Although German universities generally allow anyone with at least a degree from a secondary school to enroll, applicants need to first determine whether their degree, or "Hochschulzugangsberechtigung" (HZB), is sufficient.
Check the requirements
Students who have studied previously in the United States need to check the requirements before they apply. This is especially important because there are significant differences between how high school degrees and bachelor's degrees from Germany are perceived.
Applicants are evaluated based on the guidelines of the German Central Office for Foreign Education (Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen, ZaB). The ZaB publishes the requirements for foreign educational qualifications and certificates in its database (anabin).
Only the information in the database anabin ("Schulabschlüsse mit Hochschulzugang“) is binding. Unfortunately, this database is only offered in German, but we've translated it for you on the right.
Applicants to undergraduate programs
The American high school diploma is not sufficient for direct enrollment in German bachelor's degree programs. If you want to enroll directly, you need to meet a few requirements.
- Make sure your degree includes all of the necessary credits. Students missing required courses in math, science and foreign languages are often forced to take additional classes post-graduation.
- Your scores on the ACT and SAT need to be at least a 29 and 1300, respectively. If you do better, this will not affect your performance in the admissions process. This only signifies that you have the basic math and verbal skills to enroll in a university-level course in Germany.
- Be sure to always take the AP exams. Even if you take the necessary AP classes, unless you receive a "3" or better on each exam, you won't be able to use these to prove you have the necessary academic background to study in Germany.
If you don't meet the necessary requirements for direct enrollment, don't despair; you can still either enroll at a US university or in a German Studienkolleg to fulfill the requirements to study.
Applicants to graduate programs
The American bachelor's degree is treated very differently by German universities than the high school diploma. Because most German universities award 3 year bachelor's degrees, the four-year American degree is well-regarded within the German university system. If you want to get a graduate degree in Germany, though, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- German degrees are (usually) consecutive. Because German universities used to award 4 and 5 year degrees before the bachelor-master system was introduced 15 years ago, most bachelor's degrees are still connected to master's degrees. If you want to study for an M.Sc. in Computer Science, you need a B.Sc. as a foundation. This is also true for most degrees in the social sciences, although there is much more flexibility in what is considered "foundational". If you're interested in making a serious pivot, though, there are degrees available that are nonconsecutive and only required an academic background.
- Most German programs do not require the GRE or GMAT. This has changed somewhat in MBA and internationally-oriented programs, but most programs do not expect applicants to submit any standardized tests.
- German graduate schools are competitive, but not as competitive as US schools. If you weren't a model student during your undergraduate studies, don't despair; many German programs accept students with imperfect academic backgrounds. That being said, if you barely graduated, the likelihood that you'll be admitted is very low.