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School finished - what now?

There are various school-leaving certificatess in Germany. Depending on which school your child attends, he or she can obtain a certain school-leaving certificate. With the different certificates, one has various options later on. In some federal states, the certificates have different names. However, they are recognized everywhere in Germany. School-leaving certificates can also be obtained later. This is then the second-chance education (Zweiter Bildungsweg).


Anyone who successfully passes the 9th grade obtains the Hauptschulabschluss. With this certificate, it is possible to start vocational training. Sometimes, however, a higher certificate is required. If you have good grades, you can also continue school and get a higher school-leaving certificate.

  • Hauptschule, Realschule, Gesamtschule, Gymnasium


The Realschulabschluss or Mittlerer Schulabschuss is obtained after a successful examination at the end of the 10th grade. With the Mittlerer Schulabschluss it is possible to do an vocational training. If you have good grades, you can also continue school and get a higher school-leaving certificate.

  • Realschule, Gesamtschule, Gymnasium


The Abitur (general university entrance qualification) is obtained after a successful examination at the end of the 12th or 13th grade at a Gymnasium or a Gesamtschule. The Abitur is the highest school-leaving certificate in Germany. With the Abitur you can do vocational training or start studying at the university. There is also the possibility to catch up on the Abitur later.

  • Gesamtschule, Gymnasium

Fachgebundene Hochschulreife:

The Fachgebundene Hochschulreife is the second highest school-leaving certificate. It is similar to the Abitur, but without requiring a second foreign language. A Mittlerer Schulabschluss (intermediate school-leaving certificate) is necessary. With this, the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife can be obtained, for example, at a Fachgymnasium, a Berufsoberschule or a Berufsfachschule. With this certificate, all courses of study at a university of applied sciences (Fachhochshule) can be studied. In addition, specialized courses of study can be studied at a university. These courses of study depend on the major in the school-leaving certificate. For example, technology, economics or social studies.

  • Fachgymnasium, Fachoberschule, Berufsoberschule


The Fachhochschulreife is somewhat different from Fachgebundene Hochschulreife. Two things are important for this certificate: the school-based part and the vocational part. The school-based part (11th/12th grade) can be completed, for example, at a Berufsfachschule or Fachoberschule or also at a Gymnasium. For the vocational part, a one-year internship, vocational training or a voluntary social year must be completed. After completing both, you obtain the "Fachhochschulreife". With this degree, it is possible to study anything at a university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule). Very rarely, it is also possible to study at a university.

  • Abendgymnasium, Berufsoberschule, Fachoberschule, Fachschule

Have you finished school? Then the next step is to learn a profession. You can start a vocational training or study at a university. The choice of training or study should fit your own interests and qualifications. It is important to be well informed for this decision. Different educational paths can be combined. A school-leaving certificate can also be obtained later, e.g. in order to study.

Vocational training:

For vocational training, you need at least a Mittlerer Schulabschluss or Hauptschulabschluss. More than 320 different training programs exist. An overview can be found here:

Mit einer Berufsausbildung erlernt man einen konkreten Beruf. Es gibt zwei Arten von Berufsausbildungen. Eine Duale Ausbildung und eine Vollzeitschulische Ausbildung. Eine Berufsausbildung dauert ca. 3 Jahre.

With vocational training, you learn a specific profession/occupation. There are two types of vocational training. A dual education and a full-time school education. A vocational training takes about 3 years.

The „Dual system“ combines theory and practice. The trainees work in a company and they also go to vocational school regularly. In their job, they gain practical work experience. At vocational school, they learn additional knowledge. Te Dual system is very popular in Germany. During the training the trainees already earn money.

The „Full-time schooling“ takes place almost only in the vocational school. In addition to school, trainees sometimes complete internships in a company. Mostly, however, they learn at school. This type of vocational training is often available for health care or social workers. During the vocational training, students do not earn money.


A study takes place at a university / university of applied sciences. For studying you usually need an Abitur. There are many different study programs in Germany. For some programs you need very good Abitur grade (NC programs). However, there are also admission-free courses of study. There are study programs in natural sciences, social sciences, medicine, law, computer science and many more. A study program takes between 3 and 6 years. There is no tuition fee for studying in Germany. However, students pay a semester fee for administration and bus/train ticket (approx. 100 - 300€ per semester).

All school-leaving certificates can also be obtained at a later stage. This means that adults can obtain a school-leaving certificate outside of the regular school system. This opportunity is important for many people. For example, if someone has dropped out of school. Or if someone still wants to study, but doesn't have a university entrance qualification. This opportunity is called second-chance education. Usually it is free of charge.

A school-leaving certificate can be obtained in full time or part-time at evening schools (Abendschule), for example if you already work part-time.

The Hauptschulabschluss can be obtained in a vocational preparation year (Berufsvorbereitungsjahr) if you are still of school age. In addition, the Hauptschulabschluss can be obtained at a Fernschule, Abendschule (evening school), Volkshochschule (adult education center) or Berufskolleg (vocational college) (if compulsory schooling has already been completed).

In order to complete the Mittlerer Schulabschluss, one must already have completed the Hauptschulabschluss. It is possible to obtain the Mittlere Schulabschluss at Abendrealschule (evening school), Volkshochschule (adult education center) or Fernschule. This takes between 1 and 3 years. The Mittlerer Schulabschluss can also be obtained at a Berufskolleg (vocational college). In this case, the precondition is that you already have completed vocational training and are at least 19 years old.

The Abitur (general university entrance qualification) can also be obtained at a later stage. Mittlerer Schulabschluss is required. The Abitur can be completed full-time, for example at a Berufskolleg (vocational college). You have to be at least 19 years old. It takes 3 years. The Abitur also can be completed part-time at Abendschule (evening school), Volkshochschule (adult education center) or Fernschule. Classes usually take place in the evenings and on weekends, so that students can work part-time. For the Abitur, a second foreign language must be learned in addition to English. The Abitur is obtained after passing the Abitur exams.

There are many options after graduating from school. There are also good alternatives, if you don't want to start vocational training or a studying at university right away. For example, you can do an internship or a voluntary social year. By doing so, you get to know new work fields. Those experiences are also very helpful for your professional career.


After graduating from school, many young people decide to do voluntary service. This can be a voluntary social year (FSJ) or a voluntary ecological year (FÖJ). During this time, young people volunteer for society or the environment and gain important work experience. An FSJ or FÖJ usually lasts 12 months. You must be between 16 and 27 years old and have completed your compulsory education. For voluntary service, one can apply for advertised positions, also abroad.


Many young people use the time after leaving school for an internship. During an internship, you work for a few weeks or months in a company or organization and gain important work experience. An internship is almost possible in every work field. It is best to look for vacancies or ask the company directly about the possibility of an internship. An internship is a good way to find out if a profession is the right one. Hence, it is easier to decide on a specific vocational training program or study program.

Experience abroad:

The time after graduating from school is also a good opportunity to go abroad. For example, to go on a language study trip. Many young people also get involved in social projects abroad. One opportunity is also to do work and travel. This involves working abroad while exploring the country. A stay abroad makes it possible to gain a lot of experience and to consolidate language skills. There are also funding opportunities and financial support for this.

The decision is often difficult: which vocational training or study program is the right one? And how to apply?

When looking for a vocational training or study program, it helps to gather a lot of information and ask yourself a few questions.

  • What can I do with my school-leaving certificate?
  • What are my strengths and interests?
  • What opportunities are in my region? Or would I rather go to another city?
  • What kind of job can I do with my qualification?
  • What kind of opportunities do I have for further education afterwards?

There are many ways to find out what suits you best. On the internet, for example, there are online tests and a lot of information about vocational training and study programs. You can also go to an educational or career counseling center. If you can't make a decision, an internship or orientation course is helpful. This will give you an insight into your future career and the subject you want to study.

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