycle).
Most Masters degrees in Germany are taught courses (postgraduate research is undertaken at PhD level). You will complete a series of academic modules or other course components, followed by an independent dissertation or project.
Course length & credit value
German Masters programmes normally last for two years (or two to four semesters of study).
Your full degree will be worth 120 ECTS credits. 90 of these will be earned through modules, coursework and exams. The remaining 30 will be awarded for your dissertation.
As taught courses, most German Masters degrees award MA (Master of Arts) or MSc (Master of Science) qualifications. Alternative degree titles may be used for some specialised subjects.
The main difference between programmes concerns the way you come to study them. As postgraduate courses, German Masters degrees may be classed as either consecutive or non-consecutive
- Consecutive Masters degrees follow directly from a closely-related undergraduate degree (for example, you might study an MSc in Biochemistry after a BSc in Chemistry or Biology. These courses do not usually charge fees.
- Non-consecutive Masters degrees focusses on a different or more highly specialised subject area. Such a course may require practical or professional experience as well as an undergraduate degree. These courses are more likely to charge fees.
Most German Masters degrees are consecutive programmes and will require an appropriate Bachelors degree.
Most German Masters degrees are organised into separate modules or other units of study.
Of course, the content of different programmes will vary. Depending on your course you might learn through lectures, small-group seminars, practical workshops, fieldwork or directed independent study:
- An academic programme at a Research University will probably involve a lot of core lectures and seminars, supported by practical work in a laboratory or by independent study and reading.
- A more professionally orientated programme at a University of Applied Science might include more hands-on training and / or workshops organised by external experts and industry figures.
- An artistic programme at a College of Art, Film and Music will be very focussed on developing and assessing your practical skills and proficiencies.
Assessment and grading
Germany uses a five point grading system for Masters programmes and other taught courses. Passing grade bands range from 1.0 (the best) to 4.0 (a narrow pass). The full range of grade bands for a German Masters degree is given in the table below:
|Masters Degree Grades at German Universities|
|1.0 to 1.5||Sehr Gut (Very Good / Excellent)||The best possible grade, representing exceptional achievement.|
|1.6 to 2.5||Gut (Good)||A strong grade, representing above-average achievement.|
|2.6 to 3.5||Befriedigend (Satisfactory)||A reasonable grade, representing acceptable achievement.|
|3.6 to 4.0||Ausreichend (Sufficient)||A poor passing grade, representing the lowest level of achievement at which a qualification can still be awarded.|
A band between 4.0 and 5.0 may sometimes be used to mark failing work that has not reached an acceptable standard to pass at postgraduate level.
Your final grade will be determined by summing up your performance across various modules and your dissertation, with each component weighted according to its ECTS credit level.
Most German masters degrees include a final year research project (or a comparable practical / creative task).
You will complete this work with the advice and support of an expert supervisor, but the emphasis will still be on the development and demonstration of your own ideas and academic expertise.
Unlike the UK (where a thesis is read and assessed as a piece of written work) some German universities assess Masters dissertations using an oral presentation or ‘thesis defence’. This is similar to the viva voce exam at the end of a PhD – but much less demanding!
You will give a short talk about your research topic and perhaps answer some questions about your findings and conclusions.
Assessing a Masters thesis in this way is actually quite common in Europe and doesn’t need to be intimidating. The chance to stand up and ‘show off’ your research can be a really fulfilling experience.
It’s also a great item for your CV – reflecting the unique challenges and opportunities that were part of your study abroad experience and which other candidates may not have experiences.
Search for a Masters in Germany
Ready to start looking for your ideal study abroad opportunity? Browse and compare Masters degrees in Germany on FindAMasters.com
Fees and funding
Germany is renowned for its generous approach to higher education: public universities in 15 of its 16 states charge no tuition fees to students, regardless of nationality.
This means you can study a Masters in Germany for free, whether you are a German, EU or non-EU student.
However, the following exceptions may apply:
- Fees may still be charged at private universities. However, most of the German higher education system is publically funded.
- The state of Baden-Wuerttemberg charges €1,500 per semester to international (non-EU) students.
- Some non-consecutive Masters will charge fees. This represents a small number of courses, many of which are designed for experienced professionals.
Germany also offers generous financial support to help cover student living costs, with need-based and merit-based support available from the German government.
Germany is rightly proud of the quality of its higher education system and its universities examine applications very carefully.
However, the German admissions process is fair and welcomes genuine international students (around 200,000 of whom already study in Germany).
There is no centralised portal for postgraduate applications. Instead students normally find a course they are interested in and then apply directly to that university.
However, some institutions use a service called Uni-Assist to manage international applications.
Universities are free to set their own deadlines. As a rough guide, try to apply at least four months in advance, particularly if you need time to organise a student visa.
You are free to make simultaneous applications (but make sure you leave enough time to manage and complete them!).
Some universities in Germany will charge a fee for processing your postgraduate application. This is not likely to be high – expect to pay less than €50.
Fees for using the Uni-Assist service will be slightly higher, reflecting the additional assistance you receive.
The main requirement for admission to a Masters in Germany is a suitable Bachelors degree. This doesn’t have to have been awarded in Germany, but it will need to be recognised by the German university you apply to.
If you apply to a German university through Waser and Bau, our service will help check your qualifications.
You may also be able to receive assistance from our Abuja Office.
In some cases universities may set additional entry requirements (this is more likely for programmes with restricted places). These could require:
- Details of your secondary education – Some very competitive programmes may wish to see further details of an international student’s educational history. This normally takes the form of a ‘school-leaving certificate’, equivalent to the German Hochschulzugangsberechtigung. Certificates such as British GCSEs or A-levels (or their equivalents) will normally be fine.
- An interview – German universities may want to discuss your application and experience. Video interviews can sometimes be arranged for international students.
- Entry tests – Competitive (or specialised) programmes may ask you to take an additional entry exam or standardised postgraduate admissions test. This can be used in professional subjects to check your existing training. Business schools and MBA programmes are also likely to require a score from recognised tests such as the GMAT or GRE.
Don’t worry if the above list seems intensive or intimidating. It’s unlikely for universities to require all of them and many courses will be satisfied with a recognised Bachelors degree.
Your university should make any additional requirements clear to you before you apply – in fact, you can read about the admissions criteria and applications process for individual German Masters degrees in our course listings.
A large number of German Masters degrees are taught in English, making them more accessible to international students.
However, you may need to provide a language test score to study in Germany if neither English or German is your first language. This will depend on your course:
- Programmes in English will not require proficiency in German. However, non-native English speakers may still be required to take an English language test (exceptions will normally be made if you have completed an undergraduate degree, or other course, in English).
- Programmes in German will normally require international applicants to sit a recognised German language test (or provide other evidence of their proficiency, such as an existing qualification studied in German). Some courses will accept a lower score at the application stage, allowing applicants to take further German language training before they commence their degree (or do so during the early stages of their Masters).
Remember, even if your course doesn’t require a German test, it’s still worth taking the opportunity to build up your language skills whilst studying abroad. Most universities offer language courses in parallel to their degree programmes.
Doing so will make your time in Germany much more interesting and rewarding – plus, gaining proficiency in a second language is a great way to get more out of your international Masters and reflect the experience on your CV.
Numerus clausus (restricted applications)
Some German Masters programmes are subject to a ‘numerus clausus’. This limits the number of students they can admit (numerus clausus translates as ‘restricted number’).
Programmes in medical professions (such as Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy) are most likely to be affected.
There are two main types of numerus clausus at German universities:
- Some subjects are centrally restricted by the German government and subject to a zentraler numerus clausus.
- Other subjects are locally restricted by universities themselves. These are subject to a lokaler numerus clausus.
Your university will make it clear whether a given Masters programme is subject to any kind of numerus clausus and what effect this will have on your application process.
Applying through Uni-Assist
Uni-Assist is an international applications portal used by some German universities.
Note that a university may only use Uni-Assist for some of its Masters programmes – be sure to confirm the application process for the specific course you are interested in.
The exact role played by Uni-Assist can differ between universities and programmes. In most cases the service will review applications to ensure they are valid. This also involves confirming the recognition and accreditation of foreign qualifications and transcripts.
Uni-Assist then either forwards a student’s application to the university or generates a VPD (Vorpruefungsdokumentation) certificate with which they can complete an application themselves.
Uni-Assist fees are currently set at €75 for the first university you apply to and a further €15 for each additional university you apply to within the same semester. This means that you can use the Uni-Assist service to make multiple applications without incurring prohibitive costs.
In some cases a German university will pay your Uni-Assist fees for you. This is known as cost transfer.
Germany is a welcoming study destination with a huge number of international students. As a part of the EU (and Schengen Area), the country maintains open borders and relaxed immigration agreements with various other European countries.
German student visa, immigration and residence requirements will depend on your nationality:
- If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss student you will not need a visa to study a Masters in Germany. However, you will need a residence permit.
- International students from other countries will normally need a visa and a residence permit.
Note that you cannot enter Germany on a tourist visa and study a Masters degree. Nor can you subsequently convert a tourist visa into a student applicant visa or student visa. This also applies to visas awarded for short courses (such as language training).
Visas for Masters study in Germany
Our full guide explains how to apply for a visa and residence permit to study abroad in Germany, with information on typical requirements and processing times as well as helpful tips.
EU students are automatically entitled to seek work in Germany and can remain in the country for this purpose after completing a Masters.
Other students also benefit from a generous immigration policy, with the right to remain in the country for 18 months as a jobseeker. If you find a full-time job related to your qualification within this time you will be able to apply for a longer term residence permit.
Job prospects for graduates in Germany are good, but most positions will require you to speak German – an extra incentive to work on your language skills alongside your Masters degree!
A German Masters degree is an excellent platform for further postgraduate study at PhD level. You will normally be welcome to stay in the country and pursue another course of study, subject to the renewal of your visa and / or residence permit.
By the time you have completed your Masters you will be familiar with the German university system and will probably have developed strong German language skills.
You may also have made good connections with researchers or projects in your desired subject area – many academic Masters programmes lead naturally into PhD projects in the same areas (sometimes even at the same university).
Search for a Masters in Germany
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