Studying in Germany: Be Prepared

An exciting time in a new environment, a new language, meeting new people. But applications need to be filed, fees paid, and language abilities tested.

Talk the talk: The language issue

Sprichst du Deutsch? Nein? Well, that likely won’t be a problem for international degree programs where the language of choice is almost always English. But for all other programs, proof of your German language proficiency needs to be provided. There are two options: the TestDaF and the DSH. Both test your writing, reading and listening skills and have an oral exam. 

The TestDaF requires that the student has logged more than 500 hours of German classes before he/she can be tested, but unlike the DSH it can be taken outside the country.  A sample test can be found on the web site to help you evaluate your current level.

The DSH is the preferred acronym for an impossibly long set of German words – Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber. Unlike the TestDaF, the DSH can only be taken at universities in Germany (with the test sometimes differing depending on the institution). In general, it’s a 3-4 hour affair that covers the same ground as the TestDaF.

Preparing for the tests can either be done in your native country or at one of the so-called Studienkollegs. Studienkollegs require a certain level of German to enter but in their “university within in a university” role they can act as a launching pad to help you get qualified for study in Germany.

Coming up with the cash: Cost and financing

Tuition fees are a hot topic at German universities at the moment. There are still some states that do not charge the fees, and the web site Internationale Studierende offers up-to-date info on what the fee situation is in each state.

But even if your university of choice isn’t demanding tuition, Germany’s cost living alone makes a scholarship or fellowship a good option. DAAD can tell you what individual expenses you are likely to incur.

Private and political foundations, the church, and governmental institutions (both federal and state) offer fellowships and scholarships, many of them targeted to foreign students.

The DAAD has an excellent database, that provides a list of scholarships, from private to state. For those with an adequate command of German, the book Förderungsmöglichkeiten für Studierende (Financial Aid for those Studying) offers an impressive array of ways to get money.

Your ticket in: How to apply

The application process for German universities is – with the exception of a few subjects – not a centralized affair, as is the case in some other countries. Consequently, you have to apply to the individual universities you are interested in separately. That means, checking the websites for deadlines and contacting the relevant international offices for specific information and application forms. For a list of all the international offices see:

Many universities, in fact , accept the standard application which can be downloaded at the DAAD web site. International students also have the option of sending their completed applications and documents to uni-assist. The group represents abou 100 German universities and institutions of higher learning and, for a fee, helps ensure your application documents are all in order before funneling them to the university of your choice.

Most students are denied entry to German universities because their secondary education is deemed insufficient. Whether British A-levels, American high school diplomas, or Chinese Gaokao, German universities have different requirements depending on what secondary education an international student has completed. The DAAD (again) has an excellent database, in German that can help you determine whether the secondary degree from your native country is sufficient.

If it isn’t, you’ll need to take an assessment test. The tests are held twice a year and can be taken either externally or at a Studienkolleg (at the university or college of higher learning where you’ve applied).

In addition to language classes, Studienkollegs can, over a one-year period, offer you the necessary prep classes for your chosen degree program, be it earth sciences, psychology, or law.

“It prepares you well,” says Camilo Jimenez, a native of Colombia who spent a year at a Berlin Studienkolleg before enrolling in the philosophy program at Humboldt University in Berlin. “You learn exactly how German universities work academically: how to write a paper, how to hold an oral presentation, and so on.”