Are German universities really free

The types of universities at a glance

There are over 400 different universities in Germany. Universities and technical colleges are the two most common types of universities. They exist in state, but also in private or church sponsorship.

The various types of universities and their tasks are defined by the federal states in their respective university laws. A distinction is usually made there between the following types:

  • Universities and colleges with comparable tasks - these include technical universities, the distance university, universities of the Bundeswehr, universities of medicine, veterinary medicine or sport, church and philosophical-theological universities and universities of education
  • Art, music and film schools
  • Universities of applied sciences or universities of applied sciences
  • Universities of applied sciences for public administration
  • Cooperative State University
  • Professional academy
  • Distance higher education

The individual universities are usually divided into departments, faculties or departments.

Please note: The universities and courses of study listed in the book “Studienwahl” and on the portal all have state recognition, provided they are not state-owned anyway. However, there are always new providers on the education market for whom it is not immediately apparent whether a state-recognized (university) degree can be obtained. If this is not the case, there may be problems entering a career and using an academic title. In case of doubt, the science ministries of the federal states will provide you with information on recognition.


Universities are characterized by their broad scientific-theoretical and research-oriented orientation.

In addition to the disciplines of medicine, law, theology, natural sciences and humanities, social sciences, economics, mathematics and computer science, engineering, and agricultural and forestry sciences are also taught. In addition, there is training for the various teaching posts.

However, some universities concentrate their offerings on certain subject areas, such as universities of medicine, veterinary medicine and sports. Some universities also offer dual courses of study. Almost all universities also have the right to award doctorates - i.e. you can acquire a doctorate there.

Universities of the Bundeswehr

At the two universities of the Bundeswehr in Hamburg and Munich, officer candidates receive academic training in university courses or technical college courses (only UniBw Munich) that are equivalent to degrees at other universities. With this training, the graduates can take up a civil academic profession after their commitment period (at least 13 years) has expired.

Church / theological colleges

Theologians are trained at church universities (Protestant), philosophical-theological universities (Catholic) and other theological universities - as well as at the corresponding university faculties. There are also a number of church (technical) universities that offer courses in the social field.

Pedagogical colleges

At universities of education, which only exist in Baden-Württemberg, courses are offered that prepare students for teaching at elementary, secondary, secondary, community and special schools. The teacher training colleges cooperate with universities and technical colleges for training for the teaching post at a grammar school and the teaching post for vocational schools (see "Teaching post in Baden-Württemberg"). The range of courses also includes a number of other courses that are not related to the teaching profession.

Art and music colleges, film schools

Art and music colleges offer courses in the visual and performing arts or in musical subjects. Some of the courses take place in small groups ("classes") or as individual lessons.

Art schools

Bachelor, master or diploma degrees can be obtained at many art colleges. At other universities, on the other hand, the course is very free, poorly structured and does not provide for a final examination. If an artistic subject is being studied for a teaching post as part of the course, the course will - depending on the federal state - either be completed with the state examination or a Bachelor or Master (of Education). Some degree programs provide for a trial period of two semesters at the beginning of the degree.

Music colleges

When studying music and performing arts (musical theater, dance, drama) at music colleges, an intermediate and a final examination are usually provided. Depending on the university, the latter is a university examination (bachelor, master or diploma examination, artistic maturity examination) or a state or church examination. To be admitted, you usually have to pass an aptitude test. Music colleges often train their students on a specific instrument or in singing. The music genre is mostly classical, but jazz, pop or rock are also sometimes represented. The Popakademie Baden-Württemberg in Mannheim, for example, offers courses in the fields of popular music as well as music and creative industries.

Film schools, universities of the media

There are four state film schools nationwide: the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg, the University of Television and Film in Munich, the Art School for Median Cologne and the Film University Konrad Wolf in Potsdam-Babelsberg. They offer courses in all aspects of film production, for example in the areas of screenwriting, directing, camera or film music. Bachelor, master and diploma degrees can be obtained. In addition, there are numerous other private academies and institutes whose offers conclude with a certificate. In order to be admitted to the course, applicants often have to provide evidence of an internship or work samples as well as successfully pass an aptitude test.
In addition, (private) media-oriented universities provide training for various occupational fields in audiovisual and electronic media, sometimes more artistic, sometimes more technical. In addition to classic media such as photography and film, there are offers for media types such as computer graphics and animation as well as 3D simulation. In addition to aesthetic aspects, these courses also deal with media, economic and legal issues.

Drama schools

Some state colleges and universities as well as numerous private schools offer acting courses. Most of the time, an artistic entrance examination is used to decide whether applicants will be admitted. In addition, some universities set an age limit. Depending on the college or university, the course ends with a bachelor's, master's or diploma examination.

Universities of applied sciences / universities of applied sciences

Universities of applied sciences pursue an application-oriented scientific approach. This means that the course is less scientifically and theoretically oriented, but is more oriented towards the requirements in practice. That is why many universities of applied sciences now refer to themselves as "University of Applied Sciences" (HAW), sometimes just "University" or in English " University of Applied Sciences".

Like universities, universities of applied sciences predominantly offer bachelor's and master's degrees. The range of subjects at universities of applied sciences is, however, more limited, because certain courses (e.g. human, veterinary, dentistry and pharmacy as well as teaching posts) are only offered at universities. Often, universities of applied sciences focus on the fields of technology / engineering, economics, media and social affairs.

The integrated practical phases can include internships lasting several weeks, project phases or a whole semester and are completed in companies and institutions. This strengthens the practical application of the course. Previously completed vocational training or work experience can be partially or fully offset against the practical time.

Numerous universities of applied sciences also offer dual study programs.

Universities of applied sciences for (public) administration

At universities of applied sciences for (public) administration of the federal and state governments, students are trained for careers in the higher service in public administration.

The three-year course has a dual structure and takes place alternately at the university and in the training authority. Therefore, access to these universities of applied sciences is only possible through the training authority. These are usually also the point of contact for all questions about studying and applying.

During your studies at a university of applied sciences for (public) administration, you are already a civil servant on revocation and receive a candidate's allowance (see “Public Administration”).

Dual universities

In the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Thuringia and Schleswig-Holstein, the former vocational academies were in DualUniversities transformed.

Dual universities offer courses in the fields of economics, technology and social affairs. The three-year study programs are characterized by the close interlinking of theoretical and practical study phases.
The start of the course is usually on October 1st.
With their degree, the students receive an academic degree and can thus also take up a postgraduate master’s degree in Germany and abroad.

Note: The Schleswig-Holstein Cooperative State University is privately owned, so there are tuition fees.

Professional academies

In addition to the universities, there are vocational academies (BA) in some federal states that offer vocational dual training courses for those with university entrance qualifications as an alternative to university studies.
Your bachelor’s degrees are equivalent to the bachelor’s degrees at universities. Study opportunities are offered in the fields of economics, social affairs and technology, among other things.

Attending vocational academies can, depending on the respective state law and the specific training facility, be funded with training grants according to the BAföG (§2 Paragraph 1 BAföG). You can obtain information from the respective training center or the responsible office for training funding. But: The training allowance is offset against the funding amount.

The vocational academies offer the bachelor's degree as a standard qualification. The degrees from accredited bachelor's degrees at vocational academies are equivalent to the bachelor’s degrees from universities. This means that graduates of an accredited bachelor's degree at a vocational academy can start a master’s degree or another advanced degree program at universities of applied sciences and universities and, under certain conditions, be admitted to a doctorate.

The Addresses of the dual universities and the vocational academies can be found using the course finder.

You can also use the finder to search for courses at vocational academies. To do this, select the search criterion in the advanced search “Vocational academies" out.

You can also search for dual universities using the Federal Employment Agency's study search.

abi >> University panorama

The interactive map of Germany provides information on around 150 university locations:

Statistical information on the universities

E.g. on the number of students the Federal Statistical Office publishes: