Where can I find my preferred PhD Programme in Germany?

In 2014 there were an indication showing an increase by 4% as regards of the number of foreign doctoral students in Germany. This ever-growing involvement of international students in German doctoral studies demonstrates that the country has become a shared attraction to many people around the world, due to its favorable learning, teaching and research system and infrastructure as well as due to the low study fees.

There are lots of opportunities for international students who want to pursue doctoral studies and research activity in Germany, such as university, non-university and industry, within a wide-variety of study disciplines. In a look for channels to find your doctoral studies in Germany the article will be presenting the best of guidance that would surely support your choices. Your search will be defined by several factors such as the field of studies, the form of studies and the place where you want for your studies to take place inside the Germany.

Knowing which is the most suitable form for your doctoral studies you will narrow your choices and focus in one of the existing: individual or structured doctoral studies.

Types of institutions offering doctoral and research studies

In Germany you have the opportunity to pursue your studies in one or combined higher education institutions, as there are few categories of them. These categories include the universities–including universities of technology, where their activity is research-oriented, covering various study fields, as well some of these institutions have the authority to award Doctoral Degrees. Moreover, doing a doctoral study in Germany you will need to also perform the practical part of your research, which is made possible through the strong cooperation of universities with non-university research institutions –possessing an outstanding specialized infrastructure and operating system. The industry is also there to support students’ involvement in economic activity in relation to their research area, offering many part-time jobs to the doctoral candidates.


There are around 400 universities with full-range of study fields. There is a characteristic about German higher education since they link learning, teaching and research as one. Amongst several higher education institutions, 140 have the authority to award doctorate. There are different study fields that you can choose in different universities, starting from Automotive and Traffic Technology up to Space Technology.

For more detailed information on the fields of studies refer also the article series “Why should I choose Germany for my abroad Ph.D. Studies?”. See also Top universities of Germany.

Universities of Applied Sciences

Universities of Applied Sciences–the so-called “Fachhochschulen” have an activity oriented mainly toward practice, covering fields of engineering, business administration, social sciences and design, possessing also strong networks with industry– together offering a dual supervision of the candidate’s work – by university professor and industry’s representative. However, universities of applied sciences do not possess the right to award Doctoral Degrees.

Non-University institutions

Despite universities, Germany holds the merits of having many non-university institutions or research and development institutions. The role of these institutions is to support practical training and research of the doctoral university students. Then it goes without saying that these two institutions are greatly related to each other in their performing activity. There are several research and development institutions, amongst which the Max Planck Society (MPG), the Scientific Community Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (WGL), the Helmholtz Association and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG) are the biggest.


Industry is the third part of doctoral studies chain in Germany. Companies stand there as institutions to support doctoral candidates with part time job offers related to their research areas. There are thousand of companies which cooperate with universities and non-universities in recruiting and supervising the job of doctoral candidates in their real life economic activity.

Searching an individual doctoral programme

As mentioned in our previous article series, individual form, or the traditional form of doctoral studies involves much more of the independence as regards of choosing a subject and a supervisor or mentor of your research dissertation. You are also much more independent as regards of arranging research activities. For this type of doctoral studies three to five years is the most common length of studies. This type of study is done typically individually, under the supervision of a mentor.

There are different channels to search about an individual doctoral programme for universities, non-universities or industry.

Individual doctoral programme in a university

Being an enthusiast to pursue your studies in the individual doctoral programme at a university you have to know that it is on you to primarily find the supervisor which will mentor your research thesis and your study progress. The following databases will help you find the supervisor, which can be a university professor or researcher in a non-university research institution, who can also suggest you to the university that mostly relates with your thesis topic.

DAAD’s database for international programmes

This database offers information for around 1774 universities which offer international doctoral programmes of study. The database also helps the searcher narrow its choices based on several searching criteria.


This online database of DAAD offers a wide-ranging information on the available doctoral programmes in Germany with a focus on international students. The programs that this database offers include programs that are fully in the English language.


The online database is a good place to find information about the German universities their International Offices and about the German doctoral study system.


This online database of the German Research Foundation and of the German Academic Exchange Service supported also by the German Rectors’ Conference possesses information about more than 23,000 German universities and research institutions. The database offers the opportunity to narrow your searching results based on the place, subject area and other criteria.

Individual programme in a non-university

As previously mentioned, university doctoral studies in Germany do not go alone, since there is a strong relation between university, non-university institutions and industry. Hence, despite universities, there are different research institutions where you can establish your doctoral research. These institutions do not have the authority to award doctoral titles, but they serve as a place for doctoral candidates as a place to further develop their practical research. Often a scholarship or employment contracts are offered to doctoral candidates or both of them.

Looking for a place in one of the wide-range research institutions in Germany the following databases will help you narrow your choices.


This database offers the opportunity to find open positions for doctoral candidates in research institutions.


This database will also assist you in finding the preferred non-university, as it has a large data on universities and non-universities of the around 19,000 of them.

Searching for a job position in industry

As already told, individual program, as it offers you a better independence, compared to the structured program, it allows you to work in a part-time job in the industry during your doctoral studies. The job you perform in the industry needs to be mentored by your supervisor. The employer also cooperates with the university and research institution as regards of helping you in achieving the best of your research project you perform on a part-time job in industry. Resulting, you will be supervised by your supervisor and by your employer.

The portals where you can search for a part-time job in industry are:

There are also different job portals based on the research discipline.

Universities and companies also publish their vacant positions for doctoral candidates in their own websites.

Searching a structured doctoral programme

Our previous article series also explained how structured programmes are organized, where you as a doctoral student will have less liberty as regards of choosing the topic of doctoral thesis and research activities. There are different structured programmes, around 700, which offer studies led by the supervision of team supervisors to a group of doctoral candidates.

There are diverse paths to search for your preferred doctoral programme in Germany as follows:

The German Exchange Academic Service (DAAD)

This database is especially dedicated to inform students on available international doctoral study programmes.

The German Research Foundation (DFG)

The database of DFG assists as a platform to present funding opportunities that this foundation offer to the doctoral students of graduate schools of universities, as well as to research training groups within a period of up to nine years.

The Helmholtz Association

The database references a wide range of doctoral programmes in Germany, as it has a wide cooperation with higher education institutions and graduate schools.

The Max Planck Society (MPG)

MPG is a society comprising of several institutes with an outstanding research infrastructure, specialized mainly in innovative basic research. The website holds records of MPG schools and their available programmes.

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