How do I get a scholarship?

DAAD/Thomas Ebert

New books, dining in the canteen, high rental costs. Students have a lot of expenses. Which is why scholarships can help. An overview of the providers, types of scholarships and application guidelines.

The major scholarship providers are the 13 foundations for the promotion of gifted students, which are supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. They represent important social groups and have more of a political, religious or economic character. Apart from the major agencies for gifted students, Germany is home to over a thousand scholarship providers that support students with scholarships. Smaller foundations frequently target certain subjects or cities. Many universities also grant scholarships. About two thirds of them offer the Germany Scholarship, which was introduced in 2011 and for which about ten percent of scholarship holders are currently international students.

An overview of the scholarship providers

  • Political foundations: The parties represented in the Bundestag have established political foundations that support highly motivated, socially committed and top-performing students. These include, for example, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. While applicants do not need to be a member of the respective political party, they should identify with the content and objectives and ideally be committed to them.
  • Denominational providers: The support by denominational providers is linked to the respective beliefs. Exceptions are only made in justified exceptional circumstances. For example, there are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim scholarship agencies. They promote gifted and socially committed applicants who are dedicated to their beliefs.
  • Corporate foundations: Many companies have foundations with an internal scholarship programme that is tailored to the topics and activities relevant for the respective company. As a result, corporate scholarships are often granted to applicants with subjects or research areas that are of particular relevance for the company.
  • Federal states: The federal states grant scholarships, particularly based on performance and economic perspectives. There is a range of scholarship programmes for various target groups. But the funding opportunities differ widely between the individual federal states. Applications generally need to be submitted to the universities in the respective state.
  • Social organisations: A number of funding organisations don't just grant scholarships based primarily on performance, but rather based on students' social, family and personal circumstances. For example, the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard-Foundation supports young PhD students with children who are targeting a scientific career.
  • Research institutes: Scientific research institutes, such as the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation or the German Research Foundation (DFG), grant scholarships based on performance. The scholarships generally support outstanding junior scientists targeting a scientific career in the relevant area.
  • Student organisations: These are generally associations that are run on a voluntary basis by students for students. There are large associations, such as the German Medical Students' Association in Germany, which organises the international exchange of medical students. As well as smaller associations, such as the Gemeinschaft für studentischen Austausch in Mittel- und Osteuropa, which supports students from Eastern Europe.

Financial and non-monetary scholarships

Financial support is a key component of a scholarship. This involves a monthly payment for living expenses, which is consistently and regularly paid over a specific period. Scholarship holders also receive allowances for books, health insurance and childcare. Many scholarship providers also place great importance on non-monetary support. For example, this includes scientific congresses, language courses and holiday academies. You also become part of a large network consisting of current and former scholarship holders. This exchange of ideas is not just personally interesting, it can also provide professional benefits in the form of contacts and networks.

Requirements and chances of success

Good results are important, but you can also receive a scholarship without a perfect grade point average. Besides good grades, many foundations also place a great deal of importance on the social commitment of applicants. Others support specific target groups and grant scholarships based on social, family or personal criteria. On average, one in every three scholarship applicants receives the funding that they have applied for. The chances of success with smaller, less well-known foundations are often better than with the major scholarship agencies. The reason that a scholarship is turned down is often not due to the high requirements, but rather to the application itself: 80 percent of all students in Germany have never applied for a scholarship.

Checklist for the application

  • Does the selected scholarship provider actually match my personal and subject profile?
  • Do I meet the formal requirements for the scholarship programme – matching academic status, country of origin, subject specialisation?
  • Am I able to provide evidence of the relevant requirements – appropriate academic results and my social commitment?
  • Can I obtain all the necessary application documents within the current application period?

Selection and application process

Every scholarship provider can approach the selection and application process as they wish. The traditional path starts with a written application. The application folder includes a cover letter with a CV, certificates and reports by teachers or professors. If the application is successful, the second round involves an invitation to a personal meeting in the form of an interview or a selection round with other applicants. The major scholarship agencies have a more extensive selection process than the smaller foundations. These include workshops, presentations and discussion rounds.