Germany, the most popular destination for non-English speaking international students, hosts more than 380 universities, offering over 17,000 programmes of study. Clearly a popular choice for international students, it is ranked as the 3rd most popular university destination globally, behind only the UK and the US. It is no wonder that, at present, 357,000 foreign students are currently studying there.
Why Study in Germany
Germany offers a wide range of experiences to the international student community, depending on the choice of location for study. From oh-so-cool Berlin to the metropolis of Frankfurt to the towering mountains of Bavaria, Germany has something to offer everybody. And if the bustling cities get to much for you during term time, you won’t have far to go to find a peaceful countryside retreat.
However, the main reason to study in Germany is for the free tuition! German government policy means free university tuition for both domestic and international students. Most, but not all, German universities are free of tuition fees.
There are a small number of private universities that do charge. In 2017/18, there were just 19 private universities and 93 private Universities of Applied Sciences charging these fees, making up less than 10% of universities in Germany overall.
Whilst some international students do choose to attend the private universities, tuition-free public universities are still the top choice.
Germany is also highly regarded for its teaching and learning. Known as the ‘land of poets and thinkers’, many great scientists, such as Einstein, Planck and Born, came through the German higher education system.
It is known for its ongoing modernisation of learning, with the most up-to-date and effective approaches to teaching and research being continually implemented. With its excellent reputation, employers recognise the high quality approach to teaching and research that students at German institutions will have experienced, making them an attractive choice for employment.
German Education In Comparison With The USA
The biggest difference, as mentioned above, is the non-existent tuition fees for international students in Germany. In the USA, Canada, and Australia, international students would expect to pay anywhere between $10,000 to $50,000 per year in tuition. Studying in Germany offers a low cost experience, lowering the amount of debt students will graduate with at the end of their studies.
Top German Universities
German institutions are regarded amongst the higher education elite. Major German cities, such as Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin and Cologne, host multiple institutions of which at least a minimum of one is ranked as one of the world’s best.
Germany is home to some of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the whole of Western Europe, which includes both older traditional institutions as well as more newly founded technical institutions.
A total of 30 German higher education institutions are counted among the very best in the world and came within the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings 2021.
Top 5 universities in Germany
Although there are many highly reputable universities throughout the country, here is a quick round-up of the five highest rated German institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2021.
- LMU Munich: Public university. Founded in 1472, it is one of the oldest universities in Germany. It boasts 42 Nobel Prize winners and is widely regarded as a premier academic and research institution. International students make up 13% of the student body and it has the second largest student population in Germany.
- Technical University of Munich: The second public university in Munich, dedicated to science and technology. Three departments within the university offer over 170 degree courses focused on engineering, sciences and technology. 13 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to affiliates of the university since 1927. Over 39,000 students attend the university, of which almost 9,000 are foreign.
- Heidelberg University: The oldest university in Germany, hosting over 30,000 students. This public research university is found in the town of Heidelberg, considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Germany and a popular tourist destination. International students, representing 130 countries, make up 20% of the student body.
- Humboldt University of Berlin: A public university located in Germany’s capital city. The institute is well-known and highly regarded, particularly excelling in studies of the arts and humanities and boasts a library containing around 6.5 million books. Around 33,000 students attend the university, 16% of whom are international.
- University of Freiburg: The fifth oldest university in Germany, it is also a public research university. There are approximately 25,000 students, 16% of whom are foreign students representing 120 different countries. The university is known for its long tradition of teaching humanities and natural sciences and, as well as 19 Nobel Laureates being affiliated to the university, 15 members of staff have won the highest German prize for research. The university is also known for its mountain retreat, which is available to students for outdoor and leisure activities.
Popular Courses in Germany
It is important to note that most courses taught in universities in Germany will be taught in German. However, with a goal to host 350,000 international students by 2020, degree programs taught in English are becoming increasingly common.
If you are looking to study for a Master’s degree, you will find many English medium courses, particularly in business and the social sciences, available to you.
If you are looking to study at undergraduate level, you would benefit from using the International Program search tool (from the DAAD – German Academic Exchange Service) to help you.
Currently, the tool shows 121 results for bachelor’s degrees taught in English only. However, only 60 of these are at no-fee institutions. So if you want to study in English in Germany, you may need to also consider private institutions.
Although this will mean paying tuition fees, these private universities are able to set their own fees and many charge less than €10,000 per semester, which is still cheaper than international study in other locations around the world.
Another consideration, if you are looking for a business degree, is to study at ESCP Europe. This course allows you to study in three capital cities, including Berlin and London, on its Bachelor of Management program. Whilst this offers a degree program taught completely in English, it will set you back €18,000 per year as a non-EU student (€13,600 for EU students).
Fees for International Students
As mentioned earlier in the article, tuition is free at public universities in Germany for domestic and international undergraduate students. The only exception to this is at universities in the Baden-Württemberg area, where students pay €3,000 per year for tuition fees (excluding refugees and PhD students). This includes universities in Freiburg, Heidelberg, Hohenheim, Stuttgart and Ulm among others. Some exemptions from this fee are made, for students from Erasmus member states, those with EU permanent residency and students who have a HE entrance qualification from Germany.
Despite universities being tuition-free, all students are required to pay a fee to cover costs, such as enrolment, administration and student support. This fee will differ across institutions but is normally around €350.
Master’s level students sometimes need to pay tuition fees. Fees are charged to those deemed “non-consecutive” students, meaning that the student has not completed a bachelor’s degree in a German university in recent years. If tuition fees need to be paid for a master’s degree, this can cost up to €20,000 per academic year. Those students entering master’s programs straight from an undergraduate degree that was completed in Germany will normally pay little or no tuition fees.
Top Scholarships to Apply for in Germany
There are some government-funded scholarships for study in Germany. These are:
- DAAD Scholarship: Scholarships to study at undergraduate and postgraduate level offered by The German Academic Exchange Service.
- Erasmus+: Available for international students who are participating in a study exchange program in Europe. Grants to support with living costs are available.
Non-government awards also exist for study in Germany. These include:
- Heinrich Böll Scholarships for International Students: Available for undergraduate and postgraduate study at an accredited institution.
- Kurt Hansen Science Scholarships: Available for international students who are looking to become educators in science.
- Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowships (IIF) for Developing Countries: Available for postdoctoral research. Many scholarships available for students from developing countries.
- Deutschland Stipendium: A scholarship of €300/month for highly talented students of any nationality who are studying at German universities.
Many institutions will offer university-specific opportunities to study in Germany. These include:
- Heidelberg University: Many opportunities are available to students. One of these, The Amirana Scholarship, supports students from developing countries who wish to study medicine or dentistry.
- Frankfurt School of Finance and Management Doctoral Tuition Waivers: Doctoral students on English medium courses in finance, accounting, mathematics and business administration will have tuition fees waived with this application .
- Universität Hamburg merit awards: For those students enrolled for a minimum of two semesters, who have demonstrated outstanding ability (any degree level, any subject).
- RWTH Aachen programs: Funding available for international and domestic students.
Living Costs in Germany
Student residences in Germany are an affordable housing option, but these are in high demand and short supply. Shared flats, often with communal areas, coffee shops, laundry areas and bicycle storage, are another good option for students. Rent can cost anywhere between €210 and €360 per month, depending on whether you choose to live alone, with a partner or on campus.
Larger cities will also offer larger rental prices. A student flat in Berlin is likely to cost €430, whilst in Munich, a more expensive German city, rent is likely to be closer to €665 per month.
In addition to rent, students will also need to budget for food, utility bills and social activities. It is recommended to budget €850 per month when studying in Germany, although this should be increased if you will be living in one of the larger cities, such as Munich.
Students in Germany are eligible for a “Semesterticket”, which will help with the cost of travel on buses, trams, subways and trains. The cost of this is normally covered in the administration costs paid to the university at the start of study.
Students from the EU, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland:
- Do not require a visa to study in Germany.
- Must register with the Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgeramt within a week of arriving in Germany.
- Must show proof that you have access to approximately €8700 per year (for living costs).
- Must have purchased health insurance (unless policy from your home country is valid in Germany).
- Must prove proficiency in the language of instruction for your degree course.
Students from outside the EU:
- Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Switzerland or the US: Do not require a visa but must obtain a residence permit.
- Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco, San Marino or Taiwan: Only require a visa if you will work before or after your degree. Must obtain a residence permit.
- Other countries: Apply for visa (Schengen Visa – for 3 months of study, National Visa – for over 3 months of study). Visa and residence permit can be obtained from your local German embassy.
- For Residence Permit: Register with the Residents’ Registration Office, prove that you have health insurance policy, prove that you have access to approximately €8700 per year (for living costs), show your passport with visa (if needed) and tenancy agreement.
- For Visa: Same documents as Residence Permit. May also be asked for proof of clean criminal record and medical check.
- All students must prove proficiency in the language of instruction for your degree course.