A little background first, as this is maybe not familiar to people outside Germany: In Germany there are universities that can not award PhDs. So called "Hochschulen/Fachhochschulen". This means they have to cooperate with a university that can award PhDs at which the student is then enrolled as PhD student and also has an official PhD supervisor. But the work (and in practice most of the supervision) is done at the "Hochschule". Also notice that in Germany getting a PhD is normally "thesis only", so no course work. Also in this setting the student already has a Masters, which is a requirement in Germany for starting a PhD.

If someone wants to partner with universities in the US to get a PhD, will the student have to pay regular fees / tuition even if it is "thesis only"?

Or do you even need to be officially enrolled at the US university if you have a professor there who agrees the supervise you?

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    There is no standard structure generally in US universities and certainly nothing like a standard cost structure for this. Probably you would need to pay some tuition fees to the US university but they would vary greatly from institution to institution. You would be contributing to the professor's salary, of course. I believe that in every case you would need some official enrollment. The only exception I can imagine is if the professor is associated with a German university as well and something can work with that institution.
    – Buffy
    Oct 12, 2018 at 11:58
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    Can you maybe specify why you would like to have a supervisor from a US university?
    – Cape Code
    Oct 12, 2018 at 12:32
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    @CapeCode The most likely explanation is the OP has a specific supervisor in mind, and they are (now) at a US university ... but I agree it would be good to confirm that. Oct 12, 2018 at 14:08
  • @MartinBonner yes in that case co-supervision could be a solution providing they find a local uni willing to act as primary institution.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 12, 2018 at 14:10
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    @JayFromA I know someone who was in a very similar situation, but first I have to ask. Do you need/want to be enrolled in this German institution? If they don't award PhDs and don't have the supervisor you want, why even being there? Oct 15, 2018 at 12:32

2 Answers 2


Even when cooperating with a German university, the candidate will be subject to any terms or requirements given by the "Promotionsordnung" of the university. (It is true that many of those do not require any additional coursework, but there are formal criteria to meet nonetheless).

Therefore I assume that, also in your envisioned scenario, the student would have to meet any formal requirements that the US university usually imposes on their PhD candidates. This may include not only paying for, but actually taking the coursework for example. The fact that the German "Hochschule" may be satisfied with "thesis only" work will not be relevant then if the US university is the one awarding their degree.


In the situation you describe, you're not really having an external supervisor. You're a PhD candidate in a university and your research happens to be conducted in a Fachhochschule. The central issue as you said is that the Fachhochschule isn't accredited to deliver doctoral degrees.

So what you are asking is: can I join a graduate program in a US university and conduct research in a German Fachhochschule. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's seems like a very long shot.

  • First you will need to be accepted in a graduate program with (presumably) a Bachelor from a Fachhochschule. I think just that is going to be a major obstacle, especially if you're aiming at a prestigious institution (see: Is it realistic to apply to a Master at MIT, Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, Stanford with a Bachelor of a German Fachhochschule?)
  • Then IF that works out the Fachhochschule’s requirements will be irrelevant. You will in many cases have courses requirements, have to pass quals exams, and all other requirements from the US graduate program. Hardly compatible with you living on another continent.
  • The research typically conducted in Fachhoschulen can be very different (typically more applied or translational) than what is done in universities. It might be hard to meet the university's standards for a PhD thesis.

Specifically to your question "will the student have to pay regular fees / tuition even if it is "thesis only"?" the answer is quite probably yes. Usually graduate students and their supervisors seek funding to cover all costs including tuition and stipend.

Maybe you should re-think your strategy and possible try to do a Masters in a German University first. Then applying to a US graduate program might be more plausible. Alternatively you could look at having co-supervision with a professor in a local university.

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    Thanks for your insights. As a site note: already having a Masters is generally a requirement for starting a PhD in Germany. That´s why it is normally "thesis only". I added this to the question.
    – asquared
    Oct 12, 2018 at 15:08
  • Adding to this answer. It will be quite complicated also regarding the US visa issues. You will have to be enrolled at the US university to stay in the program, even if you are not physically in the US, so even if you are away you will need to pay tuition. Oct 15, 2018 at 13:00

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