PhDGermany - FAQ for Applicants


Q: What are the requirements for getting a PhD in Germany?

A: The most important formal requirement is a very good university degree that is recognised in Germany. Generally, your degree must be equivalent to a master’s degree, awarded after at least eight semesters of university study. There is one exception: Especially qualified international applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree may be admitted to a doctoral programme in what is called a “fast track programme”. In such cases, applicants are usually required to pass an examination.
Each German university is responsible for admitting candidates to its PhD programmes and recognising prior academic achievement. This is why candidates must apply directly to the Dean’s Office or the faculty’s doctoral committee to have their past degrees recognised. In certain cases, admission to a PhD programme is determined by an additional examination which assesses whether the candidate’s knowledge is equivalent to that of a holder of a degree from Germany.
You can obtain more information from the professors who are responsible for the subject in question. It may also be helpful – and in some cases, necessary – to include letters of recommendation from your university professors at home.

Q: How good does my German have to be?

A: As helpful as it may be to understand and speak German while in Germany, international PhD students are seldom required to write their dissertations in German. The specific language requirements are included in the doctoral regulations, which are usually posted on the department’s website. Structured PhD programmes frequently allow candidates to write their dissertations in English as well. Those who apply for a PhD position through individual doctoral study are sometimes required to submit a certificate of German language proficiency.

Q: What’s the difference between “individual” and “structured” doctoral study?

A: In an “individual” PhD programme (traditional doctoral study), the student is supervised by a university professor who meets with him or her on a regular basis and offers suggestions on how to proceed. However, the candidate is personally responsible for his/her treatment of the subject. Accompanying courses are frequently non-obligatory. Depending on the area of study, candidates may conduct their doctoral research independently or collaboratively with fellow researchers, for example, as a
- Research assistant in a university chair or
- Researcher in a third-party project at the university or research institute (typically in the natural sciences).
In addition to conducting (research) work at a university, it is also possible to pursue individual doctoral study in industry in cooperation with a university. The duration of “traditional”/”individual” doctoral study depends on how much time one can invest – or the length of one’s job contract. Most candidates obtain their PhDs within three to five years.
Structured PhD programmes resemble the PhD system in Anglo-Saxon countries, i.e. they are “structured” like a degree programme. A team of supervisors are responsible for providing assistance to the PhD students. The programmes contain a curriculum of accompanying PhD-level courses, many of which are interdisciplinary and enable students to acquire soft skills and specialist qualifications. The systematic and intensive supervision built into these programmes enable most candidates to obtain their PhDs within three years´ time.

Q: Where can I find an overview of structured PhD programmes in Germany?

A: There is no comprehensive database for all PhD programmes as of yet, but most programmes can be found on the Internet. Furthermore, the DAAD’s online database “International Programmes in Germany” ( ) includes a large number of structured PhD programmes. The degree programmes in the database are especially interesting to international PhD students, as most of them are offered in English (or another foreign language).
In our PhDGermany database (, you will find a wide range of potential supervisors for “individual” doctoral study.

Q: How much does it cost to get a doctorate in Germany?

A: Doctoral study at German universities is usually free. PhD students are charged tuition only after completing their first six semesters. However, every enrolled student is required to pay a semester contribution of approximately 150 to 200 euros per semester. Many PhD students receive a position as a research assistant at their university or finance their stay with a scholarship. PhD positions in postgraduate programmes are usually financed in part through scholarship money. Scholarships and grants are also awarded by many funding organisations, such as the DAAD, political foundations and smaller scholarship programmes.

Q: Where can I find more information about scholarships?

A: You can search the DAAD scholarship database (in German, English and other languages), which includes a variety of funding opportunities. You can apply for most of these at the DAAD branch office in your home country. 

Q: What requirements do I have to fulfil to get a scholarship, how much are the instalments, etc.?

A: You can find information about the requirements, instalments and application procedures on our scholarship database The database includes detailed descriptions of all the scholarships for which you might be eligible.