Updated: 2021-03-31 | Duration: 6:00 min.

Colleges in Germany: A guide for US and other international students

How to find the best college? Why is college in Germany free? How can you go to college as a US American?

If you aren’t from Germany or have never been to Germany, thinking about picking up your life and relocating to a place with a funny language for your degree program seems like something impossible. It is difficult enough finding your dream study program in your home country, but now searching for one abroad? No way. Is it really free or is this a trick they play on foreigners? Do I have to speak German? What is the German education system even like?!

All of these questions and more are going to be answered for you in this article! In short, here are some simple answers:


  • Fees: German public universities do not charge tuition. Barring some exceptions, all students (including international, non-EU students) can study at a German university for free.
  • Language: No, you don’t have to speak German. More than 200 bachelor's and 1,700 master’s programs in Germany are in English.
  • Recognition: The German education system is similar to those abroad. Simply put, your degree here will be recognized around the globe.

This article will be your full guide on how to study in German as an international student and how to find your perfect college! For starters, we should fill you in on the secret that colleges don’t exist in Germany.






Read to find out more!

Germany has more than 400 universities (colleges)

african-american girl is surprised by the number of universities in Germany

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Germany has more than 400 universities where students can study bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. programs to receive an internationally recognized degree. So how is it that colleges don’t exist? In Germany, higher education institutions have different classifications under the German system.


These institutions are called universities, universities of applied science, academies, and schools of education. The term “college” is not used in Germany, though normally this would equate to “university”. So, if you are talking to a German about studying in Germany, be sure to tell them your top universities choices, not colleges. Check out our comparison below to help you understand the German higher education system:

US American Higher Education System:

  • Colleges and Universities: the terms college and university are used interchangeably; they can offer bachelor, master, or Ph.D. programs.
  • Medical School/Law School: offer medical and legal degrees, also require a state certification test upon completion of the degree (boards/bar exam).

German Higher Education System:

  • Universities of Applied Sciences and Academies: offer bachelor’s (3-4 years) and master’s (1-2 years) degrees in various topics, usually focus on teaching or on a certain subject area e.g. academies of the arts, music, technology, etc.
  • Universität (University): offer undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degree programs in various topics, can confer Ph.D. candidates, and Staatsexamen students.
  • Staatsexamen (State Exam): State exam required for all medical and legal degrees, similar to the US American system. Additionally, teaching degrees require a Staatsexamen in Germany.

College in Germany is free - at more than 200 public universities

woman with open arms looks very relaxed because there is no tuition fee at more than 200 public universities in Germany

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Tuition-free colleges in Germany are not a rarity but rather the norm. The soaring prices of education around the globe has therefore attracted many students to pursue their study programs at German universities. While private universities that charge tuition fees also exist in Germany, more than 240 public universities continue to dominate the German higher education system - 9 out of every 10 students attend a public university. Additionally, 90% of the degree programs offered by public universities are free of tuition! But what about the other 10%?


There are professional or executive degree programs that charge tuition to their students though they are public universities. However, even this tuition fee is marginal compared to similar degree programs around the globe, and students have the option of opting for an alternative degree program. For more information on free colleges, check out our article on Free Universities in Germany!

What is the best college in Germany?

man thinking about which is the best university in Germany

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If you are coming to Germany you probably want to attend the BEST college for your degree. However, finding the best university depends on what makes it the best one for you. There are many different factors which can influence which university is the best one for you. To help you make that decision, we have compiled below some factors which international students use to narrow down their top study program choices:


International Rankings

If you like to compare universities in regards to their international ranking, then you’ll be happy to know that Germany ranks 3rd worldwide (behind the US and the UK) in top universities. Click here to check out top German universities.


Tuition Fees

For some students, it’s important that they find a university that does not charge tuition. If that applies to you, then you’re in luck! More than 1,000 courses on our StudyFinder have no tuition fees. Check them out here or read more in our article about free universities in Germany!


No. of International Students

Having a diverse learning environment complete with a diverse study body is a must-have for many students coming from abroad. Therefore, we make sure to list the percentage of international students of each university on our StudyFinder. Click here to see a list of all 299 universities which offer English-taught bachelors and masters!


Course Profile

Keep in mind that, even though a university may perform well in many rankings, your particular subject area might be rather weak at that university. For some subject areas, a university of applied sciences may be a better fit, especially for more practical experience. You can also search through study programs by topic and subject area here.

Can anyone go to college in Germany?

woman thinking if she can go to college in Germany

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Simply put, yes! Anyone can go to college in Germany. However, just like there are requirements to attend universities around the globe, there are also basic criteria that make one eligible to apply to college at a German university. So, how do you qualify?

Basic Eligibility Criteria to Study in Germany


Qualifying Degree

For Bachelors: a qualifying academic certificate of completion, equivalent to the German system.
For Masters: an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree.
For Ph.D.: a graduate (master’s) degree.


Language Proficiency

A degree from an English speaking country or a language certificate e.g. TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge. You must have one of these to apply to an English-language study program.


Do I need to be a German or EU citizen?

No! Anyone can apply to a German university and study tuition-free as long as they meet the application requirements*.

* The only exception are the public universities in Baden-Württemberg where non-EU students have to pay a fee of 1,500 € per semester.

The criteria above is the most basic criteria you need to meet to be eligible to apply to study at a college in Germany. Of course, each university and study program will have their own individual eligibility requirements. They may have a minimum grade point average required, internships, or any range of other qualifications they deem are necessary for students to apply.


Keep in mind that there are no country-wide admissions requirements and that they vary from program to program. Therefore always contact the university directly should you have questions about the application process. And always apply as early as you can!

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While we cannot recommend the perfect university for you as this varies on your study program, we have compiled some categories which international students like to use to begin their search. Below we have listed the top nationally ranked institutions in Germany as well as trending universities that have been getting more traffic from students abroad. Take a look at these great universities and click on your preferred choices to browse through their study programs. If you’d like to start your search by subject or city, then let our StudyFinder be your guide!

Or are you interested in trying dual universities which combine higher education (at college) AND training on the job (at firms)? Then you should have a look at: