Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main / Photo: Goethe University

Explainer: How refugees can apply for admission to German universities

For refugees and migrants seeking to access higher education in Germany, there are two major obstacles: The recognition of diplomas and other official certificates as well as the tedious process of assembling all documents required to apply. Benjamin Bathke of InfoMigrants takes an in-depth look at the admission process, required documents, application fees and more.

In Germany, according to estimates by the German Rectors’ Conference, some 3,800 first-time students “with experiences of displacement” enrolled at universities during the winter semester 2018/19. Another 5,200 were participating in “structured preparatory measures” and more than 27,000 used individual counselling options at their university. Overall, roughly 1.1 million refugees currently live in Germany.

With close to three million students enrolled at German universities during the winter semester 2018/19, this means that far less than one percent of students in Germany have a refugee background, and only around one in 100 refugees who live in Germany go to university there. Globally, 36 percent of young people attend an institution of higher education.

‘Uni-assist’ application portal

For their application, refugee and foreign applicants are recommended to use uni-assist e.V, an online portal that processes and evaluates international student applications for more than 180 German universities. 

Financed by handling fees of roughly 300,000 student applications from over 180 countries each year, uni-assist evaluates foreign school and university certificates, determines their equivalence to German educational standards as well as processes individual entry requirements of the target universities.

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While universities partnering with uni-assist don’t require applicants to use uni-assist, they highly recommend it because one can apply even if documents are missing due to one’s refugee status, among other things.

Here are some important tips and practical advice on how to use uni-assist’s online application platform and enroll in university.

Admission requirements

If you’re a refugee or a migrant, you can usually enroll at universities in Germany regardless of your residential status, provided you meet the admission requirements. Here’s what you need:

  • a notarised school-leaving certificate serving as proof of higher education entrance qualifications
  • in case important documents are missing due to your refugee status, such as educational certificates or transcripts of grades, you can still apply by registering, submitting all available documents and then completing the “self-disclosure form” with information on exams, grades and degrees
  • special procedures: the preliminary review documentation (“Vorprüfungsdokumentation,” or VPD) and the “dialogue-oriented service procedure” (DoSV) for popular undergraduate courses with a limited number of spots (“numerus clausus,” or NC)
  • before you apply, you can consult uni-assist’s database to find out if you are qualified to study in Germany using your educational certificates

Required documents

Next step: university admission

After four to six weeks (depending on the region), the result of the uni-assist evaluation will be sent out via e-mail and letter. Depending on the result, there are two possible scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: direct admission – if your higher education entrance qualifications are recognized as equal to a German secondary school leaving certificate (Abitur)
  • Scenario 2: indirect admission – if your higher education entrance qualifications are not fully accepted
  • under both scenarios, you must pass the German Language Examination for University Students (DSH) to begin your studies; if your skill level is less than C1, you only get a conditional approval and need to improve your language skills before the course starts
  • under scenario 2, you usually need to attend a one-year foundation course (“Studienkolleg”), which requires B1 level German skills and passing the university entrance examination (“Prüfung zur Feststellung der Hochschulreife”)
  • each university requires proof of health insurance

On the anabin database, you can check whether your certificates entitle you to a direct or indirect admission, and thus whether you need to go through a Studienkolleg.

Application fees, BAFöG student loans and scholarships

  • If you’ve fled your native country, you can apply for uni-assist cost exemption hereNote that uni-assist’s free application process for refugees will end on 31 December 2019. Starting with the application process for the summer semester 2020, the regular handling fees will apply.
  • Cost exemption is valid for up to three universities, regardless of how many study courses you apply to per university; each additional application costs €30.
  • Like German nationals, recognized refugees and those with a tolerated stay can apply for loans from the so-called Federal Law on Support for Education and Training (“Berufsausbildungsförderungsgesetz,” or BAFöG); at the University of Kassel, successful applicants receive €590 for preparatory courses and €735 for regular studies
  • Funding for foreign students, graduates and postdocs can be found on the DAAD scholarship database, among other places

Special study programs

Aside from Studienkolleg, many universities have special offers for refugees that include preparatory courses, language courses and introductory courses (“Propädeutika”) to prepare for admission to regular degree programs.

Additional information

© InfoMigrants

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