It just so happens it was an article about accessible, tuition-free, English-taught colleges in Germany that first sparked our interest in affordable, accredited university programs across Europe. Our attention was piqued, and in 2015 Beyond the States was born.
But as some of you may know, Germany regularly alters their admission requirements, which can make the admissions process a challenging one for American students who want to apply to their English-taught bachelor’s programs.
But…wait, pursuing an English-taught degree in Germany as an American isn’t impossible. We have created this guide to give you clarity on the whole of the process (which is our job), so that you can determine if it’s the right fit for you.
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More than anything, we encourage students to keep an open mind when considering their options in Europe. Students often set their sights on one city or country, but there are often equally as amazing places you may not have considered or are aware of. There are literally thousands of low-cost (or no-cost), accredited, English-taught degrees across the EU for you to explore.
Explore our chock-full database of 11,000+ affordable, accredited, English-taught programs in Germany, and around Europe when you become a member of Beyond the States.
Introduction: Studying in Germany as a Foreign Student
Studying in Germany as an international student can be a rewarding and enriching experience. Germany is known for its high-quality education and research opportunities, and many international students choose to study there because of its reputation for excellence. There are also many cultural and social opportunities available to students, and the country is known for its welcoming and diverse atmosphere.
However, if you are considering studying in Germany as an international student, it is critical to do your research and plan ahead to ensure a smooth and successful experience, keeping in mind that this country currently has some of the most stringent admissions requirements for international students.
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High-quality colleges in Germany
The higher education system in Germany is internationally respected and offers a wide range of English-taught academic programs and disciplines to international students. Germany has a decentralized system of higher education, meaning that each region is responsible for the organization and administration of its own universities, and this includes determining tuition fees for international students.
There are over 400 colleges in Germany, including universities, universities of applied sciences, and other specialized institutions. And many of these institutions offer programs in English, making it appealing for international students to want to study here.
What are some of the best German universities?
The answer to the best colleges debate one depends of course on which rankings resource you’re looking at. At Beyond the States, we spend a good amount of time cautioning against using this factor as a major criterion.
All ranking systems have different strengths, weaknesses, and biases. A school that is on one list may not appear at all on another, and not all schools are even eligible for the rankings which rely heavily and narrowly on research-related criteria and PhD programs. Educational experience is not even considered in these traditional rankings.
As a counter to this we have been shaping our own Top College lists, which do reflect some exceptional universities in Germany and programs. These schools uniquely and consistently meet the Beyond the States criteria, carefully devised after years of experience in the field of English-taught degrees in Europe for international students.
Can you go to colleges in Germany as an American?
Yes, there are many English-taught bachelor’s and master’s programs that are geared toward English-proficient international students. Studying in Germany as an international student offers a range of benefits, including access to high-quality education at affordable tuition rates, strong research opportunities, diverse and welcoming culture, and career opportunities.
Germany is known for its excellent universities and distinguished faculty, and the country’s focus on research can provide students with valuable practical experience. Additionally, Germany is home to many international companies and organizations, which can offer career opportunities for international students after graduation.
Admissions Requirements for Colleges in Germany
Applying to universities in Germany
We regularly get students asking us about higher education at colleges in Germany. Some of them are interested in the culture, after taking some German in school. But most are excited by the tuition (which is free to international students at most public universities). We get it – it is an exciting option. But there’s a lot to take into consideration when it comes to applying to schools in Germany as a non-EU/EEA student.
Do German universities require SAT?
German colleges used to require that American students submit SAT scores to apply, but a couple of years ago they stopped accepting these scores. That then meant that American applicants needed either an IB diploma (reflecting certain courses, and scores), 2 years of college credits (not from a community college) with specific course requirements, or a full associate’s degree. For many students, that meant German college was off the table.
It’s now a feasible option again, though still quite difficult. Most of the requirements are pretty much aligned with the college track graduation requirements in the US. According to DAAD for US diploma holders, these are the conditions:
- Your high school diploma must have been obtained after attending grades 9-12 at a US high school and must have a total of 16 “academic units” in grades 9 to 12:
- 4 units (if there are 11 grades, 3 units) of English with a minimum grade of C: English IV or Honors or AP English,
- 2 units of a 2nd Language
- 3 units of Social Studies
- 5 units Mathematics and Science:
- – 2 or 3 units Mathematics with a minimum grade of C: Algebra II or Trigonometry and Precalculus,
- – 2 or 3 science units with a minimum grade of C: Biology, Chemistry or Physics,
- – 2 optional academic units.
Note: a GED is not accepted.
Are APs required to study in colleges in Germany?
In addition to the above conditions, students need to have 4 AP scores of 3+. These scores make students eligible to apply only for specific subjects. There are two different combinations of specific scores needed. Students who want to apply to programs related to Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, and Economics need scores of 3+ in:
- Foreign language (French, Spanish, Latin, or German)
- Math or natural science (Calculus, Bio, Chem, or both Physics C tests)
- Additional score in European History, American History, Computer Science or Macro+Micro Economics
Students who want to apply for programs around Math, Science, and Technology need scores of 3+ in:
- Math (specifically Calculus)
- Natural Science (Bio, Chem, or both Physics C tests)
- Language (French, Latin, German, Spanish or English Lit or Lang/Comp)
- Additional score in European History, American History, Computer Science or Macro+Micro Economics
In order to keep all the options open, a student could take five total APs of 3+ that include Calculus, Bio or Chem, English, Foreign Language, and one of the additional tests noted.
Aptitude Test for Foreign Students (TestAS)
As well, as part of the admissions process, some colleges in Germany require you take an aptitude test, which is meant to be taken by international students from non-EU countries who are planning to do undergraduate studies at any German university.
The Aptitude Test for Foreign Students in Germany realistically measures an individual’s general and subject-related aptitude. Known as TestAS, short for Test für Ausländische Studierende (Test for foreign students), this assessment allows universities to see the cognitive skills of their students before admission. It is a standardized scholastic test measuring the intellectual abilities that are essential for university.
University application documents
Although each university has its own specific admission requirements, some documents are usually expected in order to submit an application.
The documents you typically need are:
- A duly completed application form.
- Certified copy of high school diploma.
- Relevant recognized academic certificates.
- Translated overview of your modules and grades.
- Copy of your passport and a passport photo.
Student visa requirements colleges in Germany
Most international students will likely need to get a German student visa at a German consulate in their country before they can come to Germany to study.
Depending on the country you come from, you might be exempt from needing a visa to study in Germany, but you are still required to obtain a residence permit for studies lasting more than 90 days, once you arrive in Germany.
Proof of (financial) means
As an international student in Germany, you will be required to provide proof of sufficient financial means in order to obtain a student visa or residence permit. This proof can take the form of a sponsorship letter from a family member or friend, a scholarship, or a bank statement showing that you have enough money to cover your living expenses during your stay in Germany. As of 2023, an international student needs $11,894 per year to cover their expenses during their time in Germany.
But if you are not a resident of an EU/EEA country, then you will need to provide proof of health insurance for your student visa application as well as university enrollment. You will be expected to pay a monthly amount to the public or private (if you’re over 29) health insurance providers.
Studienkolleg – German Foundation Year
The Germany Foundation Year Program (Deutsches Studienkolleg) is a preparatory program designed for international students who want to study at a German university but do not meet the language or academic requirements.
These programs are typically offered by German public universities or private schools and includes both language courses and academic preparation courses. If you do not meet the strict admissions requirements that are demanded by the German higher education system, you will most-certainly have to apply for a Studienkolleg.
The duration of the program can vary, but it is typically one year long. It is designed to help students improve their German language skills and knowledge of the German education system, as well as to prepare them for academic studies at a German university. Upon successful completion of the program, students may be eligible to apply for a degree program at a German university.
Our thoughts (and concerns) on the Studienkolleg programs:
These foundation year programs can be a solution for international students who want to study at colleges in Germany but do not meet the necessary academic requirements. However, there are a few potential downsides to consider before deciding to participate in the program:
- One potential downside is the cost. Although tuition is typically free at public Studienkollegs, those that are private are not. The cost for these programs currently range between 5,000 – 11,000 USD, depending on the institution and location offering the program, so it’s a good idea to research the costs involved and make sure you have the necessary financial resources before applying.
- Another consideration is the time commitment. The program is a full-time and notably rigorous one that lasts for one year, and you will be expected to attend these classes and complete coursework on a regular basis. This can be a significant time commitment, especially if you are also working or have other responsibilities.
- Nearly all of these Studienkollegs require a B1 or B2 level of the German language, and even those foundation programs that are English-taught, and geared toward international students looking to attend English-taught programs in Germany universities, there may still be a large degree of German language learning.
- Finally, it’s important to note that completing this program does not guarantee admission to a university in Germany. While successful completion of the program makes you eligible to apply for admission, you will still need to meet the specific requirements and compete with other applicants for limited spots in your desired degree program.
Is Germany a good fit for me?
The first thing you want to do is to identify the reasons that studying in this one particular country is so important to you, and identify alternatives, based on those reasons. Our database has thousands of low-cost or no-cost English-taught programs across Europe, including many that are highly ranked, with accessible admissions – all worth exploring.
Maybe it’s because you have enjoyed learning the Germany language and would like the opportunity to use and develop those skills at college in Germany. If that’s the case, you could consider other countries that have German as their sole official language (Austria) or their co-official language (Switzerland and Belgium). College admissions to programs in these countries are far more approachable.
Perhaps the culture is what appeals to you about German universities. If so, we suggest looking at schools that are very close to the border, allowing for easy day trips. Prague is just over an hour and a half to Dresden by train. Salzburg is under two hours to Munich. Nijmegen is just 30 minutes to Kleve. Maastricht is under 90 minutes to Cologne. Szczecin in Poland is less than two hours to Berlin. These are all close enough that you can still experience German culture on a fairly regular basis.
Tuition at German Colleges
Tuition at universities in Germany for international students varies depending on the institution and the program of study. In general, tuition at public universities in Germany is significantly lower than at private institutions and is often free for both domestic and international students. This is because public universities in Germany, like most other nations in Europe, are sufficiently funded by the government.
However, international students may be required to pay a small fee known as a “semester contribution” or “semester fee,” which covers the cost of things like student services and transportation. Private universities in Germany, on the other hand, tend to charge higher tuition fees, although these fees can vary significantly depending on the institution and program.
Is university in Germany free?
Understandably, many people are attracted to the free tuition offered by college in Germany at most of the public universities! But as we’ve discussed above, there are some significant factors to take into account beyond the free tuition aspect, like the arduous admissions process for American students, the added cost and challenges of the Studienkolleg (if applicable) and the potential high cost of living, depending on which cities you’ll be studying and living in.
If there is a particular German university you are eager to attend or a German city you feel you must live in, then there are opportunities to do so for at least one semester of your studies at another European university.
This is possible through either bilateral agreements the school has as well as the Erasmus program, which allows you to spend up to a year at another school or in an internship. We have a blog that explains that option as well as a podcast interviewing the International Board of Erasmus Student Network. It’s a super exciting option!
Scholarships and financial aid options for international students
In 2022, the average living costs in Germany were around $989 per month for international students. But even with $0 tuition for a degree, that cost of living can be daunting. The good news is that there are a number of scholarships options in Germany available for foreign students, such as:
- DAAD Scholarship Programs
- Heinrich Böll Foundation Scholarships in Germany
- DeutschlandStipendium National Scholarship Programme
- Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Scholarships in Germany for International Students
- Erasmus Scholarship Programs in Germany
- The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Scholarship
There are also a number of colleges in Germany that have a FAFSA#, as a financial aid option for American students, but many of these options in Germany specifically are deferment only.
Click here to see the 107 English-taught bachelor’s degrees in our database that have a FAFSA#. Our database filters also reflect American schools, GI Bill accepted, multi-campus programs, no AP requirements, and featured Programs of the Month.
Types of Universities in Germany
There are several types of universities in Germany, including:
- Public universities: These institutions are funded by the government and often do not charge tuition fees for domestic or international students. They offer a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
- Private universities: These institutions are funded by private sources and often charge tuition fees that are higher than those at public universities. They may also offer a more limited range of programs.
- Technical university: These institutions specialize in technical and scientific subjects, such as engineering and computer science. They may be public or private.
- Universities of applied sciences: These institutions offer practical, vocational programs that prepare students for specific careers. They may be public or private.
- Art and music schools: These institutions specialize in the arts, such as visual arts, music, or drama. They may be public or private.
Master’s Degree Options at German Colleges
There are many options to choose from in the way of English-taught master’s degrees for international students in Germany. At Beyond the States, we currently have 952 accredited, English-taught graduate degrees in Germany that are low-cost or no-cost in our database, spanning all areas of study.
Admission requirements for English-taught master’s programs in Germany for international students can vary depending on the specific university and degree program you are interested in. However, there are some general requirements that you will need to meet in order to be considered for admission, such as you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree or equivalent education from a recognized institution in an aligned field of study to the master’s program you’re applying for.
Living in Germany as an International Student
Student life in Germany can be an exciting and rewarding experience for international students. With its affordable cost of living, supportive academic environment, and rich cultural offerings, Germany is an attractive destination for many students from around the world.
Cost of living for US students
The average cost of living in Germany for a student can vary depending on a number of factors, including the location, the type of housing you choose, and your personal spending habits. However, Germany is generally considered to be a relatively inexpensive place to live compared to other countries in Europe, and many students are able to live comfortably on a budget.
You’ll have a number of housing options to choose from as an international student in Germany. There are German halls of residence, private apartments, as well as shared flats. Rent costs can vary widely depending on the location and type of housing you choose.
A shared apartment in a student housing complex or shared apartment in a city center can cost anywhere from $300 to $700 per month. A private apartment or studio in a city center can range from $400 to $900 per month. Rent costs are generally lower in smaller cities and towns. Once you do find a place to reside, you’ll need to register your address at the registration office in Germany.
Consider that monthly utilities like electricity, gas, heating, and internet can add between $100 to $200 to your overall living costs.
Fortunately, there are many great student housing options in Germany, strategically located near some of the best universities in the country.
The cost of food in Germany is generally moderate, with a week’s worth of groceries for one person averaging around $50 to $70 Eating out can be more expensive, with a meal at a restaurant costing around $10 to $20.
Health insurance is also something to consider when applying for a student visa. International students must be insured in the healthcare system while they are in Germany. If you are a resident of one of the EU/EEA members states, then you will likely be able to use your health insurance from back home. However, you will need to obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Generally, you can expect to pay between $50 to $150 per month for basic health insurance coverage as an international student in Germany. However, this amount can increase significantly if you opt for a more comprehensive policy with additional benefits such as dental care or vision coverage.
Public transportation is generally affordable in Germany, with a monthly student pass costing around $70 in most cities; often, the school semester fee covers this cost. The cost of a monthly pass may be higher in larger cities. If you choose to drive, you will need to budget for fuel, insurance, and maintenance costs.
As is true in most European countries, sports are an area that may be tied more to the city than the school. Many schools have their own sports facilities and teams, but they are generally fairly small. More commonly, there is a Student Sports Center for the town, often with several locations and facilities.
Just because you won’t be tailgating outside a big stadium, like you might at an American college football game, does not mean that a sports fan will be bored in Germany. There are opportunities for spectators or participants in soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, ice hockey, swimming, and track and field.
International student supports
Universities in Germany generally offer a range of support services for international students, including academic advising, language support, assistance with housing and other practical matters, and cultural and social events.
Working in Germany
You may want to work while you’re also studying in Germany, but there are strict rules to follow. International students are not allowed to work more than 120 days a year, or 240 half days. To work more, you need special permission from the Agentur für Arbeit employment agency and the immigration office. This permission depends on the unemployment rate where you are living, and you also cannot be self-employed.
On the other hand, once you’ve graduated from a university in Germany you’ll have an opportunity to stay in the country an extra 1.5 years on the country’s Job Seeker visa while looking for work.
Should You Go to German Universities?
To be honest, we don’t often recommend German universities for US students. In addition to the fact that they have one of the more inaccessible admissions processes in Europe for most American students, we have also found that many Germany universities have a rigid and old school approach to education. It’s often (but not always) very lecture oriented and not as interactive as many of the students we work with are looking for. However, there are some indications that this might be changing, or at least that are some new options with a different approach.
Will My Germany Degree Be “Good” in the US?
Yes! Is the answer to this popular question. Frankly, you are going to have a competitive edge when you graduate with a degree from any European university. You’re coming to the table with real internship experience, the soft skills employers are on the lookout for, and you also have something different on your resume from others – a degree from abroad. This is going to help you stand out – and in a good way.
Further, most of the careers that those who study abroad pursue value internationalization. And if you’re applying with companies in the US, they’re usually accustomed to seeing applicants with degrees from all over the world.
For one, universities in Germany, and across Europe, often require internships, which are usually part of the actual program with a semester, or part of a semester, set aside for them.
Having a semester to do internships removes many of the obstacles that students in the US report, such as deciding between a paying summer job or an unpaid internship, or trying to juggle internship duties and classwork. This dedicated semester also means that the internships can be completed in countries outside of the one they are studying in, increasing international opportunities and exposure.
Soft skills with study abroad
But here’s where you also have an advantage. Since you studied and lived outside of your home country, you’re coming to the table with an array of soft skills. These personal attributes, like assertiveness, resilience, self-direction, empathy, cooperation, and diversity awareness are lacking in traditional education in the US.
By studying outside your home country you will have worked in groups of different people who have different perspectives and backgrounds. You’ve developed adaptability, flexibility, and you’re showing that you have experience in navigating unfamiliar circumstances.
These kinds of soft skills are something that US employers are finding lacking in most US graduates these days. It’s not just an anecdotal thing. There was a study done by the Institute of International Education that found that studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on job offers and advancements.
Our Advice – Don’t Limit Your Search to a Free University
Given what we’ve illustrated above, there’s a lot to think about. The benefits of studying in Germany are clear: high-quality education, low to no-cost tuition fees, vibrant and inclusive cultural life, robust international student supports, and impressive student mobility and employability rates. But the trade-offs are also clear, and those relate primarily to the challenging-to-meet admissions requirements for most US students.
The good news is that there are MANY – thousands! – of affordable, accredited, high-quality English-taught options across Europe. Consider all the possibilities for gaining a degree in Europe. Start exploring now by becoming a member of Beyond the States where you’re sure to find your Ideal Program.