Financial Aid, TuitionStudy Abroad

How to Attend College for Free in Germany

Did you know that as an American you are able to enroll in college courses and complete degrees at institutions in Germany for free? Over 4,000 American students enrolled in German institutions in 2014, a recent report by the German Academic Exchange Service found.

Getting a free college education in Germany may seem too good to be true, but it is in fact possible if you are willing to put forth the effort to plan. If studying and living in Germany is something that sparks your interest, here are some key aspects to consider, as well as a few resources to start your research.


Language requirements

If completing a degree in Germany is something you are serious about, then you should definitely make sure that you are proficient in German for a couple of reasons. First, by knowing how to speak, read, and write in German, your ability to immerse yourself in German culture and society will be heightened. Not learning the local language while studying abroad can have potential negative impacts on the host institution and community, an issue which is discussed further in the article “English: The Impact on Higher Education Abroad.”

Second, most German courses require German language proficiency in order for students to enroll. According to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), “Anyone wanting to study in Germany needs an adequate knowledge of German. International applicants must complete a language test before enrolling.”

American students can demonstrate proficiency of German by completing one of two proficiency tests: 1) the “Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber” (DSH – German language test for admission to university for international applicants), or 2) the “German as a foreign language test” (TestDaF).

If you haven’t yet studied German but want to get a head start, consider enrolling in a German language course at a local community college. If structured traditional classes aren’t your learning style for learning a foreign language, with a little creativity there are many free resources available for learning German! Be sure to check out our article “How to Learn a Language for Free” for a list of wonderful free resources to get you started.

Finding the right German degree program for you

One of the most essential aspects of planning your overseas academic career is deciding what you want to study and where you want to study it. Being open to living in different regions, of course, will only increase your available options.

In any case, narrowing down program choices will take some research and time on your behalf. Where to begin? GraduatesHotline has an excellent site which lists German universities. For a more specific search, try the DAAD search tool for international programs which allows you to select your degree level, study focus, and language of instruction.

Legal matters

Once you’ve found a degree program at a university that fit your interests and goals, there are legal matters to consider and understand; you will have to go through a legal immigration process, which will permit you to legally study and live in Germany. Luckily, this process can be a relatively painless, simple and straightforward once you’ve done your research.

After you have applied to and been accepted to a German college program, you will have to go through the German Embassy or one of its consulates in the U.S. to get a student visa if your studies will last more than 90 days. The German Missions in the United States and the DAAD websites outline exactly what is required and what to expect when completing your student visa application.

Planning your finances

Although the tuition is free, there are other financial aspects to consider when completing your studies, including the cost of moving, housing, and living.

Typically, in order to be eligible for a student visa in Germany, you or your parents must show proof of a regular income of 670 Euros ($750) per month from the three to four months prior to departure. More information on the requirement for sufficient funds can be found here.

According to DAAD, a German student’s average budget is about 864 Euros ($968) However, this cost can be reduced if you plan to share a flat with other students. There are numerous online resources for finding roommates or a flat to share, such as WG-Gesucht, and Studenten-WG.

As an international student on a student visa, you are allowed to work 120 full or 240 half work days per calendar year, without any additional paperwork or visa applications. The income you earn is not subject to federal tax up until 8354 Euros. More information about work eligibility can be found on the DAAD page on earning money in Germany. Also check out our resources on teaching English abroad.

Another way to fund the cost of living while you study in Germany is through scholarships and grants. The DAAD’s Scholarship Database is an excellent tool for finding funding for which you may be eligible and allows you to filter your search by country of origin and subject of study. For more creative solutions for funding your degree in Germany, our article “How to Fund Your Semester Abroad” should help provide you with some ideas! One popular option for working overseas that many Americans seek out is teaching English as a foreign language.

In terms of planning on how to manage your finances while you are living overseas, our article “How to Manage Finances While Studying Abroad” outlines some aspects to consider, such as foreign transaction fees and the basics of opening a bank account overseas.

Making it happen

If you’re interested in completing your undergraduate or graduate degree in Germany, these resources should get you started. Ask yourself what sort of educational experience you hope to have, and go make it happen!

For more information on preparing for life overseas in general and what to expect, our article “Study Abroad: How to Prepare for Life in Another Country” will provide you with important aspects to consider ahead of time to make your transition to life overseas a little easier.

Photo: A sunset in Munich. Credit: dorena-wm / Flickr

Previous post

Teaching English Abroad: What to Know Before You Go

Next post

Are Smaller Classes Better for Students?

The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.