Find your perfect Ph.D. program in Germany

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Checkout this post and see how you can find a suitable doctoral program for yourself in Germany.

A detailed guide - how to find the perfect Ph.D program in Germany

The year 2014 saw a 4% growth in the number of international students applying for a doctoral degree in Germany. This increasing trend in the number of international students applying for a doctoral degree in Germany showcases that the country has become a valuable resource to the world in terms of research systems, the way of teaching, learning opportunities, infrastructure and no tuition fee.

There are tons of opportunities for international students who wanted to pursue a doctoral degree and perform research at a German university. Whether you wish to research at a German university, a non-university German organization, or a specific industry, there are numerous options for you. This article is meant to help you decide which doctoral program you should enroll in based on your subject choice. We will tell you how you can perfect your Ph.D. program search by focusing on essential factors such as the form of study, the field of study, and the place where you want to study in Germany. However, to begin the process, you first need to be sure whether you want to pursue an individual or a structured doctoral program.

Types of German institutes offering doctoral and research programs for foreign students

Did you know? 

In Germany, you have the option to pursue a doctoral degree from one or more universities or institutes which can be further classified into categories. These categories include German universities (including technological universities) which provide doctoral degree and platform to perform research-related activities in various fields. In Germany, you can also perform practical research by leveraging non-university German institutions containing world-class infrastructure and systems. You can also get involved in various economic activities related to your research or get employed in part-time jobs provided by the industry for doctoral students in Germany. 

German institutes providing doctoral degrees are divided into the following categories:


There are approximately 400 German universities with a wide-variety of study fields. Among them, 140 universities or institutes have the authority to provide a doctorate degree. At different German universities, you can pick your field of study from a large variety of options such as Space Technology, Traffic Technology, Biochemistry, Automotive, etc. 

University of Applied Sciences

Fachhochschulen or the University of Applied Sciences mainly caters to activity-oriented fields such as business administration, engineering, design, and social sciences. Also, the University of Applied Sciences has strong linkages with the industry. Owing to this, the university provides dual supervision of your research work – by the university professors and teachers, and representatives of the industry. However, the twist in the story is that the University of Applied Sciences does not have the authority to award a doctorate degree.  

Non-University Organizations 

Several non-university institutes or organizations in Germany provide infrastructure for research and development during doctoral studies. There are numerous research and development organizations in Germany such as the Max Planck Society (MPG), the Helmholtz Association, the Scientific Community Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (WGL), and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG) which are some of the major non-university organizations in Germany. 


The third prominent member of the German doctoral study pyramid is the industry. Several German companies (small, mid-level, or large) provide doctoral candidates with part-time employment opportunities related to their field of research. Most of these companies get in touch with German universities and German non-university organizations to recruit doctoral candidates and assist them in their research related job-opening in the industry.

Finding an individual doctoral program

As you already know, the individual doctoral form comes with a lot more independence about choosing your doctorate subject and your mentor for the research paper. You also have complete independence to make arrangements for your research activities. An individual doctoral program is 3 to 5 years long. This type of doctoral study is done with a mentor by your side, supervising all your research activities. 

There are a variety of platforms you can use for finding the ideal individual doctoral program:

The individual doctorate program in a university


The most important aspect of searching for an individual doctoral program is finding a mentor who will supervise your research paper and your study curriculum. Here’s a list of databases using which you can find a supervisor for your individual doctoral program. Your mentor can be a university professor or a researcher from a non-university organization. 

DAAD’s database specially for international programs

Using DAAD or the German Academic Exchange Service, you can get access to information on individual doctoral courses offered by more than 1774 universities providing a doctoral program for international students. The biggest advantage of DAAD is that you can perform your search based on different filters and search criteria.

It is a DAAD database which provides an array of information on the doctoral programs available in Germany for international students. Most of the programs listed in this database are doctoral programs in the English language. 

Research Explorer

Another online database of DAAD and the German Research Foundation, Research Explorer provides information on over 23,000 German research institutes and universities. It is also supported by the German Rector’s Conference. The good thing about this database is that you can filter the search results based on subject, place and several other criteria.

The Hochschulkompass is another German database which you can use to find information about different International offices of German universities and doctoral programs. 

Individual doctorate program in a German non-university organization

As already mentioned above, you can also enroll in a doctoral program in a non-university German organization. Though these institutions are not authorized to offer a doctoral degree, they can be used as a platform to hone your practical research skills. If you opt for an individual doctorate program at a German non-university organization, you will be offered an employment contract or scholarship or even both. 

To find non-university German institutes for an individual doctorate program, you can seek help from the following databases:

Research Explorer

You can use this database to find German universities offering an individual doctorate program as well as non-university German institutes offering the same degree.

Using PhdGermany, you can find vacant positions for students looking to pursue a doctoral degree in non-university research institutions.

Finding yourself a job in the industry

One of the perks of an individual doctoral program is the freedom to work as a part-time employee during the study program. However, your employment in the industry must be mentored by your supervisor. Also, in most of the cases, the employer co-ordinates with the university and research institute to help you gain maximum advantage from your part-time employment in the industry. So basically, during your part-time job, you’ll be managed by your mentor as well as your employer. 

Here are some portals using which you can find a part-time job in the industry during the course of your doctoral program:

  • German Alumni Portal
  • ResearchGATE jobs 
  • Make it in Germany
  • My Science
  • Job Portal of the German Weekly “Die Zeit”
  • Portal of the Federal Government 

There are also research subject specific job portal where you can find a part-time job based on your study field. 

You can also check different company portal and university websites for open positions for doctoral students.

Finding a structured doctorate program

In case of a structured doctorate program, you have limited freedom to pick your subject for research and thesis. There are approximately 700 structured doctoral programs which offer doctoral programs to a group of doctoral candidates. These programs are lead by a team of research mentors. 

There are different ways you can search for a structured doctorate program. These include:

DAAD or the German Exchange Academic Service

DAAD can help you a great deal in finding structured doctorate programs available for international students. 

The Helmholtz Association

This is a perfect place to find a structured doctorate program for international students as it is affiliated to various high schools and institutes for higher education.

The German Research Foundation

You can use this platform to find incredible funding opportunities for doctoral students and research training teams.

The Max Planck Society

This society consists of several organizations which have amazing research infrastructure for basic research. The society website is a hub for records of various MPG schools and programs they have to offer. 


So, now that we’ve told you the ideal places to find individual doctorate programs and structured doctorate programs get back to work and start looking out. Do let us know if you have any more questions.

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