A Guide to PhD Programs in Germany: Top Universities, Application Process

A Guide to PhD Programs in Germany: Top Universities, Application Process

5 mins read1.4K Views 1 Comment
Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Jan 31, 2023 23:30 IST

PhD in Germany: German universities, research institutions and companies offer excellent opportunities for doctorate studies to international students. Deciding to pursue your PhD in Germany is merely the beginning of a rather invigorating journey. More than 28,000 graduate students complete a doctorate in Germany every year – far more than in any other member state of the European Union. Every year, roughly 5,800 international scholars are awarded a doctoral degree by a German university. (source: Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany)

What is needed to keep you from pursuing your PhD in Germany is a sound understanding of how to study PhD programs in Germany, what is the process and what all would be required of you. Furthermore, you would need to understand the cost involved as well as the prospects for pursuing PhD in Germany for Indian students. The article below answers all of the above questions and more, so read on.

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Check: Study in Germany - Colleges, Eligibility & Scholarships

Top Reasons to do your PhD in Germany

In this section, we are going to be discussing the top reasons for you to pursue your PhD in Germany:

  • Exceptional research environment
  • Strong international focus: PhD in English
  • Outstanding funding opportunities
  • Freedom to realise your creative potential
  • Moderate tuition cost (but) high standard of living

PhD in Germany: Where to Study?

You need to understand that Germans are serious about their research programmes and a host of educational/ research centres offer doctoral programs in the country. You can receive a doctoral degree either from

  1. Individual Universities in Germany of natural/applied sciences (often called Technical Universities) that have the right to award Doctoral Degrees. Overall there are over 140 universities that can award the degree. The list includes famous names ranging from the oldest universities like the Ruprecht – Heidelberg University to the country’s largest universities like the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich in Munich.
  2. Non-University Organizations which include research training groups funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation). This category includes prestigious institutions like the Max Planck Society (MPG), the Scientific Community Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (WGL), the Helmholtz Association and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG).
  3. Private Universities/ Business Schools that are part of the Excellence Initiative like the European Business School.
  4. Industrial Research Facilities also offer doctoral programmes. Usually supported by a university, these industrial research facilities in collaboration with various universities offer scholarships to candidates and invite them to work on the various doctoral programmes. It is interesting to note that approximately 70% of the companies in Germany have their research centres and many are extremely interested in not only inviting students for research work but also offering permanent jobs to their doctoral graduates.

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How to Obtain a PhD in Germany for Indian students

Furthermore, broadly classifying, there are two kinds of PhD programs available in Germany,

  1. Individual PhD. Programmes
  2. Structured PhD. Programmes

An Individual Doctorate/Ph.D. is the traditional doctoral programme in Germany wherein you work directly under a professor on the chosen topic of your study and complete the same individually. As such, the programme often varies in length and usually extends anywhere between 3 to 5 years. You would be working under the explicit guidance of the professoforchosen by you on your dissertation. Sometimes the same might extend to a team of 2 or three individuals working towards gaining their doctorates.

The Structured Doctorate is similar to PhDs offered in English-speaking countries as well as India. These are formal doctoral programmes run by the University/Research Centre. The programme has a clearly defined process and the information is shared by means of stipulated seminars/lectures by the professor.

The two are summarized for your below.


Individual PhD.

Structured Ph.D.


Masters recognized by German institute offering the Ph.D. + Language Proficiency certificate. The specific requirements, however, may vary from program to program and it is advisable to check the same before applying.

Tuition Fee

There is no tuition fee for doctoral programmes at public universities. As for the doctoral students at the research training groups, graduate schools or the non-university research schools, they complete their research usually as a research associate or receive a scholarship


Highly flexible and completely dependent on the individual's pace and how he/she wishes to pursue it. It usually takes anywhere between 3&5 years to complete a doctoral thesis and depends on the work contract/permit entered to by the individual at the time of admission.

Dedicated slots are given for lectures/ seminars/ lab work. Usually extends up to 3 years. It becomes the responsibility of the individual to manage the research accordingly.

Application Process

Step 1

Choose a Supervisor/ Professor

Choose a Structured Doctoral Programme commensurate with your chosen field of research

Step 2

Present your application which should ideally include your educational transcripts, a copy of your undergraduate dissertation topic, chosen area of specialization, an outline of your doctoral thesis as well as your research proposal. The applications are directed to the Dean's Office or the Board of Examiners for recognition of the degrees.

Submit your CV along with degree certificates, a brief of your doctoral research proposal along with a letter signifying why you are interested in joining the programme (SOP). The applications are sent to the Thesis Committee or the Department Office as per the program specification.

Step 3

Apply to the department/university/ board of examiners with a detailed application as desired. This might also require you to submit proof of language proficiency

Submit a detailed application which would ideally have a comprehensive research project outline, reference letters from previous professors/employers, copies of all certificates asked as well as a copy of your previous dissertation

Step 4

Apply for and get accepted as a doctoral candidate in the university/research centre

Submit documents as asked which might include a proof of language proficiency

Step 5


Appear for a personal Interview. Sometimes the interview might be conducted by means of a telephone conference.

Check: Top Reasons to Study in Germany

Also, Germany has part-time PhD for Indian students. Students can become research scholars by meeting the set requirements and can pursue PhD in various subjects at renowned universities or colleges.

Besides the above, it would be advisable to mention that though the costs of tuition are not much or non-existent, you should still understand that more or less you would have to bear the cost of living in Germany. On average, you would end up spending somewhere around €750 – €900 in a month to stay in Germany. This is important to note as, during the time of visa, you would be asked to show proof of funds for at least the first year of your stay in Germany.

So, gear up and start your journey. We recommend you start researching the right doctoral programme for you. Important resources for starting your journey would be

All the best!

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About the Author
Written by
Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert

Rahul Singha is a seasoned editor with Shiksha Study Abroad, specializing in overseas education. With over 8 years of domain experience, he has made a significant impact in contributing to the study abroad industry ... Read Full Bio

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Chetna Dewangan

5 years ago

Can i apply there for MBBS and what it's criteria

Reply to Chetna Dewangan

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