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Living in Germany: Higher Education System

What does the Higher Education system look like in Germany? How much does it cost to study there?

Before moving from China to Germany, we didn’t really have a plan of where we wanted to go. So my wife and I keep praying for — wherever we go next — a place that had great education and healthcare systems. Germany ended up being a great surprise on both checkboxes! So his post is going to be first of a couple of posts on the education system of Germany!

The higher education system in Germany is very diverse. There are hundreds of universities, colleges, vocational academies, colleges of music and art and much more in Germany. The umbrella term for all these educational institutions is Hochschule. Higher education institutions in Germany may be funded by the state, church or private sector. In private colleges, you usually have to pay tuition fees. Tuition in state funded universities is free (Neue deutsche Medienmacher e. V. University system, 2020).

Entrance Exams and Waiting Periods

Applying for an academic study program in Germany involves, before all, satisfying Germany’s higher education entrance qualification requirement, known as “Hochschulzugangsberechtigung” (HZB), which largely refers to a German “Abitur” and accompanying education certificates showing your earlier education (Studying in Germany, German Abitur, 2018).

One can increase their chance of getting a place in the university by deferring their studies (the so called “waiting period”).

The waiting period is the time between your Abitur and the commencement of university studies, during which you were not enrolled at a German or European university or a university in Iceland, Lichtenstein, or Norway (Technische Universitat Berlin, Waiting periods, 2020)

The Waiting Period (or “deferred semesters”) can play a role in the admissions process for entrance-restricted fields. You increase your chances of admission in entrance-restricted fields when you can prove your semester was deferred. This can be determined by the date of your Abitur (Student Service Center, What are deferred semesters and how can I use them for my application? Will I receive credit for the waiting period? Universität Freibur, 2016).

Studying In Germany, From Finance To Fraternities

International Students in Germany

You can come to Germany to study here as long as you are admitted to a full-time course of study by a higher education institution. You must also be able to support yourself (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Studying in Germany, 2020):

  • You may take up employment and part-time student jobs to a limited extent during your stay in Germany.
  • This residence title also enables you to complete study semesters in other EU States. You will find more information on this in the section on “Mobility in the EU”.
  • After successfully completing your studies, you will be allowed to stay in Germany for up to 18 months in order to look for a job that matches your qualifications. You may take up any form of work during this time. 

Number of foreign higher education students in Germany

The number of foreign students who had acquired their higher education entrance qualification abroad and who took up their studies in Germany fell from 110,974 in 2019 to 86,529 in 2020, thus declining by 22.0 percent. This means that the lowest number of foreign students among first-year students at German higher education institutions since 2014 was recorded 2020. This is also likely to be connected with the international mobility restrictions that were imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, The Migration Report 2020, 2022)


Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. (2020). Studying in Germany. BAMF – Bundesamt Für Migration Und Flüchtlinge.

Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. (2022). The Migration Report 2020. BAMF – Bundesamt Für Migration Und Flüchtlinge.

Neue deutsche Medienmacher e. V. (2020). University system. Handbookgermany.De.

Studying in Germany. (2018, December 5). German Abitur. Studying in Germany.

Student Service Center. (2016, July 28). What are deferred semesters and how can I use them for my application? Will I receive credit for the waiting period? Universität Freiburg.

Technische Universitat Berlin. (2020). Waiting periods. TU Berlin.

By Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Director of Design Strategy at SAP and lecturer of Project Management for UX at the M.Sc. Usability Engineering at the Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences .

Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar has helped truly global companies in multiple continents create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he promoted the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai.

Itamar holds a MA in Design Practice from Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK), for which he received a Distinction Award for his thesis Creating Innovative Design Software Solutions within Collaborative/Distributed Design Environments.

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