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How to write a CV for a German University: A Guide for International Students (2023)

You can rarely apply for a study program at a German university without submitting a Curriculum Vitae. Learn more about the format and the structure of a good German Resume!

Let us make a guess: if you are reading this article, that means that you have already found out that one of the key documents that you would need for applying to a German university is the CV. If you did not know that, now you know!

 

The purpose of this article is to provide clear answers to the most crucial questions about the CV-writing process with regard to the German university context. We know that writing a CV for a German university is one of the most (if not the most) challenging application tasks for students. That is why we decided to make your life easier and put the answers to the central questions in one place.

The basics that you need to know about CVs for Germany

What is a CV for German universities?

Generally speaking, a Curriculum Vitae (CV) - known as Lebenslauf in German - is a (mandatory) application document requested by most German universities, where you should provide information regarding your academic background, work experience (including internships), extracurricular activities and skills in a concise and structured way. To put it differently, CV is your short biography, and it is through the CV that you can make a good first impression on the admissions officer, which might be crucial for your successful application to a German university. That is why writing a very good CV according to German standards is important, and that is why you should take the CV-writing seriously.

CV vs Curriculum Vitae vs Resume vs Lebenslauf - What are the differences?

Do not be confused or surprised if, while surfing through the different study programs listed in our StudyFinder, you find out that some of them do not mention "CV" but instead use terms like "Curriculum Vitae", "Resume", or "Personal Data Sheet". Usually, German universities use these terms interchangeably - so do not worry about that! Depending on the cultural and linguistic background of the people that administer the given study program, they will use one of the following expressions for what is called in German "Lebenslauf". It is noteworthy that in Germany, you will come across "CV" more frequently than "Resume".

Table 1: Different wordings used for "CV"

Term

Typical Context/Scope

Explanation

CV

University and Job Application

Dominant term in German-speaking countries

Curriculum Vitae

University and Job Application

CV is an acronym of Curriculum Vitae

Resume

University and Job Application

Same meaning, but less frequent than CV

Personal Data Sheet

University and Job Application

Same as CV, but used extremely rarely 

Lebenslauf

University and Job Application

German word for CV

Do German universities require CVs?

Yes, German universities do generally require CVs for applications! According to our research, around 90% of Bachelor's and Master's programs in Germany require you to submit a CV in order to be considered as a candidate. This includes both English-taught and German-taught study programs. And again, do not forget various wordings that you might come across! Let's have a look at some examples. 

 

How important is the CV for German universities?

You might be wondering now how vital this document might be for your German university application, and you are on the right track if you are asking this question! In fact, a CV is usually the first thing out of numerous application documents that German universities check. Therefore, it is crucial in terms of making the first impression.

 

Interestingly, unlike the cases of the Grade Point Average or the Letter of Motivation (LOM), German study programs do not assign any specific weight to the CV. Instead, a CV serves more like a "pass/fail" test. In particular, depending on the quality of your CV, you can either just retain the "status-quo" or make things worse. Put differently, with a high-quality CV, you can make a good first impression on the examiners, which will keep you in the competition for a place in the program. However, if your CV is of low quality, the admissions officers will have a bad first impression, which might even cause your application to be rejected. Hence, although a good CV will not strengthen your application as much as the LOM can, it is still crucial as a CV that meets high German standards will keep your chances for a successful application to a German university alive.

In a nutshell, you should invest enough time in writing a CV if you want to keep your German university acceptance chances high!

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Geeky Stuff Box

Based on the study conducted by Stepstone, 91% of talent acquisition officers perceive a CV as the most important application document.

How do I write a CV for a German university application?

When writing a CV for a German university application, the first thing you should do is check whether your chosen program has any specific guidelines or requirements in this regard. In case it has, you have to follow them - that is the priority. However, it happens quite often that the universities and study programs do not specify what they are expecting from your CV. The good news is that it is not a problem at all! Why? Because in Germany, there are standardized expectations with regard to the CV content, format and structure, which you can always follow without any worries!  Let us present to you these standards through the seven frequent questions that we get at MyGermanUniversity.

1. What do German universities look for in a CV?

In your CV, German universities look for an answer (at least partial) to the question of whether your background, interests and skills fit the expectations of the German Bachelor's or Master's study program you are applying for. Usually, the key information that the German admissions officers look for in your CV for a German university is the details about your education and work experience.

2. What should a German CV look like?

The question of "what should a German CV look like" can be reformulated as "what is the structure of the German CV". Basically, your German CV should consist of four core sections, which are:

  • Header. In this section, you should provide your personal details, like your first and last names, physical and email addresses, phone number, etc.

  • Education. This is THE most important section of your CV for a German university application. Here you should provide information regarding your academic background. For example, it can be a high school diploma and a Bachelor's degree. Among others, you should include the date when you attended the school/university, the names of the institutions, location, etc.

  • Work Experience. This part should encompass information regarding your professional experience, including internships and volunteerships. And again, you should specify the dates, the location, names of the organizations/institutions, your position, etc.

  • The Rest. This is a broad section, which you can break down into several parts. For instance, if applicable, it should include the parts on extracurricular activities (e.g., workshops, summer schools, etc.), scholarships and awards, memberships (e.g., in case you are a member of any societies or clubs), skills (e.g., language skills, digital skills) and hobbies.

3. What is the CV format for German university applications?

When it comes to the formats of German resumes, you might often hear the following words: Tabellarische, Lückenloser Lebenslauf. This can be translated as "Tabular CV without gaps". These are one of the main requirements with respect to the German CV format. Other popular CV format-related requirements are reverse chronology and using the same script. So, what does each of these mean? 

  • Let's start with the first word "Tabular". To put it shortly, when German universities ask you to provide a CV in tabular form, they mean that you should have the CV structured like in table format rather than a narrative. Besides, the dates (of academic or professional experiences, winter schools etc.) should be on the left-hand side, while the titles and descriptions on the right-hand side.

  • As for "without gaps", let us provide you with the following example. For instance, if in your German CV you state that you completed your Bachelor's in 2016, and then there are no more entries in any section until 2019 when you started working in company "X", it means that you have around a 3-year gap in your CV. This is something that admissions officers of the German university you applied to will not like. In other words, by having an unexplained gap, the quality of your German CV will be worsened. Consequently, you should try your best to avoid causing this kind of confusion and not leave any gaps in your CV. 

  • Another important requirement of the German CV format is reverse chronology. This means that you should start with the most recent experience instead of the oldest. For instance, you should first mention your Bachelor's degree and then your high school diploma.

  • Last but not least, you should use the same script type throughout your German CV, preferably a standard script like Times New Roman or Arial. The font size can be 11-12pt for general text and 14-16pt for headers/titles.

4. Should I use Europass CV for German universities?

If the German university or the German study program does not explicitly ask you to use the Europass CV, you should not do that, as Europass is not a very commonly used format in Germany. In fact, most German universities prefer the German-style CV over the Europass CV. When you find out in the application requirements that your desired German study program asks you to submit the CV without specifying the format, it automatically means that the admissions officers expect you to submit the standard German CV.

 

Only rarely will you find a German university asking for the Europass CV. Below are some examples of those German universities and study programs that are fine with or even require a Europass CV.

5. Does a German CV require a photo?

Yes, German universities usually require you to have your photo in the CV. The headshot should be professional, LinkedIn-style. In general, a photo in a CV for any purpose is a standard in Germany. So, even if the German study program that you are applying to does not mention that you need a photo in your CV, you still need to include the headshot. The only case where your CV should be without a photo is when the German university explicitly asks for that, which happens quite rarely. 

Here are some examples of some German universities and programs which do not specifically request a photo in your CV:

6. How long should the German CV be?

Your German CV should be neither too short nor too long. In general, German universities and study programs expect your CV to be 1-2 pages long. Put differently, ideally, your German CV should not be less than 1 page or more than 2 pages. 


And again: this is a standard "formula" which you should follow unless your desired German university/study program has different requirements. For instance, the Master's program in Software Engineering for Industrial Applications offered by the Hof University of Applied Sciences will be fine with you sending in a 3-page long CV.

7. Is signature required in a German CV?

According to German standards, a signature is generally required in your German CV. Although most of the programs do not render that explicit, unless specifically mentioned otherwise, you should always sign your CV for the German university application. Some of the German study programs, such as M.Sc. Intelligent Systems at Ulm University of Applied SciencesM.A./M.Sc. Mind and Brain at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin etc., specifically put an emphasis on this requirement.

Your application to a German university might get rejected if your CV is inconsistent or incomplete.

Guidelines provided by German Universities and Organizations

In general, German universities and organizations do not provide any specific guidelines for writing your CV. In fact, sometimes, it can seem impossible to find any. But do not worry - we have your back! Our team managed to find some guidelines for writing a German CV provided by various German universities and organizations. You can explore them in the tables below.

Table 4: CV Guidelines from German Universities

University

City

Status

Source

Scope

Hochschule Bremen

Bremen

Public

Guideline

Career & Work

University of Freiburg

Freiburg im Breisgau

Public

Guideline

Study Program

Hof University of Applied Sciences

Hof

Public

Guideline

Study Program

RWTH Aachen

Aachen

Public

Guideline

Career & Work

University of Bonn

Bonn

Public

Guideline

Study Program

Universität Regensburg

Regensburg

Public

Guideline

Study Program

University of Cologne

Cologne

Public

Guideline

Study Program

LMU Munich

Munich

Public

Guideline

Career & Work

Table 5: CV Guidelines by German Organizations

Organization

Headquarters

Source

Scope

DAAD

Bonn

Guideline

Internship

Uni-assist

Berlin

Guideline

Studies

Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

Bonn and Berlin

Guideline

Scholarship

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Further Reading

Letter of Motivation for a German University: A Guide (2022/23)

Different CVs in the German University context

If you decide to study in Germany, you will find out that you will most probably need your CV for more than just a German university application. Let us provide you with a brief overview of potential German CV "destinations" that might be relevant for you.

CV for Master’s in Germany

If you are going to pursue a Master's degree in Germany, then you will (almost) definitely need to submit a CV for your Master's application. The reason is that it is required for most of the Master's programs at German universities. Hence, the question that you might have right now is "How do I write a CV for Master’s in Germany?" The good news is that the information that we provide you in this article comprehensively and clearly answers the mentioned question.

CV for Bachelor's in Germany

If you’re not yet ready for a Master’s in Germany and you want to do your Bachelor's in Germany instead, then a resume is still quite relevant for you. Why? Because around 90% of Bachelor's programs in Germany do enlist this document as a standard requirement. And again, the given article is completely relevant for you in terms of preparing you for writing a very good German CV.

CV for DAAD scholarship

In case you are planning to come and study in Germany with a DAAD scholarship, you will need to prepare a separate application package, which also includes a CV. 

 

Depending on the DAAD program you want to apply to, there might be some slight differences with regard to CV requirements. For example, the EPOS program specifically asks for the Europass format, while the Study Scholarships - Master Studies for All Academic Disciplines program does not.


By the way, the CV for DAAD should also be in tabular form. For more information about a resume for a DAAD scholarship, check out our article.

CV for other German scholarships

In fact, there are numerous ways of getting a scholarship to study in Germany! Here you can find some of the most popular ones (e.g., the 13 German public scholarship foundations or "Begabtenförderungswerke" in German). It is noteworthy that the German organizations offering scholarships usually require you to submit a CV. Keep in mind that specific requirements might vary slightly from organization to organization.

CV for German Student Visa

If you need a visa to study in Germany, then you will need to apply for it at the local German Embassy/Consulate. Whether you are applying for a German Student Visa or a Student Applicant Visa, you will need to include a German-style CV in your visa application package. 

 

Are you asking yourself "How do I write a CV for a German (student) visa?" Well, in addition to the standard rules, there might be some minor country-specific differences with respect to the CV requirements based on your local German Embassy/Consulate. For instance, the German Embassy in Colombia requests a CV in German language, while the German Embassy in Kazakhstan is fine with an English-language CV, as long as you are applying for an English-taught study program in Germany. In addition, if your CV is not in German, the German Embassy in Russia needs you to provide a German translation of your CV.


If you want to find out more about the German Visa CV, click here.

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Further Reading

Student Visa Germany: A Guide (2022/23)

CV Sample for a German University Admission

Before writing their own CV, students often try to find a German CV example online (especially in pdf format) to have a hands-on guideline to follow. In general, we recommend that you be very careful with such samples. The reason is that the Internet is full of low-quality German CV templates, which means that you are at high risk of ending up with a low-quality CV. If that is the case, your chances of a successful application to a German university will be decreased.


However, it is noteworthy that, in general, there is nothing wrong with using templates as long as they are good. In fact, unlike the case of the Letter of Motivation, using a CV template is even recommended. Why? Because the LOM is an essay where the risk of plagiarism is extremely high, while in the CV, you just provide facts related to your own biography in a structured manner - this cannot be plagiarized. One of the examples that can serve as proof of the fact that using templates for your German university application is fine comes from the Bachelor's study program in International Business offered by Karlshochschule International University. They specifically underline that you are free to use Europass as a sample.

So, the key challenge is to find a good German CV example. As soon as you find it, you are welcome to use it as a template.

Top five fatal mistakes when writing a German CV

In conclusion, let us present you a list of the top common errors that you might commit in your German CV, and by that, increase the risk of your application to a German university being rejected.

  1. Writing in a narrative instead of a structured tabular form;

  2. Following a chronological instead of reverse chronological form;

  3. Including irrelevant information, which unnecessarily occupies a space in your CV;

  4. Writing too short or too long CVs;

  5. Submitting a CV without proofreading.