Guide to applying to a master’s program in Germany as an American

With more than 4,600 Americans fully enrolled in German universities, Germany is fast becoming the destination for American degree-seekers abroad. And it’s easy to see why: it has numerous top-ranked public universities, they’re basically free to everyone, and you can choose between German or English programs.

Since I recently finished up the process of getting into a master’s program in Germany I thought it could be helpful to someone if I shared my experiences and walked you through the steps from beginning to end. Really, the best advice I can give you is to do your research -no two programs are exactly alike in requirements- and to get started as soon as possible. And if you have any unanswered questions, please write me or leave a comment below!

guide to applying to a german master's program

Are German universities really free?

Yes, German universities really are tuition-free for everyone even international students! Instead, each student just pays a semester fee, usually not exceeding €300, which includes a free ticket for public transportation in the city.

Do I have to speak German?

No. Germany actually offers the second-most English degree programs in mainland Europe (the Netherlands has the most). I do know that some universities require all students -even those enrolling in an English language program- to have a certain level of German knowledge so it’s important to double-check with your chosen university.

Though you won’t necessarily need German in university, it’s still a great idea to learn it. It makes life 10x easier when you know even a little bit of German.

Do I need a visa?

No, Americans don’t. The US is one of only a handful of countries whose citizens aren’t required to have a visa to study in Germany. But Americans planning on staying and studying in Germany for longer than 90 days will need to apply for a residence permit after they’ve arrived and been accepted in a university. For a list of the requirements for obtaining a student’s residence permit, you can read more here.

What are the application requirements?

Requirements are going to vary depending on the university and the program you choose, but you can typically expect to need some combination of the following:

– CV
– proof of a Bachelor’s degree
– university transcripts
– university qualification (high school diploma)
– a copy of your passport
– motivation letter
– proof of language proficiency (English and/or German)
– letters of recommendation

Since rounding up all of your required documents is the most time-consuming part, I’d recommend starting the process as early as possible. And make sure to order official, certified copies of everything from your university’s registrar! You don’t want to send any originals to uni-assist because they won’t send them back.

How do I apply to a master’s  program in Germany?

The process for applying to a master’s program in Germany is pretty straightforward. As an international applicant, 9 times out of 10 you’ll be required to submit an application using uni-assist e.V., an office charged with translating foreign GPAs, credit systems, and degrees into their German equivalents before forwarding them on to the specific universities.

The online application is pretty straightforward. It asks about your education, relevant work experience, language certificates, etc. Just fill everything out as it’s written on your transcript and uni-assist will do the rest of the work translating everything into the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System).

A complete uni-assist application will consist of three parts: submitting your application online, mailing in printed and signed hard copies of each application + one copy of all necessary documents, and a bank transfer of the fees (for 2015 those fees are €75 for your first application and €15 for each one after that).

All three application components must be completed and received by uni-assist before the set deadline. It’s important to realize that the deadline is a received by deadline. If you’re worried about delivery time from the US to Germany, uni-assist allows you to submit your applications early (before the application window opens), but you won’t hear back from them until it has opened.

What’s the timeline for the application process?

German universities have two semesters: Winter and Summer. They run from October-March and April-September respectively. It’s important to note that when you’re applying for your 1st semester of a master’s program most universities will only accept applications in the Winter semester. With this in mind, the typical application window for beginning a master’s program in the Winter semester is mid-April – May. 

If you are transferring into a higher semester of a master’s program and would like to apply for the Summer semester that application window is from January to mid-February. 

To give you some idea of the application timeline, here’s my experience dealing with both uni-assist and the three universities I applied to over the last three months.

timeline for master's application via uni-assist

I got in! Now what?

Well first, Glückwunsch that’s great! Of course you should celebrate, but there are a couple things you need to make sure to do after you’ve received your letter of acceptance. First, apply for health insurance. As a student, it’s mandatory for you to be insured. Either you can enroll in public health insurance or you’ll have to get a waiver from one of the public insurance companies.

Second, if you want a scholarship you need to get that done right now. Availability and deadlines are going to depend on your university, but I learned the hard way that those deadlines come too fast. The safest option is to fill out an application and mail it in even if you haven’t been accepted yet. Better safe than sorry. To search for scholarships, go to DAADs website.

Third, send in your intent to enroll! I found this process even more difficult than the uni-assist application, mostly because it was a 14-page one-size-fits-all application that I spent an entire afternoon puzzling my way through just to fill out a couple sections. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to complete it and get it in before the deadline.

sending in the enrollment paperwork

So remember, do your research and start everything early. I hope you found this helpful, and if you’ve got questions leave them in the comments below. Good luck!


11 thoughts on “Guide to applying to a master’s program in Germany as an American

    • It definitely has been a process, but thankfully the whole thing wasn’t quite as intense/stressful as I was expecting. Crossing my fingers and praying that the Deutsche Post wasn’t going to be on strike during the application window was for sure the worst! I remember reading your post about surviving your first week and it definitely doesn’t seem like it was a year ago. Time flies!


    • Absolutely Elena! Feel free to write me from the Contact page and we can talk through the process. It is intimidating but as long as you stay on top of the deadlines it’s really not too painful. Look forward to hearing from you! 🙂


    • That’s in between the two semesters. The winter semester will be ending somewhere in February/March (it depends on your exam schedule) while the summer semester will start in April. That is the window for applications for the winter semester for most universities.


  1. Hey Caitlin! I just stumbled across your blog while searching for some information about the graduate school application process in Germany. I sent you a private message asking for some advice and hope to hear from you soon. Best of luck in your travels! Looks like you’re having a blast!


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