German Education System

The German education system stands out for its unique combination of academic rigor, hands-on learning, and commitment to individual development. Let’s explore how this system is regulated, its key stages, and other helpful details for anyone considering studying in Germany.

In this guide: A German school system chart to make it all easier to understand!

Quick Summary

  • The German school system is unique in Europe because it sorts students into different educational paths early on.
  • Compulsory education requires all children aged six to 15 to attend school full-time at the primary and secondary levels.
  • Germany places a great emphasis on vocational education and training (VET). Over 15% of 25-34-year-olds in the country hold a vocational post-secondary education as their highest qualification, far surpassing the 6% average of OECD states.
  • Germany is known for offering free or affordable higher education to students from Germany and abroad.
  • The German education system comprises five main stages: early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary, and continuing education.

Do you want to read about individual education stages and not the whole guide?

➡️ Jump to Early Childhood Education
➡️ Jump to Primary Education
➡️ Jump to Secondary Education
➡️ Jump to Tertiary Education
➡️ Jump to Continuing Education

How the German School System Works

The German education system operates under the framework of the (Grundgesetz). At the federal level, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) plays a coordinating and supporting role in education matters.

However, education in Germany is primarily the responsibility of the individual federal states (Bundesländer). Each federal state has its own Ministry of Education or equivalent authority responsible for education policy and legislation within its jurisdiction.

These state-level authorities determine many aspects of education, including curriculum, teacher qualifications, and school organization.

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As a result of this federal structure, education legislation and regulations can vary from one federal state to another, leading to some differences in educational policies and practices across the country.

What is Compulsory Education in Germany?

Compulsory education in Germany is a fundamental commitment to ensure that every child receives an education. All children in the Federal Republic of Germany must start school once they reach the age of six until they complete nine years of full-time schooling at the Gymnasium or 10 years of full-time schooling for other general education schools.

After compulsory education, those who don’t continue to full-time general or vocational schools at the upper secondary level must still attend part-time schooling (compulsory Berufsschule attendance – Berufsschulpflicht), which typically lasts three years.

Compulsory education applies to children and youth with disabilities as well. Depending on their special educational needs (sonderpädagogischer Förderbedarf), they can either join regular schools with non-disabled peers or attend special education institutions (sonderpädagogische Bildungseinrichtungen).

Here’s a German school system chart you will definitely find useful:

Germany Education System

How Is the School System Structured in Germany?

The German school system is structured into five main stages:

  1. Early Childhood Education. This stage is optional but widely attended. Children typically start kindergarten at age three or four, focusing on socialization and early learning.
  2. Primary Education. Beginning at age six and spanning grades 1 to 4 (or 1 to 6 in Berlin and Brandenburg), this stage marks the start of compulsory schooling and aids the transition from pre-school to formal education.
  3. Secondary Education. Secondary education in Germany is divided into lower secondary (Sekundarstufe I) and upper secondary level (Sekundarstufe II), aiming to prepare students for vocational qualifications or higher education.
  4. Tertiary Education. Tertiary education in Germany includes universities, colleges, and vocational academies offering degrees and vocational qualifications. It’s highly respected for its academic quality and research opportunities.
  5. Continuing Education. Continuing education in Germany offers non-degree courses and workshops for skill development and lifelong learning. It caters to diverse individuals and aims to enhance personal and professional growth.

1. Early Childhood Education

What Is Considered Preschool Education in Germany?

Early childhood education is optional education and care that children between 0-6 of age receive in the Federal Territory of Germany. This type of education includes both private and public child and youth welfare services for children who have not reached the age to start compulsory education (primary school).

Which Are the Institutions of Preschool Education in Germany?

In Germany, preschool education is predominantly provided by private daycare centers, including crèches, child-minding centers, and kindergartens.

Non-public organizations like Churches and Welfare or Parent’s Associations have priority in offering these services, with local authorities stepping in only when private initiatives are lacking.

Here are the preschool education institutions in Germany:

  • Day-care centers (Kindertageseinrichtungen). Typically, a combined setting for children under the age of three and those from age three up to starting primary school.
  • Crèches (Kinderkrippen). Children under the age of three.
  • Kindergartens (Kindergärten). Children from age three up to starting primary school.
  • School kindergartens, Preliminary classes, or Primary school support classes (Schulkindergärten, Vorklassen, Grundschulförderklassen). Children of compulsory school age who aren’t developmentally ready for regular studies, including those with disabilities or special educational needs.

The hours of preschool education are typically arranged through collaboration between parents and management, generally spanning a 7-hour day that includes lunch and sometimes a midday break.

What Are the Teaching Methodology and Materials in Preschool Education in Germany?

Early childhood education in Germany aims to nurture children’s independence and development, offering age-appropriate instruction, values, and rules. It adapts to individual needs, including those of expat children, who benefit from language acquisition and socialization during this phase.

For Children Under the Age of 3

The core educational mission of the German preschool education (age under 3) is enhancing communication skills among kids. Secondly, it is the development of their language skills through social interaction with other toddlers and adults.

Communication and language skills are taught by language role models (educators), finger plays, singing, picture books, and additional teaching practices/instruments.

Furthermore, an important part of pre-educating children is given to motor development. This includes increasing body awareness, self-acceptance, self-confidence, and concentration among toddlers.

Motor development is reached through physical activities, visiting public environments, rhythmic early education programs, singing, and movement playing.

For Children Over the Age of 2

Core values that preschool education seeks to develop amongst children are the enhancement of their teamwork skills, along with their level of integration in daily life activities.

Key areas of German preschool education for children older than 2 are:

  1. Language, writing, communication, 
  2. Personal and social development, 
  3. Development of values and religious education, 
  4. Mathematics, natural sciences, (information) technology 
  5. Fine arts/working with different media 
  6. Body, movement, health, and 
  7. Nature and cultural environments.

Such values are taught through self-organized learning, creative learning, teamwork-building activities, investigation, and experimental activities.

Assessment of the Educational Achievements in Preschool Education in Germany

Children are not assessed regarding their educational achievement reached by participating in German preschool institutions. Instead, they’re constantly supervised by their educators or trainers regarding their attainment from learning activities.

The opinion of educators is discussed with the parents of children, who together agree on further measures for the development of kids’ learning skills.

Who Supervises Preschool Education in Germany?

Preschool education in Germany is supervised by the State Youth Welfare Offices (Landesjugendämter) in each state (Lander). Providers must meet specific requirements, such as appropriate staff ratios, qualified educators, adequate facilities, hygiene standards, and age-appropriate educational programs.

Kindergarten (early childhood education) in Germany is not entirely free, but the costs are heavily subsidized. Parents typically pay a monthly fee, which can vary depending on the state (Land) and the specific kindergarten.

The fees are income-dependent, with lower-income families paying less and sometimes receiving exemptions. Some states have also moved towards making kindergarten education entirely free.

What If a Child Isn’t Yet Ready to Begin Compulsory School Studies?

There is a middle option for children who have reached the compulsory school attendance age but have not yet reached the needed development. This is relevant for children with disabilities and those needing special education. So, they attend a special school offered by some Landers, known as School Kindergarten or a Preliminary Class beforehand.

2. Primary Education

What Is Considered Primary Education in Germany?

Primary school, or Grundschule, offers mandatory education through mixed-ability classes for children aged six until they complete grade 4 (or 6 in Berlin and Brandenburg).

As kids finish grade 4/6, primary school marks an important transition phase, as together with parents and teachers, they are placed into different types of secondary schools depending on academic performance and goals.

Primary School Grades Child’s Age
Grade 1 6
Grade 2 7
Grade 3 8
Grade 4 9
Grade 5 (Berlin and Brandenburg) 10
Grade 6 (Berlin and Brandenburg) 11

Which Are the Teaching Practices in Primary Schools in Germany?

Primary education in Germany follows standards set by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (Kultusministerkonferenz).

It includes subjects such as:

  • German,
  • Mathematics,
  • General studies,
  • Foreign language,
  • Art,
  • Handicrafts,
  • Music,
  • Sport,
  • Religion, or ethics.

The curriculum includes topics like intercultural education, sustainability, values education, and more. Parents are encouraged to stay involved in their children’s education.

Learning objectives in primary schools are attained through the engagement of pupils in planning, running, and analyzing study subjects (lessons) in an adapted way, which goes along with their knowledge, interest, curiosity, and concerns. Students are also encouraged to participate in organizing initiatives and interdisciplinary projects of the school.

Germany has two primary school education systems: a 5-day school week with 188 teaching days per year and a 6-day school week with 208 teaching days per year, which includes classes on two Saturdays every month.

Primary school classes typically start between 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM and end at 11 AM or 12 PM. Each lesson lasts for 45 minutes, with breaks for eating and socializing. Most public primary schools don’t have uniforms, and children can wear whatever they want.

What is the Grading System Used in German Primary Schools?

In German primary schools, students are initially promoted to the next grade without formal grading after completing grade 1.

From grade 2 onward, they receive grades based on their knowledge level, ranging from 1 (very good) to 6 (very poor). These grades in Germany are reflected in a school report (Zeugnis), and promotion to the next grade depends on their performance. If a student fails, they may need to repeat the grade.

Does a Pupil Receive a Primary School Leaving Certificate in Germany?

In most of Germany (Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz are the exceptions), there are no formal exams or leaving certificates for primary school. Students are assessed based on meeting specific educational outcomes and receive annual reports.

💡 Did you know?
Germany has unique primary education programs for children of professional travelers, including circus families. Schools like the School for Children of Professional Travelers (Schule für die Kinder Beruflich Reisender) ensure education during non-traveling periods.

There’s even a School for Circus Children (Schule für Circuskinder) in North Rhine-Westphalia, providing primary education for children from traveling circus families.

Who Supervises Primary Education in Germany?

The Grundschule, the first mandatory school for all children in Germany, operates under legal provisions outlined in the Basic Law and state constitutions regarding schools. These provisions cover inspection, parental rights, compulsory education, religious instruction, and privately-maintained schools.

The federal government funds public primary schools in Germany, which means they do not charge tuition fees. However, parents may be asked to contribute toward some expenses, like school supplies or extracurricular activities.

3. Secondary Education

What Is Considered Secondary Education in Germany?

In the German school system, secondary education follows the primary school stage and is marked by a division into different educational paths, each leading to specific leaving certificates and qualifications. Secondary education is divided into lower secondary (Sekundarstufe I) and upper secondary (Sekundarstufe II).

The lower secondary level is offered for pupils aged 10–12 until they are 15–16 in grades 5–7 to 9–10 and focuses on general education.

On the other hand, the upper secondary level is offered to pupils who have completed the prior level (from the age of 15–16 until 18–19) and prepares students for university or vocational qualifications, with various schools available based on abilities and prior education.

Who is Responsible for Managing German Secondary Education?

In Germany, secondary education is governed by legal frameworks, including the Education Acts and Compulsory Schooling Acts of the German Länder. These laws define curriculum content and qualifications granted upon completing lower and upper secondary education in both general and vocational schools.

Vocational training is regulated by the Vocational Training Act and the Handicrafts Act, addressing matters like contracts, certificates, and trainee rights. Special legislation, like the Protection of Young Persons at Work Act, ensures the protection of young trainees.

Public education in Germany is funded through taxation, and students are not required to pay tuition fees at these levels of education. Private secondary schools may charge tuition fees, but the majority of students in Germany attend public secondary schools, which are free of charge.

What Are the Types of Secondary Schools in Germany?

The Federal Country of Germany offers secondary education in public and private schools. Various secondary schools in Germany cater to students with varying abilities and prior primary education qualifications.

The German educational system is traditionally divided into three main tracks (the Gymnasium, Realschule, and Hauptschule), with some states introducing the Comprehensive School (Gesamtschule) as an alternative or addition to the existing system:

Germany Secondary Education Institutions


Gymnasium is a prestigious secondary school in Germany that begins around age 10 or 11 and typically lasts until age 18. It covers grades 5 to 12 or 13, offering a rigorous academic education. Students graduate with the “Abitur,” a qualification that grants access to universities and diverse career opportunities.


Realschule starts at around age 10 or 11 and generally concludes at age 16, encompassing grades 5 to 10. This school type provides a balanced mix of academic and practical education. Upon completion, students earn the “Realschulabschluss” diploma, enabling them to pursue vocational training or higher education.


Hauptschule commences at approximately age 10 and typically ends at age 15, spanning grades 5 to 9. It emphasizes practical and vocational education. Students receive the “Hauptschulabschluss” certificate, which can lead to vocational training or part-time education.


Gesamtschule starts around age 10 or 11 and may last until age 16 or 18, depending on the school’s structure. It covers grades 5 to 10 or 12, offering a comprehensive education that combines academic and practical aspects. Qualifications vary but can include certificates equivalent to Realschulabschluss or Abitur, depending on students’ chosen educational paths within the Gesamtschule.

German Schools With More Than One Study Course (Schularten mit mehreren Bildungsgängen)

These schools in Germany offer multiple educational tracks or study courses within a single institution. These can include comprehensive schools, secondary schools (in Bremen), community schools, integrated secondary schools, and others.

German Vocational Schools

German secondary vocational schools are institutions that provide specialized vocational education and training to students who have completed their general secondary education (usually Realschule or Hauptschule). They offer lessons and practical placement, known as a dual system.

These are the types of vocational schools available in Germany:

  • Fachoberschule. Offers a 2-year program for “Mittlerer Schulabschluss” holders, leading to “Fachhochschulreife” for entry to universities of applied sciences. A 13th grade option can result in “Fachgebundene Hochschulreife” or “Abitur.”
  • Berufsoberschule. Provides 2-year general and in-depth education, enhancing previous vocational knowledge, leading to vocational qualifications or, with proficiency in a second foreign language, “Abitur.” Also offers 3/4-year courses for dual vocational and higher education qualifications.
  • Berufsfachschule. Offers education for specific professions requiring formal recognition or vocational training qualifications.
  • Berufsschule. Delivers practical, interdisciplinary lessons preparing students for further vocational education or professions based on the dual education and training system.
  • Berufliches Gymnasium. A 3-year secondary education program leading to the “Abitur” qualification.

German Private Secondary Schools

Private secondary schools in Germany fall into two categories: “Ersatzschulen,” which offer the same curriculum as public schools but with private funding, and “Ergänzungsschulen,” which provide additional courses beyond public school offerings.

What Are the Curriculum and Teaching Practices in Secondary Education?

German secondary education focuses on fundamental education, individual specialization, and identifying students’ unique abilities, especially in lower secondary education.

Achieving these objectives involves:

  • Engaging students intellectually, emotionally, and physically.
  • Teaching them independence, decision-making, personal, social, and political responsibility.
  • Assisting them in attaining their educational goals.
  • Supporting them in advancing their specialist knowledge.

General upper secondary schools, such as Gymnasium, are vital in preparing students for the Abitur or other university entrance qualifications.

These institutions provide comprehensive knowledge in German and foreign languages, mathematics, self-development, social responsibility, and participation in democratic society. Additionally, they offer guidance on academic institutions, admission requirements, vocational options, and career prospects.

Upper secondary education is also offered by German vocational high schools known as “Berufliches Gymnasium.” Over two full-time years, these schools prepare students for vocational qualifications as skilled staff with “Fachgebundene Hochschulreife.” 

This qualification opens doors to professions requiring formal qualifications and can serve as a pathway to university entrance if the holder demonstrates proficiency in a second foreign language. Moreover, it enables enrollment in technical universities after two years of study, leading to a “Mittlerer Schulabschluss” maturity certificate.

What Is the Grading System in German Secondary Schools?

The progress of pupils in German secondary schools is evaluated upon a 6-mark grading system as follows:

  • 1 (very good)
  • 2 (good)
  • 3 (satisfactory)
  • 4 (adequate)
  • 5 (poor)
  • 6 (very poor)

4. Tertiary Education

What Is Tertiary Education in Germany Like?

Tertiary education in Germany encompasses post-secondary education at various institutions, including universities, universities of applied sciences, and specialized institutions, offering a wide range of academic and vocational programs.

It emphasizes academic excellence, research-oriented education, and practical skills development, leading to Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees.

Who Supervises German Tertiary Education?

Under the Basic law, higher education institutions enjoy the autonomy to independently manage the scholarship awarding, research, and teaching activity. For administrative issues, such as academic and governmental matters, these institutions have to be in accord with the Lander’s ministry.

Tertiary education at public universities in Germany is generally tuition-free, with nominal semester fees ranging from €100 to €300. Private universities, however, charge varying tuition fees ranging from a few thousand to more, so students should inquire about costs and available financial aid.

Which Are the Institutions of German Tertiary Education?

With more than 400 state-recognized institutions of higher education in Germany, you’ll find an abundance of choices when it comes to tertiary education.

Here are some of the higher education institutions you can choose from and what each specializes in:

Universities (Universitäten) 

Universities offer a wide range of academic programs and research opportunities leading to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, with a strong emphasis on research and theoretical knowledge. Universities focus on all types of subjects, including medicine, law, pharmacy, etc.

Colleges of Art, Music and Film (Kunst, Musik-und Filmhochschule)

Colleges of Art, Music, and Film are specialized institutions focusing on arts, music, and film education, offering programs tailored to aspiring artists, musicians, and filmmakers. Basically, they focus on artistic subjects such as fine arts, design, architecture, music, theater, etc.

German Colleges of Art and Music offer the following study courses:

  • Visual, design, and performing arts.
  • Film, television, and media.
  • Theoretical studies, through the following core subjects:
    • Fine arts.
    • Art history and art pedagogy.
    • History and teaching of music.
    • Media and communication.

Universities of Education (Pädagogische Hochschulen)

Specialize in teacher education programs, preparing future educators for teaching roles in schools and educational institutions.

Theological Colleges (Theologische Hochschulen)

Provide theological education and training for individuals pursuing careers in religious studies, ministry, and theology.

Universities of Applied Science (Fachhochschulen/Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften*)

Offer practical and hands-on education focusing on applied sciences, engineering, and technology, leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They typically have a mandatory practical training component (Praxissemester). Such training is carried out on the premises of private businesses or public institutions/administrations to place the student closer to the labor market needs.

Teaching professors in Fachhochschulen, despite being academics, have a strong background of professional experience in the labor market outside of academia.

German Universities of Applied Sciences offer study courses in the following fields:

  • Technology,
  • Engineering,
  • Economics,
  • ٱ,
  • Social Sciences.

Higher Education Institutions Offering Dual Studies (Berufsakademien) 

Offer a distinctive dual education system, combining academic training with practical experience through company partnerships and funded training with student wages.

Universities for the German Armed Forces (Universitäten der Bundeswehr)

Provide military-focused education and training for German Armed Forces officers and personnel.

Institutions of Continuing Vocational Education (Fachschulen, Fachakademien)

Offer specialized vocational training and education beyond the secondary level, equipping students with practical skills and qualifications for specific careers.

*In some Landers Fachhochschulen are called Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften.

Qualifications of the German Higher Education System

The German higher education system is renowned for its structured qualifications, including Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. degrees, each with distinct characteristics and durations.

Bachelor’s Degree

The first higher education qualification in Germany is the bachelor’s degree. The duration of studies for this degree varies by institution:

  • Universities: 6 semesters (3 academic years)
  • Universities of Applied Sciences: 6–7 semesters
  • German Colleges of Art and Music: About 8 semesters
  • Professional Academies: 3 academic years
  • Fachschulen: 2 academic years
Bachelor Titles

Depending on the type of higher education institution of higher education issuing it, there are different Bachelor titles, as follows

  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (B. Eng.)
  • Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
  • Bachelor of Music (B. Mus.)
  • Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.)
What Bachelor’s Study Fields Are Offered in German Universities?

German universities offer a wide range of study fields, such as:

  • Languages, Humanities, and Sport
  • Philosophy, Theology, History
  • Art studies, Musicology, Theatre studies
  • Education, Psychology
  • Law, Economics, Social Sciences
  • Mathematics, Natural Sciences
  • Medicine, Agronomy, Forestry
  • Engineering Sciences (e.g., Architecture, Mechanical Engineering)
  • Environmental technology, Mining, and more
What Bachelor Study Fields Are Offered in German Universities of Applied Sciences?

German universities of applied sciences offer bachelor’s study fields in the following:

  • Agronomy, Forestry, and Nutritional Science
  • Engineering Sciences
  • Economics/Economic Law
  • Social Work
  • Public Administration, Administration of Justice
  • Information Technology, Computer Science and Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Design
  • Information and Communication Studies
  • Nursing and Management in the Public Health System
What Bachelor Study Fields Are Offered in German Fachschulen?

Fachschulen offer courses such as:

  • Agricultural Economy
  • Design
  • Technology
  • Business
  • Social Work.

Core Bachelor subjects of study in these institutions are:

  • Electrical, Mechanical, and Construction Engineering.
  • Business Management.
What Bachelor Study Fields Are Offered in German Berufsakademien?

Berufsakademien (Vocational Academies) offer bachelor’s degrees in these study fields to prepare students for specific professions:

  • Business
  • Technology
  • Social Work 

International study programs are also available at universities and applied sciences universities.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is the second higher education qualification in Germany and typically takes 2 to 4 semesters to complete, varying by institution. Universities and equivalent institutions often require 4 semesters, while Fachhochschulen usually require 3 to 4 semesters.

To earn a master’s degree, students need to accumulate 300 ECTS credit points, including those earned during their earlier qualifications, such as a Bachelor’s degree (360 ECTS points for Bachelor degree holders).

Master’s Degree Titles

The master’s degree titles that you can get depend on your institution. See below for each type of institution:

At Universities or equivalent institutions:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Science (M.Sc.)
  • Master of Engineering (M. Eng.)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)
  • At Colleges of Art and Music

At Colleges of Art and Music:

  • Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Music (M.Mus.)

At Universities of Applied Sciences:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Science (M.Sc.)
  • Master of Engineering (M. Eng.)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)

For Continuing/Specialist Education:

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)

German Higher Education Programs Outside the Bachelor and Master Level

Beyond the bachelor’s and master’s degree titles, you can also find the following programs and examinations at various higher education institutions:

  • Diplom Examination. Some programs lead to a Diplom degree in a single study subject, such as Diplom in Psychology or Engineering. The Diplom issued by Universities of Applied Sciences is comparable to a bachelor’s degree.
  • Magister Examination. Another option is the Magister examination, covering combined study subjects, like “Magister of Artium.” A magister degree from universities of applied sciences is akin to a master’s degree.
  • Staatsprüfung (State Examination). Certain professions, such as medicine, dentistry, and law, require a state examination for qualification. This process involves a 2-stage examination conducted by state examiners and academic professors.
  • Church and Academic Examination. Theology students who wish to pursue roles like priest or pastoral assistant must pass a Church and academic examination after completing a 5-year study program.
  • Postgraduate Study Courses. After bachelor’s or master’s studies, students can pursue 2-year postgraduate study courses to specialize in a specific field or support their existing studies.
  • Examination of Colleges of Art and Music. Some programs at German colleges of art and music culminate in a final examination, known as “Abschlussprüfung,” or a concert examination called “Konzertexamen.”

Ph.D. Degree

The Ph.D. degree is the highest education qualification undertaken by the most qualified students. It can be taken at German universities and equivalent institutions in collaboration with non-university research institutes.

Doctoral studies in Germany vary in duration due to their in-depth and individualized nature, involving independent research and culminating in an oral examination, commonly referred to as the “Rigorosum” or thesis defense “Disputation.”

There are several paths to get a Ph.D. degree in Germany, as follows:

  • Individual and supervised doctorate
  • Structural doctorate
  • Cooperative doctorate (combination between universities and universities of applied sciences)
  • International doctorate
  • Special doctorate

The title received by completing a German Ph.D. study program is Doctor “Doktorgrad.”

Admission Requirements of the German Higher Education Institutions

Are you planning to apply to study at a higher education institution in Germany? Let’s explore the admission process and the requirements you will likely stumble upon.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

To apply for bachelor studies in Germany, you must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Higher Education Entrance Qualification. Applicants need either “Abitur” or an equivalent foreign school-leaving certificate. Abitur can be obtained through an examination for non-pupils or employed individuals. International students with unrecognized foreign certificates may require a preparatory course and recognition examination.
  • Admission Exam. Some fields, like arts and sports, may require applicants to take an admission examination to assess their core subject knowledge.
  • German Language Proficiency (for international students). Proficiency can be demonstrated through language diplomas (e.g., DSD II), proficiency exams (e.g., DSH, TestDaF), or language assessments during preparatory courses (Studienkolleg).
  • Certificate of the Akademische Prüfstelle (APS) (for international students from China, Vietnam and India). Foreign students who completed APS in their home country may need to submit this certificate.
  • Alternative Proof (for refugee students). Refugee students can provide alternative documentation, such as entrance exams or German language assessments, possibly after enrolling in Studienkolleg for recognition assessment.

Colleges of Art, Music, and Film

Admission to German colleges of art and music typically requires a higher education entrance qualification and artistic aptitude. In some cases, applicants with exceptional artistic or musical talent may be admitted even without a higher education entrance qualification.

German Universities of Applied Sciences

To apply to a university of applied sciences in Germany, applicants have to submit:

  • Higher education entrance qualification/Fachhochschulreife
  • Artistic aptitude (I.e., for design study program)

Berufsakademien (Vocational Academies)

To apply to a German Berufsakademien, you have to submit any of the following:

  • Higher education entrance qualification
  • Fachhochschulreife and entrance examination


To apply in a German Fachschulen, applicants have to submit any of the following:

  • Fachhochschulreife (for a recognized profession which needs a prior training)
  • Proof of minimum 1-year work experience in the profession
  • Qualification from the Berufsschule


  • Qualification from the Berufsschule/equivalent qualification
  • Proof of minimum 5-year work experience in the profession

Or for social professions:

  • Mittlerer Schulabschluss (Middle School Leaving Certificate)
  • Proof of relevant education and training

Master’s Degree Programs

Admission requirements for a master’s degree in Germany include:

  • Bachelor degree related to the master studies
  • Entrance examination (for master’s studies in the art field)
  • Special aptitude (for master’s studies in the art field)
  • Proof of minimum 1-year work experience (for some specific programs)

PhD Degree

Admission requirements for a German PhD degree include:

  • Master’s degree issued by universities/equivalent institutions, universities of applied sciences, or other institutions (if the applicant is well-qualified).
  • Bachelor’s degree (on some special occasions). This applies if the applicant is well-qualified, and an examination to evaluate their aptitudes, “Promotionseignungsprüfung,” has to take place. Sometimes, an additional preparatory course will be necessary.
  • Evidence of having passed the first state examination (Erste Staatsprüfung)

For more information, see our detailed guide on requirements to study in Germany.

Quotas and Restrictions for German Higher Education Programs

German higher education study courses can have various admission procedures:

Nationwide quotas:

Nationwide quotas apply when applications exceed available spots.

The selection of the students in such cases is based on:

  • Relevance and the average grade of prior qualifications (20%), 
  • Awaiting period between obtaining the university entrance qualification and applying for academic studies (20%),
  • Higher education provider’s selection procedure (60%).
Local restrictions on admissions:
  • Local restrictions apply when some courses have limited spots controlled by institutions or the Foundation for Higher Education Admission (SfH).
  • A joint database helps manage applications and allocate open spots to other students if a candidate is accepted elsewhere.
No restrictions on the number of applicants:
  • Some courses have no set limits, admitting all eligible applicants without pre-selection.
  • Occasionally, a prior notification period may be required for accepted students.

5. Continuing Education

What Is Considered Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Germany?

Continuing education in Germany, also known as lifelong learning, addresses the ever-changing demands of the labor market. It includes various categories, including adult education, professional development, recognizing prior experience, flexible learning pathways, and opportunities for seniors to pursue personal interests.

Germany boasts a robust system of adult education and ongoing training. This system includes the following offerings:

  • Evening classes,
  • Workshops,
  • Vocational courses,
  • Non-formal educational programs tailored to adults seeking to acquire new skills or qualifications.

These educational opportunities are provided by diverse entities, including municipal and private institutions, religious organizations, trade unions, industry and commerce chambers, associations, political parties, businesses, government agencies, academies, family education centers, vocational schools, Fachschulen, as well as media outlets like radio and television.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can Children Be Homeschooled in Germany?

Homeschooling is generally not allowed in Germany. The country has strict regulations that require children to attend public or state-approved private schools. There are very limited exceptions, such as for children with specific medical conditions that prevent them from attending regular schools.

In most cases, homeschooling is not permitted, and parents can face legal consequences if they choose to homeschool their children.

When Do Schools Start in Germany?

The school year in Germany usually starts in late August to early September, varying across the 16 German states, and typically ends in June or July, with slight variations depending on the state and school.

Are There Any Breaks or Holidays During the German School Year?

Schoolchildren in Germany receive a total of 75 days of holiday per year, which includes 12 Saturdays. These holidays are divided into six school holiday periods that coincide with the separate school terms:

  • Autumn Holiday (Herbstferien). Usually two weeks in October or November.
  • Christmas Holiday (Weihnachtsferien). Typically around two weeks in late December and early January.
  • Winter Holiday (Winterferien). Varies in duration and may range from a few days to two weeks, depending on the region.
  • Easter Holiday (Osterferien). Lasting two to three weeks in March or April.
  • Whitsun Holiday (Pfingstferien). Varies from a few days to two weeks and falls around May or June.
  • Summer Holiday (Sommerferien). The longest break lasts around six to seven weeks, usually starting in late June or early July and ending in late August or early September.

These breaks can vary by federal state, and the exact dates may change each year. Some schools may also have additional holidays known as “bridge days” (Brückentage) around public holidays or special occasions. It’s essential to check the school calendar for specific holiday dates in your region or school.

When Does the Academic Year Begin and End in Germany?

At most universities in Germany, the winter semester (WiSe) typically runs from October 1st to March 31st, while the summer semester (SoSe) usually takes place from April 1st to September 30th.

However, “Fachhochschulen” (universities of applied sciences) often start and end their semesters a month earlier.

Are There Any Breaks or Holidays During the German Academic Year?

As we said, the academic year in Germany typically starts in October and ends in September, divided into two terms: the winter semester (October to March) and the summer semester (April to September). Students have holidays during the Christmas and Easter periods.

Additionally, there are semester breaks of approximately six to eight weeks between the two terms. During these breaks, students often use the time for writing assignments and exam preparation or may choose to pursue internships or employment opportunities.

How Do Private Schools in Germany Differ From Public Schools?

In Germany, public schools are generally more prevalent than private schools. Most students attend public schools because they are government-funded, offer free education, and adhere to the country’s standardized curriculum.

Public schools are also known for their high educational standards and quality. Private schools, while they offer certain advantages such as smaller class sizes and specialized programs, tend to be less common, and are often chosen by families who can afford the tuition fees or have specific preferences for alternative educational approaches or religious instruction.

How Does Germany Promote International Student Exchanges?

Germany promotes international student exchanges through programs like Erasmus+ and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Erasmus+ facilitates student mobility within Europe, allowing German students to study abroad and welcoming international students to Germany. DAAD offers scholarships for German students studying abroad and supports international students coming to Germany at various study levels.

German higher education institutions also offer numerous English-taught programs, making them accessible to non-German-speaking students and providing support services for incoming exchange students to ensure a smooth transition into academic and social life.

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