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Before you can begin your doctoral studies in Germany, there are some preliminary steps you must take, for instance, getting your postgraduate degree recognised. The following is an overview of the most important requirements.
Is German a "must"?
Although being able to speak the host country’s language is extremely useful, if you are doing an individual doctorate, as a rule writing the doctoral thesis in German is not a requirement. You can find out which languages can be used for your thesis in the respective doctoral regulations.
Structured programmes frequently allow students to complete their doctorate in English. If you are working for an individual doctorate and wish to enrol for a doctoral course at the university, in some cases you may need to present a German language examination certificate.
More information: Learn German.
Finding a PhD place
As you begin your search for a doctoral place, you must decide whether you wish to pursue a doctorate on your own under the supervision of a professor (individual doctoral study) or participate in a structured PhD programme, for example, at a graduate school. Then you have to search for a PhD place or PhD programme.
More information: Find your PhD position.
Recognition of your higher education degree
The most important formal qualification for beginning a PhD in Germany is a very good higher education degree that is recognised in Germany. Generally, a minimum of eight semesters of academic study is required, and the degree must be equivalent to a German Master. Decisions on the recognition of earlier periods of study lie solely with the individual German higher education institution. Prospective doctoral candidates must submit an application for the recognition of their higher education qualifications to the Dean’s office ("Dekanat") or the Board of examiners ("Promotionsausschuss") at the respective department.
Exceptionally well-qualified international applicants might be admitted as doctoral students with a Bachelor degree (fast-track programme). Usually an examination is then required.
More information can be found in the doctoral regulations, which are usually posted on the respective department’s website.
Acceptance as a doctoral candidate in a university department
Once you have found a supervisor, you have taken the most important step. Now the responsible department or doctoral committee must confirm your eligibility as a doctoral candidate.
This usually involves completing an application that includes a statement by your doctoral supervisor, certified copies of certificates and the university degree that entitles you to engage in doctoral study.
Admission to doctoral studies
The decision on admission to study ("Zulassung zum Studium") is taken by the responsible body at the higher education institution on the basis of the current study and/or doctoral degree regulations. In some cases, admission is dependent on a further examination that determines whether the applicant’s knowledge reaches the standard required for a German higher education degree.
If the doctoral programme requires that the doctoral thesis is written in German, it is sometimes the case that the candidate must submit proof of adequate knowledge of German (for example, by passing the DSH or TestDaF examination).
In most cases, however, it is not necessary to write your thesis in German. Conditions pertaining to the language of the thesis are outlined in the doctoral regulations of the corresponding department, which are normally available on the department’s website.
Doctoral regulations contain the most important academic and departmental rules governing the award of a doctorate. They cover admission to the doctoral programme, admission conditions (degree qualifications, grades, etc.), regulations on submitting the thesis and obtaining expert opinions, as well as the details of the oral examination.
Your next step is to enrol. There are several advantages to enrolling as a doctoral candidate, for instance, securing better legal status as a foreign resident. To be eligible for enrolment, the university must first accept your application for admission to doctoral studies (see Admission to doctoral studies).
However, not all departments require doctoral candidates to officially enrol at university. Provisions pertaining to enrolment are stipulated in the doctoral regulations issued by the faculty, which are usually posted on the faculty’s website