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Structure of the German Education System

Education in Germany is the responsibility of the states while the federal government plays a minor role.

Pre-school education

a.  The elementary level (Kindergarten)
Before the period of compulsory schooling begins, 3 to 6-year-old children in Germany attend pre-school institutions, i.e., Kindergarten.
Duration of compulsory education:
  • Age of entry: 6
  • Age of exit: 15
b. Primary level (Grundschule)
  • Age group: 6 yrs to 10 yrs.
  • Duration of the program: 4 years
Children attend the Grundschule for 4 years (6 in Berlin and Brandenburg), during which they learn to read, write and to do arithmetic. In addition, teachers also offer some basic instruction in social science, history, geography, biology, physics, chemistry and foreign language basics.

c. Secondary level

Secondary Level can consist of any of the following

  •  Hauptschule (grades 5-9)
    •  Length of programme: 5 years
    • Age level from: 10 to 15
    • Certificate/diploma awarded: Hauptschulabschluss
  • Gesamtschule (grades 5-10)
    • Length of programme: 5 years
    • Age level from: 10 to 15
    • Certificate/diploma awarded: Mittlere Schulabschluss/Hauptschulabschluss
  • Realschule (grades 5-10)
    • Length of programme: 6 years
    • Age level from: 10 to 16
    • Certificate/diploma awarded: Mittlere Schulabschluss (Realschulabschluss)
  • Gymnasium (grades 5-10)
    • Length of programme: 9 years
    • Age level from: 10 to 19
    • Certificate/diploma awarded: Allgemeine Hochschulreife/Fachgebundene Hochschulreife

Sonderschule (Special School)

These are the Special schools that teach certain trades or specific career-oriented programs.
Higher Secondary

1.Berufliches Gymnasium/Fachgymnasium (Professional High Schools)
  • Length of program: 3 years
  • Age level from: 16 to 19
  • Certificate/diploma awarded: Allgemeine Hochschulreife
2. Gymnasiale Oberstufe
  •  Length of program: 3 years
  • Age level from: 16 to 19
  • Certificate/diploma awarded: Allgemeine Hochschulreife

Vocational Secondary

1. Berufsschule(Vocational School) (part-time)
Length of program: 3 years
Age level from: 15 to 18
Certificate/diploma awarded: Hauptschulabschluss, Mittlere Schulabschluss, Vocational school-leaving certificate and professional certificate

2. Fachoberschule (Professional High School) (full-time)
Length of program: 2 years
 Age level from: 16 to 18
 Certificate/diploma awarded: Fachhochschulreife

3.Berufsfachschule (Technical High School) (full-time)
Length of program: 2 years
Age level from: 16 to18
Certificate/diploma awarded: Fachhochschulreife and vocational leaving certificate

4.Berufschule (Occupational School)
Length of program: 2 years
Age level from: 18 to 20
Certificate/diploma awarded: Fachgebundene Hochschulreife/Allgemeine Hochschulreife (with 2nd foreign language)

Higher Education

There are public and private state-recognized institutions of higher education categorized as
  1. University/ Universitat
  2. Technical University / Technische Universitat
  3. University of Applied Sciences / Fachhochschule
  4. College of Arts & Music

Stages of Studies

There are two stages of post-secondary studies:

Non-university level: Non-university tertiary education is provided by the professional schools. These institutions offer continuing vocational training to enable those with prior vocational training and related work experience of at least one year to take on management functions. Courses last mostly two years. Successful completion of the courses leads to the award of a professional title in the student's specialization.

University level studies:University level first stage: FACHHOCHSCHULEN (Universities of applied sciences): offer application-oriented study courses mainly in engineering, economics, social work, public and legal administration and health and therapy. A diploma degree is awarded.

University level second stage: Hauptstudium: Stage II consists of more advanced studies (Hauptstudium) leading to the final degree examination. The Hauptstudium usually lasts for five more semesters and leads to the award of the Diploma. The Magister is awarded by universities, predominantly in the arts, on the basis of the Magister examination.

 University level third stage: Promotion: Doctoral studies are only pursued in universities. The period of doctoral studies, known as the Promotion, consists of two to four years' independent research and the submission of a thesis following the award of the Diplom/Erstes Staatsexamen/Magister Artium/Master of Arts/Science. The title of Doctor is conferred following upon a written thesis and either an oral examination.

Types of Qualifications

Bachelor's degree :Bachelor's programmes lay the academic foundations, provide methodological skills and lead to qualifications related to the professional arena.  The bachelor's degree normally takes 3 to 4 years of studies. These programmes lead to 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.) or Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.).

Master's degree: There are “more professionally-oriented” and “more academic-oriented” master's programmes. Higher education institutions define the profile of their Master's programmes themselves. The master's degree normally takes 1 to 2 years of studies. These programmes lead to Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.Sc.), Master of Engineering (M.Eng.), Master of Laws (L.L.M), Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) or Master of Music (M.Mus.).
Integrated "Long" Programmes (One-Tier)

Integrated Programme :An integrated programme is either mono-disciplinary (i.e., diplom degrees and most programmes completed by a Staatsprufung) or is a combination of either two major or one major and two minors (i.e. Magister Artium). Integrated studies at Universities last 4 to 5 years, i.e. Diplom degree, Magister Artium or 3 to 6.5 years, i.e. Staatsprufung. The diplom degree is awarded in engineering disciplines, the natural sciences as well as economics and business.  In the humanities, the corresponding degree is usually the Magister Artium (M.A.).
Integrated studies at Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) last 4 years and lead to a Diploma (FH) degree.

Doctorate degree: Universities as well as specialized institutions of university standing and some Universities of Art/Music can award doctorate degrees. Doctorates are issued under a variety of names, depending on the faculty: e.g., Doktor der Naturwissenschaften (Doctor of Natural Science); Doktor der Rechtswissenschaften (Doctor of Law); Doktor der Medizin (Doctor of Medicine); Doktor der Philosophie (Doctor of Philosophy) etc.

Degree Structure at a Glance:

Degree Structure


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