Applying for University: what you should know before you start

Why apply for school in Germany? 

1) Cost. For me, this was biggest factor was hands down. Because of a belief that education must be open and accessible to everyone, most public universities in Germany offers free (or next to nothing) tuition for everyone. Although this varies depending on what Bundesland you choose, currently only Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) requires students completing their first degree to pay a 500 euro tuition fee every semester, totally 1,000 euros per year. Students who have already completed one college degree are required to pay between 300-650 euros per semester in Sachsen-Anhalt, Sachsen, and Rheinland-Pfalz (as well as in Baden-Wuerttemberg depending on the school). Students who need longer than a certain number of semesters over the normal number of semesters needed to complete a certain degree (e.g. 6 semesters for a bachelors at most universities) also need to pay tuition in some states.

2) Foreign language fluency and international education. I also wanted an international education to set me apart from the crowd. Forbes reported that only 18% !!! of Americans can speak a foreign language. They also reported that even though a foreign language is probably not important for everyday life, a knowledge of German can give you a 4% salary increase later on. For someone making $40,000, that’s an increase of roughly $1,600, all for something you are guaranteed to enjoy learning anyway once you get here.

3) International (yet transferable) education. Germany has done a complete overhaul of their higher education system in recent years. This means that currently most programs at the university lead to a bachelor’s or master’s degree (and further on, PhDs are becoming increasingly common). Gone are the days when you had to ask yourself how to translate your degree on a resume; instead, a German education is easier than ever to present to potential employers back home.

4) Taking the lead in your future. Moving to a foreign country forces you to become independent and creative, fast. Overcoming the fun but challenging adventures thrown your way on a daily basis, as well as being immersed in a culture with a far different perspective on your background than you most likely have are just some ways you learn to be more assertive but also to listen and communicate better.


Do I qualify to enroll in university?

Applying to the US is a marathon: the most time-consuming part is by far writing the all important application essay. Along with the billion other aspects to the application process, including letters of recommendation, making sure you have shown a good amount of after-school activity, and of course, grades and test scores, applying to school is like climbing a mountain.

In Germany, it’s a little different. When I applied 10 years ago, the system was horribly confusing. Now, however, there are fantastic resources to give you step by step guidance on whether you will be able to even qualify to study at a German university. First, they don’t care about your leadership or extracurriculars. Also, you aren’t going to need to present letters of recommendation.

If you meet the formal requirements, you will be able to start school with no problems — check here to get down to the nitty gritty details and see a detailed, step-by-step list of all you need to apply.

Even if you don’t quite have the requirements down, however (say your grades or test scores aren’t quite where they need to be), there is still the option of enrolling in a Studienkolleg (a kind of prep course) in order to get you ready for university.


International programs (English-speaking degrees)

Germany has come a long way in building up its options for non-German speakers and creating English-speaking programs. These are attractive for both English speakers whose German isn’t yet up to snuff as well as students from other countries who want to immerse themselves in the German way of life but study in an English-speaking environment.

You can use this database to find English-speaking programs in any area of study:


When you need to get university-specific information:

Unfortunately, as written above, some things are dependent on the university you choose. Which means you are most likely going to have to brave the night hours and call the international students’ office during office hours, which can be horrendously USA time-zone unfriendly. But, if you can’t find the information on the website, you will definitely get it from them. To contact the international office, look up the university website. If the university website has a good English version, you should be ok clicking your way through it to get to International students or Prospective students, international, or similar. If not, or if you want to test your German skills, try clicking on anything that hints at international students, such as “International”. This should eventually get you to a page on which you can click on “Akademisches Auslandsamt” or “AAA”, which is the term for international students’ office. “Sprechzeiten” is the word for office hours, and often times there is a further categorization for “telefonisch” (they will answer the telephone only during these hours). Germany is UTC+1, so it’s 6 hours ahead of New York (UTC-5)…. set your alarm accordingly, or just drink lots of coffee.


Additional links and sources:

DAAD general overview of applying (not extremely clear, but comprehensive):

Percentage of Americans who speak a foreign language (Forbes):

Salary increases and foreign language skills (Forbes):

For my post on doing a PhD program in Germany, check here:



  1. Colleen · · Reply

    Do you have any advice for American university students looking to do postgraduate study in Germany? Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Colleen, I’m actually just finishing up a post talking about that, I will try and get it up by the end of the day. Thanks for reading! Lexi 🙂

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