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The following question is asked by an international non-EU person:

Is it possible to apply for a PhD at a German university/institute without having an external funding/scholarship? In other words, can PhD students finance their own costs while doing their PhD in Germany? For example, you can finance your own master studies in Germany (by proving that you have enough yearly money in your bank account etc.).

It seems like there is no tuition fee to do a PhD at a public university/institute in Germany. However, I cannot find information on the internet that show PhD programs that can be applied for without a funding/scholarship. It is usually PhD programs that are funded and posted on job portals.

If it is possible to be our own sponsors while pursuing a PhD in Germany, what is the requirements and how can I find/apply for a PhD topic that I am interested in? I have applied for many funded/advertised positions and I find it very competitive and I have failed to be accepted so far. I want to try applying with my own funding this time.

Also, what are the odds of acceptance in this case (given that I have enough money to support my life during my studies)?

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    Do you want to enrol in a PhD or master’s programme? There are crucial differences between the two.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 18 at 20:53
  • @Wrzlprmft PhD.
    – bird
    Aug 19 at 10:09
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    Keep in mind that funding not only covers your salary. It also covers (as overhead) the cost of an office, a computer, the lab. Then, in experimental sciences, there is the cost of consumables etc. I suspect, if you find someone willing to take you as a PhD student, it will only be as an external student, i.e., you do all your work elsewhere and the professor is only advising you. I expect you would have a better chance at finding a funded position than an unfunded position.
    – Roland
    Aug 19 at 10:34
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    Keep in mind that PhDs in Germany are usually not "programs" (with a few rare exceptions). You work with an advisor on your thesis project from day 1. This often happens in the context of an employment - in STEM fields, most PhD students are employed, based on funds from the advisor. Aug 21 at 7:14
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It is perfectly possible to do an unfunded PhD in Germany. You basically only need a supervisor and a university department willing to accept you as a PhD student. Once you found a supervisor that is generally not a problem if you fullfill the general requirements (those will vary slightly from place to place). Those requirements include a (good enough) diploma/masters degree (in some cases bachelor will work, too), sometimes also proof of language proficiency.

If you are fine with doing a non-funded PhD, I would suggest directly contacting potential supervisors (while telling them that you are OK with non-funded positions, because they will know straight away that they don't have to find funding for you and are thus probably more inclined to take you on) with an idea of a potential topic. Some might be sceptical if you want to do it unfunded (as you are more likely to drop out), so you should have some kind of plan to present to them on how you will be supporting yourself.

I am not sure if there are visa issues if you don't have an income as a PhD student, but this can be inquired at the immigration office.

EDIT: here is a website in German with more info on doing a non-funded PhD in Germany.

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    The linked article is just bad quality. It also says absolutely nothing about unfunded PhD positions.
    – Roland
    Aug 19 at 10:39
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Depending on the field of expertise, you don't need to have external fundings. Many PHD positions in germany are "normal" research positions which get paid correspondingly according to the "Tarifvertrag" TVöD E13. Again depending on the field, this position is often not a full positon in the contract, meaning you get e.g. 50% of the ascribed salary.

Also not all positions are always posted on jobsites, so you could still find a paid position by just cold-mailing institutes professors.

Also have a look at smaller universities, as for the big ones to have a much higher amount of competition per position.

Note that this is highly dependent on the field of expertise. I for example research in informatics, and having 100% paid positions is common. However from studying Physics I know that it is much harder getting even the 50% paid positions, which becomes worse for social sciences and arts.

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It's possible to finance your own PhD, but a lot of supervisors will not prefer to take a student without funding. My PhD supervisor was very clear to me very early in my application process, that he would not take me as a student if I did not have a scholarship. He specifically said "we don't want your funding to come from your parents or from your personal savings, we want you to be on a scholarship". In many ways, I agree with their attitude towards the funding of my PhD. In fact in all my years of experience, I can only think of one student who was completely "self-funded", and he was sent home after 1 year because he did not pass his transfer viva (the presentation where the student explains their proposed research in front of a committee, in order to "transfer" from probationary PhD student to full-fledged PhD student). He was also one of only very few people I can think of (across many universities around the world), that did not pass their transfer viva.

Regarding this statement of yours:

"I have applied for many funded/advertised positions and I find it very competitive and I have failed to be accepted so far. I want to try applying with my own funding this time."

That is part of the reason (but not the only reason) why the most successful supervisors will be hesitant to take students that are not on a scholarship. If you are struggling to get into a PhD program, you might struggle even more to finish the program, which in your case means you're at risk of losing a lot of your own personal money and you could potentially fall years behind in your eventual career.

You might also be interested in some of the answers to: How to give advice when asked "Should I do a PhD program?"

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    In which country did this story (the self-funded PhD) happen?
    – bird
    Aug 19 at 10:11

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