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Project Expat
  • Project Expat
  • May 20, 2021

School system in Germany

The German school system used to be very strict. The type of school you chose almost determined the jobs you would get. But that has changed completely. And Thank God it has!
But it’s still extremely important to find the right school for your children when you’re moving to Germany.

But first things first. Every child living in Germany has to visit the elementary school. Usually, kids start school at the age of six, and it lasts for years. Many elementary schools offer working parents a daycare center. To a limited extent, the after-school care center takes up the role of a family or executes functions usually carried out in the family, e.g. lunch, care and help with homework, establishing social contacts, guidance on meaningful leisure-time activities, etc.


After this time, you’ll basically have three options for your child. He or she can now visit, depending on the grades, the Gymnasium, the Realschule or the Hauptschule (sometimes also Gesamtschule). To apply for the Gymnasium, you need a grade average of at least 2.3 in maths, German, and home and science lessons. If your child doesn’t reach this average, he/she can still try to pass the trial lesson at the Gymnasium he/she wants to visit. If your child intends to attend the Realschule, he/she needs an average of 2.66 in the same subjects mentioned above but can also try to pass the trial lesson at the Realschule. In case the child fails to make it, he/she has to stay at Hauptschule until the 9th grade. Hauptschule offers several options to add Realschule diploma afterwards.

Fun fact: Gymnasium doesn’t mean gym as in America. Rather, it refers to a type of secondary school, which ends by passing your final exam, the German Abitur. It is the highest degree of school education in Germany. The best comparison is with the American school system.

After passing the German Abitur, one can attend university which corresponds with the graduate school in America. This way of education is good for pupils who are talented in learning languages more than maths or practical school subjects. The other way to get to your final exam is to attend the Realschule. In the past, this was often chosen by pupils who intended to become any kind of craftsman or bank clerk because at the Realschule, more subjects for the “real life” were taught, such as accounting, business administration, IT or working with wood, among others. But this one-dimensional thinking about who should visit what kind of school has changed in the past decade. A

fter finishing the Realschule in Germany by passing the Mittlere Reife (middle maturity), children don’t have to start an apprenticeship in a bank or become a carpenter which was the “normal way” in the past. Today, pupils who pass the Mittlere Reife can study further if they want to, and in case their grades are good enough, they can apply for the FOS in order to achieve their vocational diploma.


Here is an example of the options one can choose:

Duration: Usually two years

  • 11th grade (teaching and practical training)
  • 12th grade (lessons, final exam)
  • A 13th grade can be attended with a grade point average of at least 3.0 in the certificate for the advanced technical college entrance qualification.

Social Affairs | Technology | Economy and Administration | International Economy

Entry requirements: Average grade of at least 3.5 in German, English, and Mathematics in the certificate of the middle or upper level of the grammar school.

Probationary period: First half of school

In the 11th grade, a supervised internship gives you an insight into the world of work.

No age limit, no school fees, degrees

Abitur, 12th grade: Entrance qualification for a university of applied sciences
Abitur, 13th grade without a second foreign language: Subject-specific higher education entrance qualification

13th grade with a second foreign language: General university entrance qualification

Getting this degree allows them to study just like pupils who got their German Abitur certificate, albeit with one little difference. They have to visit a college of higher education, not the university, except if they stay for thirteen years as described above.

If parents prefer an alternative way of education, they should try to get information about the Montessori and Waldorf school systems, which differ a lot from the government school system.

To sum it up, the first choice of school after primary school does not mean a final decision about the child’s school career.

The German school system opens up an individual educational path for every pupil. The performance of children and young people can change in the course of their school life. Every student is, therefore, regularly given the opportunity to adapt his/her educational path to new circumstances and goals. This avoids under- or over-strain and makes achieving success at school highly probable. All schools in Germany offer several options for obtaining school qualifications. Basically, the following applies: With every degree achieved, the path to the next higher school goal is open. According to the principle of permeability, every secondary school enables the middle school leaving certificate.

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I think that would be a great initiative and an added value service for expats like myself.


What a great idea to set up a website for English-speaking ex-pat's in Munich to help with everyday challenges.


I am looking forward to your services in the mentioned topics in the survey.


Sounds exciting and we would definitely use it for a myriad of reasons. Particularly as we are getting ready to move to Germering and require all of these services. Specifically, sometimes it is hard finding doctors who speak English. And both Cecilia and I work with auslanders who do not speak German, either (and would as well be interested).