Applying to a German University
Have you ever wondered what it would be like, not just to study abroad for a semester or year, but rather to be a full-time student at a German university? These thoughts may cross your mind, and may be held back by looking around to see everyone else staying stateside. We assure you, however, that there are others out there applying abroad. Germany has some of the top colleges in the world (3 in the top 50) and generally comes at a much lower cost than those in the states.
This said, we get that it is an intimidating process to apply abroad. There are fewer people to ask questions and guidance counselors aren’t typically informed about options. We’d like to do our part to help! As such, we recruited American CBYXer (see here: ) Mackenzie to answer your questions on the application process. She herself is currently at the end of the process with acceptance letters in hand.
What made you want to apply to a German university for grad school rather than an American university?
I completed my bachelor’s degree at Jacobs University in Bremen Germany, and I’ve been working with a German organization since graduation, so Germany is sort of like a second home for me. Other than that, cost plays a big role.
What was the first step to applying to a German university? Could you give a general step-by-step process of what took you to now deciding on a specific university?
I started off by searching for different masters degree programs in public policy, political science and international relations. Once I had a list of programs, I narrowed it down based on location, program quality, and university reputation. When I began the process, I didn’t think of considering any German-language programs. I’ve learned German for about 6 years now, but I didn’t think that my written German skills were strong enough to pursue a degree program 100% auf Deutsch. Once I started shopping around, I realized that taking the TestDaF (basically like TOEFL for non-Native German speakers) would give me more options down the road, and allow me to apply to a few of the bilingual programs I found particularly appealing.
Other than price, what is the biggest difference between applying to a German v. American university?
German universities need a stamped form for everything from language requirements to internship experience to high school transcripts, and this can be quite time consuming. I was quite surprised when I had to call my high school in Kansas to tell them I needed an extra copy of my high school transcript.
Do you need to know German to study at a German university?
Not necessarily. Almost all of the private universities in Germany are taught exclusively in English, and more and more public school programs are being offered in English as well. This being said, it doesn’t hurt to be able to read a bit of German to help you navigate the application process as well as your future life in Germany more generally.
Explain the language requirements and when you would need to take those tests
Oh boy. This was by far the most stressful part of the process. Once I discovered that one of the programs I had planned to apply to had a TestDaF requirement, I was pretty nervous about how I should get started. Luckily, I knew a few people who had already taken the test, so I asked for advice on how to prepare.
The TestDaF has reading, listening, writing and oral components, and is graded on this scale:
The program that I wanted to apply for required a minimum average score of 4, but I know that some programs have other requirements (e.g. at least a 4 in all categories, minimum 3 etc.)
To prepare, I had a friend bring back a prep book from Germany (they are surprisingly hard to find on Amazon), and I worked from the book. The test is similar to standardized tests in the US in that a lot of the process revolves around familiarizing yourself with the style of questions, and making sure that you are able to complete the exam within the given timeframe. Once you know what to expect, and can identify your weaknesses, it is much easier to prepare.
What do you predict will be the full cost of your studies?
It depends. If I decide to study at a private university, it will cost me roughly 30% of comparable programs in the States. For example, the Masters in Public Policy (MPP) at an elite private school like Georgetown has a sticker cost of around $50,000 year, whereas the MPP program at the Hertie School of Governance is priced at 16,250 euros/year.
If I accept an offer to a public school program, I will only need to cover my living expenses (rent, health insurance, public transportation pass, etc). In a German city like Berlin, these costs are all very reasonable.
What is the difference between public and private universities from the perspective of someone applying?
I’d say the differences are pretty similar to the differences in the States. A private school education will get you smaller classes, more one-on-one time with professors, better networking and/or professional development opportunities etc. Because Germans can attend university tuition free in Germany, public university programs are often quite large so the experience is a lot less individualized. I should say that this really depends on the program though!
What advice would you give an American starting the process of applying to a German uni?
Do your research, read the fine print, and make sure you understand all of the requirements! Most of the application deadlines are later than US university deadlines, however, some special programs (particularly the ones designed for a more international audience) have earlier deadlines. To be on the safe side, start doing your research about a year and a half before you plan to start the program. Also, always get stamped copies of everything- because Germans are old school like that.
What were the most helpful resources as an American in finding a university/applying?
I found the TestDaf website helpful, as well as the universities themselves. When I emailed a program contact, they typically got back with me within a few days.
Have more questions for Mackenzie? Shoot them to us and we’d be happy to follow up with a video on follower-questions!