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Masters degrees in Germany
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Masters in Germany

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Why study for a Masters degree in Germany?

A Masters in Germany represents an opportunity to undertake postgraduate study in one of the most successful and internationally renowned higher education systems in the modern world. German Masters programmes draw on world-leading expertise in a number of fields, particularly in applied sciences, engineering and related subject areas. At the same time, Germany has a proud intellectual heritage as a beacon of enlightenment thought, rational inquiry and artistic endeavour. So whether, you want to study science, philosophy, or the cultural history they inhabit, a Masters in Germany can represent an excellent academic choice.

As nicknamed by the agency responsible for promoting Germany as a study destination (DAAD), Germany is the “Land of Ideas”. With nearly 2.5 million students throughout the country and across the whole range of subject areas, Germany is one of the largest higher education providers in Europe as well as one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world

Masters degrees at German universities

A competitive fee structure, an increasing number of Masters delivered fully (or partly) in English, higher positions in international rankings and a growing international postgraduate population means that Germany is a good option for masters study. Another characteristic of the higher education sector in Germany is a strong emphasis on student mobility and students are encouraged to take internships or make good use of exchange opportunities during their studies, This also applies at masters level. With a now shorter Bologna bachelor (3 years), study abroad opportunities are as important at masters level in Germany.

The German Higher Education system is not centrally coordinated and each of the 16 Federal States has its own higher education laws. German universities are autonomous in terms of administration and management. Each institution decides on the areas it wants to teach and makes admissions decisions (as in the UK, for example), setting their own regulations and entry requirements so it is advisable to check each institution you may be considering for your masters study.

There are four types of institutions at which you can study a Masters in Germany:

  • Universities, including Technische Universität, also known as TU, are research-oriented and offer programmes in a wide variety of subjects. There are around 100 universities and most of these are public institutions.
  • Universities of Applied Science or Fachhochschulen are practice-orientated and offer courses mainly in engineering, business administration, social sciences and design. They often have excellent relationships with employers which will provide internships, supervision during masters dissertations and other opportunities for professional development. Amongst 200 of this type, you will find both public or private universities of applied science in Germany.
  • Colleges of art, film and music (over 50 institutions)
  • Institutions supported by religious organisations (partly state-funded)

Structure and content of Masters degrees in Germany

So a Masters in Germany is called a “Masters”! They take between two and six semesters, the most common case being 2 years. Depending on the subject, graduates earn either a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MSc) degree. They are sometimes referred to a Magister which is the name of the pre-Bologna qualification. Masters can be consecutive or non-consecutive:

  • A consecutive masters program is the continuation of a completed bachelor in the same field, allowing students to acquire knowledge and skills in more depth.
  • A non-consecutive masters requires a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily in the same field (although you would expect it to be in a related subject area). This allows students to acquire new skills and knowledge which complements or broadens their existing undergraduate qualification.
  • Professional masters are offered in vocational subject areas such as nursing, engineering, education. They are practice-orientated, providing practical work experience.
  • Masters by Research are not really a well established concept in Germany and there are no Masters by Research available. If you are interested in research, why not look into a PhD?

Course content

To be awarded a masters, you’ll require 120 ECTS credits, of which 30 will be obtained through the final dissertation or thesis. Masters programmes are taught as a mixture of lectures and seminars as well as internships, fieldwork and group projects, if required by your particular course. You may have to present your thesis to a committee or an audience.

At the end of your programme, you will get a final mark which is most commonly based on a reverse 5-point scale, 1 being the best and 4.0 or over being a fail. You will also be given qualificative grade such as “Sehr Gut” or “Gut” depending on your numerical grade.

Applying for a Masters in Germany

Applications for a Masters degree in Germany can be either made directly to the universities using their own in-house (online) application form or by using a system called uni-assist. This system is more than just an online form and provides a screening service to determine the suitability of applicants’ bachelor degree to gain admissions onto masters degrees both for German and international applicants). To find out more about uni-assist and which German institutions use uni-assist, please click here.

Entry Requirements

Germany, like many other European countries, signed up to the Bologna process which allows better alignment of the different degrees in Europe and beyond. One of the most notable aspects of this is that Germany now offers a 3-tiered system, whereby a bachelor leads to a masters which in turn leads to a PhD. This means that you will require a bachelor degree equivalent of the German bachelor to gain access to a masters. Depending on the subject, you will have to demonstrate a minimum number of credits in specific areas you studied at undergraduate level. Often, individual academic sections will then examine inidividually how these credits relate to the admission requirements for the programme you have applied for. Professional masters degrees often require work experience.

Language requirements

Some institutions may have two levels of requirements, one for application and one for enrollment (which of course is higher that at application). This is to allow applicants to improve their language skills prior to starting their degree.

For masters’ degrees delivered exclusively in English, there is normally no German language requirements. For example, Freie Universität Berlin has over 20 programmes available and no German language certificate is required as part of the application process. Of course, if English is not your first language, you will have to demonstrate your proficiency in English, either through a certificate or by showing that you have been taught in English at undergraduate level.

For masters degrees delivered exclusively in German or partly in German, proficiency in the language will have to be demonstrated through either TestDaf (German as a foreign language) or DSH1 (Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang or German language examination for admission to a German higher education institution).

Visas and immigration for Masters students in Germany

Regardless of the institution or Federal States in which you are about to study, if you are from outside the European Union, you will require an entry visa when you come to Germany. Tourist visas are not acceptable. Within the first three months after arrival in Germany, all students must register with the Resident Registration Office (or Citizen Service). If you are not a citizen of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway, you must additionally register with the Alien Registration Office and apply for a residence permit. There, you will need to provide confirmation of health insurance (which is also required for enrolment).

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in Germany

In 2005, a law was passed allowing German universities to charge tuition fees. Not all States opted to do so and in those that did the fees remain relatively low. The actual breakdown of the cost of a Masters degree in Germany includes various components, such as administrative and insurance charges, in addition to the main tuition fee. The components and their cost may vary between different universities and programmes. Whatever the cost of your Masters in Germany, there are various sources of funding available to support you.

Representative tuition costs and miscellaneous fees for Masters in Germany

  • Tuition fees (per semester):
    - up to €650 ($825), for public institutions (although professional and executive masters may carry higher fees)
    - Up to several thousand euros per semester for private institutions (on par with other countries like the US)
  • Semester contribution ('Semesterbeitrag', an admin/student services fee, often including a transport pass for local area): €40-70 ($50-90)
  • Health Insurance (per annum): varies depending on institution but can be around €280 ($355) per semester; however if you have a part-time job this is may provide a health insurance cover which is adequate. The law states that all students must have health insurance for the duration of your course (including any extension, up to 14 semesters) or up to a maximum age of 30. This means that, under these conditions, you have access to public health insurance at subsidised rates. For students over 30, a private insurance cover will have to be arranged by the student. The student services office (Studentenwerk) of your institution can advise you on this and on whether you need additional cover should you undertake fieldwork or an internship.

Scholarships and Financial Assistance

Financial assistance for graduate students may be available in the form of scholarships from external agencies, such as DAAD. Examples include:

Federal grants and loans may also be available, although you’ll have to check whether you are eligible. Similarly, some of the federal loans are only offered as hardship loans (ie if you suddenly find yourself unable to pay your fees, if you are in a state which has tuition fees). A good example is the tuition fee loans in Bavaria (which are available through an idependent bank), for more information, visit: http://www.studieren-in-bayern.de/darlehen.aspx.

International students with a student visa who are studying for a full-time degree may work up 120 days (or 240 half-days every year. While this may not be sufficient to fully support you during your masters degree, it may provide a useful income.

PostgraduateFunding.com

Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in Germany, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment prospects with a German Masters degree

It is worth making good use of your university’s career/employability service as they will have good contacts with employers and will hosts events, such as careers fairs where you can meet companies (both local and multinationals) recruiting high-caliber graduates.

The Germany economy is historically based on industry. However, the service-oriented sector is growing rapidly, leaving a gap in killed labour resulting in many German industries, such as IT and sales and marketing, scrambling for qualified employees. Combining a strong industrial and high-tech sector with this, the top five German industries are biotechnology & genetics, information technology & multimedia, finance and marketing, engineering and health services.

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Living in Germany - A Guide for Students

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

What's it like to study abroad in Germany?

Germany is well connected to major cities elsewhere in Europe amd around the world and benefits from an excellent transport network. With its central location in Europe, it is easy to get access to neighbouring countries. Add to that a culturally-dynamic country, a famously friendly and tolerant population and it's no wonder Germany is today one of the 10 most popular study abroad destinations in the world!

Key facts for Masters students in Germany

  • The academic year in Germany usually runs from October to the following September.
  • Around 207,000 foreign students study at German universities.
  • Germany spends approximately 5.1% of GDP on education.
  • The language of Germany is German, which is the most widely spoken language in the EU.
  • The German term for a Masters degree is 'Master-Abschluss'.
  • The German currency is the Euro (€).
  • Germany has a population of around 81 million, about 3.5 million of whom live in and around the capital, Berlin.
  • Germany is a federal republic, made up of sixteen states with a central represenative parliament.
  • Christianity is the most popular religion in Germany, but other faiths are freely practised.

Culture, leisure and everyday life for Masters students in Germany

One of the stereotypes of life in Germany is that everything is quite orderly, from clean streets and efficient train networks to strict administrative procedures. Indeed if you come from a country where things are less structured, you may well experience a small “culture shock”. However, as a newcomer, these organised aspects of life can make things much easier (as long as you follow the rules!) and you’ll have more time to enjoy your time in Germany!

A better description of Germany is multi-ethnic, open and friendly. Its population of 82 million includes around 9% of foreigners. Traditions and modernity are perfectly integrated and its inhabitants are fun-loving people. Many of its cities still proudly bare the historic scars of war but places, like the capital Berlin, have seen a cultural, economic and architectural renaissance while other have retained their original charm. In fact, all of the German cities have something amazing to offer, from museums, festivals and historic buildings (fairytale castles included) to fashionable shopping districts, vibrant music scenes and clubs. Food in Germany can be hearty but it is not limited to traditional heavy fare and you’ll find good produce to suit all tastes. The food scene is varied and multi-cultural with most cuisines represented: Turkish, Greek, Chinese, Thai…

Getting around in German cities is easy thanks to efficient and inexpensive public transport networks. Some cities boasts trams and underground networks; buses and trains are widely available. Taxis are more expensive of course but all are regulated and will have visible meters which display the fare.

Germany is highly urbanised but the varied countryside is within easy-reach and if outdoor activities are what you enjoy, you won’t be disappointed: skiing, hill-walking, cycling and water sports are all available. With 9 direct neighbours (Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands), it is also easy to travel from Germany to other European countries, by bus, by train or by air. Most of Germany’s neighbouring countries are part of the Schengen agreement which allows unrestricted travel within its members (if you are a non-EU citizen your visa will be a “Schengen” visa). This is particularly useful for tourism purposes and also when attending conferences or visiting research labs across continental Europe.

Accommodation and living costs for Masters students in Germany

Accommodation

Students in Germany either live in halls of residence or in private accommodation. In contrast to many other countries, Germany's universities do not automatically allocate a room when you register for your course. If you're looking in major cities such as Munich, Cologne or Hamburg, you should allow yourself enough time to find accommodation, starting before you leave home.

Accommodation options include:

  • Halls of residence (or dormitory)
    A room in a dormitory can cost between approx. €160 ($202) and €360 ($456) per month. Depending on the university, this can include health insurance and a Semesterticket for using local public transport. The Studentenwerk of your university can help you find a room in a dormitory.
  • Wohngemeinschaften, referred simply as WG (private shared flats) which are the most popular form of accommodation. Depending on where you study, you should budget €150 ($190) to €350 ($444) per month.
  • Living in a flat of your own
    This is the most expensive option and can cost anything from €400 ($508) upwards.

Living costs

Compared to other European countries, Germany is not overly expensive. Cost of living (including food, accommodation, clothing, entertainment) is on par with the EU average and relatively low compared to Scandinavian countries.

Apart from the Semesterbeitrag (and tuition fees if your institution does charge them), you will need around €750 ($952) per month for subsistence. This amount can vary from city to city, and depending on your lifestyle! Student discounts and deals are widely available. These can be helpful of you are on a budget. The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is also handy as it can offer a wide range of useful discounts while you’re studying in Germany.

If you need a bank account (not compulsory for masters students) to pay for your fees and other expenses, you can open one at any bank in Germany – and usually at no charge.

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