Applying for a study programme

Anyone looking to study at a German university needs to follow certain rules.

How and where you have to register to study at a German university depends on three factors:

  • What subject do I want to study?
  • Where did I complete my secondary school qualification?
  • What degree am I aiming for (Bachelor, Master)?

Even if you have met the general admission requirements and found your course of choice, you will often not be able to enrol directly. There are many courses for which demand is greater than supply. This means that only a certain number of places are available for a course. In this case, applicants first have to pass through an admission procedure. The courses subject to this kind of admission procedure either have local or national admission restrictions. Direct enrolment is possible for all other courses that are not subject to admission restrictions.

National admission restriction

Medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine and dentistry are so popular that admission restrictions apply at all universities in Germany, i.e. a Numerus Clausus (NC, Latin for "closed number"). The application and admission procedures for places for these courses are run centrally by the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung. However, in some cases, international applicants have to apply directly to the universities or via the Application Services for International University Applications (uni-assist).

The application generally needs to be submitted by 15 January for the summer semester and 15 July for the winter semester. However, the application deadline for international students may differ for each individual university.

Local admission restriction

Some courses may only have admission restrictions at certain universities. Courses with local admission restrictions are generally also identified as NC courses. The NC is not specified by an individual, rather it changes every semester based on the demand and supply of university places for a course. The applications currently available are used to calculate an average grade that must be met for admission. The level of the NC in the semester the application is submitted is unknown, but the values from previous semesters are useful starting points. In some cases, certain grades are weighted more heavily than others – such as maths and physics for an engineering course.

Apart from the average grade, universities may also define additional criteria that are relevant for selection, such as letters of motivation, tests or selection interviews. The criteria differ for each university and course. So it is important that you approach the university's Student Advice Centre before submitting your application. The Higher Education Compass website provides more information about the Student Advice Centres.

Five tips for the NC

  • send numerous applications: sending more applications to different universities and for different courses improves your chance of success.
  • choose less popular locations: most students want to study in major cities or in the traditional university cities. So it might help if you apply to university locations that are not as popular.
  • compile additional points: while the grade point average is the most important factor, it is never the only criterion used by universities to award places. Sometimes individual grades are weighted more heavily than others or aptitude tests are held.
  • hope for the luck of the draw: universities randomly allocate some spaces, if those selected withdraw their applications. That's why it pays to find out about dates and conditions at the universities so that you can send your application on time.
  • start in the summer semester: if the winter semester doesn't work, about a quarter of all Bachelor courses also let you apply in the summer semester. The NC values may also change in the new selection round.

Application documents, dates and costs

Anyone who has decided on a university and a course first needs to contact the International Office. This is where you will find out about the application process and which documents need to be submitted. Application fees may be charged depending on the university that you apply for.

In general, the following documents need to be submitted:

  • an officially certified copy of the higher education entrance qualification in the original language
  • an overview of the subjects and marks as a certified translation
  • an officially certified copy of any previously acquired secondary education qualifications with an overview of the subjects and grades
  • a passport photo
  • a copy of your passport (only the side with your personal information and photo)
  • language proficiency (an officially certified copy or with an online verification code)

For many universities, the application period for the winter semester commences at the start of May and generally ends on 15 July. The application period for the summer semester generally commences at the start of December and ends on 15 January. The notice of admission is then sent in August/September or February/March. The notice of rejection is frequently sent at a later date. These dates often differ for private universities.

Course application checklist

Applications often fail for formal reasons – for example, because the documents are incomplete, or not submitted on time. You can avoid any errors by carefully checking your application. You may find the following questions useful:

  • What requirements do you need to meet for the course of your choice?
  • Where do you need to send you application?
  • When is the application deadline?
  • What documents need to be enclosed (including certified copies)?