How can I make my earlier education equivalent with German university entrance qualification to enter doctoral studies?

There is absolutely no exception! You as everyone else eager to pursue a doctorate in Germany cannot do so without holding a university degree that is equivalent to the German university entrance qualification and to the German higher education needed to enter doctoral studies. In Germany, Master’s degree is the acknowledged qualification to permit candidates for entering doctoral studies. Diplom and the State examination are also the other accepted qualifications for entering doctoral studies. In exceptional cases, a three-year Bachelor Degree is also a sufficient qualification to enter higher education – but often in such cases an examination of knowledge is required.

Given the situation, your likelihood to pursue doctoral studies in any German higher education institution is relative, depending if your earlier education earned abroad and your foreign higher education institution is recognized by the German state, or, said in other words depends on the equivalence between your education and the German university entrance qualification. Additionally, the university must say the final word as regards of acceptance and accreditation of your earlier qualification, as the way to go in applying for the university enrollment as a doctoral candidate.

The information that we will provide here will clarify you on the question if your education is sufficiently comparable with the required qualification to enter doctoral studies in Germany.

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What is the “Arbitur”?

“Arbitur” is an examination that each individual in Germany undergoes, after finishing twelve to thirteen years of formal education. “Hochschulzugangsberechtigung” (HZB) or Higher Education Entrance Qualification is what one gets upon a successful examination through Arbitur. HZB holder is a legitimized individual to apply for admission in higher education studies, including the doctorate level or third level studies.

How can a foreigner become a HZB holder?

Reading this, we consider you fit in one of the two categories of foreign applicants who seek entrance in German universities: who have finished their earlier education in a German educational institution abroad, and secondly, who have finished their earlier education in a foreign country – in a non-German educational institution.

The difference between two categories is large. Being in the first category you will be treated same as German citizens who have passed Arbitur, and being in the second category you will need to undergo the recognition procedure of the foreign qualification, in order to become eligible to enter higher education studies in Germany – or, said differently to have an equivalent qualification with HZB.

How can I know if my earlier education is recognized to enter doctoral studies?

As aforementioned, generally speaking, you must hold a Master’s Degree of at least eight semesters of Master studies completed, with some exceptions. You must also have a HZB, in order to make your foreign qualification equivalent to German school leaving qualification.

The way to make your Master’s Degree recognized in Germany is not a fast and so-easy one. The first thing you do to start dealing with this process is consulting the online database “Anabin” – giving you a quick country-specific search as regards of your foreign qualification recognition in Germany. This fully resourced database, answers you the questions, such as: How my foreign university degree is estimated in Germany? How my foreign university is recognized by Germany and what are the requirements to enter doctoral studies in Germany as a foreign qualification holder of a specific country? An alternative way to check on earlier education equivalence is also DAAD’s online database.

Even that these databases will slightly orient you, the common form for an international to know whether its foreign qualification will be recognized to enter any study level is through the chosen university. As a future doctoral applicant, you must send at the university certificates of your earlier education, such as diploma, credits, transcript and other certificates both for Bachelor and Master degree. The office will inform you, after a formal check, on whether your education is recognized or if you needs to undergo any examination for making your education equivalent to the German university entrance qualification. All the documents you provide must be translated in German, English or French and they must be authenticated – or certified by an official translator.

What if my degrees are not recognized?

If you are being told that your so-far education does not directly qualify you to enter doctoral studies, you are about to become a subject of undergoing the German foundation course “Studienkolleg” which prepares you on passing the examination to qualify you as an eligible applicant for doctoral studies to enter doctoral studies known as “Feststellungsprüfung”.

This preparatory course is intended to provide you with the needed knowledge, so to be ready to enter the aforementioned qualification assessment examination. There are different Studienkollegs, depending on the field of your intended doctoral studies, therefore you must find your adequate course that properly relates to the field of your planned studies, i.e. economics, mathematics, law, etc. Courses usually last up to two semesters – one calendar year. Commonly the university will offer this course free of charge, but anyhow, semester fees are to be paid by you up to two semesters – the time of your enrollment in the course. It is also important to mention that to enroll in the course, you must own a German language proficiency of level B1 – the Common European Framework Reference of Languages. Subsequently, after a year of being enrolled in the course, you will be ready to undergo the examination.

Passing the examination, anyhow, does not mean you can directly enter doctoral studies, since the university must assess if your earlier education is equivalent to the German Master’s Degree. The university decides if your earlier education awards you to enter doctoral studies and takes care to accredit your qualification. The Dean’s office (Dekanat), or the Board of Examiners (Promotionsausschuss) are in authority to review your certificates of education and make the decision. Then and there, the university decides if you need a further examination for reaching the needed knowledge to qualify your education as comparable to the German higher education degree for entering doctoral studies.

Once you have successfully passed the university examination you become eligible to apply for the university enrollment in doctoral studies. Of course, there are several other documents needed for the admission, as referred in our article series “Which are  university requirements as a foreign applicant for my German Ph.D. studies?

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