FAQs - Max Planck School of Photonics

General information

The MPSP supports and educates students within its unique postgraduate program. It is distinguished due to its German-wide network of excellent Fellows who are scientists in the field of photonics and practice at universities, Max Planck Institutes, Fraunhofer Institutes, Leibniz Institutes and Helmholtz Research centers. Besides professional training, the MPSP aims to establish ties between students and excellent researchers in order to actively integrate the participants of the MPSP into the photonics network in Germany.

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.
If you have previously completed a master’s degree in the field of phontoics, you may as well solely apply for the PhD program.

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 degree without the intention of advancing to PhD research.

We accept up to 20 students into the study phase and 40 graduates into the research phase annually.

Yes, you can. Before you apply, please familiarise yourself with the various Master's programs offered at the three partner universities in Erlangen, Jena and Karlsruhe, in order to find out which program best suits you.
You can then indicate your preference in your application, or a ranking of preferences. We will take your indicated preference into serious consideration. If, in rare exception, we cannot provide you with an offer from your first choice, we will ensure you receive an offer from one of other universities. Please note that you cannot change your preference after submitting your application.

At which university you complete your PhD 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.

Please follow-up on the topics available and indicate up to five topics which interest you in your application for the study phase. Changes to the topics can be discussed with the respective Fellow during the interview. We will do our best to accommodate your preferences and will find you a suitable Fellow match.

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.

The transfer from the study phase to the research phase is subject to the student's final marks in the study phase (master's degree), the availability of a MPSP-Fellow suitable for the supervision of the PhD project envisaged by you as well as a face-to-face interview with MPSP-Fellows towards the end of the study phase.



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

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 in the program, your final original ToR as well as your original degree certificates (including, if necessary, certified translations) will be required not later than by the start of the program.

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) general and subject test are not mandatory and your application will be considered without them. Nevertheless, your application will be much stronger if you provide a general or subject GRE test (either in mathematics or physics), and we therefore recommend you do so.

Test scores are considered alongside other application criteria.(Thus, they are not the sole application criteria.)

No. We consider the GRE score in conjunction with other criteria based on the whole application. Furthermore, we also ask you to conduct an application test provided by us as a second step of your application (see below).

Yes, solid knowledge of the English language is crucial for the successful 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)
  • Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE) exam or Cambridge English Advanced (CAE) exam
  • German "Abitur" with comprehensive coverage of the English language.
  • Proof of proficiency 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.
Please note: Exemptions may be possible. If you for example cannot submit a test because of the corona pandemic, you can also apply with an expired test or any other document that shows that you speak English sufficiently (e.g. proof that the previous education phase was taught in English). Please explain in your application why you weren't able to submit a „regular“ test in this case and inform the MPSP office before submission (photonics@maxplanckschools.de). In any case, we could ask you to submit the test after successfully completing the application process.

We welcome applications from all countries around the world and your country of origin has no bearing on whether or not you are accepted to the MPSP. However, additional checks are required by the government during the visa process for people from embargoed countries, which may delay the visa process and in some cases may lead to a non-issuance of a visa. Unfortunately, we have no influence on this.
In addition, due to embargo policies there might also be restrictions on internships and PhD positions at some institutions for certain countries of origin and certain research topics. Please contact us if you have any questions in this regard (photonics@maxplanckschools.com).

You can check here on the page of the German customs if you come from an embargo country: List of embargoed countries

Application process

General questions about the application process:

Applications can be submitted via an online platform during the application phase from September 1st 2024 to December 1st 2024 (for take in the academic year 2025/2026) . Applications can only be submitted during this time.

First, applicants are required to submit their online applications. Applicants who have been shortlisted will then be required to take an online test. In a last step, applicants that succeeded in the online test shall be interviewed per Skype or telephone. 

For more details see below, as well as on the application page here.

The application process is explained in detail here. It consists of three steps: 

  • Step 0: Register at Portal, choose MPSP MSc or PhD
  • Step 1: Add the contact details of at least two referees and invite them ("Submit to Send E-mails to referees" at the bottom of the page) to fill out a reference questionnaire. Doing this first will allow your referees more time to provide their references. You also have the option to upload letters of reference. However, the invitation-based reference is considered the default option and strongly recommended.
  • Step 2: Please fill out the rest of the application form by adding the required information and uploading the required documents. Click Save whenever you add any new content. You may revisit and modify your application at any time prior to final submission. Once the application is completed you submit it ("Submit Application").

Please make sure that you revised the application thoroughly before submitting. Your application is only considered complete if application and both letters of reference have been submitted before the deadline of application. After submission you will no longer be able to edit your application. Your submitted data will be available to view throughout the application process.

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

Yes, until you finalize your submission you can change your application. After registering at the application portal, you need to enter contact information of your reference persons first. The application portal will then send out emails and invite them to provide feedback about you. You cannot complete the application until you entered those contact information.

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 as soon as possible. Shortlisted applicants shall then also be provided with details regarding the next steps of the selection procedure. Final decisions shall be made by April next year.

Having a Master's degree is not an reason for exclusion in itself, be prepared though to explain your reasons for your decision to the selection committee.

Yes, you can apply both for the study phase and the research phase. In this case, please write an email written to photonics@maxplanckschools.de mentioning both of your reference numbers, so we can connect your applications in our system.

Admission tests for the study and research phase:

The selection test for the study phase can be taken from any location with internet access. It is wide-ranging and comprises a catalogue of questions relating to fundamentals of mathematics, physics, and electrical engineering with a focus on optics. This means e.g. solving simple differential equations of harmonic oscillators, simple lens design considerations, calculating the equation of motion of a charged particle in an electric and/or magnetic field, calculating the frequency domain of a signal in the time domain via Fourier transformation etc.

The test must be taken within a specified time span. During the test, you will probably not have enough time to answer all the questions, so you might select the ones you feel most comfortable with first. You will receive more information about the test if you are invited.

The test for the research phase is more aimed at your personal abilities that are important for independent research. For example, you might have to review a paper yourself or develop an idea. The test will be in a "take-home-exam" format and you will be able to select some of the presented questions instead of answering all of them. You will receive more information about the test if you are invited.

Documents necessary for application:

Unless specified otherwise, all candidates applying for both the study phase and the research phase must provide the following documents:

  • Candidates applying for the study phase must provide a copy of their Bachelor's certificate. Candidates applying for the research phase must additionally provide a copy of their Master's certificate (so, Bachelor + Master certificate). If you have not yet finished your degree, you may apply with a preliminary Transcript of Records (ToR) including the marks of all completed courses so far. A brief description of the courses would be helpful.

  • Candidates applying for the study phase must provide a school leaving certificate with marks.

  • A comprehensive and up-to-date curriculum vitae (CV). Please list all stages of your education chronologically, as well as a clear statement as to your current status and/or occupation including information on (un-)employment or parental leave. Any prizes, scholarships or extraordinary social, cultural or sportive activities may also be listed.

  • A typewritten letter of motivation. The letter should not exceed one page and should describe your personal background, your interests and reasons for applying to the MPSP program. Candidates applying for the study phase should include their preference of study university (for further details click here), whereas candidates applying for the research phase should include their choice of research topics (for further details click here).

  • Contact information of at least two referees that will be contacted through our application portal in order to fill in a questionnaire about you. Letters of reference can also be uploaded. However, it is strongly recommend to use the invitation based process. For further details, check the FAQ.

  • A copy of your passport or ID card

  • Proof of English proficiency. (Please have a look at the Question "Am I required to submit a certificate of proficiency in English?" above)

  • A Graduate Record Examination (GRE) : general test, physics or math subject test is highly recommended, but not mandatory.

  • Our preferred way of receiving feedback from your reference person is through a questionnaire that is submitted by the MPSP application portal. When you register as an applicant, the first step in the application portal is to add the contact details of two referees who can attest to your research, academic, or professional abilities in the context of your interest in pursuing a graduate degree. After having filled out the form, press the Submit to Send E-mails to Referees button. An email invitation will then be sent, providing the Referees with all the necessary information to electronically fill out the reference questionnaire. We recommend that you personally contact the referee regarding your reference form before triggering the email invitation.

    You must complete this section and trigger the email invitation to your referees at first in order to continue with your application. This will give the referees sufficient time to submit the reference forms before the deadline of submission. Importantly: At least two referees need to be invited to fill out reference questionnaire before you can submit your application.

    You will receive an email of confirmation as soon as a referee has submitted a reference questionnaire. It will not be possible to make any modifications or corrections to the information about your referees, once they have been contacted.

    In some cases, email invitations may be directed to the spam folder of a referee's email account. Therefore, it may make sense to confirm with the respective referee that email invitation has arrived in the regular inbox.

    However, you could also upload letters of recommendation in the application portal. Please make sure that each letter of recommendation is signed. If one or both referees prefer personalized recommendation letters, they should contain a date and an official letterhead/stamp from the higher education institution with which the referee is affiliated. Uploading those documents is not recommended since it can downgrade your application.

    You need two referees for your application. We cannot make any exceptions, please therefore ask another person feedback.

    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.

    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 in the UK, etc.).

    If you do not have your final school leaving certificate yet: If you cannot submit a final certificate, you can also apply with an unofficial document or the most recent documents you have (e.g. transcript of records). Please explain this accordingly in your application and send the final documents to photonics@maxplanckschools.de as soon as you have them, even after the application deadline. Please note: You still have to submit an application to us in time (i.e. by December 1st 2020) via the application portal, even without final documents.

    Please upload transcripts from all your degree-level studies. In fact, these documents are highly relevant for your application.

    Please upload any documents in English or German or provide a translation of any documents in an other language.

    During the application process applicants for the research phase can identify up to five different research topics. If you start the program in the study phase you will be able to find an appropriate supervisor for internships and your Master's thesis during the course of the study.

    You have to provide proof of English during the application process. If you cannot submit a test because of the corona pandemic, you can also apply with an expired test or any other document that shows that you speak English sufficiently. Please explain in your application why you weren't able to submit a „regular“ test in this case. In any case, we could ask you to submit the test after successfully completing the application process.


    Life in Germany

    During the study phase of the program, students receive generous stipends with a minimum of 1365€ gross per month from the Max Planck Society. During the research phase of the program, students are employed 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) and is higher than the amount of the stipend granted during the study phase).

    This depends on your location. Living expenses will tend to be slightly lower in Jena and Erlangen in comparison to Karlsruhe, especially in terms of rent. The universities estimate that students will need between 700€ and 800€ per month on average. 




    Students are expected to arrange their own housing for the duration of the program. However, we are happy to help in finding appropriate accommodation in a student dormitory, or in a private or shared flat to rent. The scholarships or salaries you'll receive are easily enough to cover the living costs in Germany.

    This depends on your country of origin. Students are responsible for checking their own visa requirements. For some guidance, see here for the Federal Foreign Office's FAQs on living in Germany. 

    Please feel free to contact our coordination team at any time via email . You are also welcome to ask questions via Social Media.


    Study Phase

    Questions regarding the funding:

    During the study phase of the program, students receive generous stipends with a minimum of 1365€ gross per month from the Max Planck Society.

    All scholarship agreements are concluded between the student and the HR department at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen, regardless at which teaching university the student is studying. However, students must have been offered a place at one of the teaching universities in order to receive the scholarship payment.

    All universities charge an administrative semester fee (200-300€ per semester) for each student. In addition, at the KIT Karlsruhe there is a tuition fee for non-EU students. More information about the tuition fee here.

    Transition to Research Phase:

    We would like everyone who finishes the study phase to move onto the research phase in order to obtain their PhD. There is no additional application or selection process, and the transition is part of the program. However, we cannot guarantee that there will be a Fellow with matching research interests, and we cannot oblige any of the Fellows to supervise/employ you. To make the process as smooth as possible, we offer all kinds of events/meetings/internship opportunities in order for you to get to know the MPSP Fellows and to establish contact to those who you could envisage as a PhD supervisor. You should keep this in mind when you attend the MSc program. Ideally, you would do your MSc thesis work in one of the MPSP Fellow’s labs and stay there for your PhD. If you finish the MSc program and cannot find a matching Fellow or your grades are insufficient, you will not be able to continue with the MPSP program. However, even if this happens it is not a tragedy, at there are many “regular” PhD positions in Germany for which you can apply in such a case.

    When you are accepted:

    The MPSP is an association of various institutions. We have three teaching universities that each have their own individual rules and regulations. Some of the universities only need us to forward the application documents you sent to the MPSP. However, some universities need you apply separately in order for you to be able to enrol there as a student. It’s only a formal requirement.

    The winter semester starts in October. However, there are two MPSP events that are scheduled to take place in September before the official start of the university semester, namely the Welcome Day for new students and the Autumn School. Unfortunately, due to the current situation with the corona virus, we cannot yet say for sure whether they will be able to take place in person. We will announce details on both events on the website as soon as we have more information.

    When you have arrived in Germany, your first point of reference for registering at the university should be the international office of the respective institution. Before you can enrol for your program, you need to register as a resident at the local residents’ registration office, as well as for health insurance.

    Research Phase

    During the research phase of the program, the PhD candidates are employed 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) and is higher than the amount of the stipend granted during the study phase).

    The final interviews were conducted by a group of MPSP Fellows who were trying to determine whether you could be recommended for admission to the MPSP generally, independent of your field of expertise. After these more general interviews, the Fellow that had previously expressed an interest in your application will interview you again with more specific questions on your respective field and, depending on the outcome, may contact you shortly thereafter to offer you a position.

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