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.