List of required application documents

Please remember to register online prior to submitting application documents. All required application documents have to be submitted in English.

Depending on your choice of funding, different application documents and procedures may be required.

Please assemble all required application documents (mentioned below) into one PDF-file (maximum size: 20 MB) and send it in one single e-mail to The name of the PDF-file and the subject of the e-mail should contain your registration number followed by your name (like "123_John Doe"). For help merging the documents in the given order and compressing your documents to this size, please see the following guides: a PDFMerge application and a wiki how-to-guide on reducing PDF file sizes.

Only completed applications can be considered. Applications that do not meet the requirements cannot be accepted. If you have questions regarding the documents, please contact the doctoral program (

 The documents should be sorted in this order:

  1. Checklist (click here to download)
  2. Motivation letter (1 page)

    If you are applying for an external scholarship, information about the foundation or sponsor for which you have already applied, or contact that you have made, should be included here. Any deadlines by the foundation should be provided here as well.
  3. BIGS-DR admissions application (click here to download)
  4. Funding/scholarship:
    1. If you already have a scholarship, a copy of the letter of award is required. Be sure to inform us if your scholarship has a deadline or not.
    2. In case you do not have a DAAD or external scholarship, you need proof of sufficient financial resources to fund your study for three years.
    3. Applicants with a citizenship from a developing country (list of eligible countries) can apply for a DAAD scholarship directly from ZEF: You have to submit a DAAD application form which can be downloaded here or is available at the DAAD home page, the German embassies and DAAD offices worldwide.
      1. A prerequisite for applying for this DAAD scholarship is having at least two years of relevant professional experience.
      2. Only applicants, who have not lived in Germany yet or have been a resident in Germany for less than 15 months at the time of application, can apply for this DAAD scholarship.
      3. Please note, while filling in the form, tick "Scholarship for a postgraduate course with relevance to developing countries".
      4. Please make sure that you send only one copy of your application directly to ZEF! It is not necessary to send additional copies to DAAD!
  5. Curriculum vitae
  6. Graduate Research Statement (click here to download guide)

    A well-planned and convincing Graduate Research Statement is akin to a research proposal, which is the most important selection criterion besides previous study achievements.
  7. Master's or diploma abstract (1 page)
  8. Academic certificates with transcripts (starting with the most recent degree back to the secondary school degree)
    • All certificates must be accompanied by a German or English translation.
    • Students in the final semester of their master’s study are also eligible to apply. In this case, you can submit your degree certificate later. However, we will need transcripts of your study or at least a written proof of the grades of your master's study. Otherwise we recommend you to submit the application one year later.
    • You have to show the original certificates at your arrival at ZEF.
  9. Certified proficiency in English

    TOEFL (550 points paper based; 213 computer based-; 79-80 iBT) or IELTS (band 6). This is not necessary for native English speakers or students who have had English as language of instruction at the university they studied at (certified by the university). In exceptional cases, we also accept other certificates of proficiency in English.
  10. Statement from your current employer

    If employed, we require a statement from your current employer. It will be helpful in your application for a scholarship if your employer is interested in having you pursue this doctoral study and is willing to grant you leave of absence for this purpose.
  11. Passport copy
  12. Optional: A successful GRE or GMAT test, (especially for quantitative and analytical abilities) will enhance your chances for being selected.
  13. Optional: List of publications
  14. After completing all of the application documents, we also require either two letters of recommendation or two BIGS-DR reference forms (click here to download) from your professors or supervisors. These should be emailed to us directly by your referee (i.e. separate from your application PDF-file).

Plagiarism check

ZEF has strict rules on plagiarism. In order to prevent plagiarism in the selection and admission process of doctoral students, short-listed candidates have to submit a soft copy of their research plan.

More information

We confirm the reception of all application documents. If you have not heard from us within two weeks, please inform us immediately. We are not responsible for any application lost due to technical problems.

Please contact the doctoral program management team in case you have any questions not answered on this page: docp.zef(at)