The rumor is true: public universities in Germany are free of tuition. Whether you’re a German student, from within the EU, or non EU; all students can study at a German university. This may seem too good to be true in considering high tuition prices around the globe. However, in Germany education is treated as a public good and something that should be accessible to all individuals. Therefore, public universities in Germany do not charge tuition to their students.
Free-tuition is not a rarity in Germany. There are more than 400 universities in Germany and more than half are public universities. 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 1,700 English-taught master’s programs offered. Approximately 70% of those programs are from public universities.
If you are still not convinced about free-tuition, the information in this article will help fill in the blanks. Exactly what is free, what isn’t, and how you can tell are all illustrated below. Additionally, MyGermanUniversity has a collection of other articles which delve further into relevant topics. From student living costs to scholarships, we link to these topic-specific articles throughout this text. We make sure to inform international students about their options to study in Germany. You can also check out our article on public universities in Germany to find out more!
Studying for Free: how it works
As stated above, Germany treats education as a public good that should be accessible to all inhabitants. Many European countries also follow this principle and offer tuition-free education to their students. However, Germany stands out among the others in that its education policy covers all students, not just German students. Therefore, many international students consider studying in German for their degree programs.
To study in Germany at a tuition-free university, there are no special steps you must take. There are no waivers, or special circumstances you must meet in order to study at a public university. The only requirements you must meet are those of the study program you are applying to. To avoid any confusion, we have posted 5 simple steps in studying for free in Germany:
Search for Study Programs
Finding a university program fit for you can be overwhelming, especially when you’re searching in a foreign country. We have taken the stress out of the process by collecting all relevant data on study programs, language requirements, deadlines, grade requirements, and more! Our StudyFinder allows you to filter your search results so that you only see programs tailored exactly to your study needs.
Choose your Favorites
Once you have an idea of what to look for, the time comes to narrow down to your top choices. Each student has their own priorities and it will come down to several factors: the quality of the study program location, class size, tuition price, etc. Because not all universities are public and some may charge tuition (info in the next section), this should also be taken into account.
Observe Application Requirements
After narrowing down your top choice, you should make sure that you meet all of the application requirements to apply. Our StudyFinder allows you to select grade requirements and language requirements as part of your search. Therefore, you should hopefully already know you meet the minimum requirement for your preferred programs. Also, take into consideration the application deadline and begin the application process as soon as possible.
Collect Requirement Documents
Collecting required documents may be one of the most difficult and time consuming steps. Certain programs will require official notarized documents, official translations of certificates to English or German, as well as official transcripts, among other documents. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to collect all the required paperwork as they take time to process.
Usually, universities require digital submission of documents, but some may also request hard copies via mail. For the latter, ensure to send the application packet in advance so it arrives before the deadline.
Further ReadingRequirements for a Master’s Degree in Germany (as an international student)
Do I have to pay for anything?
While students attending public universities won’t be burdened with tuition fees, all universities charge a semester contribution to attend. Before you panic, don’t worry, that isn’t a fancy word for "tuition fee". A semester contribution is mandatory at any university and covers costs like administrative fees and social service provided by the university. It’s always just a few hundred euros per semester. For a more in-depth read on if college in German is free, you can check out our other articles. However, you can also see our breakdown below:
Costs in German Higher Education
|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 table 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.
Programs which may charge tuition
While 70% of the study programs on our StudyFinder are tuition free, you may run across a few that are not. Of course, tuition-free study programs are still the norm. This is reflected in the fact that the top universities in Germany are all public universities. However, Germany also has private universities which charge tuition. Additionally, there are specialized professional degrees which may charge tuition, even at a public university. All such examples are displayed below:
Executive master’s programs are professional master’s programs which 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.
Internationally renowned universities: also free!
Many students want to attend an internationally top-ranked university but also don’t want to pay thousands of euros in the process. This is understandable! Because Germany’s public universities dominate the higher education landscape, all top-ranked universities are also public. This means that internationally renowned universities are also tuition-free. Take a look at the top 5 internationally top-ranked universities in Germany below:
The universities are just a few of the well-known universities in Germany. There are even more universities which are nationally top-ranked German universities. Don’t hesitate if the university of your choice isn’t on these lists. Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS), for example in Berlin or Munich, are more sought out for certain styles of education and topics.
Funding options for international students
While you won’t have to worry about paying high tuition costs, you might be wondering how you can fund your daily student life. There are many funding opportunities for international students to receive scholarships for their studies. While these options don’t cover tuition (since generally there are no tuition fees), they are used to cover the cost of living. Buying groceries, having a coffee with friends, and traveling are just a few average student costs. 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). Below we’ll provide an overview of different options for international 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 scholarship landscape.
During your studies in Germany, you are generally allowed to do 120 full days or 240 half-days of paid work and take small student jobs. In exceptional circumstances, your local foreigners office may impose further restrictions. Student jobs are common and can range from positions on campus at your university, to also positions working in local restaurants or cafes.
Further ReadingScholarships for international students in Germany (2020/21)
Studying in Germany as an international student is not impossible. Anyone can apply to Germany’s tuition-free public universities. However, it will take a bit of work collecting application documents and submitting the application package. Time consuming and impossible are two very different things! Somethings to remember:
- Public universities are generally tuition free and open for all students to apply. Even non-EU students can attend German public universities without paying tuition. The person who wrote this article is one of them!.
- Internationally top-ranked universities are also public universities meaning that they are tuition-free. You don’t have to pay high tuition prices because you would like to be admitted into a top-ranked university.
- There are funding options and scholarships available for international students to cover living costs. Additionally, these scholarships can also be put towards tuition should you choose a program that is not tuition-free.