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How to Apply to University in Germany as an International Student

In this article, we'll guide you through the German universities application process for international students.

Jun 29, 2021
  • Study Abroad
How to Apply to University in Germany as an International Student

Are you thinking of studying in Germany? Well, you're not the only one. This European country is one of the most popular destinations for international students, and it's easy to see why. Germany has dozens of world-class universities, bustling cities packed with art galleries and vibrant nightlife, and stunning areas of natural beauty, including the Black Forest National Park and the Triberg Waterfalls.

Germany is one of the only countries in the world where education is free for young people from inside the EU. At the same time, international students can take advantage of some of the lowest tuition fees on the continent.

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Why study in Germany

Over 40 of Germany's higher education institutions made it into the Times Higher Education's World University Rankings 2021. Only the USA and the UK had more. Germany's best schools are scattered throughout the country, with options to study in Munich, Berlin, and the beautiful countryside in areas such as Bavaria. Germany's schools offer globally recognized courses in law, computer science, medicine, engineering, social sciences, and sustainable studies. Moreover, you'll probably be able to find a program taught in English. Over 500 courses at Germany’s public schools cater to English speakers.

Still, learning some of the local language is one of the best ways to enrich your time abroad. Many schools offer free German language courses for international students. German is a tricky language to learn, especially for non-Europeans. However, once you get to grips with its unique grammar rules and pronunciations, German is remarkably similar to English. Over 80% of the most common English words have a Germanic origin, and around 40% of German words bear a very close relationship to their English counterparts. For example, "what is that?" translates to "was ist das?"

Studying in Germany is your chance to be a part of a fine intellectual tradition that dates back to the very beginnings of modern European culture. In 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his book 95 Theses to the door of a castle church in Wittenberg. This single act sparked the Reformation, a political and spiritual movement that challenged the autocratic power of the Catholic Church. It laid the groundwork for many of the West's most sacred and cultural ideals, including democracy, individual rights, and freedom of speech. Germany has also produced hundreds of influential thinkers, philosophers, and scientists who changed the world forever, including Albert Einstein. The country's oldest school, Heidelberg University, has over 30 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni.

Young woman with a city map searching attraction outdoors.

Applying as an international student

International students have to apply via the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung directly to their school of choice, or through the University Application Service for International Students. How you apply depends on what country you're coming from, and the subject you want to study. Figuring this out can be quite confusing, but there's loads of helpful information on the German Academic Exchange Service website. It includes a handy flowchart explaining the various application paths.

All international students must provide the following documents as part of their application:

  • A certified copy of your higher education entrance qualification
  • An overview of your subjects and grades (with official translation)
  • A passport photograph
  • A photocopy of your passport
  • Certified copies of language certificates

All of your documents must be certified by the German embassy in your home country. If not, the application will be rejected. Getting your documents approved costs $100, and you'll have to pay a similar fee for the application itself. Application windows are open from May to July, and December to January. Private universities may have other deadlines. As with any international study application, it's best to start the process as early as possible. You can apply for a student visa as soon as you have an acceptance or offer letter. All applications are made through the German embassy or consulate in your home country. You should start the process no later than three months before your enrollment date.

View to Cologne

The financial benefits for international students in Germany

Studying in Germany offers excellent value for money for EU and non-EU students. Tuition is 100% free for EU students studying at Germany's public universities. There are also lots of opportunities for non-EU students to study for free. Contact the schools directly for more information. Even if you do have to pay, fees are very reasonable. On average, non-EU students pay around $1,800 per semester. Non-EU students must provide evidence they can support themselves financially. The German government expects all non-EU students to have access to $890 per month. Health insurance is another prerequisite for students from outside the EU, and costs around $100 a month.

If you’re struggling financially, Germany's Federal Student Financial Aid Programmes can help. They're available at all of Germany's public universities. Aid programs are split in two: 50% is a non-repayable national grant, and the other 50% is paid out as an interest-free loan. The repayments don’t start until four years after you receive the first installment.

Young female tourist looking on famous Hohenzollern Castle in thick fog, Germany

Life as an international student in Germany

Choo Je Cuan, an international student from Malaysia, is halfway through a master's degree in Molecular Biology at Bielefeld University. Like many international students, Choo experienced a bit of a culture shock at first, but he soon realized international study provided the perfect chance for some valuable self-development. "Studying in Germany has made me more independent, disciplined, and responsible for everything I do," says Choo. "It has also made me change my way of thinking towards life and people. Developing self-determination and responsibility when we live on our own can be complicated and challenging – but it's how we grow. I don't think I would have learned these valuable life lessons at home - or at least not as quickly.”

Ewurafua Hagan-Brown traveled from Ghana to study medicine at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, and she's fully embracing life in this unique European city. She even enjoys the cold winters. “The winters are cold, but there are still lots of fun things to do, like skiing and sleigh-riding. I can even ice-skate now. It's fun. And the Germans are very warm-hearted people. They're kind and helpful, which helped me find friends quickly.”

National stereotypes should never be taken too seriously, but Germany's reputation for efficiency and attention to detail is well-deserved. The German way of doing things can seem a little daunting for new arrivals. Parto Ghalehkhani, a 26-year-old physics student from Iran, explains. “Germany is extremely strict about its official and administrative processes,” says Parto. “A person who enters the country for the first time has to purchase and register a sim card. Then you have to register with the local town, open a special bank account, and contact a public health insurance company. Then, last but not least, you have to apply for a residence card. It feels a little overwhelming and scary at first. Not to mention a little annoying. But then I realized it's all done to keep us safe as international students. You're always covered in case something goes wrong."

Ready to start your international student adventure in Germany? Then safe travels and good luck. Or, as the Germans say, "Gute reise und viel glück!"

A tourist on the train uses a mobile phone.
Ashley Murphy


After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.

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