A frequent question we receive from students is whether universities in Germany are actually free. It is understandable that students are reluctant. Education is expensive in most countries. Therefore, it is understandable to be curious about the German system. At MyGermanUniversity, we are trying to break down these barriers by informing international students of their options.
Our StudyFinder is the largest database of English-taught master’s programs in Germany. There, you will find more than 200 universities for international students. From these universities, there are more than 2,000 English-taught bacehlor's and master’s programs offered. Approximately 70% of those programs are from public universities. That means that they are available with no tuition costs!
This article will serve as your introduction to tuition-free universities in Germany. Because searching for a university from abroad is difficult, we guide you through the German higher education system. We will illustrate what free means and also different funding options to help pay for your living costs. Additionally, each section includes useful links to further information. So what are you waiting for? Start finding your dream study program below!
Free-Tuition: What does “free” really mean?
When students hear that universities in Germany are free, their first thought is what the “catch” is. Understandably so, it may be difficult to believe that even international students are welcome to attend for free. Although public universities do not charge tuition, there is a small semester contribution which all students must pay. This contribution must be paid by EU and German students as well. The table below illustrates this contribution and how it differs from tuition:
German Higher Education Costs
|Tuition Fee||vs.||Semester Contribution|
|pays for study program||pays for administrative costs, social services provided by university, local public transportation ticket for unlimited use throughout semester|
|averages 5,000 - 7,000 € per semester||averages 200 - 300 € per semester|
|charged by private universities and specialized professional degrees (e.g. L.LM, MBA, etc.)*||Charged by all universities|
*In the southwest of Germany lies the state of Baden-Württemberg. Baden-Württemberg has a mandatory tuition fee of 1,500€ per semester to all non-EU students.
As you can see in the graphic above, there are many benefits to the semester contribution. Most notably, it includes a student transport ticket. Free public transportation is rare at universities abroad. Germany prides itself in making the region accessible to its students. Such transportation passes can cost several thousand euros. However, this is automatically included in your semester contribution.
Top-ranked universities are free too!
Public universities dominate the higher education landscape in Germany While there are excellent private universities, most students attend public institutions. It, therefore, comes as no surprise, that the top-ranked universities in Germany are public. These universities are top-ranked internationally as well. You may have heard of them already. If you haven’t, then be sure you take a look at their study options below.
While these universities are top-notch, also consider universities of applied sciences and other universities. Germany has a very particular higher education landscape. This means that some of the top universities may not offer specifically the degree or study program you are seeking. Therefore, other universities may be more suitable based on your study interests. Feel free to also explore the nationally top-ranked German universities.
Further ReadingPublic Universities in Germany: A guide for international students (2020/21)
Special cases: when “free” doesn’t apply
While the majority of study programs in Germany are tuition-free, it is important to explain the exceptions to this rule. This does not mean that you should avoid the study options below. This section only serves to inform you that not all study programs are free. However, these study programs are still very popular and may be fit for your interests.
Executive study programs are professional degree programs that are offered at many universities. They may charge a marginal tuition fee. Some examples being an L.LM, MBA, MPA, or the Erasmus Mundus joint master’s degree.
The state of Baden-Württemberg
The state of Baden-Württemberg in the south of Germany has a mandatory tuition fee of 1,500 € per semester. This applies to all non-EU students. Universities in Heidelberg, Freiburg, Stuttgart, and Constance, will, therefore, charge this tuition fee.
In Germany, private university tuition fees average 5,000 € - 7,000 € per semester. Private universities charge tuition fees to all students, not just international students. In spite of these fees, private institutions are still very popular in Germany.
The exceptions to the free-tuition in Germany above are not the norm. The majority of programs are tuition-free and the majority of universities in Germany are public. It can be the case that the particular program you wish to attend falls under one of the above categories. If so, then there are plenty of funding options for you to consider. We strive to inform students of the free-tuition options. However, we encourage students to find the program perfect for them.
Tuition-free is great, but how do I pay for living costs?
Another challenge which international students may consider is the cost of student living. This does not only refer to accommodation, but also food, insurance, travel, and leisure. Student life in Germany means also having the free time to grab a coffee with friends or visit museums and concerts. While universities often hold affordable events for their students, the cost of living is something to consider.
While you won’t have to worry about high tuition fees, we understand that students are concerned about living costs. Living costs vary and also depend on a student’s lifestyle. Additionally, accommodation also is a great factor. Students have many options for housing. University student housing is very affordable whereas a single studio apartment, for those who prefer to live alone, can be most costly. The city where you live is the most important factor for living costs. Generally, the cost of living in Germany for international students is more affordable than in other countries (such as the US).
Further ReadingHow Much Does it Cost to Live in Germany for Students?
To aid in covering student costs, there are many funding options available to students. While you may be aware of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), there are additional opportunities for scholarships. An introduction to scholarships is recommended for students who aren’t as familiar with the German scholarships landscape. Basically, remember that the following are true:
- There are scholarships for international students.
- You don’t have to be an EU or German student to receive funding.
- Scholarships don’t usually cover tuition since generally there are no tuition fees. They instead are stipends to put towards living costs.
Further Reading10 things you need to know about scholarships in Germany
All students can study at a tuition-free university in Germany, even Non-EU students. Public universities are generally tuition-free. Even internationally top-ranked universities in Germany are free of tuition as they are all public universities. Some points to remember:
- Free-Tuition: Public universities in Germany do not charge tuition, even for international students. When searching for study programs, don’t be fooled by the “semester contribution” which is charged by all universities. This is not a tuition fee and is just a few hundred euros per semester.
- Exceptions to the tuition-free rule: Professional master’s programs (e.g. L.LM, MBA, etc.) at public universities may charge tuition fees. Private universities in any country always charge tuition as well, even in Germany. The state of Baden-Württemberg in the south of Germany has a mandatory tuition fee of 1,500 € per semester.
- Scholarships: There are many funding options available for international students. Non-EU students have many scholarship opportunities that they can take advantage of as well.