Updated: 2021-06-14 | Duration: 5:00 min.

Hochschulstart: A Guide for International Students in English

Summary of Hochschulstart and their application process for international students

In the German higher education system, you have certain subjects that are so popular that they frequently receive more applications than they have study spots available. The same applies to some study programs which can only admit a small number of applicants compared to the number of applications they receive.


At the same time, students who seek to study at a German university typically apply to more than one program and university to increase their chances of getting admitted. Therefore, applicants may receive two letters of admission when they can only accept one, or some candidates might still be competing for a popular study spot when they have already decided on a different program.


This is the situation that the application platform Hochschulstart seeks to address. Hochschulstart is an application platform run by the Trust for admission to higher education (German: Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung [SfH]). Its main task is to coordinate applications and the allocation of study spots to especially popular study subjects or programs to assure a smooth and fair distribution of study spots so that as many applications as possible can be considered. If a program or subject is managed by Hochschulstart, students apply to the Hochschulstart platform instead of to the university directly.


Summary Box

Hochschulstart at a glance
  • Application platform that coordinates application processes to especially popular subjects and study programs.
  • Only for applicants who want to study an undergraduate degree (state examination [German: Staatsexamen] or bachelor’s).
  • For certain subjects that have national admission restrictions, Hochschulstart is the only way to apply for students from the EU/EEA:
    • Medicine (human medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine),
    • Pharmacy.
  • Different application processes for students from the EU/EEA (including Germans) and students from outside the EU/EEA.
  • Completely for free.

Now, before we introduce you to every detail of this application platform and all the how-to’s of applying via Hochschulstart, you should know that many international students don’t actually have to apply via Hochschulstart. That is because you will never have to apply using Hochschulstart if you want to apply for a master’s degree. Even on a bachelor’s level and especially for English-language programs, chances are high that you can get around using Hochschulstart altogether.

When do I have to apply via Hochschulstart?

woman wearing glasses thinking about something

If you have to apply via Hochschulstart or not depends on two things: Firstly, on where you are from and where you got your secondary school certificate, i.e. your high school diploma. Secondly, on the mode of admission that the program you seek to apply to operates with.


German programs have one out of three modes of admission: Nationally restricted admission, locally restricted admission, or no restricted admission. Restricted admission in Germany is often referred to with the term Numerus Clausus, or in short: NC, which is Latin for “closed number” and it means that only a limited number of all students who apply can get accepted to a program.


National NC (nationally restricted admission)

Subjects with a national NC (nationally restricted admission) are so popular that throughout Germany, more people apply for them than there are study spots available. This is the case for the subjects medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine. All throughout Germany, these programs operate with admission restrictions, and the application process is centrally coordinated. In these subjects, students obtain a state examination (German: Staatsexamen).


Local NC (locally restricted admission)

Programs with a local NC (locally restricted admission) are specific programs at specific universities that receive more applications than they have study spots available each year, and therefore, only a limited number of qualified applicants can be admitted.


Without NC (no admission restriction)

Programs without NC (no admission restriction) have enough study spots available for the number of applications they receive annually. This means everybody who sends in a qualified application can be admitted.

This table gives you an initial overview of the scenarios in which students have to apply via Hochschulstart. If you are looking at locally restricted programs, it is up to each university to decide if they want their program managed through Hochschulstart or not.

When do students have to apply via Hochschulstart?

  Nationally restricted subjects (Human Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy) Locally restricted bachelor’s administered by hochschulstart Locally  restricted bachelor’s administered by the university Unrestricted bachelor’s programs*
EU students

Always via Hochschulstart (scenario 1).

Via Hochschulstart (scenario 2).

Directly to the university OR uni-assist.

Directly to the university OR via uni-assist.

Foreign students outside the EU Directly to the university OR via uni-assist.

Combined application procedure: Hochschulstart & uni-assist (scenario 3) OR directly to the university


*In rare exceptions will you have to deal with Hochschulstart when you apply to bachelor’s programs without admission restriction (if this is the case for you, it follows scenario 2 or 3).

For nationally restricted subjects, i.e. for medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and veterinary medicine, centrally coordinated national rules are in place detailing the application process for all applicants. For everyone from the EU, this means they will not get around applying via Hochschulstart, more precisely in their centrally coordinated procedure. We have detailed for you here how the application process in this first scenario looks like and works in the example of students who want to study medicine in Germany. So if you want to find out more about how to apply to nationally restricted subjects we recommend you continue reading our series of articles about studying medicine. Here, we also cover the application steps for international students from outside the EU.


Similarly, everyone who is not yet familiar with the even more important application platform for international students who are looking to study in Germany, namely uni-assist, you have the opportunity to read more about this topic here. In this text, we will not go into too much detail about what uni-assist is.


Instead, this article focuses on scenario 2 and scenario 3 and explains step-by-step what applying via Hochschulstart or the combined application procedure with Hochschulstart and uni-assist look like.

How likely is it that I will have to deal with Hochschulstart?

woman looking surprised

Before you pour a lot of time and energy into understanding how Hochschulstart works we want to stop you for a minute and let you know that especially international students from outside the EU will largely not get in touch with this application platform. This is especially true for students who want to study an English language program.


Students from inside the EU/EEA who want to study medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, or dentistry will not be able to avoid this application platform. If they are looking at other programs, chances are still fairly low that they will have to apply via Hochschulstart.


Let’s fill this in with some numbers and examples: For the Hochschulstart application period for the summer semester 2021, Hochschulstart lists 530 programs that are open for application (as of December 16th, 2020). Considering that nearly 3,000 bachelor’s programs in Germany admit students in the summer semester, you’ll see that this means around 17% of all study programs work with Hochschulstart for this semester.


This 17% includes programs in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy that always require EU students to apply via Hochschulstart. Other programs included in this list are German-language programs in various subjects, but prominently in business, law, psychology, computer sciences, engineering, economics, and social work. For applications for the winter semester, this may include more subjects in the humanities, as well.


If you look at English language bachelor’s programs in our StudyFinder that are locally restricted and take in applications for the summer semester 2021, you will find 23 options. Of these options, only three require applicants to register on the Hochschulstart platform and then to fill out the application on the university’s application platform:

An example of an English language program for which EU/EEA students have to apply in the typical way (scenario 2) can be found here:

Long story short, you will often not have to deal with Hochschulstart even if you apply to locally restricted subjects. It is way more common that international students apply via uni-assist or directly to the university.


Our recommendation is that you look for undergraduate programs that interest you first, and familiarize yourself with the detailed Hochschulstart application process later and only if it actually turns out to be relevant for you. This article will be here for you with all the important information on this topic when you need it.

EU students vs. foreign students

Hochschulstart differentiates between two groups of applicants which are called Bildungsinländer and Bildungsausländer. Bildungsinländer, which translates to educational residents, are all students whose educational background is based in Germany and those who are considered equal to them. We call this group EU students and it contains students who:


Got their secondary school-leaving certificate from:

  • Germany,
  • officially accredited German Schools abroad.


Are citizens of:

  • EU member states,
  • Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway.


Live in:

Germany and are family members of EU and EWR citizens who live and work in Germany.

If you are in this group, you have to apply via Hochschulstart like any German student would if Hochschulstart is involved in the application process of a program you like.


Bildungsausländer translates to foreign students and circumscribes students who got their secondary school leaving certificate outside the EU and the aforementioned countries. Note that all international students need to pay close attention to the language requirements posed by the course of study they are interested in.

About the Hochschulstart DoSV application process for programs with local admission restrictions

Thus far, you should have gained an idea of when and if the Hochschulstart application platform may be relevant in your application process to a German university. Next, let’s give you an overview of the role that this application platform plays in the application process to the programs with local admission restrictions that do cooperate with Hochschulstart.


The Trust for admission to higher education manages the application process to such locally restricted programs if a university instructs them to do so in the so-called dialogue-oriented service procedure of Hochschulstart (German: Dialogorientiertes Service Verfahren [DoSV]). Application scenario 2 for EU-students and scenario 3 for foreign students work with the DoSV (see table above).


In practice, this means that as an application platform, Hochschulstart brings together information about all applications any applicant sends to popular, locally restricted study programs and about all letters of admission that are sent out by the universities.


From an applicant’s perspective, this means that you can easily maintain an overview of all admissions and rejections you get to programs that are managed via Hochschulstart. As soon as you accept an offer, Hochschulstart automatically informs all other universities for which you have pending applications that you have decided on a different program and that therefore, your other applications can be withdrawn. The goal is to systematically distribute available study spots and - as much as possible - eliminate nerve-wracking waiting list systems and move-up procedures.

How do I find out if the bachelor program(s) I like work with Hochschulstart or not?

Now, if you have to apply in the DoSV or not depends on the German universities. For each bachelor’s program they offer, a university can instruct Hochschulstart to administer the application process. Not every university decides to have the application process coordinated by Hochschulstart.


For you, this means that after you decide on a program you like, it is necessary to inform yourself about the application procedure of the program. On a program’s course website, this should be clearly stated. If you have trouble finding the respective information, contact the International Office of the university or the program coordinators. Note that if you apply to a program with no admission restriction, it is very very unlikely that you will be in touch with Hochschulstart at all.


If you want to specifically look for bachelor’s programs that do work with Hochschulstart, you can find a database of all participating programs on the Hochschulstart website. This database is only accessible throughout the designated application periods. Also, because the universities add their study offer to this database themselves, it can take a while until the complete offer is online. According to Hochschulstart, applicants can expect the full offer to be online by the second half of the application period.

Step-by-step instructions to apply via Hochschulstart

steps going up from left to right

Follow the correct link to find out what you have to do if you have to apply via Hochschulstart:

Application strategies for courses with locally restricted admission at German universities

man with a bright idea

No matter which group of students you belong to, there are some application strategies and tips you can follow when you apply to courses that are administered by Hochschulstart, or to other courses with restricted admission for that matter.


When applying to a course with restricted admission, you already know that (even if you fulfill the application requirements) you may not be admitted to the course of study because your competitors may be ranked a little more qualified than you are.


You can react to that by making sure that your application does not only meet the minimum requirements but also presents some aspects that may score you extra points in the ranking or may be a tie-breaker when you have the same GPA as another applicant. Read closely on the program website, because here it will state which other aspects than a GPA may be considered to rank the applicants. If you have relevant internship experiences or the like, you should always mention those in your applications too.


Another piece of advice is to not only apply to programs with admission restrictions. You can use the StudyFinder to look specifically for programs that have no admission restrictions. Use this search filter and do some research to identify a program that has no admission restrictions and for which you fulfill the minimum application requirements.


If you can identify such a program, chances are very high that you can get admitted. Including non-admission restricted programs in your application portfolio is a great and safe application strategy.