The German higher education system offers various opportunities for students to combine theoretical academic education with the development of practical skills and knowledge. Most significantly, Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) come to mind as a great opportunity to focus on the practical application of academic subjects.
International students who appreciate the integration of practical elements at UAS in Germany will be interested to learn about dual study programs, as well.
Dual studies (German: duale Studien) refers to a mode of studies that combines practical work placements with academic training. It is popular with students because it provides academic education as well as practical experiences. Furthermore, students get paid with a fixed salary (approx. 700 - 1,500 € per month) throughout their dual studies.
Students of dual study programs are enrolled at a higher education institution where they pursue a bachelor’s degree, or less commonly a master’s degree. This higher education institution has cooperation contracts with various companies. Students in a dual studies program are employed by one of these companies. Their training is alternatingly conducted in their higher education institution and in their company. There are a number of variations of dual studies programs, but they always refer to a somewhat equal distribution of theory and practice.
Before we dive into the topic more detailedly, let’s provide you with some quick examples:
The block model
Let’s say you study mechanical engineering in a dual studies program in Germany. You may then often spend the lecture period at the university, which means you will study from April to July, and then from October to January. The lecture-free periods, i.e. from February to March and then again from August to September will be filled with the practical portions, for example, work periods at a car manufacturer in Germany.
The week model
A different example could be that you study social work at a university and hold a work placement in a provider of social services, for example, an institution for informal youth education or a support home for the elderly. In this example, your work and study routine may be structured in a way where you focus on your university studies 3 days of the week, and then go to work at your job for the other two days.
These examples alone illustrate that dual studies can be differently structured, organized, and are available for a wide array of subjects. The following article clarifies for you:
- What a dual study program is with all its ups and downsides.
- Which types and structures of dual study programs exist.
- Which salary you can expect and how you can finance your dual studies in Germany.
- Which other opportunities you have in Germany to combine your studies with work.
What is a dual study program in Germany?
While there are different types of dual study programs in Germany, they all fulfill certain minimum criteria in order to count as dual programs. A good insight into these criteria is provided by the German Science Council (German: Wissenschaftsrat, see here, p. 9):
- In order to count as dual, a program has to bring together two different places of learning, i.e. the higher education institution and the company or institution. You will find a thematic connection between your academic study program and your practical work placement, as well as an institutional connection and close cooperation between your employer and your university.
- In order to count as a study program, academic standards have to be met. Academic institutions have to be state accredited as higher education institutions and follow the typical academic standards. This also means that after finishing a dual bachelor’s program, transition into a purely academic master’s program is possible.
- A dual study program leads to a double qualification. On one hand, in the form of an academic degree (most often: bachelor’s degree, but master’s degrees are also available in dual formats). On the other hand, in the form of practical work experience, which in some cases includes the completion of an officially recognized vocational training.
Put into easier terms, at its core, dual studies means you work in a company and study at the same time. Both portions are coordinated between you, your employer, and your academic institution. Excluded from this definition are study formats that do not include the same level of coordination between the different partners, such as part-time study programs or online study programs. Even if they may allow you to integrate work and studies, they do not technically count as dual.
Advantages of dual study programs in Germany
A study by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (German: Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung) from 2019 shows that in the past 15 years (from 2004 to 2019) dual studies have increased in popularity, which is reflected in the rising numbers of participating companies, students and dual programs.
More than 100,000 young people are now studying in over 1,500 dual study programs (BIBB: AusbildungPlus. Duales Studium in Zahlen 2019).
So what is it that makes dual studies popular and a good choice for students? One important aspect is that students of dual programs get to experience the best of both worlds: They do not only get academically trained but gain practical experiences, sometimes even completed vocational training. Their double learning gets rewarded with two certificates and thus double the qualifications than they would have after “only” finishing a regular program.
This qualification and the hybrid education model leave graduates of dual programs with excellent job opportunities: Not only do they have a network with a company and a university, but they also are considered highly qualified specialists. After paying for the students' education, companies often have an interest in employing them more permanently. Even if they are not hired by their dual studies company, graduates can present an excellent and convincing resume to future employers.
On a personal level, students of dual study programs can look forward to a multi-faceted and diverse study experience. The combination of theoretical and practical aspects allows them to leave the ivory tower of a university and to implement their theoretical knowledge in practical situations.
Last but certainly not least, students of dual programs receive a salary throughout their studies and therefore have to worry less about financial issues. For international students who do need a visa to study in Germany, the salary can be used towards the blocked bank account, as well.
Challenges for students of dual study programs in Germany
With all these advantages in mind that certainly make dual study programs in Germany an excellent and popular choice with students, there are some challenges posed by these programs that we do not want to keep you in the dark about.
Students in dual programs face a high workload. While students of regular programs in Germany have months-long lecture-free periods or semester breaks to finish study projects, learn for exams, plan independent internships or vacations, dual students often have this time planned with work placements. After all, they will have to complete the workload for a study program (including studying for exams, reading texts, and visiting courses) AND have to fulfill work hours, as well. The ideal dual student should therefore be driven, highly motivated, resilient, and willing to take on challenges of self-organization.
While students of regular programs can relatively easily decide to drop out of a program or change courses, dual students may have a contractual obligation with their employer to finish the study program. This may be the case if the company you work for finances your tuition fees, and pays you throughout the study periods in which you do not actually work for the company. Details differ from one case to another, but we recommend carefully thinking through your decision before you sign contracts. It is a big yet rewarding commitment.
Additional challenges for international students
International students face additional challenges when it comes to taking up dual studies in Germany. This is because, with few exceptions, dual opportunities require excellent German language skills. Furthermore, you will have to go through an application process with a university and a company, which is double the work and may include logistical challenges, namely if a company expects you to sign up for an assessment center.
On top of that, you have to clarify details on the visa process, as well as on whether all your documents will be recognized in Germany. Unfortunately, this does not only sound complicated but actually requires lots of work and time. To help you in the process, we wrote an article on application requirements for dual studies (including information on how to find the right program and what type of visa you need for dual studies) that will give you all the support you need.
How are different types of dual study programs in Germany structured?
Thus far, you should have gained a general overview of what dual programs in Germany have in common. Dual study programs can be further subdivided:
- Firstly, according to what sort of practical phases and elements are included in the study curriculum, different dual program types can be identified.
- Secondly, depending on how the practical and theoretical phases are organized, different time models for dual programs emerge.
Note that in your search for dual programs it can be a bit difficult to find out which program types are offered at which institution, and which time model is offered.
Three dual study program types in Germany
The dual program study types differ depending on what kind of practical component they integrate into the studies:
Training-integrated dual programs (German: ausbildungsintegrierend)
Training-integrated dual programs combine academic training with an official vocational apprenticeship in an officially recognized occupation. Graduates receive their academic degree, most often a bachelor’s degree, and obtain a vocational diploma issued by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry or by the German Chamber of Commerce. To receive the academic as well as a vocational certificate, students have to take part in two exams. In 2019, around 35% of programs available follow this model.
Students typically start this program type after their high school graduation. To be eligible you need a secondary school leaving certificate that qualifies you for higher education studies in Germany as well as an apprenticeship contract with a company. On top of that, excellent German skills are almost always required. The practical and academic portions that students study and learn in this program are linked in content and well-coordinated with each other.
Practice-integrated dual study program (German: praxisintegrierend)
Similar to the training-integrated programs, the practice-integrated dual programs include a mix of practical elements in a company or an institution and academic education. Like in the training-integrated programs, the practical and theoretical portions are linked in content and coordinated.
The big difference is, however, that the practical elements do not encompass an officially recognized vocational training. Therefore, graduates of practice-integrated dual programs graduate with an academic degree, typically a bachelor’s or in some cases a master’s degree, some practical work experience under their belt but NO official vocational training certificate in a recognized profession. In 2019, nearly 50% of study programs were offered in this form.
Students of this model are either employed as interns or as regular employees but not as apprenticeship trainees. Most often, students of this model cooperate with only one company throughout this time, however, there are also practice-integrated dual study models that allow you to change companies each semester and intern in various companies. In this latter case, it may be that you only receive a salary during the months that you work.
Students typically start this program type after high school graduation or after graduating from a bachelor program. Some students of this type also have started a career before deciding to get additional qualifications under this study model. To be eligible for this program type, you need a secondary school leaving certificate that qualifies you for higher education studies in Germany for practice-integrated bachelor’s programs, or a first academic degree for practice integrated master’s programs. On top of that, excellent German skills are almost always required.
Career-integrated dual study program (German: berufsintegrierend)
The career-integrated dual study program is designed for people who have already started a career and are looking for further opportunities for professional qualifications. In coordination and consultation with their current employer, they choose a career-integrated dual study program in a subject relevant to their profession. So while there is a relevance of the academic training for the professional career, the links between content and framework of the two aren’t as strong as in the other two dual study programs.
However, there is also a level of coordination between both institutions: Often, students of this program type get some time off from their employer to realize their studies. Most of the academic teaching in this model happens through online and self-study elements so that the studies can be combined with the students’ work responsibilities.
To be eligible for this program, students should hold a full-time position already with an employer who supports their wish to study. If they already hold a first academic degree, it is recommendable to enroll in a dual career-integrated master’s program. If not, there are also career-integrated bachelor’s programs available. Depending on the work experience and vocational qualifications you earned thus far, entering a bachelor’s program of this type might even allow you to enter without an A-level certificate. Please inquire with the higher education institution of your interest.
Three time models for dual study programs in Germany
The coordination between practical and theoretical elements happens in different time models. It is important to note that you should always check with the institutions which time model is followed in a specific program, since this may depend from program to program. Whichever time model you study under, you can expect this to be clearly regulated and defined in a contract between you, your employer, and your university.
Regarding the duration of dual study programs, you may partially notice that dual study programs take longer to complete than regular programs. A training-integrated dual bachelor’s program typically lasts 7-9 semesters, and a practice-integrated likely takes 6-7 semesters. In comparison: The average non-dual bachelor’s program takes 6 semesters. For more information, see this study published by BIBB, page 17.
Block model for dual studies
The block model is most commonly used in dual study programs. It means that a certain amount of time of the year is blocked for you to study at your university and another portion for you to work in the company.
The 3-months-block model is the most distributed. Here, practical and theoretical phases change every three months. In other words, this means you work for 12 weeks, i.e. 3 months, in your company and then change to 3 months of university studies. A variation of this model is the semester block model, in which you join the lectures and seminars throughout the semester like regular students and then work throughout the semester break.
Week model for dual studies
The week model is fairly common as well. It means that practical and theoretical phases are split between different days of the week. Most often, students of this model work in their company for three days and then spend two days at the higher education institution.
In a similar manner, for students of a career-integrated dual study program, the employer might give them a day off per week to focus on their university studies, or certain days when needed, for example, if the student has to attend a certain course.
Less common and especially relevant for students who pursue career-integrated study programs are distance-learning and self-study models. Here, students get access to their study materials online and therefore, get to fulfill the academic study portions independently from home. For some programs that follow this model, students may occasionally have in-person weekend or block courses.
How can I finance my dual studies?
Throughout your dual studies, you will receive a monthly salary, with few exceptions even throughout the months that you spend studying at the higher education institution. How much you will earn depends on the company that you complete the practical portion in. Depending on your employer, your salary may vary between approximately 400 € per month to up to 1,800 € per month.
Now you might be wondering: Is the dual studies salary enough to guarantee a student life without financial worry? If you are on the lower end of the salary scale, it will not be enough. To give you a ballpark: The German government calculates that each month, an international student needs 853€ to cover their living costs. This is also the sum you will be required to present when applying for a visa to study in Germany. You will see that, in the worst-case scenario, the lowest end of the salary scale won’t even get you halfway there in which case you will have to rely on your savings. The higher end of the salary scale, on the other hand, allows you to live quite comfortably.
Additionally, you should keep in mind that some dual studies institutions charge their students tuition fees, often between 200 and 600 € per month. It is therefore important to check with your company if they would also cover the tuition fees or if you have to expect to handle these costs yourself. On top of that, some companies might grant you additional support, in the form of providing you with a company laptop, paying for some of your study books, or covering the travel cost if you have to move between your employer and the university. These are some aspects to look out for when planning how to finance your study program.
Another downside, if you don’t manage to find a company with a decent salary, your opportunities to find alternatives to finance your studies are limited. Since you will be busy with your studies and your job, it will be difficult to find the time for a side job. Also, scholarship options are limited for dual students. It is therefore advisable to talk to your higher education institution about finance opportunities that you might be eligible for. Towards the end of our scholarship article, we present some additional scholarship options and databases to you and we recommend you use them as well.
To increase the likelihood of finding a company for the practical parts of your studies that pays a higher salary, there are some hints we can give you. Here are some factors that, generally speaking, have an influence on how much you will earn:
- Bigger players pay bigger money: If you manage to score a spot in one of Germany’s internationally renowned and large companies, or in a multinational company with a branch in Germany, you have a higher likelihood to earn more, simply because these companies have bigger financial resources.
- Choose a higher education institution without tuition fees: This one is obvious, right? Get an overview of different dual study institutions in Germany in this article.
- Public employers often pay more: You will find that some dual study programs are offered by public employers, and sometimes at public universities of administration, which are universities that train state personnel. Often, the salary tends to be a bit higher in one of these public institutions and positions.
- Observe salary structures in Germany: It makes sense to familiarize yourself with general income levels in Germany. For example, if you are employed in a city rather than in a more rural area, you are likely to earn a bit more.
- Choose an industry that pays well: From your home country, you may already be familiar with different industries paying differently. If you for example study a dual program in business, you will likely earn more if you do the practical portion in a finance company rather than an event management company.
However, all of this advice is to be taken with a grain of salt: More factors go into the decision of choosing a study program than just finances, and you can imagine that working in finance in a big company when really your dream is to learn event management under the close supervision scheme of a small business might not be the best of ideas, anyway. Furthermore, these are just trends. It is important to check for each program individually.
In what subjects can students pursue dual study programs?
In 2019, there were a total of 1,662 dual study programs, the majority of which were offered in the subject fields of engineering (595 programs) and business/economics (580 programs). A total of 210 dual programs were offered in computer sciences, and 173 in the fields of social welfare and social services, including social work, health, therapy, and educational sciences. Smaller numbers of programs can be studied in fields such as architecture, transportation, communication, and room design. To get the full picture, see here (page 19).
This means that you cannot pursue dual study programs in every subject. Especially if you are looking to study a humanities subject, you are better off looking at traditional full-time programs at research universities. In summary, the focus of dual study programs is on applicable subjects and on academically training their students and equipping them with the knowledge that complements their practical experiences.
Are there dual studies programs in English?
There are some, if only a few, English-language dual study programs. The bad news is that to identify these options, you will have to invest a little more time doing your research. We did start this research process for you already and will highlight some English-language options for you here.
The biggest higher education institution for dual studies, the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University offers undergraduate dual programs completely in English. These international programs partially include practical stays abroad and exchange semesters abroad.
In our MyGermanUniversity StudyFinder, you can also find some dual study options completely in English:
Dual Bachelor of Science - Sport & Event Management: 4-year practice-integrated program in English at the private University of Europe for Applied Sciences in Berlin. The practical portion is fulfilled (also in English) at the basketball club ALBA Berlin. Tuition fees for this program amount to 9,420 € per year. This program does not offer a salary.
Dual Bachelor of Science - International Management: 3-year practice-integrated program in English at the private HSBA Hamburg School of Business Administration. The practical portion is fulfilled in a cooperating company (also in English). Tuition fees for this program amount to 665 € per month but are largely covered by the company. Students receive a salary.
Another example of a program combining an English language study program and a work environment in which you have to speak German is this one:
Dual Bachelor of Science - Air Traffic Management: 3-year training-integrated program in English at the public Hochschule Worms - University of Applied Sciences. Vocational training as an air traffic controller is completed (in German & English) at DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH. There are no tuition fees for this program and salary amounts to 900 € gross per month.
How does the application process work?
Applying to a dual study program means you have to score two spots: On one hand, you have to get into a higher education institution. On the other hand, you have to be hired by an employer. This does not necessarily mean that you have to send two applications. For some programs, you only apply with an employer, and if you are successful, you automatically secure a study spot. In other cases, you apply to both the university and the company, but find hints regarding which company to apply to on the website of the dual study program.
This shows that the application process is often interlinked. How exactly it is organized for the programs you like may differ from case to case. Therefore, it is essential that you check on the course websites and clarify any questions you may have with the higher education institution and/or the potential employer. Asking their questions is especially relevant for international students since for them, the application procedure is made a little more complicated since they may have to pay additional attention to, for example, language requirements, certified copies and translations, recognition of their degrees in Germany and the like.
Also keep in mind that applying to companies will require you to send in personalized cover letters and the like, and may include unique admission procedures, which often include job interviews or assessment centers. If you apply to various companies, this will take good coordination and planning. Of course, there is more to say about this topic, and that’s why we wrote a whole article for you on this topic.
What other opportunities do I have to combine study & work in Germany?
Now, if you like dual study programs but are not sure if it is really the right option for you, there are some alternatives to combine theory and practice at German universities. Another reason why considering alternatives might be recommendable to international students is that the application process to a dual study program from abroad is challenging. Some alternatives might be easier to realize and save you the trouble to apply for various companies from abroad.
Universities of applied sciences
Firstly, universities of applied sciences provide a great learning environment for students who want to combine theory and practice. Programs at universities of applied sciences also include practice phases in the form of an internship and cooperation with companies, so that you can be sure to build a professional network and gain work experiences, as well. Continue reading here for more information.
Online study programs
If you currently have a job - abroad or in Germany - and are looking to top it off with an academic degree from Germany, online study programs might be an interesting choice for you. They differ from dual programs because cooperation between the employer and the higher education institution does not play a role in these online programs. To find out more, continue here.
Internships or a side job
Even if you study in a regular program at a German university, you have options to organize internships independently or take on a side job. Especially contracts as a working student (German: Werkstudent) are popular since they leave you working in a field that is relevant to your study subject. Keep in mind, however, that on a student visa, you are only allowed to work for a total of 120 full days per year.