Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers

FAQ Schools

The Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz) and the Crafts Code (Handwerksordnung) do not require people to have a specific educational background to undertake vocational training. That said, depending on the occupation in question, most companies require the people they take on as apprentices to at least have a secondary general school-leaving certificate (Hauptschulabschluss), if not an intermediate school-leaving certificate (mittlerer Schulabschluss or Realschulabschluss), or even an entrance qualification for universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulreife) or a higher education entrance qualification (Hochschulreife or Abitur). It is very difficult to find a training place in the German labour market if you do not have a school-leaving certificate.

It is normally possible for adults to gain a school-leaving certificate at night schools (there are night school versions of secondary general schools, intermediate schools and academic secondary schools) and at full-time adult education colleges (Kollegs). Night secondary general schools (Abendhauptschulen) offer a one-year course (2 semesters) leading to a secondary general school-leaving certificate (Hauptschulabschluss). Night intermediate schools (Abendrealschulen) offer evening classes (4 semesters) which enable adults to obtain an intermediate school-leaving certificate (Mittlerer Schulabschluss). Evening academic secondary schools (Abendgymnasien) enable adults to gain the higher education entrance qualification (Hochschulreife), usually over a period of 3 years. Full-time adult education colleges (Kollegs) enable adults to study full-time to obtain the higher education entrance qualification.

Secondary general school-leaving certificate (Hauptschulabschluss):
The secondary general school-leaving certificate, or Hauptschulabschluss, primarily entitles holders to begin vocational training under the dual system (which combines an apprenticeship and theoretical training). However, the young people in question must first find a training place in a company, and many companies which provide training only take on people with an intermediate school-leaving certificate (Realschulabschluss). Some young people with a secondary general school-leaving certificate are unable to find a training place. As they are still of school age, they are required to attend a full-time pre-vocational training programme at a vocational school (Berufsschule).

Intermediate school-leaving certificate (Realschulabschluss):
Young people with an intermediate school-leaving certificate, or Realschulabschluss (also known in German as the Mittlere Reife or Mittlerer Schulabschluss), have a much wider range of vocational options. The intermediate school-leaving certificate entitles holders to pursue many vocational training programmes. In addition to enabling people to begin vocational training under the dual system, it also allows them to begin full-time school-based vocational training and enables them – in some cases on the condition that they achieve a certain average mark – to access the various types of school at the upper secondary level (specialised upper secondary school (Fachoberschule), two-year full-time vocational school (Berufsoberschule), specialised academic secondary school (Fachgymnasium)) and the academic upper secondary level (leading to the higher education entrance qualification – Abitur).

Higher education entrance qualification (Hochschulreife or Abitur):
A higher education entrance qualification is evidence that the holder is prepared and entitled to enter higher education. People who obtain this qualification can register to study at a university or a university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule). The following school-leaving certificates qualify holders to enter higher education:

• the general higher education entrance qualification (allgemeine Hochschulreife or Abitur),
• the subject-restricted higher education entrance qualification (fachgebundene Hochschulreife or fachgebundenes Abitur), or
• the entrance qualification for universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulreife or Fachabitur).

That said, many young people who obtain the higher education entrance qualification choose to enter vocational training rather than go to university.

Secondary general school-leaving certificate:
The secondary general school-leaving certificate qualifies above all for taking up dual vocational training. To do so, however, young people first have to find an apprenticeship in a company. However, many companies providing training require an intermediate school-leaving certificate.

Young people who are no longer required to attend school and
• have not yet found a training position or
• have lost the training position and want to reorient themselves professionally or but
•do not have a school leaving certificate,

can complete a vocational training measure (BvB) from the Employment Agency. It usually lasts up to ten months.

Intermediate school-leaving certificate:
For young people with an intermediate school-leaving certificate (also called secondary school leaving certificate or middle school graduation) the range of career opportunities is significantly larger. The intermediate school-leaving certificate opens the way to many vocational training courses. In addition to dual vocational training, it also enables full-time school-based vocational training and provides access to the various types of school at the upper secondary level (specialised upper secondary school, two-year full-time vocational school, specialised academic secondary school) and the higher education entrance qualification (Abitur), in some cases subject to a certain average grade.

Higher education entrance qualification (Abitur):
The higher education entrance qualification opens up the possibility of studying at a university if this is desired. This can be a university or a university of applied sciences. The university entrance qualification is obtained by means of the following school qualifications:

  • the general higher education entrance qualification (Abitur),
  • subject-restricted higher education entrance qualification (subject-restricted Abitur) or
  • the entrance qualification for universities of applied sciences (Fachabitur)

The website of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) provides a schematic overview of the education system in Germany with explanations of the qualifications in German or English.