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PhD in Germany [Complete Guide]

Expatrio 2024-02-15
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Few achievements in life match the feeling of being awarded a PhD. Doctorates represent the pinnacle of academic achievement, and require years of diligent study.

The rewards, however, are great. Not only does a Ph.D. give you bragging rights at cocktail parties, but it also provides excellent job prospects and earning potential. But what if you want to study for a PhD outside of your home country?

Germany is an increasingly popular destination for international students, offering high-quality education and research facilities at a fraction of the cost of studying in the US or UK. Germany offers and takes research extremely seriously, and is one of the world's most popular places to study for a PhD or higher education.

But what kinds of PhDs are available, how much do they cost, and how do students apply? Let's find out.


General information

Germany is widely seen as one of the best places to apply for a PhD worldwide

The country offers excellent education and research facilities as well as competitive funding opportunities for doctoral students.

There are different types of Ph.D. programs in Germany. That's no surprise, as Germany invented the elite academic qualification in the 19th century. German PhDs cover subjects as diverse as history, linguistics, and philosophy, or chemistry, molecular biology, earth sciences, and computer science. Most lower level degree subjects can be extended to PhD level if the student desires.


How can I get a PhD in Germany?

There are two main ways to complete a PhD in Germany. Most commonly, students form a working relationship with a specific Doktorvater or Doktormutter (or "supervisor" in English). They then work on a tightly focused research task for the duration of their studies. The fruits of their university research are then presented as a "Doctorate" (Doktorarbeit), which tends to resemble a medium-length book.

In some cases, "Structured" PHDs are available. These resemble taught Masters degrees, but still have a strong research element. They may also focus on work placements.


How long does it take to get a PhD in Germany?

Generally speaking, a standard research-oriented German doctorate can be obtained within 4-6 years. This depends on the speed of work and personal factors such as having children. Structured doctorates can often be completed in just 3 years, but this varies from course to course.

PhDs for International Students
Structured PhDs often cater for international students, with English instruction regularly available.


International PhD Programs

Germany welcomes international students to study at PhD level

Many programs offer specialist assistance and course structures for overseas students.

DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service) brings together grants for international students at leading German universities. It's the best place to start hunting for scholarships to help fund your studies.


Is a PhD in Germany free?

PhDs at German universities are usually available free of charge for international students, but living costs aren't covered. However, scholarships can cover (most) living costs. DAAD grants will average around €1,200 per month, and additional funding sources may be available.

A group of prominent universities has also created a funding scheme called StipendumPlus, which also distributes grants. Between them, finding financial help should be possible.


Do PhD students get paid in Germany?

It's not routine for international students to be paid for their work, but it is definitely possible to find paid research posts. Enquire with your supervisor, and you may find that paid jobs are available to supplement your income.

How to cover your living costs
If you require extra help, your supervisor can apply to the "Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst" for a €1,200 per month grant.


How to find your PhD Position

Finding the right PhD is essential

It's a huge investment of both finances and time, and could change the course of your life. So here are some useful tips to remember.

Take time to find a supervisor you want to work with. Balance their academic record with the resources of the university, and have a chat with them if possible. You need to be able to work with them on a daily basis.

  • Searching for doctorate programs has been made much easier by databases like DAAD. Use them to assess every option.
  • Consult university rankings to avoid poor-quality teaching.
  • Check for services like career advice and travel grants. As a PhD researcher, you may need to travel worldwide, and this can be expensive.
  • Ask about work opportunities as well. Research posts at your university are the best way to add some extra income, while gaining relevant experience.


Requirements and Application

Before you can commence doctorate studies in Germany, you'll need to complete an application process

If you want to study a traditional PhD, applications must be carried out via your prospective supervisor.

When you contact the supervisor and they agree to work with you, they will forward your request to the relevant faculty. The department will then request:

Structured PhDs don't require students to go through a supervisor. In those cases, applications are made via the faculty, and will usually be carried out via online portals.

To study a PhD, requirements generally demand a Masters degree (8 semesters of university education), as well as English and German proficiency to a high level.

IELTS English certificates, and TestDaf German courses are advisable for all doctoral candidates, even if they have studied those languages in the past.

PhDs are a huge investment of both finances and time, so it's important to do your research before choosing a supervisor and program. Make sure to consult university rankings and databases like DAAD when making your decision. Once you've been accepted into a program, make sure to apply for scholarships and grants to help cover your living costs.

Finally, remember to ask about work opportunities as well – research posts are a great way to gain relevant experience and supplement your income.

Find Your Perfect Match 

Search by city, major, or field of study and find your dream study program in Germany.

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