Doctorate degree in Germany
A doctorate degree in Germany

Mortarboard - Metaphor: Doctorate degree in Germany

In order to be admitted to a doctorate degree in Germany, a university degree with good grades is essential © antoni_halim /

25 000 doctoral students graduate from one of approximately 120 higher education institutions every year. Those who would like to pursue a doctorate degree in Germany will experience the interplay between an authentic higher education tradition and modern academic institutions.

Published: 2013-01-01

By: Carolin Schlack

Germany is the world's third largest economy and industrial nation; its demand for highly qualified, internationally educated researchers is increasing. By pursuing a doctorate degree abroad, you are advancing the international academic debate; in addition you gain contacts that are highly valuable for your academic career. 

Although some universities are oriented towards the education system of international graduate schools, this path to obtaining a doctorate degree is not common in Germany. The requirements placed on "conventional" doctorate students, however, are very high and demand independent academic working. 

In order to be admitted to a doctorate degree, a university degree with good grades is essential. To obtain the doctorate degree, the student must independently write a research paper, the so-called "Dissertation". In addition to the written dissertation and depending on the respective discipline and faculty, an oral examination, a colloquium or a defence of the dissertation before the publicly convening doctoral awards commission of the faculty is required. A doctoral student in Germany does not follow a curriculum. Instead, the supervisor will oversee your work and support you in writing your research paper. 

The duration of a doctoral degree study is not predefined. After passing the complete examination, doctoral students must publish their dissertation in the prescribed form. This can be either a required minimum number of published books, a publication in a relevant journal or in the form of an electronic publication. Only after this procedure has been concluded will the doctorate certificate be awarded. 


There is no central agency for accepting doctoral students. The advantage of this is that you can freely choose your supervisor and institution. 

The first step is thus to find a suitable professor who is willing to supervise the work for your doctoral dissertation. There are several possibilities for making contact. You may have gained an impression of certain professors through publications, guest lectures or conferences. You can also contact your favoured supervisor through their university's website. A further possibility for contact is the university's international office (Akademisches Auslandsamt) which can provide you with more detailed information about professors. The contact address of the international office can be obtained from the respective university's website. 

Once you have chosen your supervisor, you can send them an email or a letter. It is important that you describe your intended research project and your experience in the respective academic field and include your up-to-date curriculum vitae. If the professor is interested in your work, you will normally be required to send him/her a research proposal (up to a maximum of 100 pages) detailing your research project. You may also be asked to take additional oral or written tests. 

Once you have found a supervisor, the next step is to verify whether you hold a degree that is equivalent to a German university degree. For this you need a so-called equivalency certificate (Äquivalenzbestätigung) which will be initiated by the dean of your faculty. 

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Support programmes run by the DAAD» (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst - German Academic Exchange Service) and the DFG» (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - German Research Foundation) offer foreign postgraduates support for writing their doctoral dissertation. Optimal supervision and support can for example reduce the time it takes to complete a doctorate. Furthermore, courses taught in English are offered. In addition to DAAD, some universities provide their own support programmes. Since these institutions cooperate with different partners, the form of support can be very specific. In most cases, the respective contact details can be found on the website of the university you have chosen. Many other German funding organistations also support highly talented international PhD students. As a rule, the prerequisite is an above-average university degree. A list of relevant funding organisations, funding databases and selected funding programmes for PhD students can be found here: Research in Germany. 

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