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Step 1: Vocational training or studying in Germany

How can you study at a university in Germany? What is vocational training and how does it work? This overview will show you what options you have and what requirements you have to meet.

Eine junge Frau schreibt Willkommensbotschaften auf ein Whiteboard. (Foto: Hans-Martin Issler)

Deutsche Version

School in Germany

School attendance is compulsory in Germany. Compulsory education starts from the age of six and generally lasts – depending on the state – for nine or ten years. Those who stay at school can get their Abitur after a total of twelve or thirteen years – for example at a grammar school (Gymnasium) or a comprehensive school (Gesamtschule). This is the general higher education entrance qualification that gives you a lot of options. You can, for example, study at a university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule) or a university (Universität) or start a vocational training programme at a company.

Info

You can read about what kinds of school there are in each state in Germany and what paths lead to a general higher education qualification, an entrance qualification for universities of applied sciences or a subject-specific higher education entrance qualification in this article: Schulsysteme der Bundesländer (School systems of the federal states).

I want to do a vocational training programme

Most vocational training programmes do not require a specific school qualification. The Abitur is a school qualification that will generally open up very good opportunities at companies that provide training. A vocational training programme lasts between two and three and a half years, but usually three years. There are two types of vocational training in Germany:

Dual training

In a dual training programme, you gain practical experience at a company. As a plant mechanic, for example, you work with new technologies and you will be able to build, maintain or repair a solar plant independently after your training. In a training programme to become a wholesale and export sales specialist, for example, you learn how goods are produced, purchased, transported or sold around the world. Language skills that you bring with you from your native language are an advantage here. You are taught the theory relating to your occupation at a vocational college – for example mathematics, English, economics or law.

In some training programmes, you work at the company for three days a week and go to the vocational college on the other two days. In other training programmes, you alternate between several weeks at the company and several weeks at the vocational college. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may be working partly or entirely from home and taking part in classes at the vocational college virtually. This particularly applies to training programmes that involve you working at a computer. This is not possible in training for skilled trades, for example, where a heating system has to be repaired at a customer’s house. Of course, the applicable hygiene measures and safety precautions must always be observed everywhere.

In Germany, there are around 330 dual training occupations. Because you are working in a company, you receive training pay that increases with every year of your training. In 2020, trainees in Germany earned an average of 963 euros per month.

Tip

You can catch up on your Abitur during your training, for example in a dual training programme in a skilled trade. This is known as a “BerufsAbitur”. Further information is available here: zdh.de/fachbereiche/bildung/berufsabitur

College-based training

College-based training programmes primarily take place at vocational colleges. Here too, classes are predominantly being held virtually due to coronavirus. Typical occupations with college-based training include a registered nurse, an occupational therapist, a nursery school teacher, a medical technical assistant or a foreign language correspondent. You get work experience mainly through internships. You do not generally receive any money for your training. At private vocational colleges, you will even be charged a fee. You can work part-time to fund your training or your family can support you. Or you can check whether you can get funding from the German state, for example via the BAföG (education grant) for schoolchildren.

Training programmes generally start on 1st August or 1st September, sometimes also on 1st February or 1st April. You should apply early, usually one to one and a half years in advance. For example, if you want a training place as a bank clerk in September 2022, you should send your application to banks in April 2021. At other companies, you can still get a place if you apply a few months or weeks in advance. You should also apply atleast a year before the start of a training programme at a vocational college.

Tip

To prepare for a training programme, you can take part in a career orientation and preparation course (BOF course). These last between 13 and 26 weeks. On so-called workshop days, you can get practical experience of various occupations, enabling you to ultimately choose an occupation. Due to coronavirus, the BOF courses are partly taking place online.

Info

You can find further information on the various types of training in Germany in this article: Ausbildungswege für Abiturienten (Training pathways for high school graduates).

I want to study

If you want to study, the first step is your application to your chosen university for your chosen course. You can send your application directly to the university or apply via Uni Assist, which is the central application service for international students in Germany.

Applications are only possible twice a year. The university usually has to receive the application by the middle of July if you want to start the course in the winter semester. If you want to start your studies in the summer semester, you should generally apply by the middle of January.

A number of subjects are very popular. That means that there are more applicants than places. In this case, the universities have to choose who to admit to the course. There are courses that have restricted admission at every university in Germany: human medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy. Other courses have restricted admission only at some universities and have open admission at others. Depending on the course and the university, you have to meet various requirements in order to be admitted. The place to find out what these are is the website of the respective university.

There are around 9,000 undergraduate courses that you can start straight after the Abitur. In the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the universities in Germany have switched almost entirely to virtual teaching. This means that lectures are taking place by video call and students and teachers are communicating by e-mail and in chats.

Studying in Germany is free – unless you attend a private university. At state universities, you just have to pay an administration fee and, if applicable, buy a ticket for local public transport once a semester. To support refugees, various universities waive or take on the costs of the administration fee, the local public transport ticket, tests or German courses.

Info

You can find out all about applying for a university place under the abi>> heading Bewerbung > Studienplatz

Or both combined?

There is also a special form of training: the dual study programme. In this form of training, you complete a training programme or periods of work experience in a company and study at the same time. It comes in two variants: one combines training and studies and the graduates receive a training qualification and a degree. In the other version, periods of work experience at a company are a fixed part of the course, but you only receive a degree at the end. Dual study programmes last between three and four and a half years.

Info

You can find more information about dual study programmes under the abi>> heading Studium > Duales Studium

Requirements for studying

If you have brought your school certificates that entitle you to study at a university with you from your native country, you can have them accredited in Germany. If you do not have these with you, you can take an assessment test in order to be allowed to start a university course. The universities generally prepare you for the test in their preparatory college. Preparatory courses generally last between six and twelve months. In the test, you will demonstrate that you meet the subject-related, methodological and linguistic requirements for a university course. In some states, universities can carry out their own admission tests, which will then entitle you to start a course at this specific university. (More about accreditation in Step 4: What is my certificate worth?)

However, even if you are qualified, you must first learn German. You can, for example, do this in a language course on which you are sent by the Federal Employment Agency or the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). Many universities also offer intensive language courses. They have also created additional places on their preparatory courses or orientation programmes (e.g. taste courses) to prepare refugees for starting a university course. You can find out who to contact with your questions relating to vocational training and studying in Step 5: Who will support me if I need help?

Info

You can find further information on studying for refugees on the website of the German Rectors’ Conference: hrk.de/themen/internationales/internationale-studierende-und-forschende/studium-fuer-gefluechtete

Video

Der Artikel enthält ein Video mit weiteren Informationen.

Weitere Filme findest du auf der abi» Videoübersicht.

Weitere Infos

Federal Employment Agency (BA):

arbeitsagentur.de

Career information centres (BiZ) of the employment agencies

arbeitsagentur.de/bildung/berufsinformationszentrum-biz

“Arrival” app

Orientation in the first few weeks in Germany; provided by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the Federal Employment Agency, the Goethe Institute and Bayerischer Rundfunk

ankommenapp.de

Career orientation for immigrants (BOF)

Information on preparatory courses for training programmes

bibb.de/de/62186.php

Chambers of Crafts (HWK)

Regional information about training occupation in skilled trades

handwerkskammer.de

Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHK)

Regional information about training occupations in industry and commerce

ihk.de

German Association of Student Unions

Information on financing your studies, accommodation whilst studying, studying with a migrant background, studying with a child, studying with a disability

studentenwerke.de

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

Information for foreign students about study options, universities, funding and life in Germany

daad.de/de/studieren-und-forschen-in-deutschland/erste-schritte-deutschland

German Rectors’ Conference

Standing conference of university rectors Information on studying for refugees

hrk.de/themen/internationales/internationale-studierende-und-forschende/studium-fuer-gefluechtete

Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs

Standing conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the states of the Federal Republic of Germany

kmk.org

Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

bmbf.de

Youth Migration Services (JMD)

Integration of young people with a migrant background

jugendmigrationsdienste.de

Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF)

bamf.de

Search for migration advice centres throughout Germany:

bamf-navi.bamf.de/de/Themen/Migrationsberatung

Anabin

Information about the recognition of foreign qualifications in Germany; provided by the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs

anabin.kmk.org/anabin.html

Recognition in Germany

Information portal provided by the federal government about the recognition of foreign vocational qualifications

anerkennung-in-deutschland.de

Uni Assist

Uni Assist checks international student applications on behalf of around 180 German universities, assesses certificates and provides support with applications.

uni-assist.de

studienwahl.de

Information about studying, courses, universities, applications, qualifications, dual study programmes; provided by the Federal Employment Agency and the federal states

studienwahl.de

Information also available in English at studienwahl.de/en

hochschulstart.de

Information on courses with restricted admission throughout Germany and a dialogue-oriented service procedure; provided by the Foundation for University Admission

hochschulstart.de

Higher Education Compass

Information about German universities, courses, doctorates, international partnerships; provided by the German Rectors’ Conference

hochschulkompass.de

BERUFENET

Information about occupations with more than 3,000 descriptions; provided by the Federal Employment Agency

berufenet.arbeitsagentur.de

BERUFE.TV

More than 350 films about training and study occupations; provided by the Federal Employment Agency

berufe.tv

planet-beruf.de

Information about choosing an occupation, training, application; provided by the Federal Employment Agency
planet-beruf.de

Federal Employment Agency job search

Database of vacancies (work, training, internship, etc.)

arbeitsagentur.de/jobsuche

AusbildungPlus

Information about dual study programmes and training programmes with additional qualifications; provided by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training

bibb.de/ausbildungplus/de/index.php

Goethe Institute

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

goethe.de

Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB)

kmk.org/zab/zentralstelle-fuer-auslaendisches-bildungswesen.html

Certificate recognition offices

Overview of certificate recognition offices in Germany, arranged by state:

brd.nrw.de/schule/schulrecht_schulverwaltung/pdf/Zeugnisanerkennungsstellen_in_Deutschland_01_05_2015.pdf

German Education Server

Information about studying, training and further training in Germany; provided by the federal government and the federal states

bildungsserver.de