To study in Germany, you need to prove that you speak English or German well enough to study in that language. This proof needs to be delivered by handing in an official language certificate unless you are a native speaker or have graduated from an English or German-speaking program. Of course, getting to this point requires hard work. But do not worry: Universities will not expect you to speak anywhere near as perfectly as a native speaker.
More than 245,000 international students are currently enrolled at German universities, most of them come from non-English and non-German speaking countries. Therefore, universities are prepared to have second-language speakers in the classroom.
Even some of your professors will speak with accents, especially if you study in an English-taught international program. So as soon as you reach the required level, do not be afraid that you do not speak enough English or German. You will have to invest some time and effort, but the language level required from you is fair and reachable. Even if you have never been to an English or German-speaking country and feel like you are not as much of an expert as you would like to be – YET!
Which German language certificates are recognized in Germany?
The following five German language tests and certificates must be recognized by all German universities:
- TestDaF (TDN 3, 4 or 5) (Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache),
- DSH II or III (Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang),
- Goethe-Zertifikat C2,
- telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule (The European Language Certificate),
- DSD II (Deutsches Sprachdiplom Stufe II),
In a Resolution of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) in Germany, all five of them were defined as equally valid when it comes to applying to German universities. So as long as you hold one of these certificates, you are good. The university of your choice will accept your certificate as valid proof of your language skills.
Each program can decide on a level of German skills independently. Therefore, the minimum results in each language test required from you vary from university to university.
How well do I need to speak German to study in Germany?
The German law clearly defines which German language certificates a student may hand in. However, the universities and each program can make independent decisions when it comes to setting the requirements for the German language level. That is why it is important that you check with the program of your choice to learn precisely which proficiency level they expect from you.
As a rule of thumb, German universities require you to present a proof of upper intermediate to advanced German language skills (level B2/C1) to study in German.
To let applicants know how well they should speak German, many German universities use the terms defined by the Council of Europe in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). On this scale, there are 6 levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2):
- A1 is the lowest level and designates that the student is a beginner.
- C2 is the highest level one can gain.
Upper intermediate language skills correspond with level B2, and advanced language skills correspond to level C1.
Why do I need the Goethe-Zertifikat on a C2 level?
You may have noticed that in order to be sure that a Goethe-Zertifikat will be recognized, you need to pass Goethe-Zertifikat C2. This is the highest level possible and may, therefore, be harder to obtain than other certificates. The reason for this is simple: All the other language exams were specifically created for people looking to study in Germany. The Goethe-Zertifikat, on the other hand, is a more general test, and therefore treated differently.
I do not have a German language certificate yet. Which one should I choose?
Which certificate is the best one for you depends on your own circumstances and situation. If you are preparing for your studies in Germany from abroad and looking to obtain your language certificate from anywhere in the world, the TestDaF, Goethe-Zertifikat C2 or telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule may be your best options:
German language tests offered abroad AND in Germany
telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule+
* A university/program may decide to not accept certificates older than 2 years.
If you are looking to get your language certificate in Germany, the DSH is a great option. This test is offered at German universities and has got a non-standardized test format, meaning that the university’s teachers create and conduct the test. We find the DSH to be the best option. Not only is it affordable, but due to its non-standardized form, we find it to be a bit easier to pass, as well.
DSH is a German language test offered ONLY in Germany
What about DSD II?
The fifth of the officially recognized German language certificates is a special case because it is only offered to pupils enrolled at one of 1,100 secondary schools which offer the DSD (Deutsches Sprachdiplom), the so-called DSD-Schools. For students who are enrolled at one of these schools taking part in this test is a great option to get a German language certificate: After taking part in their secondary school’s German classes for some years, they are well prepared to take the DSD exam. And the best thing is that these exams are free of charge. If you are not enrolled in a secondary school offering the DSD, you cannot obtain this certificate.
Pupils who graduated from one of the officially accredited German high schools abroad with the German International Abitur, known as the Deutsche Internationale Abiturprüfung in German (or DIA for short) can also take a shortcut around obtaining a language certificate: The German International Abitur is considered equivalent to one of the language certificates.
Note that when it comes to getting into the program of your choice, all five tests are equally as valid and recognized. Also, as these tests (except for the DSH) are standardized, they are equally as hard or easy to pass, no matter where you take it. The examiners and graders have been trained by the respective institutions and can, therefore, ensure fair judgment across all test centers and countries.
Can I hand in my language certificate after the application deadline?
A first general answer is: Usually not. Your language certificate is part of your application and must, therefore, be handed in before the application deadline.
However, some universities grant applicants the option to apply with a placeholder, for example, a language certificate on a lower level, and hand in the actually required language certificate later. The applicant can be admitted under the condition that they will provide a language certificate at a high enough level when they enroll.
Keep in mind that if you have to apply for a visa, you will also have to hand in a proof of language proficiency or of your intention to take a language course to show that you are an eligible and serious candidate and can obtain the visa. Time management is therefore crucial.
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To study in German international students have to prove their language proficiency at an upper intermediate to advanced level (B2/C1):
- by presenting a TestDaF, DSH 2, Goethe-Zertifikat C2, telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule or DSD II certificate,
- by showing they got their German International Abitur from one of the accredited German schools abroad.
All German universities have to accept these German language certificates.
Further ReadingEnglish Language Requirements for International Students to Study in Germany
You don’t have to be a native speaker to do well in your studies in Germany, but you do have to pass one of the language examination tests. We recommend you check out the practice material before. A lot of it is available online for free. If you take some time before your language test date you will have gotten accustomed to the type of questions you can expect and maybe even certain tricky grammatical phenomena that are repeatedly asked for.