German skills: German is a prerequisite – but not always

For most degree programmes, knowledge of German is a prerequisite for admission to German university. You can prove your German language proficiency by taking a language test, such as the TestDaF or DSH. However, you don’t need to know German if you intend on enrolling in an international degree programme. You can attend a language course to improve your German language skills.

by the Editors

International student with German book © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Student learning German . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

German is normally the language of instruction in most degree programmes at German universities. That’s why foreign applicants are usually required to prove their knowledge of German before gaining admission.

However, German is not a prerequisite if you enrol in an international degree programme or a special post-graduate course. Some universities do not ask for proof of German language proficiency if you plan on studying there for only one or two semesters. This rule does not apply everywhere, however. It’s best to inquire directly at the university of your choice about the language requirements for incoming students.

German tests

You can demonstrate your German language level with two different tests. One is called the “DSH” (German Language University Entrance Examination for Foreign Applicants) and the other is the “TestDaF” (Test of German as a Foreign Language).

You don’t need to take these tests if one of the following descriptions applies to you:

  • You have earned an “Abitur” from a German-language secondary school
  • You have passed the new Goethe Certificate C2 examination: major German Language Diploma or one of the former minor or major German Language Diploma or the Central Advanced Language Test of the Goethe-Institut (till 2011), or you have passen the "Goethe-Zertifikat C2: Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom" exam (since 2012)
  • You have the German Language Diploma (stage II) from the German Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs
  • You have passed the „telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule“ examination


Students sitting in a lecture hall and taking a test © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Students during the test . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

You can take the TestDaF in your home country before you come to Germany. The TestDaF is offered in over 90 countries around the world and is administered six times a year (only three times in the People’s Republic of China). Visit the TestDaF website for information concerning testing centres, dates, fees, application procedures and much more.

DSH (Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang)

The DSH (Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang = German Language University Entrance Examination for Foreign Applicants) can only be taken in Germany. Many universities offer the DSH exam. For information about upcoming testing dates, contact the International Office at your university.

The TestDaF and the DSH assess language proficiency at different levels. If you pass all test sections of the intermediate level (TDN 4 for the TestDaF and DSH-2 for the DSH), you are permitted to study with no restrictions.

If you achieve lower scores on various test sections, you can still gain admission depending on the requirements of the particular university.

Examination fees are charged for both the DSH and TestDaF. The amount of the fee depends on the country you live in and the institution which administers the test.

Possibilities for Learning German

Teacher explains something to students in a German course  © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Students in a German course . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

If your German skills are not yet up to par, you can attend a language course in Germany. Many universities offer language courses during the semester break. These take place in the summer months (usually between June and September). Occasionally, courses are offered in the winter months as well. You can find an extensive list of relevant courses in the DAAD database for language and short courses.

Aside from language courses at universities, there are numerous private language schools in Germany which offer German courses as well. Check out this database of German courses and providers.  

A good place to learn German is the Goethe Institut, a cultural organisation which represents the Federal Republic of Germany worldwide. The Goethe Institut offers German courses in numerous countries around the world, as well as 13 locations in Germany. You can find more information on the website of the Goethe Institut.

The “Deutsch-Uni Online“ (DUO) is a web portal for learning German. You can improve your knowledge of German and prepare for your studies. You may learn on your own, in a virtual course or with intensive tutorial guidance. The “DUO” offers courses both on beginners’ and on intermediate level. There is a preparatory course for the TestDaF and advanced level courses to learn subject-specific language and acquire subject knowledge.

You shouldn’t learn German just to gain admission to university. Keep in mind that knowing German is an important factor for feeling more at home in Germany and making German friends faster.

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