Nowadays, most study programs offered at higher education institutions in Germany include “tiered” degrees. Bachelor and master degrees are considered career-qualifying degrees and can be compared on an international level.
There are two types of degrees: those based on an institutional examination and those based on an examination conducted by the state (Staatsexamen) or the church. These degrees typically are career-qualifying degrees. (In Germany, intermediate or preliminary examinations are not regarded as degrees).
University examinations usually lead to Bachelor's or Master's degree or a doctorate (and, to a lesser extent, Diplom degrees and Magister/Magistra Artium degrees).
Please note: Universities and courses of study listed on www.studienwahl.de are recognized by the state. Since new actors enter the educational market, it is in some cases unclear, whether they offer state-approved degrees (of higher education). If not, you may experience problems when starting your professional career and attaining academic titles. In case of doubt, please contact the Ministry of Education and Research of the respective German state.
Bachelor and Master
The European education reform
In 1999, government representatives from 29 European countries signed the so-called "Bologna Declaration" that focused on reforming the European sector of higher education and implementing the European Higher Education Area in 2010 to ensure internationally comparable degrees. It increased international mobility for students and more relevance of graduates for the labor market. To date, 47 countries, the EU Commission and seven other organizations are part of the European Higher Education Area.
According to the German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, HRK), by the 2018 summer semester more than 19,000 two-cycle degree programs (bachelor/master) were hosted by universities, universities of applied sciences as well as colleges of art and music. In total, 91,5% of study programs offered in Germany are two-cycle degree programs. The vast majority of study programs that have not been converted to bachelor or master are in legal sciences or medicine (leading to the Staatsexamen), end with an art-degrees or a church-related degrees or are for teaching professions in some states. It has yet to be decided, whether these programs will be converted to bachelor/master as well.
Two-cycle degree programs
Bachelor and master programs are available at universities and comparable higher education institutions as well as at universities of applied sciences and art or music schools. The regular period for full-time students to achieve a master's degree is ten semesters; a reduction or extension of this regular period is possible in exceptional cases.
Following an eight-semester bachelor program at a higher education institution, you can take a four-semester master program at another higher education institution. Art and music schools offer consecutive bachelor/master programs for art courses with regular study periods of up to twelve semesters for full-time students.
The bachelor degree is the typical degree within the German system of “tiered” degrees. Bachelor programs serve to convey scientific fundamentals, method competences and field-related qualifications. The bachelor degree is the first career-qualifying degree you can attain from a higher education institution.
Bachelor programs can focus on one single subject (mono bachelor) or can combine several subjects (combination or 2-subject bachelor).
The regular study period for full-time bachelor programs is between six and eight semesters. Students must attain at least 180 or, respectively, 240 ECTS points to graduate (performance points system).
Master degrees are also career-qualifying degrees. Master programs serve to convey specialized factual and scientific knowledge or to expand knowledge and can be divided into user-oriented and research-oriented programs.
To enroll in a master program, you typically need a career-qualifying degree from a higher education institution, for example a bachelor degree. There are defined exceptional cases in some federal states in postgraduate and artistic master’s programs, where an aptitude test can stand in place of a university degree. The admission to a master’s program is predominantly dependent on the proof of special qualifications with regard to the specific requirements of the respective study program. Special knowledge of languages, an acceptance test, or a high good bachelor score can be such entry requirements.
Besides consecutive master's programs whose content build on a bachelor's program and which continue or extend the subject matter studied in the undergraduate stage, higher education institutions can also offer postgraduate master's programs; the latter require the student to have at least one year of qualified professional (career) experience. Postgraduate programs are not listed on www.studienwahl.de! Please consult www.hochschulkompass.de instead.
Master's degrees attained at universities and equivalent higher education institutions, universities of applied sciences, or colleges of art/music fundamentally qualify holders for admission to doctoral programs. Master's degrees gained at universities and universities of applied sciences give graduates the opportunity to enter higher intermediate or executive career paths in the public administration.
The Master's program will last a minimum of two and a maximum of four semesters. To graduate from a Master's program, students must score an accumulated total of 300 ECTS credit points (i.e. total points gained in the Master's and the Bachelor's program).
Depending on the subject group in question, different degree titles can be awarded. The "diploma supplement" provides detailed information on what the student studied in the program and the obtained qualifications.
Postgraduate Master’s programs may also award differing degree titles (e.g. Master of Business Administration (MBA)).
While some German states have changed their degree programs for teachers to the two-cycle degree program with Bachelor’s and Master’s, others still hold on to the state examination. Against this background, in 2005 and 2013 the Conference of Ministers of Education (Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK) adopted resolutions that regulate degrees attained for study programs for teaching professions across federal states (see Section “Teaching professions”, only available in German).
A „module“ is a combination of balanced subjects and courses in time and content, that has one learning target. Modules shape a study unit, that is self-contained and designated with credit points. All modules are completed with a course-related test, of which the result appears in the diploma.
The course achievements are measured using the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Credit Points (ECTS point, credits) are the measurement for the work load of the students. They count not only the classes at university, but also the time a student spends for preparation and follow up, tests and revision, including the thesis, seminar papers and internships. As a rule there are 30 ECTS per semester, while one credit point corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of work. This means a workload of 750 to 900 hours per semester.
Programs leading to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are reviewed in an evaluation process called „accreditation“. To do this the federal states have founded the „Foundation for the Accreditation of Study Programmes in Germany“.
The accreditation process
The Accreditation Council (“Akkreditierungsrat”), the central committee of competence with representatives of the universities, the federal states, professionals as well as students, defines the standards and criteria for the accreditation process. Accreditation agencies are commissioned to review single study programs (= program accreditation) or the quality management system of the universities (= program accreditation) with the help of external consultants (mainly specialized researchers, practitioners and students). Programs with a positive accreditation bear the quality seal of the Accreditation Council. The central database on all degree programs accredited in Germany can be found on the website of the Accreditation Council (www.akkreditierungsrat.de).
Study programmes in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science/medicine, pharmacy, food chemistry, and teaching are completed with a state examination (Staatsexamen). Not universities but state examinations offices are responsible awarding the Staatsexamen degree. In legal sciences, students must pass a university-conducted examination on their respective major subject and a state-conducted examination on their mandatory subject.
If you pass the state examination (Staatsexamen), you are eligible to start your career or a preparatory service period (Vorbereitungsdienst). This service ends with a second state examination.
After the European education reform (Bologna Process), Diplom and Magister programs were replaced with Bachelor and Master programs.
A small number of study programs still offer the possibility to graduate with a Diploma examination. Diplom study programs focus on a single field of study (e.g. Mechanical Engineering). Diplom degrees gained at a university of applied sciences are traditionally labeled with (FH), e.g. Diplom-Ingenieur/-in (FH).
The number of Magister programs today is very small. Magister programs are offered traditionally only at universities. Typically two main subjects or one main subject and two side subjects were combined in a magister program. Nowadays, most Magister programs are available only in theology.
The church examination degree (Kirchliche Prüfung) in theology is set on the basis of examinations regulations issued by the church authorities. However, Diplom and Magister degrees as well as Bachelor's and Master's degrees are also awarded in this field.
With some few exceptions, a doctorate (Promotion) is necessary for an academic or university career. As a rule, candidates must already hold one of the other university degrees to qualify for admission to a doctoral programme. A minimum grade point average is also often a prerequisite. The dissertation must represent a piece of independent academic research work that leads to substantial new findings. For information on ways of gaining a doctorate in Germany, go to the website Higher Education Compass maintained by the German Rectors' Conference (HRK).