Doctoral studies step by step - the traditional way

1. Which language skills do I need?

While the standard working language at Goethe University is German, certain academic departments do accept dissertations written in English and, occasionally, in other languages. For information specific to your department, please check with the Dean’s Office or your supervisor.

Dissertations in German

If you wish to write your thesis or dissertation in German, you need to provide proof of your German language proficiency by presenting language certificates at the level of C1 (Zentrale Mittelstufenprüfung) and by taking the DSH test.
You may also attend a language course to prepare for the DSH test (DSH-Vorbereitungskurs), which is offered by the International Study Centre.

Dissertations in English and other languages

If you wish to write the dissertation in English or in another language than German, you must ask for permission from the Admissions Committee of the corresponding department. If approved, the Committee will mention the working language on your letter of acceptance, in which case you will not be required to take the DSH test for registration as a regular student.

2. How to find a supervisor?

It is important to know that there is no central admissions or selection office for doctoral students. The decision is made solely by the accepting academic department, with the academic supervisor playing a key role. So, if you want to pursue a doctorate in Germany, your first job is to find a professor to supervise you. There are several ways of doing this:

  • Perhaps you already have an idea of a research project or a professor who carries out research work in your particular field of interest and whom you might contact directly.
  • Sometimes your academic advisor at home might be able to recommend you to Goethe University or to a particular professor, and create a personal connection that way.
  • In case you have to look for a supervisor on your own, you should identify possible matches by searching the website of the corresponding faculty at the university, find out who carries out research work in your specific field of interest, and check the research teams, the list of current and previous projects and the list of publications.

First contact

Once you have made your choice, you should establish contact, preferably by e-mail. Keep in mind that professors might receive hundreds of e-mails daily! Make sure you send a clear message: state “doctorate degree” in the subject line, attach your CV, and include a concise description of your doctoral project. The subject of your master's thesis, any previous publications and examples of research experience at your home university might also focus interest on your application.

First interview

You have reached the first milestone if a professor is interested in your research project. In a personal meeting with your prospective supervisor you can now give a detailed explanation of your project. A synopsis of your research ideas has an important part in this. Therefore you should take special care in writing your synopsis. It is your calling card within the faculty and basis for your first meeting as well as the whole research project. There are no general guidelines of how to write a synopsis, every department and faculty has different standards and procedures. You should contact your supervisor and ask for assistance.

3. Formal application and enrolment procedures

How to formally apply for doctoral studies

You will need to submit the following documents along with your formal application:

  • Certified copies of your university degree (Degree Certificates, Bachelor, Master, Diploma)
  • Transcript of your academic record (stating in detail all courses taken and grades achieved)
  • Formal application to be accepted as doctoral student
  • Research project synopsis
  • Language certificates

Please make sure the application deadlines that may be set by the departments/faculties.

Admissions procedure

The Dean of Faculty or the department will verify your qualifications and submit your application to the Doctoral Committee. If accepted, you will receive a letter of acceptance. This letter of acceptance and proof of adequate language skills – in case you have chosen to write your dissertation in German you must have passed the DSH test – attests that you meet the conditions for enrolment as doctoral student at Goethe University.

University enrolment

Your first point of contact is the International Office. Please come to see us and bring the following documents:

  • Original certificates which entitle you for doctoral studies (see above)
  • Translations of certificates (not necessarily if your originals are written in English or French)
  • Your letter of acceptance from the Doctoral Committee
  • Your language certificates
  • Proof of health insurance
  • One passport picture
  • Your passport

The International Office will pass you on to the Students Administration Services where you will pay your semester fee (currently approximately 360,- €) and receive your Goethe Card as well as your user ID for internet access at the university.

4. Advisory and assistance services during doctoral studies

Relationship with your supervisor at the faculty

Supervision by a doctoral advisor is basically a constructive dialogue in which he/she assists you in all matters regarding the subject, time schedules, methodologies and progress of your research.

Language training for doctoral students offered by the International Study Centre

It is not easy to meet the standards of academic writing required for a dissertation in a foreign language. The International Study Centre therefore offers special courses for scientific language training in German. We strongly advise you to take advantage of this programme!

Communication network, advanced training and career planning

Doctoral candidates work independently most of the time. However, there are plenty of opportunities to meet fellow students and make new contacts:

  • Seminars and colloquia as academic meeting points
  • GRADE offers training in many fields such as communicative competence, presentation of scientific research, literature research, statistics, writing a synopsis, and career planning.
    For international doctoral students there a "social help desk" and a buddy program are offered, as well as support with writing academic texts.
  • The International Office will assist you with all formalities related to your stay in Germany (visa, working permit, etc.),
  • Additionally, Goethe University offers a wide range of sports activities.