German Higher Education Entrance Qualification – Abitur


If you ever planned beginning your higher education studies in Germany, you must unquestionably be aware that holding the appropriate entitlement to qualify you to do so, is one of the key requirements for a successful application and studying in any German higher education institution. “Hochschulzugangsberechtigung” or the University Entrance Qualification, indicating the fact that the earlier education qualifies you to enter higher education studies in Germany, is the entitlement needed to possess when ready to apply for entering higher education studies in Germany. Despite the importance that this University Entrance Qualification has, anyhow, you must never ignore the fact that there are a number of other requirements of admission, you must put into consideration correspondingly when deciding to apply in any higher education in Germany.

High school graduates, following the end of their studies in a German school, in the country or abroad, receive an entitling certificate to enter higher education studies known as “Abitur”. The German Abitur is a qualification obtained at the upper Gymnasium level “Gymnasiale Obersufe” after 12 or 13 years of school education in a German school, authorizing the holder to study any subject at any higher education institution in Germany.

As Germany is one of the key attracting countries for many international students for pursuing higher education studies, the question is – what about those who did not have a German Abitur? Which is the way for their earlier education to be evaluated and to be harmonized with a German Abitur?

In such case, everyone who does not have a German Abitur, must necessarily have an entitlement that corresponds to the German Abitur level. In some cases, this entitlement can be a recognized foreign school-leaving certificate and sometimes a university entrance qualification examination. However, the rule is all-inclusive; everyone who wants to enter higher education studies in Germany must have a Higher Education Entrance Qualification.  As for those who do not possess a German Abitur but their education is recognized in Germany, in order for their application for admission to be considered complete, providing evidence about their earlier education being equivalent to the German Abitur is a compulsion.

Furthermore, every country has its own specific school-leaving certificates and so, not all of them can be equal to a German Abitur and some foreign school-leaving certificates are not recognized or partially recognized in Germany. In such case, a foundation course at “Studienkollegs” that leads to the University Entrance Qualification Examination is what an international – whose earlier education is not recognized in Germany needs, in order to make its earlier education recognized for entering higher education studies in Germany.

Categories of entitlements for entering higher education studies in Germany

Depending on the earlier education of the candidate, there are few categories of recognition or entitlements that qualify a candidate to apply for and enter higher education studies in Germany, as follows:

Direct entitlement

The candidate holding a direct entitlement is authorized to directly apply for the university admission and study in any higher education institution in Germany.

Indirect entitlement

Indirect entitlement is given  to the candidates whose earlier education does not directly qualify them to apply for the university admission. This category of candidates needs to enroll in a year preparatory course at Studienkolleg and must pass the University Entrance Qualification Exam. If successfully passing this exam, the candidate might have a direct or subject-specific university application.

General entitlement

A general entitlement holder enjoys the sufficient authority to apply for admission in any study subject in any chosen higher education institution in Germany.

Subject-specific entitlement

Holding a subject-specific entitlement the candidate can only apply and study in specific university study fields, as its earlier education received in home country, or exams it passed define subject areas that the candidate is proficient to study at.

There are five categories of subject areas recognized in Germany:

  • Technical and scientific subjects (T),
  • Social and Economic Sciences (W),
  • Medicine and Biology or related subjects (M),
  • Humanities and languages (G and S, at times combined as G/S).

How can I know if my secondary school leaving certificate is or is not sufficient

As previously mentioned, not all secondary school-leaving certificates are acknowledged in Germany, and as a result, not every person who possesses such certification – received by home country secondary schools, can be automatically considered an eligible candidate to apply for admission in a higher education institution in Germany. Accordingly, the country where the candidate has received a secondary school leaving certificate has a significant role as regards of foreign education recognition in Germany.

Candidates who received a school-leaving certificate from an institution in the European Union, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland, typically their certificates are automatically recognized in Germany.

As well, for candidates who finished their secondary education in one of 140 German schools abroad, their education will be automatically similarly recognized.

In any case, differentiating information about your school-leaving certificate being sufficient or not for entering higher education studies in Germany it is not that simple. And so, the best way for the candidate to answer to such important question, is by consulting very resourceful databases on the subject of foreign certificates recognition in Germany – the Anabin database and DAAD’s Database, and most importantly, the International Office of the University where you want to apply – being the final authority to decide on the recognition of your earlier education, as well as to offer additional guidance.

The DAAD Database

The  DAAD Database for Entrance Qualification is a resourceful database with information regarding foreign education certificates recognition in Germany. By selecting the country where you obtained your school-leaving certificate within the database, you might get a lot of specific information about the level of recognition of your education.

The Anabin Database

The Anabin Database is another very reliable free online tool/database for you and all foreign candidates who seeks to enter higher education studies in Germany – for understanding if German Education System recognizes your foreign education certificates and authorities.

This database, by possessing a country-specific searching options, allows you to get specific information about recognition of your earlier education certificate received in your home or other foreign country. Moreover, the database provides additional guidance about what are the further requirements for making your earlier education recognized in Germany. The Anabin database offers information that is exclusively in German language.

The International Office of the University

Despite the fact that Anabin and DAAD’s database are very practical and reliable channels of information about foreign education recognition in Germany, the International Office of the University is another important address where you can and must get the definite information from as respects of the question you have if your earlier education certificates are recognized or not for entering higher education studies in Germany.

Write an e-mail to the international office of the university where you want to pursue your studies at (typically contacts of such office are found in the contact section of the official university webpage), requiring the information concerning the recognition of your earlier education received abroad and further advices in case of insufficiency of your education.

The University will inform you if your education is recognized and the category of recognition and will guide about all the requirements needed to put consideration to make you an eligible candidate for admission in any higher education institution in Germany.

Keep in mind that is the university’s responsibility to conclusively decide regarding the candidate’s earlier education recognition.

If secondary school leaving certificate is not sufficient

Assuming your secondary school-leaving certificate does not fulfill the requirements for university admission in Germany, or is not equivalent to a German Abitur – there is no need to get disappointed, since there is a chance for you to get an alternative document, as a substitute of a German Abitur. This document can be taken after you successfully prove passing the University Qualification Assessment Exam, known as “Feststellungsprüfung”.

How to undergo the University Qualification Assessment Exam

The University Qualification Assessment Exam “Feststellungsprüfung” is a formal exam dedicated to all foreign candidates who seek to enter higher education studies in Germany, whose secondary school-leaving certificate is not equivalent to a German Abitur.

If successfully passing this exam, you are considered an eligible candidate to apply for admission into any German higher education institution, equal to other German Abitur holders.

This exam, as it is very demanding, typically requires a full participation of the candidate in lessons of the university preparatory / foundation course at the “Studienkolleg”, lasting two semesters – an academic year, offering subject-related knowledge. Also, there is a possibility for the candidate to prepare for the Assesement Exam on its own by registering as an external candidate, but a prior consultation with the university or Studienkolleg is highly recommended.

In case of failing the Assessment Exam at the first time, there is only one more that you are allowed to undergo the exam and  only after 6 months of the first exam, the earliest.

There are few elements that you and any foreign candidate must pay attention to, when seeking to undergo the Assessment Exam, as following:

Must enroll in a Foundation Course (Studienkolleg)

In order to undergo the Assessment Exam “Feststellungsprüfung” typically (not compulsory, but highly recommended) you need to be enrolled in a one year (2 semesters – an academic year) preparatory course / foundation course –“Studienkolleg”.

Studienkollegs can be found in few universities and colleges and there is no tuition fee applying to enroll in such course, however, there are symbolic semester fees that need to be covered by the candidate. The semester costs can vary, depending on the university semester rules and regulations.

There are different specialized Studienkollegs offered, such as:

  • M-coursededicated to medical, biological and pharmaceutical degrees,
  • T-course dedicated to mathematical, scientific or technical degrees,
  • W-course dedicated to business, economic and social science degrees,
  • G-coursededicated to humanities degrees or German studies,
  • S-coursededicated to language degrees.

Must undergo the Studienkolleg Entrance Exam (Aufnahmetest)

To become part of a foundation course at a Studienkolleg, the candidate must pass the Studienkolleg Entrance Exam or “Aufnahmetest” – in order to demonstrate possessing the needed German language proficiency and sufficient basic knowledge in the subjects in which the lessons of Studienkolleg will be offered.

There are two categories of Aufnahmetest, depending on the level of recognition of your school-leaving certificate, as well as on the field of study you are seeking to get admission at. Accordingly, if you are about to study technology, you will need to undergo T-Entrance Exam (for lessons in German, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Informatics, Technology, English and Technical Drawing), while if you are about to study business or social sciences you will need to undergo W-Entrance Exam (Lessons in German, Mathematics, Economics, Accounting, Informatics, Social Studies and English).

Each of the tests lasts 60 minutes and in case of failing the Studienkolleg Entrance Exam at the first try, there is a given opportunity for you to repeat it two more times.

See: Studienkolleg Entrance Exam sample

Must proof German language proficiency

To become part of a Studienkolleg, the candidate must proof possessing the needed German language proficiency – the upper Basic Level of the Goethe Institutes or B1 Level – according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Learn more about the accepted forms to prove German language proficiency.

How to apply for a Studienkolleg

When deciding to apply for a Studienkolleg, you must firstly chose a Studienkolleg and check for the admission requirements and deadlines. Anyhow, some Studienkollegs require from the candidate to directly apply in their address, while some require to do the application through the online portal of the University Application Service for International Students in Germany, called the Uni-Assist.

An important thing to know when deciding to apply for a Studienkolleg is that you cannot start, by any occasion, a Studienkolleg without successfully passing the Studienkolleg Entrance Exam.  As well, keep in mind that Studinkollegs do not cover all the courses and are not offered by all universities.