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Study PhD in Germany: Course Guide for International Students

Komal Yadav Komal Yadav
Study Abroad Expert

PhD in Germany is a 3 to 4-year program offered with no tuition fees at most of the public universities. Around 2,40,000 students were pursuing higher education in German universities out of which 7.5% opted for PhD and 10.8% are working on a research project. Many lucrative scholarships, teaching assistantships and research fundings are available here to support the education of students. 

  • A well-written research proposal plays a very important role in the admission decision of this program.
  • International students only have to pay a semester contribution of around 250 EUR and 50 EUR administrative fees while pursuing PhD from German universities
  • The average pay of students having a degree in PhD in Germany is around 62,000 EUR per annum. 

Why Study PhD in Germany?

The doctoral study in Germany is a quintessence of how proficient they are with higher education. Let us study in details about the perks of pursuing PhD programs in Germany: 

Free Adult Education

Germany has made itself stand out in terms of higher education. It provides free of cost education to the national as well as international students. It only costs a student a minimal 310 EUR to cover the semester as well as travelling fees which is a small amount in comparison to other foreign universities. 

Immensely well infrastructure and facilities

Germany has been stated as the 3rd best place for education in the world after the UK and USA and that is quite evident from the amenities it is providing. It presents an array of courses (up to 1,300) consisting of both masters and doctoral programs. A plethora of non-university research organisations contribute to proficient education in universities in Germany for PhD. Few which deserve special mention are:

  1. Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres: This is the most renowned as well the largest scientific institute in Germany. It holds 18 biological-medical and scientific-technical research centres. They were ranked #8 in 2015 and #7 in 2017 by the Nature Index who holds the topmost position as contributors to papers in 82 leading journals. 
  2. Leibniz Association: This organization holds 96 non-university research institutes and service institutes in the field of science. 
  3. Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft: Talking about applied science, this one has 72 research institutes spread across Germany with its headquarters in Munich.
  4. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft: One of the best associations, which is both non-governmental and non-profit, founded in the year 1911. Their goal is to research the natural, life and social sciences as well as arts and humanities. 

PhD in Germany with Scholarship

Germany respects the knowledge of all the students and therefore they never let anyone give a pause to researching only because of lack of money. There are organizations whose main aim is to provide enough funds so that the knowledgeable ones are forever cherished. Few institutions offering scholarships to international students in Germany are mentioned as follows:

  1. DLR-DAAD Research Fellowships in Space, Aeronautics, Energy and Transportation Research: This is one of the most celebrated organizations aiming towards research on space, aeronautics, energy and transportation. Funding methods for DAAD scholarship are described below: 
    • For fellowship PhD, students will receive around 1,760 euros per month.
    • Travel allowances extra
    • Health and family insurances added
    • Junior researchers will receive an amount of 2,400 euros 
    • Senior researchers will receive an amount of 2,760 euros
  2. Green Talents: This one is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Whoever wins this competition is not only funded but also called by the Science Forum for admission to the leading PhD positions in Germany. Furthermore, Green Talents give their students BMBF funded research where they get to dwell on a place of study of their choice and follow it up with the science forum. To be noted, only international students are eligible for funding.
  3. Helmholtz Research Schools and Graduate Schools: Only those students who are highly efficient and meritorious get through this place which is funded by Helmholtz association itself. This place nurtures the doctorates by professionally training them. They offer roughly 3,700 euros every month for three years which can be extended to one more year.
  4. Individual doctoral projects at Fraunhofer Institutes: This is another noteworthy organization which is funded by Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. It offers students an interesting way to go ahead. One can learn as well as work in their world-class infrastructure. Their course structure is of three years and can be extended up to 6 years. Their funding method is the same as Helmholtz. 

Top Universities for PhD in Germany

According to Times Higher Education World University and QS World University Rankings of 2020, following are the top universities offering PhD in Germany: 

UniversityPopular ProgramsTHE Ranking 2020QS News Ranking 2020
Lmu MunichFinancial Maths3263
Technical University Of MunichManagement, Computer Science, Maths, Chemistry4355
Heidelberg UniversityEnglish4466
Humboldt University Of BerlinFinance74=120
Rwth Aachen UniversityPhysics99138
Karlsruhe Institute Of TechnologyEconomics175124
University Of GottingenNeuroscience, Economics, Computer Science, Law, Chemistry,Physics123197
University Of FreiburgEnglish, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering89169
Free University Of BerlinPhysics, Economics, Political Science, History, Finance117130

Types of PhD in Germany

PhD programs in Germany comprise many modules which vary in time, fees, funding and more. The mandatory modules are:

  • Individual Doctorate: 

In this module, the researcher is an individual who performs his/her research under one professor. It is undoubtedly the most chosen form of research module mainly because of its amenable nature. Trivial problems include the researcher’s independent intense efforts. 

Despite the issue, it is still the most opted module in Germany and students spend an average of 3 to 5 years to complete this. The doctoral candidates are free to choose the place of research: university, non-university institute or any german company. 

  • Structured Doctorate: Researchers find this course similar to that of the PhD modules of the English speaking institutes. Here, a group is generally formed and supervisors acquire the role of counsellors. There are few unique features of this module, the first one being the research proposals which are to be suited according to an existing PhD program. The structure is very meticulous and one has to have proper attendance. There is a ‘thesis committee’ wherein the academicians advocate the doctorates to pursue their research. Duration is three to five years.
  • Doctoral Examination: It targets working on the written doctoral thesis. This structure is on the tougher side and one has to be affluent in the matter and equally prove their efficiency. 
  • The whole phenomenon aims at acquiring an advanced level in either scientific or erudite knowledge. 
  • There is a specific need to answer certain examination questions of the concerned department.
  • English, as well as other languages, can be used if allowed by the institute. 

Oral examination forms a quintessence of a doctoral module. A student has to undergo an oral examination in the form of disputation or rigorous curriculum. The process varies from university to university. 

The cumulative process focuses on getting the research done in steps. For instance, in medicine or natural sciences, certain universities urge the researchers to propose a thesis and present the same instead of penning down monographs. 

How to Apply for PhD in Germany

Following documents are required to apply for a PhD program in Germany: 

  • Curriculum vitae: CV states the qualifications, work experience and more. A precise portrayal is needed to study the candidate effectively.
  • An outline of the doctoral thesis: This is the foremost step to be taken care of as this is the first proforma of the thesis that will be witnessed by the mentor. Following topics should be covered to apply in German universities
    • A concise account of the thesis as a whole
    • The candidate’s purpose in writing it
    • The outlook of the thesis
    • Research methodology
    • The motive behind opting for this topic
    • Analysing the impression of the topic
    • Deadline
  • Master’s Degree: It is mandatory to possess a master’s degree equivalent to the German one.

Note: Bachelors students are accepted in the research program in exceptional cases (eg. if the student is tremendously meritorious). An application must be sent to the Dean’s office for approval.

Visa Process for International Students

Visa in Germany for international students is divided into three parts: 

  1. Nationals from the European Economic Area (members of the European Union, Liechtenstein and Norway, Iceland): Only identification card is needed during the travelling time. Also, registration is needed at the Resident Registration office only if the person is planning to dwell for more than 3 months. Documents to be provided: form filled in German, passport or identification card, and marriage status certificate if applicable. 
  2. Nationals from Australia, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Republic of South Korea, United States of America: The process is same as the previous one with the only difference being - after retrieving the form, one has to immediately apply for the residing place at the foreigner's authority.
  3. Nationals from the third world: Must specify the reason for travelling along with documents and show them to the German Embassy or Consulate. 

The visa acceptance rate in Germany is 92%.

Cost of Studying PhD in Germany

Germany is not just the place with a sound research system but also a place which will not make one’s pockets heavy. Let us get a hold of the expenses and the cost of living for international students:

Types of Accommodation

  • Halls of residence: These are ideal dormitories which are nearby, normally space is shared ut in a private room
  • Flatshare: This is popular among the students where they share the flats among themselves
  • Individual private renting: Here, an individual rents the flat and lives by themselves.

Accommodation Cost in Germany

It must be noted that the cost of accommodation in Germany is equivalent to that of the UK and the majority of Europe. It amounts to approximately 150-350 euros. For individual private renting, it will be over 400 euros. The residing location and surroundings also affect the cost. 

Additional Cost of Living in Germany

Roughly the same as the UK and western Europe, the living cost in Germany is around 850 euros per month. This includes:

  • 350 euros for accommodation, 
  • 175 euros for food
  • 325 for miscellaneous costs.

PhD in Germany with Scholarship

Scholarships and research grants are one of the major reasons why international students are attracted towards PhD positions in Germany. The table given below provides some of the scholarships available while pursuing this program: 

ScholarshipAmount (in EUR)
German Academic Exchange Service(DAAD)1,200 
Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation3,170
German Research Foundation1,350 
Green TalentsFunding for research
Helmholtz Research Scholarship3,700 

Click here to know more about scholarships available in Germany. 

Scope after PhD in Germany

Phd has been instrumental in making students reach the top by providing them with placements and job opportunities in Germany. This has been evident by the employment rate which has reached from 76.5% in the second quarter of 2019 to 77% in the third. 

One can find their career blooming as a:

  • Visiting faculty in a university.
  • Opting for a permanent teaching designation at a university. 38,000 foreign employees were hired by the German universities in 2013. 
  • Applying for the Research and Development (R and D) department of a company is an excellent option. In fact, in 2012 there were 3,67,000 full-time employees in the corporate R and D arena. 
  • Being a part of international research and partnerships is a valuable career. In Germany, projects like these are common. Eureka Initiatives, for instance, focuses on cross-border and application-focused research which forms academia in the European Union - they have completed around 1,277 projects. 

One good thing about Germany is, they tend to attract researchers in the fields which are not readily available, for instance, engineers and IT. Thus, the scope after completion of PhD in Germany is wide. Thus, making it a good choice for prospective students. 


Ques. Is Germany a desirable place for pursuing a PhD?

Ans. Germany has always been found in the list of top-most places for pursuing PhD. Here, the researchers will find an amalgamation of theory as well as practical knowledge implemented in their modules along with the freedom of study.

Ques. Is pursuing a PhD in Germany chargeless?

Ans. One of the most enquired questions, Germany from its foundation of doctorate degrees has provided world-class, free of cost tuition fees as well as excellent infrastructure to its students. 

Ques. Is it possible for a student to earn while pursuing a PhD program in Germany?

Ans. Yes, Germany does provide this facility to the students. They have certain parameters of pay, for instance, a 100% PhD student will get around 3,438.27 EUR – 4,962.10 EUR whereas 67% will receive around 2,303.65 EUR – 3,324.61 EUR.

Ques What are the scopes after completing a PhD in Germany?

Ans. One will be proficient in teaching and therefore professor is the best profession for a person pursuing a PhD. You can opt for the junior professor, member of Research and Development Team, or even work in the corporates projects. 

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