If a program has a limited number of places but a large pool of applicants, a selection process must be conducted in the first semester. Since the program has restricted admission, it has a "numerus clausus" or NC.
First, the so-called preliminary quotas are allocated:
For the remaining places:
80% of the places are allocated according to the degree of qualification. If there is no selection procedure for a specific study program, the degree of qualification is the average grade of the secondary school leaving certificate. For this purpose, all applicants are first ranked according to the average grade of their university entrance qualification. If two applicants have the same average grade and can therefore claim the same place on the list, the applicant who can prove the longer waiting period in semesters (the date of acquisition of the university entrance qualification is decisive) will be given the higher place on the list. If there is still a tie, the applicants are automatically assigned lot numbers that determine the ranking.
From this list, the best applicants are admitted to the program. The average grade of the last admitted applicant is used as the NC.
20% of the seats are allocated according to the waiting period. For this purpose, the applicants who were not admitted in the first round are ranked according to the duration of their waiting period. If two applicants have the same waiting period and can therefore claim the same place on the list, the applicant with the higher average grade will be given the higher place on the list. Again, if necessary, the decision will be made by lottery as a last resort.
From this list, the applicants with the longest waiting time will be admitted to the program. The waiting time of the last admitted applicant is considered the official threshold of the waiting time.
Admitted applicants are notified and have a certain period of time in which to accept their admission. It is not uncommon for applicants to lose their place, for example because they have received more than one offer and have to choose one, go abroad, or start an FSJ ("Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr," gap year for voluntary social work). The remaining places will be allocated in a move-up process (Nachrückverfahren).
The next applicants on the ranked list are automatically admitted in the move-up process (so you do not have to apply specifically for the move-up process). There can be up to two move-up procedures, and if there are still places available, they will be awarded by lottery.
The lottery process requires a separate application, which can be found here: lottery process.
How does this work in practice? Here's an example:
If the NC in the performance quota is 1.9 (2nd semester), this means that all applicants with an Abitur grade of 1.8 or better were admitted, but all applicants with a 2.0 or worse were rejected. However, there were more applicants with a 1.9 than places available, so the auxiliary criterion of waiting time had to be used. The last applicant admitted had to wait two semesters. It is not clear from the information provided whether an additional lottery had to be held. It is therefore possible that there were 2 or more applicants with 1.9 and 2 semesters waiting for the last place, but not all of them could get a place.
The NC serves as a benchmark for the current admission process and is contingent on the particular group of applicants in that cycle. While it provides some insight, it doesn't guarantee that the following year's criteria will mirror it. Observing the NC trends over multiple years can offer a general understanding of its fluctuations, but unexpected changes are always possible.
We can't predict the thresholds in advance. They're determined during the application process based on the current group of applicants. Because we don't know beforehand how many will apply or their qualifications (like Abitur grade or waiting period), previous semesters' thresholds can only serve as a general reference. They don't guarantee or promise a spot in future semesters.
A common misconception is that admission balances both qualification (Abitur grade) and waiting time. However, that's not accurate. Admission primarily depends on either qualification or waiting time, but not a mix of the two.
In the merit quota system, waiting time only becomes a factor when ranking applicants who have identical school leaving certificates. In such scenarios, the applicant with the longest waiting time gets the top rank within that group.
No, this is not necessary. When you apply, you indicate when you graduated from high school and whether you have been enrolled at a university in the meantime. The waiting period is calculated automatically from the information you provide.
All semesters after the Abitur in which you did not study at a German university count as waiting semesters, e.g. FSJ (gap year for voluntary social work), apprenticeship, job, work and travel, etc., but also studies abroad.