higher education system in Germany

German University System

Germany is renowned for its excellent higher education system. German degree courses include a wide range of subjects, with some courses taught in English. Tuition fees are not charged at Germany’s public universities, even for international students. This, coupled with an excellent reputation for offering world-leading technical degrees, is why Germany is such a popular choice with international students.

In this article, we will review various study programs, types of German universities, the main admission requirements, tuition fees, and grading.

Types of Universities in Germany

There are three main types of university in the German Higher Education System. These are:

  • Academic Universities (Universitäten)
  • Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen)
  • Specialist colleges of Art, Music, or Film.

Universities in Germany are either public or private. Public universities represent the majority of institutions and are heavily subsidized by the government, which means they do not charge tuition fees. Of the private (fee-paying) universities in Germany, the vast majority are Universities of Applied Sciences.

Entry requirements at private universities

If you’re concerned that your predicted grades will not be enough to be accepted for a course, consider a private university where the entry requirements are often lower.

What is the German university system?

Thanks to the Humboldt theory of education, German universities tend to place a high importance on research and academic freedom. Technical degrees are also an important aspect of the German university landscape.

There are two semesters in Germany: a winter semester (October to March) and a summer semester (April to September). You may be able to find a course which starts in April rather than October, so check with the university before you apply.

An academic year in Germany

Two semesters

Structure of an academic year in Germany.

Summer semester

April - September
Application Deadline: January 15th

Winter semester

October - March
Application Deadline: July 15th

Study programs at German universities

With thousands of degree courses at over 400 institutions, there is plenty of choice when it comes to study programs in Germany.

The country is world-renowned for its technical degree courses, but it’s possible to study almost anything, especially if you’re happy to undertake a course that is delivered in the German language. There are a number of degrees available which are taught in English, especially at the Universities of Applied Sciences.

Give yourself plenty of time to choose a course; start looking through the course lists a few months before you apply so you have time to consider all the options. Find out more about the degrees and how studies in Germany are organized on our Course of Study page.

German university requirements and admission

In order to be accepted on a German degree course, you will need a certificate of high school education (Hochschulzugangsberechtigung) or your country's equivalent, e.g. A-level certificates. Often, international students will be expected to sit an entrance exam before they can be offered a place, especially if you live in a country where your qualification is not recognized by the German university. Some courses require entrance exams for all students.

Prospective students usually need to start the application process six months to a year before the start of the semester in which the course starts. You may also need to provide references and an academic personal statement.

If the course is taught in German, you may also need to prove your competency in the German language.

Tip: There are many places you can obtain a German proficiency certificate before you apply, including the Goethe Institute. Find out more about the admission process and requirements on our German university application page.

Tuition fees at German universities

There are no tuition fees for studying at a German public university

The education system is heavily subsidized by the government. This applies to both German residents and international students.

Is university free in Germany?

Although there are no German university tuition fees, undertaking a degree is not completely free. Students have to pay a semester fee (Semesterbeitrag), which ranges from around €200-€500, every six months (each semester) to cover administration fees, and a travelcard will usually have to be purchased as well. Students will also have to consider living costs.

German university degrees and grading system

Germany has in recent years adopted the Bologna accreditation process, so degree courses are standardized in line with other European countries. This means that students can now study for a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or for a Doctorate. Some areas of employment such as law, teaching, and medicine require students to complete state examinations or Staatsexamen after their degree.

What is the German university grading system?

Bachelor’s degrees are graded in the standard method for the Bologna system. This means students will attain a First Class, Upper Second, Lower Second, or Third Class degree.