As an international student, there can be key differences in how an education system abroad functions in comparison to your home country. For students who are looking at applying to German higher education institutions, there are certain academic qualifications which need to be met. For bachelor’s programs, this means having a prior academic certificate. However, a world full of different education systems and certificates may make this process have an extra step.
To apply for a bachelor’s program at a German university, a German student would normally just need a Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (HZB). The HZB acts as confirmation that a student is prepared for university-level courses. As an international student, you will not be applying with a HZB and will therefore need to have your education certificate recognized by German academic authorities. Upon having a certificate approved, students will receive a Statement of Comparability for Foreign Higher Education Qualifications, stating that the foreign qualification is comparable with the German system.
For students who do not receive such a statement, they may need to partake in additional courses in Germany prior to their higher education degree program in order to receive the Statement of Comparability. The following article will provide a detailed overview of the recognition process, how to check your qualification, German grade conversions, and how to submit your application. If you are only beginning your bachelor’s degree search, our StudyFinder is a great way to filter bachelor’s that fit exactly to your study interests.
Foreign Ademic Qualification
In Germany, there is an organization which compares existing qualifications to those closest to the German degree equivalent. This is an official, federally mandated process which is unavoidable for all international students hoping to study in Germany. The Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB) is the organization which performs this process in higher education. It is important to note that professional recognition is not the same as academic recognition. This means that while a student may have several professional certificates, only academic certificates and qualifications are taken into account.
Out of more than 50.000 institutions worldwide listed in the database of the ZAB:
- approx. 62% are fully recognized.
- approx. 21% have an unclear status. Here, it is up to the individual German university to decide whether they accept your degree.
- approx. 11% are not recognized.
- approx. 6% were not assigned a value.
How the ZAB rates more than 50,000 institutions worldwide.
The ZAB has got a publicly available data base called “anabin”. You can use this data base yourself to check if your degree is recognized in Germany. Attention: This site is only available in German. The offices authorized to confirm foreign academic certificates (elaborated below) are located in all major German cities. A full list can be found on the Anabin website.
Qualification Check: The Anabin database
In most cases, universities will use the Anabin database tool to check for foreign academic qualifications. For students, this tool is vital in ensuring that academic certificates will be recognized by German institutions. The database is comprehensive and frequently updated so, if your qualifications are accepted, it is very likely that you will find it on the site. Because the database is only accessible in German, we have created this easy step-by-step Anabin Guide for Undergraduate and Bachelor’s in how to use the Anabin database. Alternatively, students can also use the DAAD English version of the database, but keep in mind that the Anabin Database is the most current and updated in terms of certificate recognition.
Further ReadingThe Anabin Guide
Studienkollegs are schools which are designed for international students in order to provide them with an integration into the German academic culture and system. This transitionary education is intended for students whose German language skills are not yet up to studying standards or if their foreign qualification did not transfer to an equivalent German academic certification. There are two different schools of Studienkolleg: University and Applied Sciences. Depending on the education topic, students will be placed in a respective studienkolleg. Please consult the “International Student’s Guide to Studienkolleg” on our site for more detailed information.
Further ReadingStudienkolleg Preparatory Course
German Grade Conversions
In addition to having academic certifications recognized, students should also be sure to have the proper grade conversions in their applications documents. Countries around the globe have different grading systems which can even differ from university to university. In Germany, the grading system is from a 1 to 5 scale with 1 being the highest mark a student can achieve. A 5 mark is considered a failing grade.*
|1||Sehr gut||Very good; highest possible grade.|
|2||Gut||Good; exceeds expectations.|
|4||Genügend||Sufficient; below average, lowest passing grade.|
|5||Ungenügend||Insufficient; failing grade.|
The grade conversions can vary from university to university. Therefore, it is recommended that students consult the university they wish to apply to in order to ensure the proper conversion formula is used. That being said, a commonly used formula which is employed by most German higher education institutions is the “Modified Bavarian Formula.”
*In some (rare) cases, a grading scale from 1 to 6 is used where 6 is considered failing and 5 is considered the absolute bare minimum to pass.
European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)
In order to aid in the transfer process for students who move between countries, the European Union uses a recognition of education into credits. This system is called the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System but is more commonly referred to as ECTS. Students are encouraged to visit the official European Commission ECTS site for more details, however, a brief summary of the system is below:
- 60 ECTS credits = 1 full year of study or work.
- Bachelor's must have either 180 or 240 ECTS credits.
- Master’s must have 90 to 120 ECTS credits.
Application Submission: University, Hochschulstart, or uni-assist
At German universities, there are three different ways that students can apply to a bachelor’s program. Don’t worry! While it may sound (and be) a little confusing, this section will clear up any questions you may have. Because some universities may not have the capacity to process international student applications, they will outsource to a national service provider. How to apply to a university (direct apply, uni-assist, or Hochschulstart) is always detailed on the study program page. Additionally, our StudyFinder specifies the application process and even allows you to filter your search results by application method.
Applying directly to a university is generally the preferred way in which international students like to apply to German universities. Direct apply means simply that a student’s full application package is submitted directly to the university where you are applying to without another mediary step in between. All transcripts, notarized documents, language certificates, etc. are processed by the university in this case. For international students, some universities have a seperate “International Student’s Office” which works together with the admission’s office to process applications from students abroad. This can vary, so if you know your application is direct apply, visit the admission’s office page on the university website.
uni-assist is a national service provider based in Berlin which is used by approx. 170 universities (June 2020) to help them process international student applications. Though universities evaluate student applications and ultimately decide on which students are admitted, uni-assist processes the application materials and facilitates the admissions process. Again, just to be clear, uni-assist does not make the decision on whether a student is admitted to a study program. Make sure to read our uni-assist Guide if you are applying to a study program via their service. Additionally, the uni-assist online platform guides users throughout their application process.
Hochschulstart is a tool which many German universities coordinate with for applications for dialogue-oriented service procedure (DoSV) courses. Types of courses which typically fall under the DoSV category are those in the medical and pharmaceutical field, for example. uni-assist, a national German service provider which processes international student applications for some universities, cooperates with Hochschulstart in the application process. Students should create an account on the DoSV online portal. There they can begin their application process and follow the status of their application after it has been submitted. Be sure to read our Hochschulstart Application Guide to assist you throughout the process.
Further ReadingUni-assist: A guide for international students (2022/2023)
Special cases of recognition (US High School, IB, GCE)
Many students graduate from programs that have a specific qualification that is recognized internationally as they have the intention of going abroad upon completing their studies. Moreover, many US American students question how their high school diplomas are recognized in Germany. This section will examine three different cases and the respective certificate recognitions in Germany. Additionally, we have cited official sources for such regulations. Depending on courses during previous studies, diplomas may only have a subject-restricted university entrance qualification.
We urge students and parents who have detailed questions regarding the recognition or acceptance of a school-leaving certificate to contact the program coordinators of the study programs they (or their children) will be applying to. The following information details general regulations, but ultimately universities and individual program admissions departments can make the decision whether certain courses or certificates are accepted for qualifications into a degree program.
Recognition of the US High School Diploma in Germany
The recognition of a high school diploma from the United States to qualify for a bachelor’s degree program in Germany varies on many conditions which need to be met by the high school study program. Not all high school diplomas will be recognized as sufficient to immediately begin bachelor’s studies as the German Higher Education System takes into account specifically which courses and examinations students have taken in high school. It is recommended students consult the DAAD database on admissions requirements to determine their high school qualifications. The details for qualifications are detailed below.
General High School Qualifications
The high school diploma must have been acquired after continuous attendance for classes 9 through 12 (i.e. no gap years). Throughout these studies, students have completed a total of 16 “academic units” which consist of the following:
- 4 units (3 units are sufficient for 11 forms) English with a minimum grade C: English IV or Honors or AP English,
- 2 units second language,
- 3 units social studies,
- 5 units in total mathematics and science:
- 2 or 3 units mathematics with a minimum grade C: algebra II or trigonometry and precalculus,
- 2 or 3 units science with a minimum grade C: biology, chemistry or physics,
- 2 academic units free to choose.
If students have met the aforementioned conditions in their high school studies, then they may qualify pending additional evaluation. Please refer to the next section for further information regarding this additional qualification.
Advanced Placement (AP) Testing
Students who may have taken Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the respective tests for such courses may qualify for direct subject-restricted admission at a German undergraduate program. This means that depending on the AP tests students have taken, they may qualify for admissions to a study program in relevant subjects. A detailed explanation of the grading and test type required for subject-restricted admissions is below:
AP test in math, natural sciences, technology, medicine, pharmacy
The following subject areas must be covered by your AP tests with at least grade 3:
- Mathematics (Calculus AB or BC),
- 1 natural science subject (biology, chemistry or two half AP tests in physics C),
- 1 language (French, Spanish, Latin, German, English literature or English language and composition),
- 1 further subject (e.g. European history, American history, computer science or two half AP tests respectively in macroeconomics and microeconomics).
AP test in humanities, social sciences, jurisprudence, economic
The following subject areas must be covered by your AP tests with at least grade 3:
- English (English literature or English language and composition),
- 1 further foreign language (French, Spanish, Latin, German),
- 1 mathematical/natural science subject (calculus AB or BC, biology, chemistry or two half AP tests in physics C),
- 1 further subject (e.g. European jistory, American history, computer science or two half AP tests respectively in macroeconomics and microeconomics).
*Students who have not taken AP tests can qualify for general admission to a preparatory course and/or assessment examination to be considered for undergraduate admissions should their cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) be a 3.0 or higher.
Recognition of the IB diploma in Germany
The International Baccalaureate diploma (IB diploma) is a leaving-school qualification that is recognized internationally and awarded by a Geneva-based International Baccalaureate Organization. The IB Diploma can be earned from schools around the globe. In Germany, the IB diploma is generally recognized as a school-leaving certificate if the requirements are “as stipulated in the decision of the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs on March 10th, 1986 in the amended version dated March 7th, 2019 are fulfilled,” (DAAD).
The IB diploma offers either direct general university admission or subject-specific admission, depending on the subjects listed in the IB diploma. The admissions requirements of study programs vary and universities can determine whether the IB diploma requirements are met in order to qualify for a specific study program. When applying to German institution, students will need to present their IB diploma along with a certificate which lists all exam and subject grades; both must be submitted by the IB organization.
Recognition of the General Certificate of Education (GCE) in Germany
Similar to a high school diploma from the US, the General Certificate of Education (GCE) can provide students with a subject-restricted university entrance qualification. Final decisions on whether a particular student’s GCE is sufficient qualification for a study program in Germany is left to the universities admissions offices.
In order for a GCE to be recognized in Germany, the following conditions must be met:
- Provide evidence of 4 examination subjects independent of one another in general education,
- must include: a language, mathematics, or a natural science (biology, chemistry, or physics),
- a minimum of 3 of the 4 examination subjects must be passed on the level of GCE AL. The GCE AS level is sufficient for the 4th examination.
For humanities, law, social sciences, economics, or art, students must:
- show evidence of a subject in the GCE AL in the relevant field of studies,
- have a GCE AL in maths for a course of study involving economics and social sciences.
For natural sciences, students must:
- demonstrate a total of two GCE AL examinations in maths, biology, chemistry, and physics.
For technical studies and maths:
- GCE AL in mathematics,
- GCE AL in biology, chemistry, physics, or computer science.
For medicine (medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, or pharmacy), students must:
- have completed 4 of the following GCE AL subjects: maths, biology, chemistry, and physics.
- Two subjects on the level GCE AS can be included in place of one GCE AL,
- evidence of GCE AS/AL exam subjects that are vocational are accepted on a case-by-case basis,
- proof of “key skills” are not taken into account for university admissions in Germany,
- a language examination in English that has not been taken as part of the GCE AL/AS cannot be substituted for a subject in GCE AL/AS,
- must submit official certificates of higher education entrance qualification by the beginning of the second semester of studies,
- must have completed a total of 12 consecutive years of schooling.
The information presented in this article is based on regulations implemented by the German Central Office for Foreign Education and data published in the Anabin Database from the same office. This information is meant to serve as a general guide for students and is not considered binding for certification authorities. Students should consult the Anabin database and prospective universities for specific details regarding their university entrance qualification.