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Masters in Germany

by Mark Bennett

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 2017-18. We've explained how the German university system works, along with advice on postgraduate applications and student visas.

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Postgraduate opportunities in Germany - what's on offer for 2018?

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 2017-18:

  • A history of innovation and ingenuity - As a hub for both the Englightenment 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 besided 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.

Masters Study in Germany - Key Details for 2018
Universities 520
Oldest University University of Heidelberg (1386)
International Students 228,756
Course Length 2 years
Typical Fees (Domestic / EU) less than €100
Academic Year October to September

What's it like to study abroad in Germany?

Want to know more about life for international students in Germany? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.

German universities

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

Which are the best universities for postgraduate study in Germany? Our guide takes a look at the latest rankings.

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.

Degree types

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.

Course content

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 Grades at German Unis
Grade Range Label Detail
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

How to apply

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).

Application process

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.

In all cases, you can make multiple simultaneous applications to study a Masters in Germany - but make sure you have time to manage these and meet their requirements in a satisfactory manner.

Admissions requirements

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 Uni-Assist their service will help check your qualifications.

You may also be able to receive assistance from one of the EU’s ENIC-NARIC academic recognition centres.

In some cases universities may set additional entry requirements. 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.
  • Setting additional entry tests – Particularly competitive (or specialised) Masters programmes in Germany may ask you to sit an additional entry exam or take a standardised postgraduate admissions test as part of your application. This isn’t likely for most courses, but it can be a requirement for subjects such as law or medicine, for which institutions will want to ensure the compatibility of your existing training. Applications to 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.

If you are applying for a particularly prestigious course then you can expect a correspondingly tougher application process, but then, you’d expect nothing less, right?

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.

Which German Masters programmes are subject to a numerus clausus ?

A numerus clausus is a restriction on the number of places available on particular courses (numerus clausus translates as ‘restricted number’).

Programmes associated with regulated medical professions are most likely to be subject to a numerous clausus in Germany. Examples include Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy.

Maintaining a numerus clausus helps ensure that the quality of graduates in these key subject areas is kept high and the number of highly specialised professionals they produce does not exceed vacancies.

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.

Locally restricted programmes may have some flexibility with respect to the number of students they will admit in a given year, but admission to centrally restricted subjects will normally be very competitive.

What are the language requirements for a Masters in Germany?

German language requirements for university study will depend on the language instruction for a specific course. Programmes in German will normally expect international applicants to demonstrate proficiency in the language. However, many universities now offer English-language Masters, for which no German is required.

Exact language requirements for a German Masters degree will depend on the course in question and the background of the student:

  • Programmes in English will not require a German language test or certificate. 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.

German language tests

There are two main language tests for international students in Germany: the TestDaf and the DSH. Both are widely accepted by German universities. You can read more about them in our guide to German language tests for Masters study.

English language tests

Commonly recognised international academic English language tests include the TOEFL, the IELTS and the PTE. Scores from one of these may be accepted if you are applying to study an English-language programme in Germany as a non-native speaker of English. You can read more about these in our guide to English language tests for Masters study.

Do international students in Germany need health insurance?

Yes, health insurance is mandatory for all students in Germany, including postgraduates. However, you may already be covered under a reciprocal agreement such as the European Union’s European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

The following countries maintain reciprocal healthcare agreements with Germany:

  • EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
  • EEA member states: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway as well as Switzerland.
  • Other candidate EU members and associated countries: Bosnia-Herzogovina, Israel, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey.

If you are a citizen of any of the above states you will normally be covered by any existing public healthcare plan in your home country. However, you should confirm this prior to your application (check with your prospective university, or with a healthcare authority at home / in Germany). In some cases there may be additional ‘top-up’ charges for treatment under these agreements.

If you are not covered by a reciprocal healthcare agreement you may still be covered by existing private health insurance. You can check this with your policy provider.

In all other cases you will need to purchase health insurance in Germany. You should be able to do this quite cheaply by paying into a public health insurance plan.

This costs around €80 ($90 USD) per month for students under 30 who have not exceeded 14 semesters (seven years) of study in Germany. Otherwise the cost is roughly €160 ($180 USD).

Do German universities charge application fees for Masters programmes?

Some universities in Germany will charge small administrative fees for applications to their Masters programmes. This covers the cost of processing your application.

Fees are not likely to be high – most will be less than €50 ($57 USD).

Which German Masters degrees use Uni-Assist?

Uni-Assist is an international applications portal used by some universities in Germany. Not all courses require students to apply for a Masters through Uni-Assist, but for those that do use of the service is generally compulsory.

You can read up to date details of the universities that use Uni-Assist to process some or all of their international applications on the Uni-Assist website.

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

There is a charge for using the Uni-Assist service, covering the cost of reviewing and processing your application.

Charges are currently set at €75 ($85 USD) for the first university you apply to and a further €15 ($17 USD) 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’. You can view a list of institutions for which cost transfer applies on the Uni-Assist website.

What is the application deadline for a Masters degree in Germany?

Deadlines for a German Masters application will depend on the semester in which a course commences.

As a rough estimate, you should complete applications for a German Masters commencing in the winter semester by mid-July; applications for the summer semester should be completed by mid-January.

Universities are free to set their own dates. The best way to confirm these is to contact their international office or check the details in our course listings (all of which provide some information on application deadlines).

Note that international applications can take some time to review. You may also be asked for additional supporting documents or be invited to complete an interview.

For these reasons you should always aim to apply for a German Masters degree as early as possible. This will give you time to respond to requests for further information and support your application to the best of your ability.

If you are using Uni-Assist you should allow at least four to six weeks for your application to be processed before it is submitted to a university.

Masters fees and funding in Germany

Germany has a well-deserved reputation as one of Europe's most accessible and affordable study abroad destinations. In fact, many students are able to study a Masters in Germany for free. This is because consecutive Masters degrees (courses that build upon a related undergraduate degree) don't normally incur fees (regardless of a student's nationality).

Even if your course doesn't qualify as a consecutive Masters, your fees may be surprisingly low. Typical costs are in the region of €500 ($565 USD) though some programmes may charge more.

Finally, Germany also offers generous financial support to help cover student living costs, with need-based and merit-based support available from the German government.

Read more about German Masters fees and funding

Our separate guide to German Masters fees and funding covers the cost of postgraduate study in Germany in much more detail. There you can view information on tuition fees for different nationalities as well as current student finance and scholarship opportunities.

Masters student visas in Germany

Germany is a welcoming country with a huge number of international students – in fact it’s the fifth most popular study abroad destination in the world!

What’s more, as a part of the EU, Germany maintains open borders and relaxed immigration agreements with various other European countries. This means that, if you’re an EU or EEA national, you may not actually need a formal visa to study in Germany at all.

Germany also offers a special type of entry visa to students who are still completing their applications and have not yet had final confirmation of their place at a university.

Who needs a visa to study a Masters in Germany?

You will need to apply for a German student visa if you are not a citizen of an EU member state, an EEA member state or of Switzerland. There are two types of visa for study in Germany: a student applicant visa and a student visa.

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).

Therefore, make sure the visa you apply for is appropriate to the full programme of study you are looking to complete in Germany. If in doubt, you can check with your university’s international office or with a German embassy in your home country.

You can read more about the application requirements for a student visa in Germany below.

Once you have acquired a student visa you will also need to register your presence locally and acquire a Residence Permit. This applies to all students – including those from the EU and EEA.

What are the immigration requirements for EU and EEA Masters students in Germany?

Citizens of the EU and EEA (as well as Switzerland) can enter Germany without a visa. However, you will still need to apply for a residence permit, as detailed below.

How do you apply for a German student visa?

You should normally begin your application for a student visa at a German consulate or embassy in your home country. Your university and its international office may also be able to advise and assist you.

Application requirements vary slightly between different types of student visa in Germany, but will normally include a valid passport as well as proof of health insurance and evidence that you have the financial means to support yourself in Germany.

More detailed requirements are as follows:

  • A valid passport – All visa applications will require you to present a valid passport. Note that, even though EU and EEA citizens do not need to apply for a visa, they should still take their passport to Germany (it may be required to register for a residence permit or for other purposes during your stay).
  • Proof of enrolment – Applications for a student visa will require confirmation that you have been accepted on to a suitable degree programme at a recognised German university. Your university should be able to provide this. A student applicant visa won’t require proof of enrolment, but will eventually need to be converted to a full student visa.
  • Confirmation of health insurance – You will need to present proof of your health insurance, either in the form of a European Health Insurance Card, or other policy.
  • Evidence of financial resources – International students who require a visa to study in Germany must show that they can support themselves during their studies, with roughly €8,000 ($9,000 USD) available per year. You can do so by producing a document called a Finanzierungsnachweis . This can take various forms, including a commitment of support from your parents, evidence of a sufficient bank balance or notification of a scholarship or bursary that includes a sufficient maintenance grant. Note that you shouldn’t rely on a part-time job to support yourself as a Masters student. The specific form of Finanzierungsnachweis you require will depend on your country of origin. Please check with the German Embassy in your country.
  • Academic certificates – You may need to present proof of your academic qualifications in order to receive a visa to study in Germany. This is more likely for student applicant visas (applications for a full student visa will be based on your university having already accepted and admitted you).

Once you have received a student visa you will be able to enter Germany and remain for up to three months. This isn’t long enough to complete a Masters degree, but don’t worry: your student visa is only for the purpose of entering Germany. Once you have it, you can apply for a full residence permit (see below).

Note that a student applicant visa cannot be used to gain a residence permit – you will first need to convert it to a full student visa by receiving confirmation of enrolment at a German university.

How do you apply for a residence permit as a Masters student in Germany?

Whatever your visa requirements, you should register your presence as an international student in Germany within 90 days (or three months) of arrival. The process for this differs slightly depending on your nationality.

  • If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss national (and do not require a visa to enter Germany) you will simply need to register with your local Residents’ Registration Office and notify them of your address. You will then receive a certificate called a Meldebestätigung which confirms your residence in Germany and automatically entitles you to receive a full Residence Permit.
  • Other students (who do require a visa to enter Germany) will need to register their address with the Resident Registration Office as normal, but then take their confirmation of registration to a separate Alien Registration Office.

In most cases the application requirements for a residence permit will include confirmation of your residents’ registration, your passport, your student visa (if applicable) and a small processing fee.

If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss student and have not yet presented proof of financial resources, health insurance and confirmation of enrolment, you may need to do so when applying for a residence permit.

Duration of residence permits

Residence permits for study in Germany are normally valid for two years. This is long enough to complete most Masters programmes.

Extending a residence permit

Should your permit need to be extended for any reason you will need approval. This will normally be granted for both EU and non-EU students, provided the length of your course exceeds two years and you are making satisfactory progress in your studies.

Extensions to residence permits for may be more difficult to acquire if you have failed part of your Masters and are attempting to retake part of your programme (particularly if you are a non-EU citizen whose right to reside in Germany is dependent on a student visa). Your university will be able to advise you if required.

Once you have graduated from your Masters you will normally be entitled to remain in Germany for a certain period and seek work or further study opportunities - see below.

After graduation – careers and opportunities with a German Masters degree

The German economy has proven to be one of the most robust in Europe, weathering the recent recession on the back of a strong industrial, engineering and manufacturing base.

The country’s universities have contributed to – and benefitted from – this resilience, making a German Masters degree an internationally respected qualification.

German ingenuity and expertise is particularly renowned in high-tech industries such as biotechnology, automotive design and manufacture and information technology.

The country is also home to one of Europe’s most important banking and finance sectors, with excellent opportunities for Masters graduates in economics, accounting and related areas.

Can you remain in Germany to work after completing a Masters degree?

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!

Can you remain in Germany for further study after a Masters degree?

Yes, 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).

You can read more about PhD study in Germany at FindAPhD.com.

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

Last updated - 01/11/2016

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