3rd Apr 2023
Afia Azmi

The Ultimate Guide to Earning a PhD in Germany | 2024

A PhD is an advanced academic degree that requires at least three years of full-time study and research beyond a master's degree. A university or college usually awards it and requires an original contribution to knowledge as a dissertation or thesis.

Germany's world-class education system includes outstanding research facilities and academic freedom. It also has a vibrant culture and low living costs, making it an appealing option for international students. Furthermore, the German government provides generous funding for PhD programs in specific fields, making it easier for students to study in Germany. International students can also write their doctoral thesis in English.

How do you select the most suitable PhD program for you?

Step 1 - Start by researching the different universities and programs that offer PhD studies in Germany.

Step 2 - Consider what areas of research interest you and Look for programs with faculty who have expertise in your research area.

Step 3 - Check the admission requirements for each program to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria.

Step 4 - PhD programs in Germany are often fully funded, but it's important to check for available funding opportunities and the requirements for application.

Step 4 - Think about whether you want to live in a big city or a smaller town and whether you are comfortable with the language of instruction.

Step 5 - Different PhD programs have different structures, and it's important to find one that suits your learning style and preferences. Some programs may have more coursework, while others may be more research-oriented.

Types of Doctorates

Doctorates are generally of three types: -

Advertised Projects - These are prevalent in STEM subjects. Advertised projects are research projects that are advertised by universities and students can apply for them. These projects usually have funding attached to them, and students are expected to work on a specific research topic under the supervision of a faculty member.

Self-Proposed Projects - These are more prevalent in arts, humanities, and social sciences. Students are required to propose their own research topic and find a faculty member who is willing to supervise their research. These projects are usually not funded.

Vocational Doctorates - Doctoral degrees in professional fields like business and management are also offered by universities. Usually, professionals looking to advance their careers are the target audience for these doctorates. Vocational doctorates, as opposed to PhD programmes, frequently award specialised degrees like the DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) or DEd (Doctor of Education).

Types of PhD

Individual Doctorate - This type of doctorate is designed for those who wish to pursue a research-focused career in academia or research. It allows students to develop their research skills and access the latest research methods and technologies. It also allows them to gain experience working with leading researchers in their field and form professional networks. Most doctoral students follow it.

Structured Doctorate - These programs allow international students to pursue doctoral studies in a familiar format to their home countries while having access to quality education and resources. Moreover, they enable students to pursue their studies with financial support, making education more accessible.

Course Structure - 

PhD Type Individual DoctorateStructured Doctorate
Course Duration3-5 Years3-5 Years
Language of instructionGerman and EnglishEnglish
EnrollmentYou must find a supervisor for your thesisDirect enrollment to the desired university/ institution offering the doctoral degree
Offered by
  • University
  • Research facility
  • Licensed companies in the industrial sector 
  • University/ Research Institute's Respective Department 

Popular PhD Programs and Universities

Technical University of Munich
  • Electrical Engineering and Information Technology 
  • Environmental and Resource Management
  • Materials science 
University of Göttingen
  •  Physics, 
  • Neuroscience
  • Forestry and Forest Science 
University of Bonn
  • Mathematics 
  • Physics 
  • Computer Science 
University of Tübingen
  • Molecular biology
  • Immunology
  • Archaeology
University of Stuttgart
  • Aerospace Engineering 
  • Energy Technology 
  • Civil Engineering 
Humboldt University
  • Computer science 
  • Linguistics 
  • Cultural Studies 

How to earn a PhD in Germany?

Step 1 - Identify the research area that interests you and find potential supervisors at universities or research institutions in Germany.

Step 2 - Once you have identified potential supervisors, you should contact them via email to express your interest in pursuing a PhD with them.

Step 3 - Once a supervisor has expressed interest in working with you, you will need to submit a application to the university or research institution.

Step 4 - Interviews are essential to the application for a PhD program in Germany. Applicants may have to attend an in-person or virtual interview.

Step 5 - Germany offers a special visa for international PhD students. This visa grants special rights and privileges, including working part-time and staying in Germany for up to three years. The application fee for a **PhD visa in Germany is 75 EUR. **

Step 6 - The majority of your time will be spent conducting research and writing your thesis. Your thesis will be reviewed by your supervisor and a committee of experts in your field.

Step 7 - Once your thesis is completed, you will defend it in front of your committee in a public examination and if your thesis is accepted, you will be awarded a PhD and can attend a graduation ceremony.

It's worth noting that the process can vary slightly depending on the university or research institution and the specific program.


Generally speaking, doctorate programs in Germany are free or very low-cost. This is because the government heavily subsidizes universities in Germany and doesn't charge tuition fees. Additional expenses, such as books and materials, may be associated with the program, but typically they are minimal. 

Pre-arrival expenses - Pre-arrival expenses for a doctorate in Germany often include visas, health insurance, and travel costs to and from Germany. In addition to these costs, you may also need to pay tuition fees and living costs, such as rent and food. Depending on the university and the type of program you are enrolled in, you may also have to pay for books, materials, and other associated costs. They vary from 1,828 - 1,937 EUR.

Tuition fees - The tuition fees for doctoral programs in Germany differ depending on the institution and program. International students usually get discounts, and in some cases, the tuition fees are waived entirely. Additionally, you might need to pay a semester fee of 300-3,000 EUR per year. However, if you enroll in a PhD program at a public university, you only need to cover your living expenses in Germany.

Cost of living in Germany - The cost of living in Germany for a doctorate student includes rent, food, health insurance, and transportation. Depending on the student's location and lifestyle, living expenses can range from EUR 700 to EUR 1,500 monthly

How to Fund your PhD in Germany?

It is imperative to note that funding for doctoral programs in Germany can be competitive, and students are encouraged to apply to multiple funding sources. Additionally, students should research funding opportunities well before their start date. This will ensure they have enough time to use and increase their chances of receiving funding. 

Some funding sources include -

Scholarships - In addition to doctoral programs, many German universities provide scholarships for doctoral students. These scholarships can be funded by the universities themselves or by external organizations. Some popular scholarships include the -

  • DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholarship, which covers student expenses ranging from 1,760 EUR to 3,000 EUR depending on the program chosen.
  • Another well-known scholarship is the Heinrich Böll Foundation scholarship.

Research Assistant Positions - Doctoral students can work as research assistants at their university or research institution. The university or external organizations may fund these positions. Research assistant positions allow students to gain valuable research experience while earning a salary. 

Fellowships - Doctoral students may also apply for** scholarships from external organizations**. These fellowships may be specific to a particular field of study or open to all disciplines. Fellowship programs like the Alexander von Humboldt and Volkswagen Foundation cover expenses of about 3,170 EUR

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for a PhD in Germany, applicants must have a** Master's degree in a relevant subject**. They must also have** proof of academic excellence and a research proposal outlining** the project they wish to pursue. Additionally, the applicant must secure a supervisor and a university willing to accept them. Further requirements are as follows: 

  • A Master's degree from a recognized university
  • Minimum grade point average 
  • A GRE score of at least 160 is required
  • English Proficiency Test scores are TOEFL 88-100 and IELTS 6.5-7.0
  • A one-page essay describing your interest in the university and your plans in the field. 
  • Two LORs are required. 

Career options post PhD inGermany

Academia - After completing their PhD, many graduates in Germany opt for an academic career, working as professors or researchers at universities, research institutions, and other academic organizations

Average Annual Income - Rs 7.80 Lakhs to 30 Lakhs

Research and Development - PhD holders are also highly sought after in research and development roles in the biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and engineering industries.

Average Annual Income- Rs 6 to 12 Lakhs

Science Communication and Outreach - PhD holders in Germany can also pursue careers in science communication and outreach, working in museums, science centres, or science media organizations. 

Average Annual Income - Rs 4 to 10 LakhS

Post-study Visa Options

Jobseeker Visa - International graduates who have completed their studies in Germany can apply for a job seeker visa, which allows them to stay in the country for up to six months to search for employment. 

Skilled Immigration Visa - International graduates who secure employment in Germany after completing their studies can apply for a skilled immigration visa, which grants them a residence permit for up to four years. 

EU Blue Card - International graduates with a job offer in Germany that meets specific requirements can apply for an EU Blue Card, which provides a fast track to permanent residency there.

Entrepreneur Visa - International graduates who wish to start their own business in Germany can apply for an entrepreneur visa, which allows them to live and work in the country while developing their businesses. 

Researcher Visa - International graduates who wish to pursue research opportunities in Germany can apply for a researcher visa, which allows them to work in research positions for up to five years. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.1) Can I study my course in English?

Yes. International Degree Courses are taught in English at least in the first semester and cater to students who require improvement in their German language skills before they can pursue their studies entirely in German.

Q.2) What exactly is a 'Studienkolleg'?

'Studienkolleg' is a one-year preparatory course required by individual candidates who wish to study at a German higher education institution. However, more than their school leaving diploma is necessary to apply for a degree program. The course covers full-time education in degree subjects as well as the German language five days a week 

Q.3) What is "Fachhochschulen," and how do they differ from universities?

Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) are a type of German institution and typically offer degree programs for subjects in professional fields such as Engineering and Applied Science. There are also courses in business administration, but to a lesser extent, studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences are rarely offered. 'Fachhochschulen' does not award PhD titles; you must complete a postgraduate course at a university to obtain a PhD. 

Q.4) Will I be allowed to work while studying in Germany?

An international student who is not an Eu or EAA citizen is allowed to work for up to a maximum of 120 days (or 240 half days) in one year.

Do I need a German bank account?

Yes, you should open a German Bank Account if you plan on staying in Germany. You might need a bank account for your salary.  if you plan on getting a part-time job. 

Kickstart your PhD in Germany

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