Skip Navigation

The Education System in Germany

Figure A-7. Levels of education in Germany, by age and year of schooling: 2013

Levels of education in Germany, by age and year of schooling: 2013

NOTE: Education levels are defined according to the 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97). Ages represent the typical age at the beginning of the school year.
Numbers in bold print indicate ages of universal enrollment (i.e., an enrollment rate of over 90 percent). Numbers highlighted represent the age at which compulsory enrollment begins through the age at which compulsory enrollment ends. No meaning should be inferred from width of subdivisions. Duration of first university degree program is generally 4 years in Germany.
SOURCE: Miller, D.C. and Warren L.K. (2011). Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011 (NCES 2012-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

NOTE: There are differences within the education system of Germany because responsibilities and oversight for compulsory education take place at the state (Länder) level. However, the purpose of this document is to present a brief, general summary of education in Germany. The sources cited at the end of this section provide more specific details.


  • Common name: Kindergarten
  • Ages of attendance: As early as age 3 through age 5
  • Number of years: 1 to 3
  • Start of universal enrollment: Age 4
  • Compulsory: No

NOTE: Students may attend preprimary programs from age 1.


  • Common name: Grundschule
  • Ages of attendance: 6 through 9
  • Number of years: 4
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes, begins at age 6

NOTE: In two Länder (the German equivalent of states), Grundschule covers 6 grades.

Lower secondary:

  • Common name: Hauptschule—Secondary school for basic general education
    • Realschule—Secondary school for more extensive general education
    • Schularten mit mehreren Bildungsgängen—Secondary school with several educational tracks, usually Hauptschule and Realschule
    • Gesamtschule/Gemeinschaftsschule—Integrated secondary school, meaning that students are not split into tracks of different academic requirements
    • Gymnasium—Secondary school for intensified academic education
  • Ages of attendance: 10 through 15
  • Number of years: 5 to 6
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes
  • Entrance/exit criteria: Based on a transition referral of the primary school. If parents disagree, in some Länder, admissions tests determine if a student can take the education tracks of Realschule or Gymnasium.

NOTE: There are different types of secondary schools, some combining Hauptschule and Realschule (for reporting purposes, this type is referred to as Schule mit mehreren Bildungsgangen). During the last few years, many Länder have decided to focus on combining Hauptschule and Realschule rather than to continue with the separate educational tracks, mainly due to the decrease in the number of pupils. The secondary school that a student in Germany attends is determined by a combination of factors, depending on the Länder: admissions tests, previous grade point average, teacher recommendations, and parents' wishes. The degree of flexibility that parents have in choosing which educational track their child enters also varies among Länder.

However, the type of school that a student attends is sometimes less important than the chosen track: at the end of lower secondary, all students who meet the requirements receive a leaving certificate. At the Hauptschule, it is generally the Hauptschulabschluss. In some Länder, students who excel may receive a Qualifizierter Hauptschulabschluss at the end of grade 9. In some Länder, students may obtain a Realschulabschluss on completing grade 10. (At the Realschule, students typically receive the Realschulabschluss—also called the Mittlerer Schulabschluss—and at the Gesamtschule, both types of diplomas are offered.) Although regulations differ between Länder, most students attending Gymnasium who advance to the upper secondary level automatically receive the Realschulabschluss.

Some Länder also have an orientation phase during the firs 2 years of lower secondary school, which gives parents and teachers 2 more years to decide a child's educational path. In Länder with a 6-year primary school, lower secondary school is 2 years shorter.

Upper secondary:

  • Common name:
    • General education:
      • Gymnasiale Oberstufe: Academic upper secondary school. Students typically continue from lower second-ary Gymnasium or Gesamtschule. Comprises grades 11 to 13 or 10 to 12.
    • Vocational education:
      • Berufsschule: 3- to 4-year vocational school, which regularly includes an apprenticeship; students attend school part time while also doing an apprenticeship.
      • Berufsfachschule: 1- to 3-year full-time specialized vocational school.
      • Fachoberschule: 2-year specialized vocational high school.
      • Übergangssystem: 1-year prevocational training or basic vocational training year for young people who do not have a training contract, helping them to choose a career and providing them with vocational basic training. It does not lead to a full vocational school qualification
  • Ages: Generally 16 to 18 or 19
  • Number of years: 1 to 4
  • Universal enrollment: Through age 18
  • Compulsory: Through age 17
  • Entrance/exit criteria: Students must pass the Abitur, the general higher education entrance qualification for university entrance. Through certain courses of vocational education at the upper secondary level, students may pass the Fachabitur and obtain a qualification entitling the holder to study at a Fachhochschule.

NOTE: Gymnasium and Gesamtschule are generally combined lower and upper secondary schools, although students concentrate their studies on fewer subjects during the Gymnasiale Oberstufe. In most Länder, there is currently a gradual conversion from a 9-year to an 8-year Gymnasium course of education. Additionally, a few Länder offer the Berufsoberschule, a vocational upper secondary school for those who have completed vocational training or have 5 years of work experience.

Postsecondary and tertiary:

  • Common name: Berufsakademie, Fachhochschule, Universität
  • Ages of attendance: Varies
  • Number of years: Varies according to degree
  • Universal enrollment: No
  • Entrance criteria: Traditionally, students must pass the Abitur (general higher education entrance qualification) in order to enter university and must have at a minimum the Fachabitur (vocational upper secondary diploma) in order to enter the Fachhochschule. Recently, ways to enter Fachhochschule or Universität without the Abitur or the Fachabitur on the basis of vocational training and experience have been developed.

Common degree programs:

  • Diplom Berufsakademie—BA: 3-year program of academic training combined with work experience. Offered at a Berufsakademie.
  • Diplom Fachhochschule—FH: 4-year degree program in applied fields such as engineering, administration, social services, and design. Admission to a Fachhochschule is competitive because of restricted numbers of available spaces. Within the framework of the Bologna process,5 study programs in tertiary education move from Diplom to Bachelor and Master programs.
  • Diplom Universität: Master's degree equivalent usually requiring a minimum of 4 to 5 years of study. Universität offers this degree in academic fields as well as scientific, technical, and engineering fields. Within the framework of the Bologna process, study programs in tertiary education move from Diplom to Bachelor and Master programs.
  • Bachelor: First university degree obtained after 3 to 4 years of study.
  • Master: Second degree obtained after 1 to 2 years of study. Entrants must have obtained a Bachelor degree. Moreover, in some universities students must pass oral or written entrance examinations.
  • Doktor: Doctoral degree program, focused on research and taken at university. Normally requires at least 3 years beyond the Diplom or Master.


Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung. (2010). Bildung in Deutschland 2010. Ein indikatorengestützter Bericht mit einer Analyse zu Perspektiven des Bildungswesens im demografischen Wandel [Education in Germany 2010. An Indicator-Based Report Including an Analysis of Demographic Challenges for the Education System]. Bielefeld: WBV.

Avenarius, H., and Füssel, H.-P. (2010). Schulrecht. Ein Handbuch für Praxis, Rechtsprechung und Wissenschaft [School laws. A Handbook for Practice, Law and Research] (8th ed.). Kronach: Carl Link.

Eurydice. (2013). Eurydice Highlights: The Structure of the European Education Systems 2012/13. Brussels: Eurydice. Retrieved March 22, 2013, from education/eurydice/documents/facts_and_figures/educ - tion_structures_EN.pdf.

German Education Server (Deutscher Bildungs Server). (2006). Glossary for the Education System in the Federal Republic of Germany. Compiled chiefly by the Standing Conference of the State Ministers of Education and the Arts in the Federal Republic of Germany. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from

Marlow-Ferguson, R. (Ed.). (2002). World Education Encyclopedia: A Survey of Educational Systems Worldwide, Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1996). Education at a Glance 1996: OECD Indicators. Paris: Author.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1999). INES Network A Newsletter, Issue 10. Paris: Author.

Robitaille, D.F. (1997). National Contexts for Mathematics and Science Education: An Encyclopedia of the Education Systems Participating in TIMSS. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany. (2010). Glossary on Education. Institutions, Examinations, Qualifications, Titles and Other Specialist Terms. Bonn: KMK. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from


5 The Bologna Process is a voluntary initiative undertaken by 46 nations to improve the transparency between individual nations’ higher education systems, as well as to implement tools to facilitate recognition of degrees and academic qualifications, mobility, and exchanges between institutions.