German university degrees explained

Universities in Baden-Württemberg award internationally recognized degrees for your undergraduate and graduate studies. Here is what you need to know.

The high quality of Baden-Württemberg’s universities is well known: The state is home to three of the ten best universities in Germany according to the “Times Higher Education” 2021 ranking.

Heidelberg University is among the top 50 in the world and the University of Tübingen and the University of Freiburg are among the top 100 universities worldwide – with 1526 universities included in the ranking.

Students in Baden-Württemberg are passionate and often driven by a greater purpose: They aim to solve important scientific and societal challenges with innovative and sustainable solutions for the future. They want to actively shape

  • the future of mobility
  • the future of health
  • the future of industry
  • the future of societies and economies
  • the future of the environment
  • and the digital future.

To become a visionary, a thought leader, and an architect of new solutions, students in Baden-Württemberg can choose among many degree programs in the arts, humanities and sciences.
Examples of future-oriented degrees are:

  • a master’s degree in “energy engineering and management” at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
  • a bachelor’s degree in climate engineering at Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences
  • a bachelor’s or master’s degree in “embedded systems engineering” at the University of Freiburg
  • a bachelor’s degree in digital media at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) in Mannheim

and there are, of course, many more exciting and future-oriented degree programs available.

Let’s take a step back and look at the kinds of degrees you can obtain at the different universities in Baden-Württemberg: bachelor, master, and PhD. These are internationally recognized academic degrees and are offered by universities and by universities of applied sciences alike – with a few exceptions.

These degrees replace the “Diplom” and “Magister” that were place before the Bologna process. A few specialized degrees such as “Staatsexamen”, “Staatsprüfung” and “Medical Practitioner/Doctor” complete the list of possible degrees, as explained below.

Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in sciences, humanities or education usually takes 6 to 8 semesters (3-4 years). A bachelor’s thesis is almost always required to graduate. The bachelor’s degree is the first academic degree that enables you to start a professional career or to continue your academic work with a master’s program. During your studies, you acquire not only subject-specific knowledge but also key competencies and methods that will be useful in your further academic or professional career.
There are different bachelor’s degrees such as:

  • a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
  • a Bachelor of Sciences (B.Sc.)
  • a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
  • a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) or a Bachelor of Law (LL.B)

Master’s degree

A master’s program is an advanced academic program and usually requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite, which means you can only start your master’s program when you have graduated from your first 3-4 years of study.
A master’s degree takes typically 2-4 semesters, with 4 semesters being the norm. Again, you most likely need to write a master’s thesis to complete your studies.
Master’s programs have different characteristics: Some are consecutive, such as, for example, a master’s in mathematics that lists a bachelor’s degree in mathematics as a prerequisite.
A consecutive master’s program will deepen what your learned in your bachelor’s program. Often, a consecutive master’s degree leads to a PhD program and an academic career or to a specialist career within an organization or company.
Non-consecutive programs such as an M.B.A. at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University still require a bachelor’s degree, but it can be in a different field. The programs are often aimed at graduates who have several years of work experience and want to broaden their skills to prepare for management positions.
Master’s degrees can have more of a professional emphasis such as an M.B.A., where practical concepts such as corporate finance are taught, or the Resources Engineering program at KIT that prepares students to engage in water stewardship around the world.  
There are also research-oriented programs such as the master’s program in Computational Mechanics of Materials and Structures (COMMAS) at the University of Stuttgart, which lays the foundation for both expert professional work and a career in academics.
Examples of master’s programs include:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.)
  • Master of Sciences (M.Sc.)
  • Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)

PhD/doctorate degrees

After you completed your master’s degree, you can start your studies for a doctorate degree. It enables you to do in-depth scientific work and prepares you for an advanced scientific, academic, or professional career. For your doctorate, you need to write an in-depth scientific paper: your dissertation or doctoral thesis. PhD programs take about 2-5 years.
In Baden-Württemberg, nine state universities and six universities of education award doctorate degrees. Universities of applied sciences are not authorized to award doctoral degrees by themselves. However, they often partner with traditional universities to combine a scientific education with strong practical experience.
If you are looking for a PhD program, traditional state research universities and universities of education and the Max Plank Research Schools offer excellent and internationally recognized options.

Medical doctorate

Medical studies in Baden-Württemberg don’t follow the structure of bachelor’s and master’s programs. The training to become a physician and practice medicine in Germany takes at least 6 years and concludes with a state examination.
The studies are divided into a pre-clinical and a clinical phase plus a practical year followed by the state’s examination. The state’s exam enables you to work as a physician. You can now apply for your approbation, which is the license needed to practice medicine in Germany.
After passing the state’s exam, you can start with your doctorate, which takes an average of 1-2 semesters if you work on your dissertation full-time. To specialize in an area of medicine, you need another 5-6 years of training. However, during that time you don’t study at a university but work at an accredited institution such as a university hospital and are paid a salary.

Staatsexamen / State examination

In some degree programs such as law, medicine, pharmacy and some studies in education, you need to pass an exam by the federal authorities to graduate. Once you passed the first state exam, some practical training follows. Upon completion, you need to take the second state exam in order to practice your chosen profession in Germany.
Keep in mind that state exams are specific to the regulations and requirements in Germany. Check beforehand if the degree is recognized and accepted in your home country.