An undergraduate degree program is a study program that leads to the student’s first degree or diploma for higher education. This category includes Bachelor’s degree programs, but also programs toward the state exam (Staatsexamen), Diplom or Magister degrees. Master’s degree programs, by contrast, are always graduate programs, which means that admission always requires that the student has successfully completed an undergraduate program first. In Germany, agreements laid out by the Conference of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) state that undergraduate programs that lead directly to a master’s degree are not permitted.
The master’s degree is an academic degree that university graduates earn upon completion of a second academic program. A Master’s degree program lasts two to four semesters and builds upon an undergraduate program. Students who wish to enroll in a master’s degree program are required to have a bachelor’s degree or other degree or diploma from one of the single-stage academic programs traditional in the German system (Magister, Diplom, first state exam (Staatsexamen) in law or teaching credential (Lehramt) program; degree in medicine).
Depending on the area of focus, a master’s degree program can allow the student to explore the subject previously studied in greater depth or to branch out into new areas of knowledge. A doctoral program (Promotion) leads to the academic degree of doctor (Doktorat) in a specific discipline. This degree is considered proof of the student’s aptitude to work scientifically or academically at an advanced level. It is based on an independent academic work – the dissertation – and an oral exam.