Exploring Germany: A Guide for Foreign Students


A-level students and high-school graduates from abroad have various ways of fulfilling their dream of studying at a university in Germany. What linguistic and subject-specific requirements, however, do they have to bring with them? And what do their teachers in their home countries have to be aware of in order to give them the best possible advice for their studies abroad?

Study in Germany: © zinkevych – Fotolia.com

Anybody wanting to enroll for a Bachelor’s degree in Germany has to have a sound knowledge of German. German universities require applicants from abroad to submit verification that they have passed certain exams, such as the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH / i.e.: language proficiency test for entry to a German university) or the TestDaF (test of German as a foreign language). The applicants can prepare for these exams in their home countries or by doing summer school or by taking a language course in Germany. Like German university applicants, students from abroad also have to verify that they have the necessary qualifications and working techniques in order to obtain university admission. School-leavers from EU countries prove this by submitting the university entrance qualifications from the country they come from, which are classified as being the same level as the German Abitur exam (the German qualification for university entrance). Applicants from other countries, on the other hand, as a rule, have to take a more roundabout route. They can either apply for a course in preliminary studies at a Studienkolleg (preparatory college) or start their course in their own country and then be admitted to a course in the same subject in Germany.


Since 2012, however, these applicants, whose qualifications are not automatically classified as the same level as the German Abitur exam, have actually been able to obtain a place at some German universities, i.e. those in the German federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW). This became possible because in NRW the Hochschulgesetz (the German Higher Education Act) was changed. “The roundabout route via the Studienkolleg or by students starting their course of study in their home countries can be quite complex and time-consuming compared to the American and English university study systems. This means that we come off rather badly when trying to recruit foreign students. That is why we welcome the fact that we are no longer only taking the education system of the student’s country of origin into consideration, but also the individual skills and talents of the applicants,” says Hans-Joachim Althaus, head of the TestDaF-Institut and director of the Gesellschaft für Akademische Studienvorbereitung und Testentwicklung (Society of Academic Study Preparation and Test Development). He is optimistic that other federal states in Germany will follow suit. In addition to the university entrance qualifications from their home country applicants for direct entrance also have to take a test, for example, Test As (A centrally devised, standardized study capability test that examines the cognitive abilities that are important for taking a course of study), to prove they are capable of studying. They also have to take part in a propaedeutic event at the university.


In the state of NRW, five universities are taking part in the program that focuses on developing appropriate pilot schemes for this new opportunity for direct university entrance access. It enables A-level students and high-school graduates from all over the world who want to start their course of study in Germany to apply directly – for example, from Russia and Ukraine. In order to select the best candidates and prepare them for the study capability tests, the Moscow Goethe-Institut has devised a grants program calledStudienbrücke Deutschland (Study Bridge to Germany). It involves language courses, as well as preparation for the TestDaF, not to mention advice on intercultural training and the TestAs exam, including the preparation for it. The major part of these courses and activities take place in the school holidays. “The overwhelming majority of German language learners in Russia and Ukraine think that studying at a German university is an interesting option, but until now gaining entry to a Bachelor’s course has been difficult,” says Dr. Anne Renate Schönhagen, who is in charge of language work at the Moscow Goethe-Institut and who coordinates the Study Bridge. The program works in collaboration with the universities of Bochum, Duisburg-Essen, and the Technical University of Dortmund. “Students – and their parents – think a lot about which foreign language would bring about the best career opportunities. The Study Bridge is not only an interesting program that offers the prospect of taking a course of study in Germany, it also promotes the motivation to learn German,” says Schönhagen.


When it comes to letting people know about the possibilities of studying in Germany and getting them motivated, one thing is for sure – and this is what the experts all agree on – the teachers in the applicants’ home countries are to play an important role in the future. They have to be aware that Germany is interested in recruiting foreign students. They can, for example, check out the cabin-databank, a portal for the recognition of foreign qualifications, for information on the various access routes that are open to their own students. And last, but not least, they can get the message across to both students and parents – why learning German and studying in Germany is so rewarding. Maria Horschig works at DAAD (The German Academic Exchange Service), where she is in charge of the online marketing for the Studying in Germany – Land of Ideas campaign. She is fully aware of just how important it is to use authentic information to get young people interested in studying in Germany, “It works particularly well when teachers enable pupils to ‘experience’ Germany hands-on, i.e. to give them the opportunity to get to know German culture close-up in the classroom. I also recommend working with emotive moving images and information from people of the same age that one can find on the pages of the Study in Germany website or on its blog, on its Facebook page, or on YouTube,” says Horschig. DAAD has devised numerous, helpful brochures that teachers can make use of. As DAAD has offices all over the world, it can also provide support locally.

  • Approximately 2 million students in Germany, over 11% foreigners.
    Source Wissenschaft weltoffen 2012
  • Germany is the third most popular country for international students all over the world after the USA and UK
    Source OECD, Education at a glance. 2013
  • Germany tops the list of the most internationalized countries in the higher education arena
    Source THES Survey 2010