What should I know about the German educational system?

The German educational system is quite complex, and there are several options available. It is generally very important that you complete your high school (if you don’t have a high school diploma, read how to complete your schooling here). Education systems differ across the 16 German Federal States (Bundesländer), so we recommend you inform yourself about the education system in the federal state where you are living (find a list of state education offices here). Watch this video to learn more about the German educational system:



Below are some common options.

If you want to do a vocational training (Ausbildung), you do not necessarily need a highschool diploma but it is highly recommended to have at least completed a lower secondary education (usually having attended school for 8-11 years). Please note however, that some vocational training programs require a high school diploma, especially in the fields of business and finance.


Duales Studium is a model of studies that combines studying at university while working at a company. For more information on Duales Studium, read more on wegweiser's website and our article here.


If you want to go to a university (Universität) or a university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule), you need to prove that you hold a high school diploma (Abitur or Hochschulreife).


Like many other countries, Germany has a Bachelor/Master system for most university study programs. There are many study programs available, and choosing one is the first step.

  • A Bachelor degree is the first stage of university studies. A Bachelor usually lasts 3 years, or 6 semesters. To be able to apply, you have to fulfill certain requirements.  

  • A Master degree is the second cycle of university studies. Before starting a Master degree it is generally necessary to have completed a Bachelor degree in a related subject. Many Masters are even consecutive programs, which means they build on what you learned in a related Bachelor program. Please note however, there is no automatic transition from a Bachelor to a Master program. Usually, you need to have earned at least 30 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) in the topic of the Master’s program you’re applying for during your Bachelor’s degree in order to be able to apply. If you are missing relevant ECTS credits, please contact the coordinator of the Master’s program, or the university’s international office for specific information on your situation. Masters usually last 2 years, or 4 semesters.

  • After completing a Master degree, there is the possibility to continue studying a PhD or doctoral program. This is a high-level scientific degree which is usually connected to teaching at a university. You can use this search engine to find PhD programs.


Generally, the German academic calendar has two semesters:

  • The winter semester starts in October and ends in March. The application deadline is usually early summer (15th of July). Most of the degree programs start in the winter semester.

  • The summer semester starts in April and ends in September. The application deadline is usually at the beginning of the year (15th of January).


If you need more info about the German educational system, check this interactive chart from the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.