German language skills

It is an obstacle, but it can be overcome. The language of instruction in most degree courses at German higher education institutions is German. That is why you have to prove your knowledge of the language to be admitted. There are exceptions, though.

Short & Sweet

Your German must be adequate to be admitted to study.

You can demonstrate your knowledge with a language test.

German is not a prerequisite for international degree courses.

Is German really necessary? Always ask!

There are exceptions to every rule. If you are enrolled in an or in special postgraduate courses, German is not a prerequisite. And at some universities you do not need a fluency certificate if you only want to study for one or two semesters. However, this rule does not apply everywhere. Be sure to ask at the higher education institution of your choice.

Two male students in a library standing close by each other and reading a book
Two male students in a library standing close by each other and reading a book© DAAD/ Henning Ross

Language tests are your key to German universities

If German is a prerequisite, you have to prove your knowledge of the language with one of two recognised exams. You can take the TestDaF language exam (Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache – „Test of German as a foreign language“) in your home country. It is offered in over 100 other countries as a paper-based and digital test. On the (German only) you will find exam locations and dates as well as information on the test structure and preparation options

You can also take the so-called Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang DSH, or German Language Test for University Admission in Germany. Many universities offer this exam. The international office at your university will give you the dates.

Here’s when you do not need a German test

  • You received your Abitur at a German high school
  • You have the new Goethe Certificate (C2: Large German Language Diploma) or one of the previous exams (Small or Large German Language Diploma)
  • You have passed the Goethe-Institut’s Central Upper Level Examination (until 2011)
  • Or after 2012 you have earned the Goethe Certificate C2, or Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom
  • You have the German Language Diploma (Level II) from the Conference of Ministers of Education
  • You have passed the telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule exam

Both tests have several performance levels. If you reach the middle level in all partial exams (TDN 4 for TestDaF, DSH-2 for DSH), you will be admitted to the course without restrictions. Whether a lower proficiency level is sufficient for admission in some parts of the examination depends on the higher education institution you are applying to.

You have to pay a fee to take the exam. The costs depend on which institution administers it and in which country you are taking it.


How is the TestDaF language exam structured? How can I best prepare myself? How long is the certificate valid? Here are the most frequently asked questions, with answers provided by the TestDaF Institute.

Two male students sitting next to a canal talking
Two male students sitting next to a canal talking© DAAD/ Henning Ross

Opportunities to learn German

If you want to assess your knowledge of German, you can test yourself. There is a short, free placement test on the . After completing the test, you will receive a recommendation as to which course level is suitable.
If your knowledge of German is not yet sufficient, you can also attend a language course in Germany. Many universities offer language courses during the semester break. They take place in summer, usually between June and September. Some also offer language classes in the winter months. You can find more information here: .

Knowledge of German plays an important role in how quickly you make new friends in Germany.

Overview of useful links

In addition to German courses at universities, there are many alternatives at private language schools. In this database you will find an and providers.
The is also a good place to learn German. The global cultural institute offers German courses in many foreign countries and at 13 locations in Germany. You can find more information on the Goethe-Institut website.

At the , or just DUO, you can learn German online and prepare for your studies. There are many ways of doing this. Individually, in a virtual course for example, or with intensive support from a tutor. DUO offers courses from entry to advanced levels, for TestDaF preparation, or for learning special terminology and other subject-specific knowledge.

By the way, learning German is not just about getting into university. Remember that your knowledge of German will play an important role in how comfortable you feel in Germany, and how quickly you make new friends.


Mastering German is recommended if you want to make the most of your studies and your life in Germany.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to learn. And it might also be quite fun!