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Types of universities: How to choose the right university

In Germany you can choose between a number of public and private universities: these include universities, universities of applied sciences and colleges of art, film and music. Which one is right for you will depend, among other things, on what you want to study. The quality at all higher education institutions is equally good.

by the Editors

Technical university of Karlsruhe © Bauz/DAAD
Technical university of Karlsruhe . © Bauz/DAAD

More than 400 state-accredited universities can be found in many different locations throughout the Federal Republic of Germany. Together, these universities offer almost 20,000 degree courses. For your course search, it's easy to find information on all the study opportunities in Germany.

Types

There are three types of higher education institution in Germany. The type of institution that is right for you will depend on your interests and career plans.

  • Universities
  • Universities of applied sciences
  • Colleges of art, film and music
University of Siegen © Klein/DAAD
University of Siegen . © Klein/DAAD

Universities

Universities mainly impart theoretical knowledge. The course is very academically oriented and there are many different subject groups. But many universities specialise in a specific subject area. These are called technical universities (Technische Universität, TU) or colleges of education (Pädagogische Hochschule, PH). At a university, you can also study for a doctorate (doctoral degree). This is not possible in most Universities of Applied Sciences. You can find more information on the degrees at universities and other types of higher education institutions here.

Facts and figures

In the 2016/17 winter semester, 2.8 million students were enrolled at 426 officially recognised universities in Germany. Of these, 1.8 million were studying at the 106 universities and 956,928 at the 246 Universities of Applied Sciences. Overall, there were 357,835 international students.

Universities of applied sciences

Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen and Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften) offer practice-oriented academic courses. The focus is more on professional application than theory, and the training is adapted to the requirements of professional life. As at universities, the first degree is the bachelor's, and the second is the master's. The range of subjects comprises fields such as technology, economics, social work or medicine. During the practical phases, which form part of the course of study and can last one or more semesters depending on the degree programme, the focus is on work placements and longer project phases at companies in Germany and abroad.

Colleges of art, film and music

In art, film and music colleges you can study artistic subjects, such as music, architecture, visual arts, drama, dance, industrial and fashion design. At universities for modern media, directors, cinematographers, screenwriters and other film and television professionals are trained. Admission requirements for these courses include a specific talent which you must demonstrate at an entrance examination. Exceptionally talented candidates may sometimes even apply without a Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (certificate of aptitude for higher education). Please note that most art, film and music colleges teach in German.

Dual universities

Alongside a classic University of Applied Sciences course, a cooperative study programme gives you the opportunity to link your academic training more closely to your entry into professional life. If you like "learning by doing", are highly motivated, have a good knowledge of German and want to progress quickly into employment, the dual university is the right place for you. Universities of applied sciences and universities of cooperative education, as well as individual universities, offer these types of degree course.
If you choose a cooperative studies course, you will also have to sign a contract with a company. The training then usually takes place at two separate locations: on the company's premises and at the higher education institution. In most cases, the work phases and tuition fees are paid. There are three variants:

When you have found a suitable company, you apply to them with a letter of application, a CV and copies of your certificates. You can find out exactly what you need to submit from the company you have selected. If your written application is successful, you'll be invited to take part in a selection procedure. It usually consists of a personal interview and a skills test. Be sure to obtain information beforehand about how the application process is conducted.

Policy on higher education

Education is not regulated on a nationwide basis in Germany. Each of the 16 federal states has its own higher education acts and guidelines. In addition, universities in Germany are very independent. Both admission and application deadlines will largely depend on the particular university. So you should always ask which rules apply to your chosen university.

State and private universities

The majority of universities in Germany are financed by the state. Some are run by the church, and there are more than 120 private colleges offering state-approved degrees. Many private universities are universities of applied sciences.
The majority of students in Germany are enrolled in state universities. Only around 5.5 per cent attend a private university. This is also due to the fact that you sometimes have to pay high tuition fees at private colleges and universities. The quality of teaching is similar at both types of university.

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