What's an NC? Everything you need to know about Numerus Clausus

Most Americans who decide to apply to study in Germany are drawn by the low (or free) tuition, but another part of the system that appeals to many students is the simplified admissions process. Unlike the approach of the American system, which weighs many factors when deciding whether or not to admit a student and can lead to many sleepless nights in high school, zulassungsbeschraenkt (admission restricted) university study programs simplify the process through the use of a Numerus Clausus (NC) designation, which restricts the total number of places available in a program.

Germany has a limited number of total university places. If you want to study medicine, for example, you generally need the equivalent of a 4.0 G.P.A (1,0 on the German scale) to get a place in most medical schools. Around half of all programs use some form of an NC to restrict their enrollment. In 2015 at the Free University, for example, the Philosophy Department determined that it had 45 available places for its M.A. program. Because they received 104 highly qualified applicants, they ended up setting their NC at 1,4, roughly equivalent to an American 3.7 GPA. 

This doesn't necessary mean, though, that an applicant with a grade below the NC won't be admitted to a given program. Looking at the NC from previous years does give you a sense of how likely you are to be admitted. If you have a 3.0, then the Philosophy program probably won't admit you, but it's likely worth applying with a 3.6.

But if your dream study program has an NC that seems to put it out of reach, don’t despair. “Students shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing studies in their desired area by an NC,” says Frank Ziegele, head of CHE, a university think tank. The majority of programs in Germany are still zulassungsfrei, which means that they have unrestricted admission policies. As long as you meet the minimum requirements to study in Germany, you'll normally be able to directly enroll in zulassungsfrei programs. Some programs do also require applicants to pass general competency exams administered at the university which test things like general math or language skills, so be sure to check the regulations of each individual program before you apply.

Source: Spiegel Online

So, how likely are you to find an NC in place at the program you're applying to? A lot of this has to do with the subject you're interested, but in Winter Semester 2015/2016, the total number across all programs in the country was 42 percent. In a positive development, the overall number of programs with NCs across the country has been declining in the past few years. Overall, the total number of NC restricted programs has fallen by 10 percent since 2014.

One major thing to remember the German admissions system is that an NC doesn't say anything about the difficulty, quality, or content of a program; it only tells you how interested other students are in it. Universities decide how many places to allot every semester, and they accept up to that many and use the NC to restrict the total. In general, competitiveness isn't a good metric to use when evaluating programs in Germany. There are many universities offering highly-ranked programs that don't use an NC because their locations are less desirable to German students. The universities in the states of Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Thuringia only restrict around a quarter of their programs, which include some offered by such august institutions as the University of Jena and the University of Greifswald. In the west, Rhineland Palatinate, home to the University of Koblenz and University of Trier, has a similar low level of NC-designated programs.


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