Application process for individual doctorate – step by step

1. Requirements and general information

In order to pursue a doctorate, you must have an academic degree in the relevant field. This should be a degree from a recognised university and must be equivalent to a German Master’s degree or State Exam. The International Office assesses whether a degree from a foreign university is equivalent. 

In their doctorate regulations, the faculties specify the requirements for admittance as well as the procedure for doctoral studies. The time for completing the doctoral studies – beginning with the choice of topic and ending with submitting the final dissertation – can vary significantly. As a rule, you can find the doctorate regulations on the website of the relevant faculty. The GRADE media centre lists and links to all the doctorate regulations.

A doctorate has two components: dissertation and disputation / rigorosum (written work and an oral defence of the work / examination). The dissertation serves to prove that the candidate is capable of independent academic / scientific work.

There is no fee for doctoral studies at Goethe University. You only have to pay the semester fee upon enrolment. Some faculties charge a fee for the examination.

Please be aware that personal consultation and office hours are not possible due to COVID-19. However, you are welcome to send an e-mail ( or book an appointment for virtual consultation via terminland here.

2. Finding a supervisor

Once you have decided to pursue an individual doctorate and are sure about the area and your own research interests, the most important and possibly most difficult step is finding a doctoral supervisor.

Go to the homepage of the relevant faculty to find out which professors research in what areas, have a look at the research team, get information about on-going and completed projects and study the list of publications.

Once you have selected someone who you would like to be your doctoral supervisor, it is recommended to make first contact by email. Given that the faculties receive hundreds of email per day, it is important to include the word “doctorate“ (in German: “Promotion“) prominently in the subject line, introduce yourself briefly in the email (CV) and add a brief description of the content of your planned thesis. Information about the subject matter of your final paper / master thesis, previous publications (if any) and collaboration in research projects may also incite interest in your planned doctoral project.

If you find a professor who is interested in your project, you’ve taken the first hurdle! The next step is to clarify any further questions in a face-to-face conversation, perhaps pay a visit to the university and the faculty, to get to know your supervisor and to talk about future collaboration.

Please note that if a professor agrees to supervise your doctorate, this does not necessarily mean you will get a paid doctoral position. You may have to find your own funding, e.g. by means of a scholarship or by finding work outside the university.

>> Comprehensive Guidelines - Writing an exposé and finding a supervisor

3. Application process

In order to determine whether your qualifications comply with the requirements of the doctorate regulations, please hand in the following documents to the dean’s office of your supervising professor’s faculty:

  • certified copies of your degree certificate (Bachelor, Master or diploma) both in the original language and in a German or English translation
  • your application to be admitted for doctoral studies
  • exposé of your research project (if required)
  • proof of your language skills (if required)

Please check with the relevant faculty about application deadlines. Sometimes these are posted as “deadlines for applications to the doctoral committee“ on the faculty’s website.

The most important step on your path to a successful application is an outstanding exposé. There is no authoritative model for how writing an exposé. The requirements vary from faculty to faculty. Your supervisor may be able to help you, or sometimes you find tips for writing an exposé on the faculty’s website.

4. Admission process

The dean’s office will forward your completed application to the doctoral committee. If this committee accepts your application, you will receive a note of acceptance from the dean’s office.

The decision about your application lies with the doctoral committee of the relevant faculty:

You can access the doctorate regulations of the faculties here.

The faculty will evaluate whether it is possible to admit you as a doctoral candidate and then forward your application to the doctoral committee. If the faculty accepts you, you will receive a notice of admittance as doctoral candidate from the dean’s office. This notice and – if you are working in German – passing the DSH exam are required before you can enrol at Goethe University for doctoral studies.

5. Enrolling

If you already have your official acceptance letter as a doctoral candidate, you can enrol as a doctoral student at any time. However, if your working language is German, you will have to prove sufficient German language skills at the level DSH-2 (or equivalent).

There are two steps to enrolling:

1. You submit your documents via mail or e-mail ( to the International Office for assessment

Goethe University Frankfurt
International Office
Campus Westend, PEG building, 2nd floor
Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6
60323 Frankfurt am Main

Please submit the following documents:

  • Officially certified copies of all diplomas or certificates that show you are qualified to take up doctoral studies, including grades and transcripts
  • Officially certified copies of the translations of these diplomas or certificates including grades and transcripts (this is not necessary if the originals are in English) by a sworn translator
  • Your letter of acceptance as a doctoral candidate
  • Proof of language skills, if required
  • Report for Doctoral Studies (please fill out beforehand as far as possible) 

The International Office will officially assess your education certificates. You must submit the assessed Report for Doctoral Studies to the Studierendensekretariat via mail after you have completed the online enrolment (please see step 2).

2. Enrolment via online form 

In order to enrol, you must first fill out the online enrolment form of the Studierendensekretariat

For the completion of your enrolment, you need the following documents: 

  • Assessed Report for Doctoral Studies by the International Office (original)
  • Your letter of acceptance as a doctoral candidate
  • Proof of language skills, if required
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Copy of your Passport / ID card
  • A brief CV, if required

Please send the documents to the Studierendensekretariat following your online enrolment:

Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
60629 Frankfurt am Main

Once you have paid the semester fee (currently approx. € 370) you will receive the Goethe Card, access to the Hochschulrechenzentrum, the university’s IT Centre (email address, wireless access etc.), and further useful information.

6. Register with GRADE

GRADE is Goethe University’s interdisciplinary Research Academy and offers many useful advice and support services for doctoral candidates.

Application process – structured doctorate programmes

There are a number of different application processes for structured doctoral programmes. Please find out from the relevant programme what exactly the process is. Provided that your application was successful, the admission process is usually the same as in an individual doctorate.

>> Information about structured doctoral programmes

Application process – binational joint doctorate / cotutelle

In a binational joint doctorate, application, supvervision and examination have to be coordinated by both partner universities. Thus, application procedures involve several extra steps. Consult with your supervisor and the faculty offices.

>> Further information is available at GRADE