FAQs - Max Planck School of Photonics

General information
Application process
Life in Germany

General information

Why should I apply to the Max Planck School of Photonics (MPSP) program?

The Max Planck School of Photonics is a postgraduate school that supports, educates and connects excellent students from all over the world. It especially stands out due to its German-wide network of Fellows who are distinguished scientists in the field of photonics and practice at various universities, Max Planck Institutes, Fraunhofer Institutes, Leibniz Institutes und Helmholtz Research centers. Apart from providing first-class professional education and training, the MPSP's goal is to connect talented students with expert researchers in order to facilitate their active integration into the photonics network in Germany.

Which degrees will I obtain if I complete the program?

The overall aim of the program is to obtain your PhD whilst completing your Master's degree on the way. The program is thus structured into two phases: a two-year study phase in which you obtain your Master's and simultaneously lay the groundwork for your PhD, and a second, three-year research phase which is dedicated fully to your PhD project. Thus, although you will finish the program with two different degrees, the focus of both phases is to work towards the completion of your own specialised research project in the form of a PhD.

Can I apply for the study phase of the program only?

The purpose of the MPSP program is to provide a five-year program with the overall aim of obtaining a PhD. Notwithstanding the integrated study phase, the program is not envisaged solely for obtaining a Master's program without the intention of advancing to PhD research.

How many students are accepted onto the program each year?

Admission to the school is highly competitive. Annualy, we accept up to 20 students for the study phase of the program and 40 students for the research phase. As of now, the MPSP currently hosts approximately 40 students in the study phase and 120 in the research phase.

Can I choose the university at which I will complete the study phase?

Yes, you can. Before you apply, please familiarise yourself with the various Master's programs at the three partner universities in Erlangen, Jena and Karlsruhe, in order to find out which program best suits you. In your application you can then indicate your preference by choosing one university only, or providing a ranking of preferences. Providing a ranking will ensure you recieve an offer from a different university if, exceptionally, we cannot provide you with an offer from your first choice. We will take your indicated preference into serious consideration. Please note that you cannot change your preference after you submit your application.

Can I choose the university at which I will complete the research phase?

At which university you complete the study phase of the program depends on your area of research and which institute your supervisor (Fellow) is associated with. Potential PhD research topics offered by our Fellows can be found here. We would ask that you inform yourself about the topics and the working groups available, so that you can then indicate up to five research topics that you are interested in during the application process for the study phase. We will take your choices into serious consideration during the process and will do our utmost to find a suitable match between Fellows and PhD students. Students that start the program in the study phase will have ample opportunity to figure out where their research interests lie and to identify potential PhD topics with the help of our Fellows.


Who can apply for the MPSP program?

By the time of admission onto the program, applicants must have completed a Bachelor's and/or a Master's degree (B.Sc., B.Eng., or B.Tech. and M.Sc., M.Eng. or M.Tech.) with significant exposure to physics, engineering or a related subject depending on the program you are applying for. More information on the required documents is available here.

Can I apply although I have not (yet) finished my current academic degree?

Yes, you can apply with a Transcript of Records (ToR) including the marks of all completed courses so far. However, if you are offered a place at the school, the original of your final transcript as well as your degree certificates (including certified translations if necessary) will be required with the start of the program at the latest.

Am I required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test and the GRE subject test?

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) general test and the GRE subject test are not mandatory and your application will be considered without them. However, as your application will be much stronger if you do provide a GRE general test or a GRE subject test (either in mathematics or physics), we highly recommend you include such a test in your application. Test scores are considered alongside other application criteria.

What does the selection test for the study phase comprise?

The selection test for the study phase is an online test that can be taken from any location. It is wide-ranging and comprises a catalogue of questions relating to photonics, physics, maths and electrical engineering that must be answered within a specified time span. Practice questions are available.

Am I required to submit a certificate of proficiency in English?

Yes, solid knowledge of the English language is crucial for the successfull participation in the MPSP program which is conducted entirely in English. Proof of proficiency in English can be provided by

  • TOEFL, or an equivalent English test (minimum points/grades): TOEFL PBT (550), TOEFL CBT (215), TOEFL IBT (85), IELTS (6.5), or
  • Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE) exam or Cambridge English Advanced (CAE) exam, or
  • German "Abitur" with comprehensive coverage of the English language.
  • Language exemptions: The following students are exempted from providing the proof of English proficiency: nationals from the USA, U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada; or B.Sc. or M.Sc. graduates who obtained their qualification in one of these countries.

Application process

When and where can I apply?

The next application period for the academic year 2021/2021 will begin on August 15, 2020, and end at December 1, 2020.

Applications will be received through an online platform, the link for which will be published on the MPSP website as soon as the application period begins. Applicants will be asked to provide personal information and submit the relevant documents including school leaving certificates, a certificate of a Bachelor’s degree and, if applicable, a Master’s degree, a comprehensive curriculum vitae, a letter of motivation, two letters of recommendation, proof of English language proficiency, and, if available, GRE score (general test or mathematics/physics subject test). 

The online application platform has two tracks. One track is for applicants with a Bachelor’s degree who are applying for the study phase of the MPSP program. These applicants will be requested to indicate their preferences for the teaching university at which they would like to complete the first phase of the program. The second track is for applicants with a Master’s degree who  are applying for the research phase of the program. These applicants are required to apply directly for up to five research topics provided by the MPSP Fellows.

Applications can only be submitted via the online platform within the indicated application period. Applications via email cannot be considered.

How does the online application process work?

Applying to the MPSP is a two-step process. In the first step, you will be required to complete the registration form. After completing the registration form, you will receive an email confirmation. This email will contain your MPSP registration ID, which is required for the second step of the application process in which you upload the required documents.

What are the steps in the selection procedure?

In order to determine a prospective student's suitability for admission into the study phase, the MPSP carries out a selection process that comprises various stages. In the first stage, the selection committee reviews the prospective student's online application. Applicants that progress to the second stage are required to take an online test. The test can be taken from any location. It is wide-ranging and comprises a catalogue of questions relating to photonics, physics, maths and electrical engineering that must be answered within a specified time span. Practice questions are available. In a final stage, prospective candidates are interviewed per skype. Successful applicants are notified via email thereafter. 

What are the required documents to apply?

The list of all documents required in the application process can be found here.

Can I save the data of my application and complete it later?

The first step in which you are required to provide your personal information in an online registration form has to be completed in one run. Please therefore make sure you have all relevant information available when you start the process. However, the second phase, i.e. uploading all relevant documents required for your application, can be completed at a later point. Using the ID provided for in the confirmation email received after completing the online registration form, you can login at any date before the deadline to upload the remaining documents.

Please note that once you have submitted the application including all uploads, no further changes can be made. Note also that unfinished applications cannot be completed after the application deadline and will not be considered.

What should I include in the curriculum vitae (CV)?

Please list all stages of your education in chronological order. The CV must contain a clear statement about your current status and/or occupation including information on current employment, unemployment, or parental leave. Any prizes, scholarships, extraordinary social, cultural or sportive activities may also be part of your CV.

What is the "school leaving certificate"?

It is the school certificate with which you gained qualification for admission to a university or another higher academic institution (e.g. the Abitur in Germany, International Baccalaureate, the graduation of a high school in the USA, the A-Levels of a British Grammar School, etc.).

Do I need to upload transcripts from my Bachelor and/or Master studies?

Please upload transcripts from all your degree-level studies. In fact, these documents are highly important to support you application.

How should I provide my letters of recommendation?

A template for this will be available in the here; however, it is not mandatory to be used by the referees. Please make sure that each letter of recommendation is signed. If one or both referees rather prefer personalized, free-style recommendation letters, they should contain a date and an official headline/stamp from the higher education institution the referee is affiliated with.

What if one of my recommenders does not provide a letter?

Two letters of recommendation are required for your application. We cannot make any exceptions, please ask another person for the letter of recommendation.

How many potential supervisors or research topics from the school should I mention in the application?

During the application process applicants for the PhD phase of the MPSP can identify up to five different research topics from five supervisors. For the qualification phase (Master program) you will be supported to find a supervisor for internships and Master thesis at a given time of your personal study program.

When will I get feedback on my application?

You will receive an automatic confirmation of receipt after completion of your online application. All applicants shall receive notice on the success of their application within approximately [...]. Shortlisted applicants shall then also be provided with details regarding the next steps of the selection procedure. Final decisions shall be made prospectively in [...].

Life in Germany

How do students finance the study and research phase of the program?

During the study phase of the program, students receive a stipends amounting to 1365€ as well as 100€ for health insurance (if applicable) and an additional 200€ bonus per month from the Max Planck Society. During the research phase of the program, students are employed full-time by the university or research institute of the respective MPSP Fellow (the salary is granted according to the tariff agreement for the public civil service of the federal states (TV-L/TVöD E13, 100%) and is higher than the amount of the stipend granted during the study phase).

Where so students live during the duration of the program?

Students are expected to arrange their own housing during the duration of the program. However, we are happy to provide help in finding appropriate accomodation in a student dormitory, or in a private or shared flat to rent.

Who can I contact if I have any questions?

Please feel free to contact our coordination team at any time via email .

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