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Step 1: An apprenticeship or studying for a degree in Germany

How can you study at a university in Germany? What is vocational training and how does it work? This overview highlights your possibilities and the conditions that you are required to fulfil.

Eine junge Frau mit langen dunklen Haaren steht vor einem Serverschrank

German version

In Germany, going to school is compulsory. Compulsory schooling starts at the age of six, and depending on the federal state, lasts for nine to ten years. Those who decide to go to school for twelve or thirteen years can study for the Abitur – at an academic secondary school (Gymnasium) or a comprehensive school (Gesamtschule), for example. The Abitur is the general matriculation standard, or university entrance qualification, which allows you to study at a university in Germany. It is possible to study at a technical college or a university or to embark on a vocational training course in a company, for example.


In this article (in German), you can read which types of school exist in which federal state in Germany and which paths lead to the general matriculation standard, the advanced technical college certificate or the subject-related university entrance qualification: Schulsysteme der Bundesländer (School systems of the German federal states)

I am interested in embarking on an apprenticeship

Most vocational training courses do not require a specific school-leaving certificate. With the Abitur, however, you have a school-leaving certificate which generally gives you very good chances in companies that offer apprenticeships.

An apprenticeship takes between two and three and a half years, but usually three years. There are two types of apprenticeship in Germany:

Dual apprenticeship

In a dual apprenticeship, you gain practical experience of working at a company. As a systems mechanic, for example, you work with new technology and are able to make, maintain or repair a solar thermal system unsupervised after your apprenticeship. In an apprenticeship as a merchant for wholesale and export management, for example, you learn how goods are made, bought, transported and sold all over the world. In this context, your native language skills are also a plus. You study for the theory side of your occupation at vocational college – for example, maths, English, economics and law.

In some apprenticeships, you spend three days a week working at your training company and go to vocational college on the other two days. In other apprenticeships, you alternate between spending several weeks at your training company and several weeks at vocational college. Approximately 330 professions are offered in Germany for dual apprenticeship. For your work at your training company, you are paid a training allowance which increases each year of your apprenticeship. In 2022, apprentices in Germany were paid an average gross amount of 1,028 euros per month.


During your apprenticeship, it is also possible to study for your Abitur – on a dual apprenticeship for a craftsmanship trade, for example. This is known as the “BerufsAbitur”. Further information is available (in German) at these links:



College-based apprenticeship

College-based apprenticeships are generally offered at vocational colleges. Typical occupations that it is possible to learn in a college-based apprenticeship include carer, occupational therapist, kindergarten teacher, medical technician and foreign language correspondent. During a college-based apprenticeship, you gain work experience by completing an internship.

In some college-based apprenticeships, such as the caring occupations, you are paid a monthly wage, in most cases you aren’t though. If you study at a private vocational college, you will be required to pay fees. To fund your college-based apprenticeship, you can find a part-time job or receive support from your family. Or you can check whether you are eligible for a government grant, through the BAföG scheme for students, for example.

Starting your apprenticeship: Apply in good time!

Dual and college-based apprenticeships usually start on 1st August or 1st September, but sometimes on 1st February or 1st April. You should apply early, generally one to one and a half years in advance. For example, if you would like to start an apprenticeship as a bank clerk in September 2024, you should send your application to the banks that offer apprenticeships in April 2023. You should also apply for apprenticeship at a vocational training college at least one year before you are due to start.

Sometimes companies also offer apprenticeships at short notice, i.e. a few months or weeks before the start date. If you haven’t yet found an apprenticeship, it is therefore worth asking the training companies again before the apprenticeships are due to start.


To prepare for an apprenticeship, you can take a career orientation and preparation (BOF) course. These last for 13 to 26 weeks. At “workshop days” you get to know different occupations at the practical level, which allows you to ultimately decide on an apprenticeship occupation.


For further information (in German) on the various types of apprenticeship available in Germany, see this article: Ausbildungswege für Abiturientinnen und Abiturienten (Apprenticeships for those with the “Abitur” certificate)

I am interested in studying for a degree

If you would like to study for a degree, the first step is to apply for the degree course at the university of your choice. You can send your application directly to the university or apply through Uni-Assist, which is the central service centre for prospective international students in Germany.

It is only possible to apply twice in one year. In most cases, if you want to start your degree course in the winter semester, it is necessary for you to have applied by mid-July at the latest. If you want to start your degree in the summer semester, it is generally necessary for you to have applied by mid-January.

Many subjects are very popular, which means that they attract more applicants than there are study places. In this case, the universities choose whom they allow onto the degree course. There are also courses of study at every university in Germany that have a restricted admissions policy: Human medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacology. Other courses of study only have restricted admission at certain universities and offer free admission elsewhere. Depending on the course of study and university, it is necessary for you to fulfil different requirements to get a place. The best way to find out about this is on the website of the university that you are interested in.


You can find everything you need to know about applying for a place at university (in German) at Bewerbung um einen Studienplatz (Applying for a place at university).

Once you have the Abitur certificate, there are more than 11,000 undergraduate courses of study that you can start straight away. Studying for a degree in Germany is free of charge – unless you attend a private university. At public universities you only have to pay an administrative fee each semester and, if required, a travel ticket. To support refugees, some universities waive or pay the fees for the administration costs, travel tickets, exams or German courses.

Or both at the same time: Dual studies courses

It is also possible to combine an apprenticeship with studying at a university: with dual studies. On a dual degree course, you complete an apprenticeship or periods of practical training at a company and study for a degree at the same time. There are two kinds of dual degree course: one combines an apprenticeship with a degree course, which means you graduate with both an apprenticeship and a degree. In the other version, you complete compulsory periods of practical training at a company, but you only graduate with a degree. Dual studies courses usually last for between three and four and a half years.


Further information about the topic of dual studies is available at Bewerbung um ein Duales Studium (Applying for a dual studies course)


If you have school certificates from your home country that entitle you to study at a university there, you can check if they are also recognised for studying at a university in Germany. If this is not the case, you can take what is known as a university qualification exam for admission to a degree course. The universities generally prepare you for this examination on their foundation courses (Studienkollegs). Foundation courses mostly last between six and twelve months. In the examination, you must demonstrate that you fulfil the technical, methodological and linguistic requirements to study for a degree. In some federal states, universities can hold their own entrance exams. If you pass such an exam, it means you can study for a degree at that particular university.

Even if you are qualified, however, you still have to learn German first. You can do this, for example, on a language course offered to you by the Federal Employment Agency or the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). Many universities offer intensive language courses. They have also created additional places in their preparatory courses or orientation programmes (e.g. taster studies) to prepare refugees for the start of their university degree. You can find out whom to approach if you have any questions about studying for a degree or completing an apprenticeship in step 5: Applying and preparation.


More information about studying for a degree for refugees is available on the website of the German Rectors’ Conference:



Der Artikel enthält ein Video mit weiteren Informationen.

Weitere Filme findest du auf der abi» Videoübersicht.

Der Artikel enthält ein Video mit weiteren Informationen.

Weitere Filme findest du auf der abi» Videoübersicht.

Points of contact and important links

Federal Employment Agency (BA):


Careers information centres (BiZ) of the federal employment agencies


Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF)


Search for migration advice centres throughout Germany:


Youth Migration Services (JMD)

Integration of young people with a migrant background


Goethe Institute

Germany’s cultural institute; offers information about Germany and language courses


Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)


Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs

Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany


German Rectors’ Conference

Standing conference of university rectors
Information for refugees about studying for a university degree


German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

Information for foreign students regarding study opportunities, universities, funding and life in Germany


German Association of Student Unions

Information on student funding, student accommodation, studying for a degree with a migration background, with a child or with a disability


Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHK)

Regional information on apprenticeship occupations in industry and commerce


Chambers of Crafts (HWK)

Information on preparation courses for apprenticeships


Career orientation for immigrants (BOF)

Information on preparation courses for apprenticeships


“Arrival” app

For your orientation during your initial weeks in Germany; offer from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Federal Employment Agency, Goethe Institute and Bayerischer Rundfunk



Information (in German) on the recognition of foreign qualifications in Germany; offer of the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs


Recognition in Germany

Information portal of the federal government on the recognition of foreign educational and professional qualifications


German Education Server

Information on studying for a degree, apprenticeships and further education in Germany; offer from the federal government and federal states



Information about studying for a degree, courses of study, universities, applications, degrees, dual studies courses; offer of the Federal Employment Agency and the federal states


Information also available in English at


Information (in German) about degree courses that have restricted admissions throughout Germany and dialogue-oriented service procedures; offer of the Foundation for University Admissions



On behalf of approximately 180 universities in Germany, Uni-Assist examines university applications from international students, evaluates certificates and supports applications.


Higher Education Compass

Information about German universities, degree courses, doctorates, international cooperations; offer of the German Rectors’ Conference



Information (in German) about occupations with more than 3,000 job descriptions; offer of the Federal Employment Agency



More than 350 videos about apprenticeships and graduate jobs; offer of the Federal Employment Agency


Federal Employment Agency job search

Database with job vacancies (work, apprenticeship, internship, etc.)



Information about choosing a career, apprenticeships, making applications; information specifically for refugees in English, French and Arabic; offer of the Federal Employment Agency



Information (in German) about dual studies courses and apprenticeships with additional qualification; offer of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training