Admission limits (Numerus Clausus) and the admissions process
To be able to educate students effectively, higher education institutions have to have adequate capacity (faculty and staff, space, financial resources). Like other higher education institutions in the region that regularly receive large numbers of applications, Freie Universität Berlin has initiated a limit on admissions (Numerus Clausus, NC) for all undergraduate programs (such as bachelor’s degree programs).
This Latin term stands for “limited number.” What it means is that no more applicants, or at least not many more applicants, can be admitted than the number of study placements available according to the university’s calculations.
The number of study placements in the first subject-specific semester (Fachsemester) in the undergraduate programs at Freie Universität is listed under Courses of Studies, in the section containing key information and details regarding the specific program. Please also see the admissions regulations of Freie Universität Berlin (appropriate official publication).
Where do I apply?
German students and those with German prior educational qualifications (Bildungsinländer – applicants with a German Abitur certificate, including from recognized German schools abroad) are required to apply directly to the Admissions Office of Freie Universität if they wish to apply for the first subject-specific semester (Fachsemester) in almost all academic programs at Freie Universität. Exception: pharmacy and veterinary medicine are the only programs at Freie Universität Berlin whose first-semester placements are currently allocated by "hochschulstart.de" (formerly ZVS, in German) in Dortmund.
The programs in medicine and dentistry are no longer allocated to Freie Universität itself, but rather to Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin (a joint institution of Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin).
International and stateless applicants with foreign higher education entrance qualifications (from EU and non-EU countries) are required to apply for academic programs at Freie Universität via Arbeits- und Servicestelle für internationale Studienbewerbungen e.V., also called "uni-assist", in Berlin. The exception applies here as well: For pharmacy and veterinary medicine, EU nationals and applicants from Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway apply via "hochschulstart.de" (in German) in Dortmund.
Quotas for more than just grades
The most common understanding of what “NC” means is the average grade on the secondary school diploma that an applicant needed in order to still receive a study placement during the last round of applications. But allocation of study placements is not quite that simple.
By law, Freie Universität is required to divide the total number of study placements in the first subject-specific semester of an academic program into three main segments and multiple pre-selection segments (quotas). For each of these segments, applicants are selected according to different criteria. One of the pre-selection segments, for instance, is the quota for international applicants who are not EU citizens and stateless applicants. Applicants in this group are admitted solely based on the quality of their higher education entrance qualifications. For applicants who fall under the special hardship segment, the grade is irrelevant. Special hardship applies to applicants who, for instance, will be unable to study later if they are not admitted immediately, due to health reasons. Other rules and regulations apply to the quota for applicants for a second academic program, who are required to have already completed one higher education program.
Military or civilian service, volunteer activities, and child-rearing – not a disadvantage
Applicants who already received a study placement in an earlier semester but were unable to accept it due to some form of service are also given preferential admission. The aim of this rule is to ensure that these applicants are not at a disadvantage due to these activities. These applicants are given preferential consideration, where applicable within the scope of the segment (quota) in which they had been admitted previously. “Service” includes the following:
Caring for a biological or adopted child under the age of 18 years or another family member who requires care,
Serving in the German armed forces (Wehrdienst) or the German border patrol (Bundesgrenzschutz),
Civilian service (Zivildienst) and other forms of service abroad as laid out in Sec. 14b of the Civilian Service Act (Zivildienstgesetz),
Voluntary one-year social or environmental activities or European Voluntary Service,
Two-year service providing aid to developing countries (as an Entwicklungshelfer/Entwicklungshelferin).
The three main segments
For holders of a German Abitur who are German citizens or citizens of another EU country and those with German prior educational qualifications (Bildungsinländer), regardless of nationality, there are three main segments (quotas) that are important both in the ZVS admissions process and in the university’s internal one.
After the pre-selection quotas are subtracted from the total number of placements within an academic program, the remaining placements are awarded to applicants with the best average Abitur grade in a segment dubbed the Abiturbestenquote, or “quota for those with the highest Abitur grades,” and in the wait time quota to those applicants who have waited for the greatest number of semesters. In the segment for those subject to the higher education institution selection process (Auswahlverfahren der Hochschulen, AdH), by contrast, placements are allocated according to specific criteria identified by the higher education institutions according to state law and their own requirements. This means that this term does not refer to an additional process besides the usual application process; instead, the AdH is simply one of several segments within the scope of the hochschulstart.de process as well as the university’s internal admissions process.
Applicants with top Abitur grades & wait times
Twenty percent of the available study placements (after subtraction of the pre-selection segments) are available to applicants with top Abitur grades, who are selected according to their average grade (qualification). Semesters of wait time, if any, are used in this segment only as a secondary differentiation criterion if multiple applicants with the same average grade are competing for a single placement.
To ensure that everyone can obtain his or her desired study placement, all applicants should have the opportunity to reach that placement by amassing wait time. For that reason, another segment, also of about 20%, is reserved for applicants with the most semesters of wait time. In this segment, the average grade may be used as a secondary differentiation criterion if multiple applicants with the same amount of wait time are competing for a single placement.
Wait time automatically counts from the date of issuance of the applicant’s Abitur certificate. After that, each full calendar semester (summer semester: April 1 – September 30; winter semester: October 1 – March 31) counts as half a year of wait time, minus any semesters during which the student was enrolled at a higher education institution in Germany. For purposes of counting wait time, it is practically irrelevant what the applicant has done between earning his or her Abitur and applying to study at the university; the frequency of applications does not affect how semesters of wait time are counted or applied.
No particular documentation of the wait time accrued is necessary: All the applicant needs to do is truthfully state in every application for admission whether he or she has been enrolled in higher education, and if so, when. Periods during which the student was enrolled are counted as interim studies while waiting for a placement (“Parkstudium”), and are not only deducted from the applicant’s total wait time, but if applicable also counted toward the maximum duration for which the student is permitted to receive BAföG financial aid – regardless of whether the student has actively pursued his or her academic career during that period or has used his or her status as a student for other purposes.
Higher education institution selection process (Auswahlverfahren der Hochschulen) segment
The remaining 60% – the majority – of the available study placements are allocated according to a segment reserved for the “higher education institution selection process” (Auswahlverfahren der Hochschulen, AdH) used by the university itself.
In this segment, points are awarded for each of three selection criteria and a mathematical formula is applied to calculate a point total:
Average Abitur grade
Major subject courses (Leistungskurse) or certain subjects taken at the upper level of secondary education (in most cases, a minimum number of points must have been reached, or the student is required to have taken the subjects in question throughout the final four semesters of his or her schooling)
Vocational or professional training or employment relevant to the program for which the student is applying, or an internship (the duration of these activities is stated in the specific bylaws on allocation of study placements (Vergabesatzung)).
Applicants are admitted based on a point value calculated based on the existing selection criteria. The lower the point value, the better the applicant’s ranking. Applicants can improve their chances of admission by meeting these requirements, but doing so is not a prerequisite for submission of an application.
Within the segment of placements awarded according to the AdH, there are also admission criteria that apply to specific programs in addition to the average Abitur grade, such as tests of academic aptitude (pharmacy, veterinary medicine) and selection interviews (medicine).
Misconceptions about NC (limited admissions, impacted programs) and chances of admission
There are a number of particularly stubborn rumors surrounding the Numerus Clausus, or limited admissions policy. The most widely held misconception about this practice is that the required grades for impacted subjects are set in advance. Instead, the only figure set in advance is the number of study placements. Who receives a study placement depends primarily on the number and quality of the competing applications. The grade limits published in the "NC table" always refer to past processes, never to future ones. As a result, their only value is as a rough guide – the future selection limits may be completely different.
Freie Universität Berlin currently stipulates minimum grades only for the programs in pharmacy and veterinary medicine, and only in the “higher education institution selection process” (Auswahlverfahren der Hochschulen, AdH) segment (quota) of the available study placements; these grades are required for applicants wishing to be considered in this process.
Another major misconception regarding limited admissions is that the applicant’s grades will improve based on the number of applications or wait time. An applicant’s average Abitur grade is not affected by either the number of applications or the wait time. In certain isolated cases, and only in those cases, an applicant can submit a well-founded “Application for Compensation for Disadvantages – Improvement of Average Grade,” which is the only way that an average grade can be raised. For this kind of request to be successful, the applicant is required to show that his or her average grade in school was much higher over a long period, before significantly deteriorating prior to the Abitur due to factors such as illness. This kind of application can also be submitted with an eye to improving the applicant’s wait time.
There are no waitlists beyond the specific process in which the student’s application is being considered. Wait time is also never determined in advance; it is always recalculated based on the current admissions process.
Special rules on admission to combination bachelor’s degree programs
A student cannot enroll in a combination bachelor’s degree program until the combination of the core subject and module(s) is complete, meaning that the student has been accepted into both the core subject and the module(s).
Allocation of placements in the Nachrückverfahren (the process used by the university to fill vacancies with replacement candidates) and by lottery
Applicants who have not initially been admitted to the desired study program may be successful after all via the Nachrückverfahren, the process used by the university to fill vacancies with replacement candidates. This kind of process takes place automatically in any case in which applicants who have been admitted do not accept their study placements, which means those spots become available again. If applicants entered in the Nachrückverfahren then also do not accept their admission, leaving placements still available, those spots are finally awarded by lottery to applicants who have submitted a lottery application in due time prior to the start of the semester.
Lottery applications for these kinds of placements, whether they have become available again or are still available, can also be submitted if the student is already enrolled, if his or her application has been denied, or if the student has never applied before. The number of lottery applications is unlimited. For combination bachelor’s degree programs, however, students can only enroll if they have been admitted to a complete combination (including admission via lottery), as mentioned above.
Languages as a hurdle for enrollment
Before applying to study at Freie Universität Berlin, prospective students should obtain detailed information on the language skills that may be required.