Language Level Required for University Studies

This is probably a question that is very open to interpretation. When looking at common language standards, like the European Common Framework, what is the level that is required for going to university in a foreign language? I’m currently working on German since I will be working there for the next two and a half years and then plan on getting my master’s degree there. I’m curious as to how high of a level I would need to study in German.

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Hi, CAnders92!

Usually if you want to “survive” at a German university, you should aim for a C1 level in all four language skills, i.e. listening, reading, writing and speaking.

But it also depends on the academic discipline. For example, if you want to study “Anglistik” (i.e. English) or “computer science” at a German university, you can get also very far with English only :slight_smile:

In my experience as a former teacher (of both foreign languages and math), it ultimately comes down to your “attitude/frustration tolerance.”

  • If you have a high frustration tolerance, you´ll probably succeed.
  • If you have a low frustration tolerance, German and your chosen field (e.g. math, computer science, etc.) will"kill" you sooner rather than later. In the “hard” sciences, this is also the case for many native speakers of German.

I wish you luck


C1 definitely. Giving oral presentations, writing academic papers and reading textbooks are the core component of German higher education system. There is no escape route from that.


As Peter says, C1 seems accurate, but depends on the curriculum requirements.

But since you mention “study in German” for a “master’s degree”, the answer is quite straightforward I think . You’ll need the level to be able to write a +100 (?) page master’s thesis (and listen/speak at similar level). In short, C1 (+).

At a university (typically especially in master classes), more than just reading and listening, normally you’ll need high conversation skills to engage in discussion, as well as writing skills for reports, written examinations and such. So I think really there isn’t a much bigger challenge you can set for yourself. But two and a half years seem like an achievable timeline :slight_smile:

Good luck


Others said it already. Master’s degree level? C1(+) - but of course it depends on the discipline.

To be safe, I’d go for C2 so to be sure you master C1 pretty well. Imho.

Yes, C1 (in all four language skills) is the expected lower level at a German university because most of your peers are German native speakers who can perform at a “very” high language level (that’s just the “unfair” advantage of any native speaker).

But excellent math skills are also important because math is used in most of the harder sciences (including economics) to weed out unsuitable candidates right from the start - at least at the university level.

An interesting alternative to universities are German “Fachhoch- schulen” for computer science, engineering, economics, etc. because they represent the “applied” sciences.
That is: They are less academic and math-heavy than their university counterparts. In this sense, they are definitely (!) easier than universities.

BTW, if you choose a discipline such as computer science, you could probably write your academic papers / (bachelor / master / PhD) thesis and take your final oral exams in English - at least that was the case at my Alma Mater in Germany.
So this would level the language playing field a bit for you :slight_smile:


“This is probably a question that is very open to interpretation.”

Nope! Not in the slightest. It is not open to interpretation at all!
There are exams you need to pass :slight_smile:
You need at least C1.
To make life easier, you could aim for higher.

It’s exactly the same for English.
For those wishing to study as an undergraduate in the US for example, there are exams (i.e. IELTS) to pass at C1 level or above.
An IELTS score of 7 - the typical minimum requirement for undergraduate programmes in the US - is a C1 level.


I believe most universities want applicants to have a B2 level, but obviously that’s the bare minimum. You may need to be C1 to be truly comfortable in academic situations.

Thanks for the information. I am currently studying a foreign language in order to have more opportunities to travel and, most importantly, to study and practice abroad. On the site Studying Abroad Essay Examples - Argumentative Topics for Research Papers I read a lot of useful information about studying abroad. All students studying abroad have some problems with different languages and lifestyles, but instead gain more scientific experience. In addition, they will gain a lot of personal and professional experience in their lives.

That is not entirely true. I think only top universities require TOEFL 100/ IELTS 7 and above. However, many other universities are fine with TOEFL 80/ IELTS 6.

A native English speaker who started really learning French when I was 16, I did my undergrad degree at a French-language university in Quebec. From my experience, I’d recommend not only going with at least a C1 level, but also budgeting for a tutor to work with (a native speaker of your target language with excellent writing skills, who’s ideally also very competent at your native language).

Throughout my first year, in a variety of arts & humanities subjects, I worked with my tutor on every essay and presentation, getting help from them in improving the quality of my writing. I was fully open about this with my professors and they all approved and applauded the extra effort (they sometimes did ask me to submit both the “before” and “after” versions, which was fine). It took plenty of extra time (so you may have to reduce your course load) but it was super useful, also very much helping me to improve my written French…and I ended up with excellent marks.

By my second year I had switched into math and computer and my writing had already improved a lot, so the tutor was no longer really necessary.

I’m glad I did my studies this way and would certainly recommend it!