Steps to a traditional PhD program

Traditional or individual PhD programs are still very common in Baden-Württemberg. Independent research for a PhD can be challenging but is highly rewarding. Find out how to apply.

You love doing independent research and have a fascinating, original project in mind that will contribute to the scientific knowledge in your field. You are highly motivated, determined and independent. You can focus for years on one subject and carry on even if substantial obstacles arise. You are flexible and structure your day so you can be most productive.

If you are agreeing to the statements and find yourself enthusiastically nodding your head, the traditional or individual PhD is right for you. The traditional path to a PhD is still the most common in Germany. You work largely independently under the supervision of a professor.

Typically, a traditional PhD takes three to five years. It is often done at a university but can also be carried out at non-university research institutions. Collaborations with the industrial players are also sometimes possible.
Note that a traditional PhD program places a higher burden on international researchers than structured programs. You will need tenacity and motivation as well as a good source of funding.

To find PhD opportunities, you can search in the DAAD PhD database,  in the research organizations’ database Gerit or in the Hochschulkompass database. Our search engine is also a good source.

How to apply for a PhD program

Once you found an open position for doctoral students in your area of research, you can apply directly to the university if you meet the requirements. Check with the contact at the university if you have any questions such as the language your doctoral thesis needs to be written in. It’s also good to check whether a German doctorate degree is recognized in your home country.

If you have your own research project that you feel passionate about, you can also apply directly to a professor, a department or an institute by sending your proposal. This is easier if you have worked with the professor during your master’s program. Your professor will be your advisor and mentor during your doctoral studies so you need to know his work and research well before you apply to make sure it is a good fit.

Academic conferences can also be good places to meet potential advisors if you work and present in the same area. If you are highly motivated to work in a specific area but haven’t settled on a specific subject yet, you can also look for dissertation subjects in the database of the the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF).


In most cases, you need a master’s degree in the field that you want to get your PhD. Different universities have different requirements, and it is important to check with your professor and the university what documents you need to submit and what requirements you need to fulfill to start your doctorate program.

The Promotionsordnung is a legally binding document that details the requirements so read it carefully before sending your application and refer back to it often during your PhD program. Make sure you meet the language requirements specified in the Promotionsordnung or by your advisor.

Some universities admit students with a bachelor’s degree in their fast-track PhD program. That is the exception, however. Baden-Württemberg offers master’s programs in English that will prepare you for a PhD. Please see our study search for more information.

Information about specific universities

Universities in Baden-Württemberg provide valuable and specific information about their doctorate programs on their websites. Visit these websites to find out more information about how doctoral study works at the various institutions and who you can contact for help.