Depending on what you wish to study, you need respective language skills. Be aware that German skills are not mandatory for studying in Germany! There are several universities which offer international study programmes or special post-graduate courses which have English as their language of instruction. Moreover, there are some study programmes where both German and English language modules are part of the curriculum. In that case, you have to provide proof of knowledge in both languages.
Study programmes with German as language of instruction
If you want to study a programme whose language of instruction is German, sufficient German skills are often a prerequisite. There are different ways and certificates on how to prove your German skills, whereby the required level of proficiency varies between universities and study programmes:
TestDaF (“Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache”)
The Test of German as a Foreign Language is offered in more than 90 countries all over the world and takes place six times a year (only three times in the People's Republic of China) at a TestDaf testing centre.
If you pass the TestDaF with at least TDN 4 (intermediate level), you are eligible for direct admission. However, if you achieve lower scores on some test sections, you might still get admission depending on the requirements of the individual university. The costs for the TestDaF depend on the country of residence and the institution where the test is administered.
DSD II: German Language Diploma from the German Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK)—Level II
The German Language Diploma from the German Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs requires a very good knowledge of German which has been acquired at a school abroad, either a German school or a German department, in at least seven consecutive classes. It is taken in the last class of secondary school. You need to have acquired at least level B2.
Goethe-Zertifikat C2 (“GDS—Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom”)
You can take your examination in Germany and worldwide at Goethe Institutes and at examination cooperation partners in your area.
Further proof of German language skills
If you meet certain requirements, you can replace a language certificate with one of the following proofs.
Final certificate from a German (higher) education institution in Germany or abroad
The German “Abitur” (A-Levels) or the certificate of a German-language degree programme (e.g. Bachelor).
Preparatory course (Studienkolleg)
The German examination part (“Prüfungsteil Deutsch”) of the final examination (“Feststellungsprüfung”) at a Studienkolleg is sometimes also recognised as proof of German skills.
If you have “German A (Higher Level)” or German, Biology, or History on Higher Level in the Mixed Language International Baccalaureate with a focus on German.
School-leaving certificate of a European school in Germany
The “Abitur” (A-Levels) from a European School in Germany can only be recognised with successful completion of an examination in German as a first language (L1) or second language (L2).
Study programmes with English as language of instruction
If you want to study in English, you can proof your language skills with one of the following certificates. The required minimum score of each test can be found on the website of your desired university. Be sure to also read the section about further proofs of English language skills, since you do not need to attend a test if you already fulfil certain requirements.
The International English Language Testing System is offered in two different variations: The General and the Academic Test.
While the General Test is mainly for people who want to go abroad for a longer period of time or even emigrate completely, the Academic Test is primarily aimed at students who want to apply to a German or foreign university. The test is administered by the British Council in more than 800 test centres and is also valid for two years.
The Pearson Test of English Academic is one of six different language tests offered by the international Pearson Education Group in over 295 examination centres.
What makes this test so special is the fact that the evaluation is carried out completely by artificial intelligence, whereby—for example—dialects and accents are not assessed, so that an unbiased evaluation is possible. The PTE Academic is valid for up to two years from the date of the examination.
Which language course is the best?
If you did not choose a university yet or if your desired university does not have any specific requirements, you are free to choose one of the tests mentioned above. All four tests are equally recognised by the majority of institutions, so you can decide which one to take based on your personal preferences. Is there perhaps only one TOEFL test centre within your vicinity? Then, for the sake of simplicity, it might be best if you take the TOEFL. In any case, the advantage of the Cambridge Certificate is that it does not lose its validity after two years, unlike the other three.
Further proof of English language skills
If you meet certain requirements, you can replace a language certificate with one of the following proofs of English language proficiency.
Some universities recognise the GMAT as proof of English for Master's degree courses.
English as a school subject in the German “Abitur”
Only a few universities accept this as a proof for sufficient English skills.
Educational certificate of an English-speaking school
You have to have completed at least 5 (B1) or 6 (B2) years in a school where the main language of instruction was English.
Previous English language university studies
You can prove your English language proficiency via the language of instruction in your previous academic education—for example, the language of instruction or a specific amount of credits in English-speaking modules in a Bachelor's program. Proof of the language of instruction is provided by the Transcript of Records or the final certificate. English language content must account for more than 50% of the total performance.
University's own English tests
Some universities, especially private, also have their own tests which assess your English language skills and, after successful completion, enable you to study at that specific university.
Time spent abroad
For some universities it is also sufficient if you spent a specific time in an English-speaking country (at least for six months or, for some universities, a year).
Sometimes universities also accept other proofs of German or English language skills, so be sure to always check the website of your desired university for more details.
Possibilities for learning German
If you do not have the necessary German skills yet, there are plenty of possibilities to learn German. Here are some of them:
Many German universities offer language courses, so just check the website of your desired university.
Private language schools
There are plenty of private language schools in almost every German city where you can learn the language in groups or on you own with intensive tutorial guidance.
The Goethe Institut is a cultural organisation representing Germany worldwide. Courses are not only offered in Germany, but in lots of different countries around the world.
“Deutsch-Uni Online” (DUO)
The DUO is an online portal for learning German. You can learn on your own, in courses, or with guidance.