Germany offers a multitude of opportunities for international students looking to study at a German university. One of the big questions you have to solve before setting off on this adventure is how you can finance your studies in Germany. You should check out the German scholarship landscape since there are various funding offers for international students.
How to obtain a scholarship for university studies in Germany may differ from how to accomplish this in your home country. To make this transition easier for you, we have compiled a list of things you should familiarize yourself with before applying for a scholarship.
1. No tuition-fee waiver, but extra-money (since most programs are tuition-free)
Unlike other countries where funding and scholarships are put towards the high tuition fees, in Germany, public universities usually do not charge tuition fees so that a scholarship means having extra money to finance your student life. The money can go to buying equipment for your studies, but it is also meant for you to pay your rent, your food, and sustain yourself so that you can fully dedicate yourself to your studies. A full scholarship is also accepted as proof of your financial means at your visa appointment.
The exception to this rule are some private universities that do charge tuition fees and may offer reductions upon admission. Each private university can decide upon a system according to which they grant deductions to successful applicants. If you are looking to apply at a private uni it is best to inquire directly with them regarding your financial aid options.
2. Most of the sponsorships are financed through public funds
Most study grants in Germany come from civil society organizations. Sponsors of students in Germany are typically foundations associated with political parties, religious communities, unions, or associations. While these foundations select the scholarship winners and distribute the money, they typically receive their funds through the German state under the scheme of the talent support funds (German: Begabtenförderungswerke).
The biggest sponsor is the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which is an association of German institutions of higher education and their student bodies. The mission of the DAAD is dedicated to the internationalization of the German higher education landscape, therefore this organization can be considered an umbrella-organization of German universities that advocates to increase academic exchange.
3. DAAD is the biggest - but not the only one great scholarship foundation
The DAAD certainly is an organization that you should know about - since it is the “world’s largest funding organization of its kind” supporting more than 145,000 academics per year (2018). With more than 60,000 funded persons each year from abroad, they are the biggest scholarship provider for international students who study in Germany.
However, other organizations grant significant amounts of study grants too, and play an important role in the German scholarship foundation landscape. Most notably, there are the talent support funds (German: Begabtenförderungswerke) who allocate funds from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to students. Often, these foundations are associated with political parties or religious communities and offer - on top of the financial funding - ideational training, workshops, and education.
4. Political and religious foundations - not a pact with the devil
Students who first start learning about the German scholarship landscape may be cautious to apply to one of the political or religious foundations. Their reservations may be that their application could mean having to fully commit to an ideological perspective, however, this is not the case.
The foundations affiliated with the political parties award scholarships to students who agree with the general party positions, however, scholarship holders are not required to join a party. Similarly, the religious foundations are looking for general identification with the respective religion rather than for students who practice their belief in only one specific way.
You should also keep in mind that the talent support funds are diverse and represent various perspectives and positions so that you might find one you can generally agree and identify with and apply.
5. Talent & commitment count (rather than social need)
From your home country, you may be used to needs-based scholarships being distributed to students. In Germany, the criteria according to which scholarships are awarded focus on academic performance and social engagement. That means that scholarship sponsors look for candidates with good grades, ideally some relevant work, internship, and research experience, as well as for candidates who show social engagement, for example by holding a volunteer position or being engaged within their communities.
That being said, some scholarship foundations mention that they are committed to equal opportunities and acknowledge potential biographical hardships in the applicant’s life, as well. Also, while scholarship winners are not selected based on social or financial need, the amount of the monthly stipend may depend on their family’s income (see next point).
6. Full scholarships are the rule, not the exception
An important question when you plan your studies in Germany is, of course, how much the scholarships cover. The answer depends on which scheme you apply to: The DAAD grants full scholarships. The 13 talent scholarships (German: Begabtenförderungswerke) partially have schemes specifically for international students, which are full scholarships and match what is needed to prove financial sufficiency in the visa applications (850 €). Scoring these scholarships allows students to fully focus on their studies without worrying about their financial situation.
On the other hand, the talent scholarships offer funding schemes targeted at EU-citizens, migrants who lived in Germany for at least five years before taking up their studies and refugees. If you qualify for these scholarships, you receive 300 € per month and up to 744 € additionally depending on your family’s income and your financial needs. The Deutschlandstipendium only covers 300 € per month, which is not enough to live off and students who are funded through an Erasmus+ scheme likely have to use some of their savings, too.
7. From Language Courses to full master’s and Ph.D.: a grant for every scope
You don’t have to worry about funding opportunities that may not be available to you because of your study program. There are scholarships and grants for all students varying from country specific grants to study specific to more generalized grants available to all students. Whether you are coming to Germany to partake in a German language course or to study a master’s degree, there is a scholarship option for you!
While some students think that they need to be studying in a degree program such as a bachelor's, master's, or Ph.D., there are also funding opportunities for international students who are looking to come to Germany to carry out independent research projects outside of regular study programs. So whether you’re looking to enroll in a degree program or want to come to Germany to learn German or carry out independent research, there are funding opportunities to fit your interests!
8. How to apply? Planning ahead is key!
If you are looking to have your studies in Germany funded through a scholarship, it is important to realize that the scholarship application is a separate step and needs to be directed to the funding organization (among the few exceptions are the Erasmus funding schemes and the Deutschlandstipendium, which are handled by the universities). This means that you have to mind not just the application modalities and deadlines of the study program you are interested in but also those of the scholarship program.
Therefore, it is important that you plan well and that you plan ahead. Start searching for funding schemes you are eligible for early on and familiarize yourself with application processes. Especially for international students, good planning is key: Sometimes the application periods, for example between getting admitted and before starting the study program, can be very short. Compiling all the necessary application documents may take time, too.
However, there are some aspects to consider when selecting a funding scheme that may make the process a bit easier for you. Firstly, choose a foundation that uses online application portals which takes some pressure off of international students. Also, look for a scheme for which you don’t have to be in Germany in person to apply.
Therefore, funding through the DAAD and scholarships exclusively to foreign students are especially attractive, since they were designed with international students in mind. With the DAAD you can often apply for a scholarship before you move to Germany. This can give you security in planning your financial situation before making a commitment to a study program. Some other scholarships are only granted once the semester has started and therefore are only available to students who do have an alternative way of financing their studies in case the scholarship should not work out.
Additionally, information on funding opportunities, deadlines, and requirements are published in English by many funding institutions, allowing international students to easily access key information. Moreover, the same official documents are usually required for most scholarship applications (motivation letter, official transcript copy, etc.) so once you take your time collecting such information once, it can ease the application process for a different scholarship application.
9. German state, EU-level or your home country - scope out all your options
There is a broad landscape of scholarship providers that also reflects the situation of educational politics in Germany: Besides the DAAD, which can be considered the flagship scholarship organization for international students and the 13 talent support funds (German: Begabtenförderungswerke), there are scholarships at the local level, too.
For example, some individual states offer study grants, such as Bavaria through public funds and through the ‘Elitenetzwerk Bayern’ or the Deutschlandstipendium, which is handled by each university. Furthermore, there are also EU-funds that finance studies through the Erasmus scheme which reflect the supranational level. Last but not least, you should always make sure to check out whether your home country offers any additional funding schemes. One example is the Fulbright scholarship for U.S.-Americans.
10. You don’t have to be Einstein to win a scholarship in Germany
Before applying for scholarships, many students have already given up thinking that they have to be a genius to get any funding to study their dream study program in Germany. While there are plenty of funding opportunities for geniuses, you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to get a scholarship in Germany!
What you definitely need to have is drive and motivation. One of the most important parts of your application is the motivation letter which tells funding institutions how committed you are to your study or project ambitions in Germany. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to prove your excellence with grades and education qualifications but means rather that you don’t have to have a perfect score in all of your previous studies if you can demonstrate your dedication in other ways such as volunteer work or personal projects related to your goals in Germany.
Do you feel ready to apply for scholarships in Germany now? Check out our article Scholarships for international students in Germany to find out specific information on different funding schemes and scholarship programs for studies in Germany available to you!