Germany’s historic and highly-ranked universities make it an excellent choice for studying abroad. Having offered the PhD since the nineteenth century, they know a thing or two about delivering innovative, high-quality postgraduate programmes. Best of all, most universities do not charge tuition fees.
Why study a PhD in Germany?
Globally ranked institutions – Germany is home to more globally-ranked institutions than any other country outside the USA and UK. Nine of them feature in the current top 100
Dedicated research institutes – Germany is also home to networks of dedicated research centres. These include the prestigious Max Planck Institutes, as well as specific collaborations between universities and research institutes.
Max Planck Schools – The Max Planck Schools is a network that brings together experts from different institutions to address joint research objectives. They bring together international PhD students with Germany's best scientists. Research takes place in three interdisciplinary fields: Cognition, Matter to Life and Photonics. The Schools offer fully financed PhD positions. Candidates benefit from unique expertise, infrastructure and training opportunities.
Affordability – Most German universities charge no tuition fees for PhD students, regardless of nationality.
The home of the PhD – The PhD (in its modern form as a thesis-based research degree) was actually developed in Germany. Perhaps this ‘original contribution to knowledge’ can help inspire yours?
Structure of a PhD in Germany
The doctoral degree – based on independent research towards an extended thesis – was, in fact, a German innovation. This format is still offered at most universities, but some also offer more ‘structured’ programmes:
The traditional PhD – you will pursue a research project independently with the guidance of an expert supervisor (Doktorvater / Doktomutter). The candidate chooses the institution where they would like to conduct their research. This could be at a university or non-university organisation, or within a German company. It is a more flexible and independent PhD with no compulsory attendance or set curriculum.
Structured doctoral programmes – these are conducted largely in English and are internationally-oriented. You will complete additional training alongside your thesis. This might include collaborations and placements with external research institutes. It might include compulsory lectures, seminars and assessments. You’ll also have to attend skills training in research/scientific methods.
In general, both types of programmes will involve conducting a research project and writing a thesis. The majority of PhD candidates complete the traditional doctorate. However, a growing number are choosing structured programmes – especially in the natural sciences and mathematics.
How long does a PhD in Germany last?
A traditional PhD usually takes four years, compared to three years for a structured doctoral programme. The academic year in Germany is usually comprised of two semesters with the Wintersemester running from 1 October to 31 March and Sommersemester running from 1 April to 30 September.
Assessments during a PhD in Germany
The assessment procedure for a German PhD depends on the type of programme you pursue. Students following a traditional PhD will submit a doctoral thesis. They will also complete an oral presentation and examination of their work (Rigosorum). This takes place in front of at least two professors in related fields.
If you choose a structured programme you will need to complete several compulsory units to attain the 180-240 ECTS credits required for PhD students. You will be assessed on your knowledge of course content delivered in lectures and seminars.
Think Germany could be your study abroad destination of choice? Check out more information on applications, fees, funding and visas below.
Think you’re ready to find the perfect project for you?
Interested in studying a PhD degree in Germany? Our guide tells you all about the different universities that offer PhD programmes and how they rank on global tables so that you can make the best decision.