Blog 🍎 School 26th July 2023

Studying At University in Germany: The Different Degree Paths Explained

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

Studying at a university in Germany is an increasingly attractive option for international students. Read our guide to the different degree paths on offer.

In recent years, one country has slowly been growing in popularity in international university rankings. Offering low tuition fees and a wide range of degree options, it’s become a challenger to traditionally popular destinations like the US and UK.

If you haven’t guessed yet (maybe the title gave us away?) we’re talking about Germany.

According to Studying in Germany, Germany is now one of the top university destinations in Europe for international students. As of 2021, there were over 400,000 international students enrolled in the German university system.

Here are just some of the reasons why:

  • Germany offers a rich, vibrant and historical culture in the heart of Europe.
  • Compared to some other international destinations, the cost of living in Germany is relatively modest.
  • The variety of academic and vocational courses offered at German universities means that there are plenty of opportunities for graduates after they have finished studying.
  • Whilst the majority of university courses in Germany are taught in German, there are also a growing number of English-taught courses for international students.

But what sets Germany apart is a public university system that gives equal weight to academic, vocational and creative pathways. Perhaps more than any other country, universities in Germany offer a number of specialist paths that make it easy for a student to tailor their university options to their personal preferences.

If you have students who are looking to apply to a university in Germany, it’s worth ensuring you have a good understanding of the different pathways on offer and what students can expect from the different types of degree courses.

Public universities vs private universities

Public universities

Public universities make up the majority of higher education institutions in Germany. Public universities in Germany are attractive to international students because they either charge very low tuition fees, or no tuition fees at all. This means that a large number of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Germany are offered totally free of charge!

That said, some public universities in Germany will charge a small ‘semester fee’ that is normally no more than €350. This is designed to cover things like university administration costs and contributions to the student union.


If universities offer to cover international students’ fees for the entirety of their study, this is known as a ‘full-ride’ scholarship. There are few US universities that will offer full-ride scholarships to international students, but our colleagues over at PrepScholar have put together a handy guide to the universities that do.

Private universities

There are a growing number of private universities in Germany. Unlike their public counterparts, these institutions charge tuition fees. However, this hasn’t stopped private German universities also experiencing a growth in popularity. Overall, the number of private German universities has increased from 23 institutions in the early 1990s to over 100 in the last five years. As of 2013, they made up nearly a quarter of German universities.

Private universities in Germany also don’t have what are known as ‘numerus clausus’ courses i.e. German university degrees that have a fixed number of places. In addition, private German universities are more likely to offer undergraduates smaller class sizes and therefore a lower student-to-teacher ratio.

Private universities are also required to be state-accredited, ensuring that their degrees are offering the same quality of education as public universities.

Universities in Germany: what are the different options?

The diversity of German institutions means that it’s possible to choose from a variety of academic and vocational degree options. In this next section, we’ll explore each of these university pathways in more detail and the kind of degree that students can expect.

German Universities

German universities are probably a better option for your students who want to study a more theoretical or academic subject.

The types of degrees on offer from German universities include:

  • Bachelor of Arts degrees (BA) if your students are interested in humanities or social sciences.
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc) for science and technical courses.
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) for engineering or engineering science-based courses.
  • Bachelor of Law (LLB)
  • Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Education (B.Ed)

The standard German university undergraduate degree lasts six semesters (or three years).

While most universities offer a broad range of academic options, there are several types of specialised institutions for your students interested in particular career paths. For example:

  • Technical universities (Technische Universitäten)
  • Colleges of education (Pädagogische Hochschulen) 

The benefits of studying at a university in Germany

If you have students who are interested in applying to study in Germany, a university degree course might be the better option if they:

  • Want to study a more theoretical subject (for example, a degree in the humanities or social sciences)
  • Are interested in further academic study after university, e.g. a Master’s degree or PhD.
  • Are interested in a technical degree (e.g. engineering) but want to study a course with a more theoretical background.

Examples of popular German universities

Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS)

Universities of Applied Sciences (or Fachhochschulen) are universities that offer more practice based courses. These universities are suitable for students looking for degree paths that more directly prepare them for employment.

Examples of the kinds of degree paths that your students could expect to study at a university of applied science include:

  • Engineering
  • Computer science
  • Social work
  • Design
  • Business

As part of this, students will undertake a paid training placement as part of their course (in Germany this is known as a ‘praxissemester’). These placements will be with companies and organisations in the public or private sector. Whilst most will be at companies or organisations in Germany, there are also options for placements abroad.

The benefits of studying at a University of Applied Science

Studying at a university of applied science is a good option for students who:

  • Want more direct experience of the world of work.
  • Are more interested in learning in a practical environment.
  • Are interested in being taught by professionals from their chosen industry. 

Examples of Universities of Applied Sciences 

Colleges of Art, Film & Music

These are higher education institutions that are more tailored to students who may wish to study creative or artistic subjects. These institutions might be the best fit for students who have interests in any of the following.

  • Fine Arts
  • Music
  • Film & Television
  • Industrial Design
  • Fashion and Fashion Design
  • Performing Arts, Dance & Theatre
  • Digital Media

Some institutions may offer a range of these subjects, and others may specialise in one particular area. For example, the Met Film School in Berlin would be a good option for a student who wanted to specialise entirely in film-making and film production techniques. Likewise, if your students are interested in fashion or fashion design, there are institutes entirely devoted to this discipline. 

It’s worth noting that these institutions will ask students to demonstrate a specific talent or aptitude for their chosen course. Students must be prepared to submit a portfolio of their work, take an entrance examination or attend an audition (especially for performing arts and music based courses).


Many art and music colleges teach courses in German. For students wishing to specialise here, ensure that they conduct thorough research if they are looking for English-speaking courses.

Examples of arts-based universities and their courses

How to help students begin their German university research

As we said at the beginning, German is becoming an increasingly popular place to study for international students, especially those looking for a university experience with a lower cost of living.

But the fact that Germany offers such prescribed academic, vocational and creative options means that it’s important for your students to not only consider their subject preferences, but also to think about which university pathway is right for them. Let’s look at a few starter questions that might help them guide their research.

Do you want to study an academic or practical course?

As we’ve seen, universities in Germany offer an impressive mix of academic, technical and vocational courses. But ultimately your students will need to make a choice as to whether they prefer more theoretical, academic learning, or want to dive straight into a practical degree with on-the-job training.

For example, if you have students who are interested in a humanities or social sciences degree, an academic university might be a better fit.

By contrast, students who are interested in an engineering course might want to weigh up their options more carefully.


Because both a German university and a UAS might offer engineering options. The difference is that the UAS will offer a route into industry. It really is up to the student to ask him/herself the question – how best do you like to learn?

What are the entry requirements?

Whilst most universities across Germany have a relatively common set of entry requirements (e.g. a relevant high school diploma/qualification), some specialist institutions and courses will want to see proof of a particular aptitude or skill.

This means that students who are interested in, for example, creative or arts based subjects must be prepared to demonstrate their talent and passion for their course. This will mean extra time to prepare a portfolio or supporting material.

Are there any entry restrictions?

This is an important consideration for students who are thinking of submitting an application to a German university. Some German courses have national and/or local restrictions on the number of students. This is known as ‘numerus clausus’.

Whether or not a course is numerus clausus will affect other factors, such as the chance of acceptance and demand for the degree.

These are just a few of the considerations that your students should take into account when starting their German university application process.

In our next blog post, we’ll look at the application process in more detail.

Stay tuned.

If you’d like to know more about how BridgeU is helping students to match with German university destinations, book a consultation with one of our Education Partnerships team.

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