Applying and studying at a German university

Studying in Germany has become increasingly popular in recent years. Accordingly, the number of applications to German universities is high for each year group. Therefore, it is advisable to take care of your application as early as possible and apply within a reasonable time frame. The application process can involve elaborate, often time-consuming steps that you may not yet be aware of. Read on to learn more about the application process at German universities, its special features and pitfalls.

Where and how to apply?

There are more than 400 universities in Germany that differ greatly from one another. This also means that there are many different requirements universities impose upon applicants of their courses and programmes. However, there is one thing you should keep in mind for all universities: submit your application in due time. You can usually find further requirements on the website of the university of your choice. Please note that many state universities administer their application process through the website uni-assist.de, while most private universities have their own application processes. So, as you can see, the first step in the application process is actually not the application itself, but rather choosing the right degree programme that interests you and fits your skills and educational background.

Applications through uni-assist

What is uni-assist?

Uni-assist is an organisation that manages applications for around 170 universities throughout Germany. They evaluate your certificates so the universities can better assess their applicants. In addition, uni-assist provides the MyAssist portal where you can manage and monitor your applications.

Many universities have centralised the application process at the website uni-assist.de. For you, this has the advantage that, in case you want to apply at multiple universities that are cooperating with uni-assist, you only have to upload all your documents once and can handle all your applications from a centralised online portal. However, it is worth to mention that, even though the core process through uni-assist is always the same, universities might require different documents or are only working with uni-assist for some specific courses. It is, therefore, always worth to check out the website of your dream university before jumping into the application process to make sure you provide everything correctly.

Standard application through uni-assist

Once you know that your university processes applications through uni-assist, you should go to their website and get familiar with how it works, the processing times and fees. In the following, you will learn how the basic process works in three simple steps. You can find more information directly on the portal’s website.

# Step 1

After the sign-up, you should check which documents your university requires from you. You can also do this via the selector of uni-assist, but it is advisable to check with your university directly so as not to overlook any important documents. Do not forget to get court-certified translations and certified copies of your documents, which must be uploaded in addition to your original documents. Please bear in mind that these translations again take time, so take care of them early.

In case you are searching for a qualified and certified translator for your documents, check out Lingoking* for high-quality translations.

# Step 2

Do you have all the documents at hand? Then it is time to create your online application for the universities you are interested in. Once that is done, upload all the documents you need. Do not forget to upload the originals and the translated versions if they are needed. Check whether your university accepts online-only applications or not. If online applications are accepted, your application process is almost complete. If online applications are not possible at your university, you must forward the certified copies of your educational certificates and their translations to uni-assist. This must also include the transcript. Documents related to the university application itself do not have to be sent by post. Please make sure that all documents have either been uploaded or sent to uni-assist before the deadline.

# Step 3

Before any of your applications are processed, you must pay the processing fees of uni-assist. Until then, none of your applications will be processed. However, it is worth asking your university again, because some universities actually cover the fees. At the moment, the fee for the first application to a university is € 75.00, and every subsequent application costs € 30.00. Once this has been done, you can send your documents to the following address:

Uni-assist e.V.
11507 Berlin
GERMANY

Important! Do NOT send your original documents to uni-assist, you will probably need them later. Only send the certified copies and translations of them!

Once uni-assist has all your documents, they will review them and summarise their assessment in a short document. The document takes between four and six weeks to prepare. The results of your evaluation will then be sent to you by e-mail or post. Please be sure to check your results for any errors. In case of mistakes, contact uni-assist directly and clarify the problems with them to receive a correct evaluation of your degrees. As soon as you have received a positive evaluation, it will automatically be sent electronically together with your other application documents to the universities for which you have applied. From this point on, the application process is complete and you must wait for the university’s response as to whether or not they will grant you a place to study.

Applications with Preliminary Review Documentation (Vorprüfungsdokumentation)

Some universities also request a so-called Preliminary Review Documentation (“Vorprüfungsdokumentation”), which is also created by uni-assist. The process does not greatly differ from the standard application process through uni-assist, which is described in the sections above. When you want to apply for a university that requires such documentation, you must comply with the following steps in addition to the standard application through uni-assist. You must pay the processing fees and then send the documents required by the university (including the certified translations) to uni-assist by post. Uni-assist will then specifically check your documents again, transfer the grades into the German system and give you an overall evaluation. This documentation will then be sent back to you and can be used throughout the next year for your application processes.

Important info:

  • Please keep in mind that the creation of this documentation takes between 4 and 6 weeks.
  • It is important to always adhere to the deadline communicated by your university and uni-assist.
  • One of the biggest differences to the “normal” process via uni-assist, is, that you must send in your application documents, including the Preliminary Review Documentation, to your university by yourself. Do not miss out on that detail!

Individual applications for state and private universities

It may also be the case that your university of choice does not require applications via uni-assist. If you apply to a university in the traditional way, the process will probably vary at least slightly from university to university. But there are some general guidelines you can follow that apply to most universities.

The first advice we can give you is to visit the website of the universities of your choice. They will have a dedicated section on their website explaining their application process, what documents they require, what averages need to be achieved, what you need to submit, deadlines, etc.

Once you have gathered all the information and documents required by your university of choice, you will need to send in all the documents either in paper form or digitally. Please also note that it will probably be necessary to request certified translations of your relevant documents so that the German staff at the university can properly assess your achievements and grades. You can obtain such translations, for example, through translators such as Lingoking.

In addition, it is not uncommon, especially at smaller universities, to conduct small interviews with potential students. You can find more information about this in our article on university qualifications.

Applications through Hochschulstart.de

When a university issues an admission letter to a student, it already reserves a study place for that student. In general, students usually apply to many different universities to increase their chances. However, in most cases, they do not inform the university that they will not accept their offer because they have another place or have not started their studies at the specified time. For this reason, the Dialogue-Oriented Service Procedure (DoSV) was introduced for many popular degree programmes such as medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry. This procedure is coordinated by hochschulstart.de. The aim is to distribute the study places for popular degree programmes fairly among all qualified applicants and to avoid empty places in the study halls. Thus, the entire procedure generally increases the chances of all applicants to be accepted in their desired degree programmes.

You can use the search function of hochschulstart.de to find out whether your desired degree programme is subject to coordination by the DoSV. If the procedure applies to you, you must process your application via both, hochschulstart.de and uni-assist. At hochschulstart.de you will receive ID numbers called BID and BAN which you will have to enter in your uni-assist account (called My assist) throughout the application process. Apart from the additional ID numbers BID and BAN, the process via uni-assist remains the same as we described above.

Once you have finished setting up the application, paid the uni-assist fees and sent in all the documents, you should create a preference ranking among the universities to which you have applied. Your application will be automatically sent by uni-assist to the universities you have selected as soon as the evaluation has been completed. You will then have to check again on hochschulstart.de whether you have been admitted and for which degree programmes. As soon as you receive the first admissions, you must select an offer on hochschulstart.de that you would like to accept. The other offers will be rejected by this choice. Therefore, please think carefully before accepting an offer.

Components of a study place application

Even though different universities have different demands towards their applicants, there are still some documents that you will have to provide in most cases, and it is wise to have them prepared early.

Letter of Motivation (“Motivationsschreiben“ in German)

In this letter, you briefly express why you would like to study in Germany and why you have chosen this particular university as your desired destination. Be brief, but also try to be somewhat specific about the university you are applying to. No one wants to read a general text that could be sent to any university. Try to keep the whole letter to one page, with a normal font and font size (usually between 10 and 12) and write it in either German or English.

Curriculum Vitae (CV) (“Lebenslauf” in German)

Not always necessary, but some universities want to see your development over the years and want to know what you have done before. In a CV, you usually state your academic and professional history. Note that the overall structure and readability of the CV is more important than the design unless you are applying for a design degree. In that case, you can also use the CV to demonstrate your skills – just don’t overdo it. More information about the specific contents of this document can be found here. Also, try to write this one in German or English.

School leaving certificate or previous study certificates

Depending on the type of study you want to take up, you will have to present different documents. If you want to start an undergraduate degree programme in Germany, you must present a school leaving certificate that meets the German requirements for an undergraduate degree programme. If your school leaving certificate is not sufficient, you may have to attend a preparatory course in Germany before you start studying. More information about the eligibility for a school leaving certificate can be found here. You can, furthermore, check which type of certificate is sufficient or which additional requirements must be fulfilled through this website.

It is the same case if you want to start or continue your master or other higher studies in Germany. In this case you need to provide the previous study certificates that you have earned through your academic career. You can check whether your already earned degrees are sufficient for your preferred course of studies at this website.

Translations and copies of documents

If you have a school-leaving certificate or a university degree from your home country, it is likely that it was issued in the main language of your home country. For your university application, however, you will most likely need a German or English version of your documents. Therefore, it is necessary to get official translations of your documents that you can hand into the university or other parties.

Furthermore, you should also get some officially approved copies of your relevant documents and translations of the same. Applying for German universities sometimes also requires you to hand in physical copies of your documents as you don’t want to hand in your originals.

Bear in mind that translations and the release of copies are done by third parties for whom you never know exactly how long they will need for their services. Therefore, always allow enough buffer time for the procurement of these documents.

Preliminary review documentation or other evaluations

Some universities might require you to provide preliminary review documentation or other evaluations of your transcripts. These documents are an evaluation of your grades and often include conversion of your grades into the German grading system in addition to a general evaluation. Obtaining these documents can take up to six weeks, so request them early in the application process.

Important documents for university application

To summarise all the information mentioned above, here is a list of the most important documents for your university application.

  • Letter of motivation
  • Curriculum vitae
  • School leaving certificate (certified copy)
  • Degree certificates (certified copy)
  • Language certificates (certified copy)
  • Certified translations (if needed)
  • Preliminary review documentation (in some cases)
  • Evaluations of your certificates (in some cases)

Tips for a successful application

Below is a short checklist of things to consider in any application process.

  • Always pay attention to deadlines! Nothing is more discouraging than a rejected application due to a missed deadline.
  • Check which portals you need to register with for your applications.
  • Find out well in advance about the documents you need and possible translations.
  • Always plan for buffer time, especially if external translations or evaluations need to be done
  • Before submitting your application, check that you have all the documents you need.
  • After your application is ready, be patient. German bureaucracy is not known for being fast. This also applies to universities.
  • Diversify! Apply to several universities and courses of study.
  • Make sure that the information in your documents is easy to read and any scans are of good quality.
  • Try to make a good impression by having neat documents, free of typos or unfortunate formatting.

Summary

As you know by now, there is a lot of information out there when it comes to applying to university. This is mainly due to the different approaches of the universities and it is impossible to generalise a “perfect” approach to the application. Only a few particularly important points, such as planning ahead and submitting all applications on time, can be recommended to everyone. It is advisable that you get yourself well-equipped with information about what to expect when applying to a German university and we hope that we have been able to give you a good starting point and the idea of what this can look like. We wish you the best of luck and hope that your applications will be successful so that you can get closer to your dream of studying in Germany 😊

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Last update: 06-01-2021

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