Graduate Studies @ MPI-SWS

MPI-SWS offers a vibrant, dynamic, multi-cultural environment for research and graduate education. Qualified candidates can pursue doctoral degrees under the supervision of MPI-SWS faculty, in cooperation with universities.

Graduate students work as members of one or more of the institute’s research groups, which perform internationally leading, highly visible research in their respective fields of specialization. Graduate students receive individual training and mentorship from MPI-SWS faculty, preparing them for leadership positions in academic or industrial research.

Why Choose MPI-SWS?

Graduate Studies @ MPI-SWS

MPI-SWS offers a graduate program in cooperation with local universities and also participates in a joint graduate program with the University of Maryland.

The Max Planck Doctoral Program in Software Systems, in collaboration with Saarland University and the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, allows students to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science. Students admitted to the program have the opportunity to explore different areas of research before settling on their dissertation project. MPI-SWS values and encourages collaborative and interdisciplinary research with groups from within and from outside of the institute. Students admitted to our graduate program can work on projects in any area covered by MPI-SWS faculty.

Our Maryland Max Planck Joint Program offers students a unique opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. degree under the supervision of faculty from the University of Maryland, USA, and a Max Planck Institute in Germany. Students are co-advised, perform collaborative research, take advantage of the expertise, resources, and culture at both institutions, and spend time in both countries. In this program, students can work in any area covered by the Maryland faculty and any Max Planck Institute.


Ready to apply? Program Requirements and Admission

Program Structure

Both the Max Planck Doctoral Program in Software Systems and the Maryland Max Planck Joint Program are divided into a preparatory and a dissertation phase. The detailed requirements may differ, but the following high-level description provides a general overview.

Preparatory Phase

Course requirements

At the beginning of the program, students typically take courses to complement their existing knowledge of core computer science areas. Depending on a student's prior academic background, course requirements may be partially or completely waived at the time of admission.

Students also have the opportunity to take specialized courses that focus on the development of scientific writing and presentation skills. These courses may be taken at any time in the program.

Exploring different research areas

All incoming students are assigned a faculty research adviser, but have the opportunity to explore additional research areas through projects with other faculty before deciding on their doctoral advisor at the end of the preparatory phase.

Qualifying Exam

In addition to taking courses, students conduct research from the day they enter the doctoral program. Based on their initial research, students are required to pass a research qualifying exam, which is designed to evaluate the student's ability to successfully obtain a doctoral degree.

Dissertation Phase

Area Examination

The purpose of the area exam is to assess a student's understanding of his/her broad area of research. It tests the student's knowledge of the area's fundamental problems, techniques and methods, as well as the student's ability to apply this knowledge to new problems. The area exam is taken after the research qualifying exam and before the thesis proposal.

Teaching Requirements

Teaching is both an important part of the academic training of a doctoral student and a uniquely effective learning experience. A student may complete the TA requirement at any point in the program, but before the thesis proposal.

Thesis Proposal

Within three years after the qualifying exam, a student is expected to form a doctoral thesis committee, prepare a thesis proposal and have it approved by the committee. The outcome of a successful thesis proposal is an agreement between the student and the thesis committee: the student lays out a path to the completion of his/her thesis, and the thesis committee -- if it approves the proposal -- confirms that the path laid out by the student is reasonable.

Thesis and Thesis Defense

Student end their doctoral research by submitting a thesis and taking a public oral thesis defense exam. The exam consists of a talk by the student followed by a period of questioning by the thesis committee.


There are several ways to start your graduate studies at MPI-SWS. If you are interested in applying for the Maryland Max Planck Joint Program, which has a different admission process, please visit the program’s homepage. Our primary admissions process is through our application portal.

Requirements of the Max Planck Doctoral Program in Software Systems

Admission to our graduate program is highly competitive. A Bachelor's degree or a Master's degree from a top-tier institution of higher education is required. Applicants should have an outstanding academic record (at or near the top of their class), proficiency in spoken and written English, and strong letters of recommendation from their past academic advisers or work supervisors.

Application Procedure

Applications are accepted only through our online application system. You will need to upload PDF versions of the following documents:

  • CV
  • transcripts
  • statement of purpose
  • contact information of two references providing recommendations
  • English test scores (TOEFL, IELTS or Cambridge Test) are strongly encouraged unless you are a native speaker
  • GRE score (optional)

If you have a specific research interest, you may optionally indicate faculty members you would like to work with in your application.

You need to submit a complete application before we can process it. (The website will display missing fields in red until your application is complete.) Note that even once you have completed your application, you can still update the application subsequently, e.g. to fill in additional information or add an additional reference.

We request references for those applicants that pass a first round of review, i.e. we do not request references automatically on application submission.

Application Deadline

Applications are accepted throughout the year. We make decisions four times a year, based on applications received until:

  • December 31
  • March 31
  • June 30
  • September 30

Once your application is submitted, it will stay live for approximately four months. Typically, phone interviews are conducted with candidates considered for admission.

Associated Graduate Schools

You might also consider some other graduate programs in the area that MPI-SWS faculty participate in:

Once you get admitted to these programs, you can contact MPI-SWS faculty if you are interested in working with them.


Are doctoral positions paid?
All doctoral positions are fully funded, including social benefits. Students also receive funding to attend conferences and other events related to their research, and have access to outstanding facilities.

Do I need to know English?
Yes, English is the institute’s working language. Test scores are strongly encouraged for the application unless you are a native speaker.

Do I need to know German?
No, knowledge of German is not required, but you have the option of taking free German language courses during your graduate studies.

How long does a doctoral program usually take?
Graduate studies at MPI-SWS usually last for 4-5 years.

Can students travel to conferences/summer schools?
MPI-SWS provides funding for travel, and students regularly attend conferences or summer schools related to their research.

Can students go on research/industry internships?
Yes, internships are encouraged. For example, our students have recently done internships at Microsoft Research in Redmond and Cambridge, at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo and at Instart Logic in Palo Alto, just to name a few.

When can I start?
Graduate students typically arrive at MPI-SWS between the end of August and mid-September. However, students may start their graduate studies at any time, provided that there is a mutual agreement between the student and an initial advisor.

What is the Maryland Max Planck joint program?
This program offers students a unique opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. degree under the supervision of faculty from the University of Maryland, USA, and a Max Planck Institute in Germany. Students are co-advised, perform collaborative research, take advantage of the expertise, resources, and culture at both institutions, and spend time in both countries. For more information see the program’s homepage.

Which graduate program should I apply to?
There are several ways to join MPI-SWS as a doctoral student. If you know that you want to work with MPI-SWS faculty, you should apply directly to us. If you are unsure, especially about the research area you would like to work in, we encourage you to also apply to the other programs at the same time.

Do I get a degree from MPI-SWS?
MPI-SWS is not a degree granting institution. So while students’ primary affiliation is MPI-SWS (or MPI-SWS and the University of Maryland for the joint program), students obtain a doctoral degree from one of our cooperating universities as well as a certificate of doctoral research from MPI-SWS.

Do you provide help with visa proceedings?
Admitted students from non-EU countries receive documentation to support their application for a student visa.

Do you provide help with finding accommodation?
Yes, MPI-SWS offers assistance in locating accommodation for incoming students.

Your question wasn’t answered?
For more information regarding the MPI-SWS graduate program, please contact the graduate program coordinator:

Life in Germany

Living and Working in Germany

The booklet Living and Working in Germany from the Max Planck Society has most of the important information regarding visas, health insurance and medical care, finding and renting an apartment and public transportation. It also includes useful checklists for what you need to bring and what you will need to take care of initially. For interns who stay for less than three months not all of these may apply.

Living in Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken

Saarbrücken and Kaiserslautern offer many attractions including parks, museums, theaters, restaurants, as well as beer gardens. The surroundings also offer many hiking and mountain biking opportunities:

MPI-SWS is located in the heart of Europe and in close distance to many small and big cities in Germany, France, Luxemburg, and Belgium.