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University Degrees and Programmes : How to find the right course of study

Each programme prepares you for a specific degree. When you opt for a course, you also choose the degree you want to obtain. German universities offer many degree courses and appropriate qualifications.

by the Editors

Students with degree certificate © Lichtenscheidt/DAAD
Students with degree certificate . © Lichtenscheidt/DAAD

There are several ways you can attend a university in Germany:

  • as an undergraduate (Bachelor's degree)
  • as part of a semester or year abroad from your home university (see Financing & scholarships)
  • following previously completed higher education studies
  • as a doctoral student

Universities and Degrees

There are various types of university in Germany. Universities mainly impart theoretical knowledge and usually offer a wide range of different subjects. But some specialise in a particular subject area and in this case they are called technical universities (Technische Universität, TU) or colleges of education (Pädagogische Hochschule, PH). Art and music colleges are suitable for those who have a special musical or artistic talent. At Fachhochschulen and Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften (Universities of Applied Sciences) the emphasis is more on practical training in a subject. You will complete work placements, longer project phases or spend entire practical semesters working in companies. Dual universities combine academic studies and vocational training. You can study for the following degrees at German universities:

In front of the university © Ziegert/DAAD
In front of the university . © Ziegert/DAAD

Bachelor's degree

The bachelor's degree is the initial academic degree that is recognised on the international job market. During a bachelor's degree programme, you acquire basic knowledge of a subject over six to eight semesters. This may sometimes also consist of two subjects or a major and two minor subjects. Once you have successfully completed your bachelor's degree, you can launch your career or take the next academic degree: the master's. Typical bachelor's degree programmes include the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) for the humanities and social sciences, the Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) for technical and science courses, and the Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.) for the engineering sciences.
Advantages: Following the bachelor's degree, you can either go directly into employment or apply for an MA in a subject area that interests you.
Assistance with your application: Before being admitted to a bachelor's programme in Germany, you need to fulfil several criteria. These will depend on the degree programme and the university. You can find out what is required at the foreign students’ office (Akademischen Auslandsamt) of the university to which you are applying:

To supply accreditation indicating your suitability for academic studies, it is important that you can provide full records of your previous training. If your certificates are not issued in German or English, you may submit certified translations.

Master's degree

At German universities, the master's is the academic degree that follows the Bachelor's. A prerequisite is that you have successfully completed a bachelor's degree (or equivalent). During a master's programme, you can deepen and extend your knowledge or specialise in a particular field over two to four semesters. If you have an undergraduate degree in biology, you could, for example, do a master's in bioinformatics.
For master's courses, there is also a choice between a Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.Sc.), and Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) etc. Degree programmes at German universities have been reformed in recent years. Though you may still come across some traditional diploma and Magister (Artium) degree programmes. They are similar to the master's degree.
Advantages: the programme will enable you to specialise in a particular area. This knowledge will give you a lot of options on the job market.
Assistance with your application: applying for a place on Master's degree course has similar requirements to the bachelor's degree. Whether you'll be approved for a particular master's course also depends on your performance in previous academic studies. Some master's degree programmes are offered in English. If you want to study in English, you can inquire at the International Office at your chosen university or search the DAAD Online Database.

State examination

Some degree programmes lead to a state examination. This means that the final examination is organised and held by a government board. The examination regulations are determined not by the university but by the federal state. If you want to work as a physician, lawyer, teacher or pharmacist in Germany, you will need a state examination.
You can sit the first state examination following theoretical academic studies in law, medicine and pharmacy, or after a teacher training course. After that, you will be prepared for the second state examination by a practical training period.
Assistance with your application: medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, dentistry and geoinformation management are popular courses and therefore there are restrictions on admission at all universities in Germany. They have what is known as a numerus clausus (NC), which means: Applicants have to have a specific overall average grade in order to be admitted to study this subject. Study places are awarded by the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung [Foundation for University Admissions].
Before applying, you need to find out whether the German state examination is recognised in your home country. You can check which courses of study require you to sit the state examination here.

Doctorate

During your doctoral studies, you write a research paper on a specific subject (dissertation or doctoral thesis). The duration of the doctorate depends on the research topic, most are two to five years. The doctoral studies end with the award of a PhD.
There are two types of doctorates: in the traditional model, you work independently on your dissertation and will be supervised by a professor from the faculty.  if you want to study for a doctorate, you will need to find a PhD supervisor beforehand. Alternatively, you can have a fixed period of three years during which you work on your dissertation with several supervisors. You need to clarify beforehand which university and which research focus are available for your topic. The Hochschulkompass (Higher Education Compass) may be useful.

Finding the right course

It's not easy to obtain an overview of so many degree courses. If you find it hard to decide, you can orient yourself by taking various tests:

TestAS – Tests your personal aptitude for university studies in Germany
Self-Assessment – Tests your strengths and weaknesses (especially for technical subjects)
SIT-Studium-Interessentest – Create an interest profile and find suitable courses of study

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