Prep courses and foundation courses: Quick reference for international students

If your school-leaving qualification is not recognised in Germany, you will need to take a preparatory course in order to enter a German university. This ends with an exam - the assessment test. Or do you wish to acquire/improve your German language skills first? Then you can attend a language course.

by the Editors

Students talking in front of the university in a preparatory course  © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Students in front of the university in a preparatory course . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

If your school-leaving certificate is not sufficient to ensure admission to a bachelor's degree in Germany, you will need to sit an exam. It is called the Feststellungsprüfung (assesment test). You will need to attend a preparatory course in Germany to prepare for this. In the anabin database, you can check how your previous final grades were classified and whether you will need to take a preparatory course.

Preparatory courses

Preparatory courses are offered at general universities and Universities of Applied Sciences. Not all universities offer a preparatory course. The courses cover a variety of key topics to prepare students for specific subject areas.
If you take your exam at the end of a preparatory course at a University of Applied Sciences, you will only be able to study at a University of Applied Sciences. If you sit the examination at a general university, you can study at both. The foreign student's office at your university will help you to find the appropriate preparatory course and prepare you for it properly. You can find more information about the application process and a list of preparatory courses here.
For admission to a preparatory course you must meet at least these requirements:

You must sit an entrance examination to prove that you have sufficient language skills. If you have not learned enough German in your home country, you can first attend a language course in Germany. At some universities, the course is considered as evidence of application to a preparatory course.

Language courses

A selection of language courses in Germany can be found here. The foreign students’ office at your chosen university can also help you to find a German course. But it’s best if you’ve already found a course before you come to Germany. Then you won't miss deadlines or have to wait for a place.

Students learning German together  © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Students learning German together . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

There are various types of language schools in Germany. Not all offer the same quality of German course. Before making a decision, you should ensure the school has the right offer for your level. You can test your German language skills on the Goethe-Institute website. The Common European Framework of Reference differentiates between the various levels. It is also important to know whether a recognised German language test can be taken at the school.
Ask other international students where they learnt their German, and ask your chosen university which language courses they recommend. Basically, you should obtain information about the conditions from the language schools before you book a course. Reputable language schools can provide you with detailed information about their courses and the language levels they teach. If a language school is expensive, it does not necessarily mean it is good. In all major cities there are Volkshochschulen (adult education centres). They offer language courses at many different levels that do not cost a great deal.
You might also like to prepare yourself by taking an online language course. The Goethe Institute offers a German language forum with exercises for all proficiency levels.If you have a basic knowledge of German, you can find a tandem partner in Germany - someone with whom you can do a language exchange in German and in your native language.

Assessment test

A preparatory course usually lasts two semesters and is almost always free of charge. As a course participant, however, you pay the semester contribution that all students have to pay. Each week you will receive 28 to 32 hours of teaching. If your level is very good, you can take the test after one semester. The assessment test consists of several subjects that are important for your later subject of study. A language test is one of them. You can find more information here.
If you pass the exam, you can apply for a bachelor's degree course in your subject area.

Other preparatory courses

If you want to apply for a master's degree, you do not need to take a preparatory course at a university. But you can take a Propädeutikum (foundation course). This type of preparatory programme prepares you linguistically and technically for your specific course of study. Which means that when you begin your academic studies, it will be much easier to familiarise yourself with everyday German university life.
There are programmes for foreign students,

  • who have already been admitted to academic studies in Germany,
  • who have not yet been admitted, but have already met the formal requirements for studying in Germany
  • who still have to obtain the formal qualification for admission to higher education.

You will find a selection of introductory courses under the heading “Prep Course” in the DAAD database.

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