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Third-cycle (PhD) programmes


7.Higher education

7.5Third-cycle (PhD) programmes

Last update: 27 March 2024

Particularly well-qualified students may also choose to complete a doctorate. The disciplines in which it is possible to obtain a doctorate at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education are listed on the internet

The PhD proves the ability to carry out more in-depth, independent academic or scientific work. It embodies a separate research achievement and is not seen as a third phase of the course of studies in Germany. The goal of the PhD phase is to qualify for an activity in research and science, though also for leadership tasks in the scientific society.

The paths to a doctorate in Germany are varied. The leading model in Germany is the individual, supervised doctorate. Structured doctoral programmes are also becoming increasingly important. Doctoral studies are, as a rule, completed at universities or equivalent institutions of higher education, to some extent in cooperation with non-university research institutes and Fachhochschulen/Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften. Increasingly, under certain conditions, it also possible to do a doctorate at Fachhochschulen/Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften. There are currently just less than 200,000 doctoral students enrolled at the institutions of higher education. Over 28,000 obtained their doctorate in 2022.

Organisation of Doctoral Studies

In order to support the up-and-coming academics, Graduiertenkollegs, financed by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG), have been set up at institutions of higher education since 1990 to provide students with the opportunity to prepare their doctorate within the framework of a systematic programme. In 2023 there were 219 Graduiertenkollegs in Germany. Since 1998, there has been a larger number of other structured forms of training for doctoral students. These include international doctoral programmes, International Max-Planck Research Schools and Graduate Schools.

Entrance and admission requirements

Admittance to doctoral studies is regulated in the Higher Education Acts of the Länder and in the doctoral regulations (Promotionsordnungen) of the higher education institutions with the right to award a Doktorgrad. Master’s degrees obtained at universities and equivalent higher education institutions, or at Fachhochschulen/Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften, principally provide entitlement to doctoral studies.  A pass in the Erste Staatsprüfung (First State Examination) also provides entitlement to doctoral studies.

Particularly well-qualified holders of a Bachelor’s degree may also be admitted directly to doctoral studies without first acquiring a further degree by means of a procedure to determine aptitude. Higher education institutions with the right to award a Doktorgrad will regulate admission as well as the organisation of the procedure to determine aptitude  in their doctoral regulations. In addition to their respective qualification, students are required to complete preparatory academic studies in the subjects to be studied at doctorate level and/or a supplementary period of study at the university in question or have to sit an aptitude test (Promotionseignungsprüfung).

Master’s degrees obtained at colleges of art and music entitle graduates to embark on doctoral studies if the Master’s study course provided a sufficient qualification.

Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates

Some doctoral students are employed, while others are funded by grants or finance their own doctoral studies. Grants and funding programmes are provided by the Federation, Länder, research and funding organisations, organisations for the promotion of young talent and political foundations. The rate of funding varies.


A doctorate is conferred on the strength of a doctoral thesis, which must be based on independent research, and oral examinations called Rigorosum. Oral examinations may be replaced by a defence of the student's thesis (Disputation) or a comparable achievement. A doctoral thesis need not be written within any prescribed length of time.


The doctorate entitles a graduate to bear the Doktorgrad (title of Doktor).

Organisational Variation

The potential organisational formats of the doctorate are set out above.