Find your structured PhD programme

Structured PhD programmes in Germany are frequently very similar to the PhD programmes in English-speaking countries, in which a team of supervisors look after a group of doctoral students. As a rule, it is possible to complete a doctorate in three to five years.

Find your PhD programme

There is no central database of all structured PhD programmes in Germany. You can usually find these programmes directly through the respective universities, graduate schools or non-university research institutions. The DAAD database is also a good place to look. Here you will find a large number of PhD programmes that are specially aimed at international doctoral students.

Search for graduate schools and research training groups

Application procedures differ from programme to programme. The precise requirements and deadlines can be found on the website of the respective university, research training group or graduate school. You should therefore first choose a PhD programme and/or graduate school.

Researcher working with computer
Researcher working with computer

When making your selection, you should focus on the following questions: Do the programme, the institution and the environment suit my doctoral proposal? What are the requirements? What is expected of doctoral students?

Once you have found a PhD programme, you should invest sufficient time and care in preparing your application. In some cases, there are application deadlines for admission to programmes. It is therefore advisable to begin looking for a suitable programme in good time before graduation.

Multistage application procedure

For your application to be successful, your planned doctoral thesis must fit in with the main emphases of the programme and you will need a good or very good degree that is recognised in Germany. Initial contacts are usually made over the Internet.

The application procedure itself often involves a number of different stages, but differs from programme to programme.

  • Generally, however, as a first step you will need to submit a curriculum vitae, a copy of your degree certificate, a brief description of your doctoral research proposal and a letter outlining the reasons for your application.
  • The second step, usually on request, involves a detailed application with a comprehensive exposé of the research project. This includes details of your time schedule, references from previous professors, copies of all certificates and your thesis and, possibly, proof of language proficiency.
  • If these documents win over the admissions committee, the applicant is usually invited to a personal interview, which can under certain circumstances also be held as a telephone conference.

When you have found a suitable programme, submit an application to one of the professors in the PhD programme or to the appropriate selection committee – depending on the programme or call for proposals. Here are some useful tips that may help you succeed in your application:

  • Invest a lot of time and effort in your search for the right programme.  
  • Choose your thesis topic in a way that fits in with the programme. Graduate schools are more broadly based in terms of subject matter and work in an interdisciplinary way. Nevertheless, your thesis must fit in with their specific fields of research.
  • Make your motives clear. It is important to show where your interest lies in your very first contact.
  • Demonstrate your interest: show that you know the doctoral programme and you know what to expect.
  • Give details of your own experience in this research field.
  • Show that you are well informed: you know the requirements for a doctorate in Germany.
  • In your covering letter you should be brief and precise.

In your application, you should provide information regarding your prior academic achievement, the topic of your master’s thesis and the subject area in which you wish to specialise.

You should explain your reason for applying, describe your research project and possibly submit a position paper for your planned doctoral thesis. In some cases you will already be expected to know what you would like to do in your thesis and produce a research proposal on the subject.

What you need to bear in mind when submitting your research proposal:

  • Be precise: say exactly why you are writing and what your research project is.
  • Give precise details of what your research involves – and what it does not involve.
  • What do you want to discover in your research? Which problem would you like to solve?
  • Focus on your research topic and do not get lost in sideshows.
  • Develop a coherent and convincing argument in favour of your research project.
  • Don’t get tied up in minor details.
  • Don’t forget to mention the most important works in your research area.
  • Make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.

Download our brochure:


Doing a PhD in Germany (2019, 40 pages)

This booklet for (prospective) international doctoral students presents the different options for doing a doctorate in Germany. It explains the formal requirements and gives some practical advice on finding the right supervisor or doctoral programme. It also outlines different sponsorship and funding options.

Download (PDF, 2 MB)