What is the proper way to talk about your graduation?

From high school, Germans have the "Abitur", but would we use the same term for an American high school graduation perhaps? Also, what about college/university graduation? And what about the correct verb to use?

I'm getting words from Google Translate such as "Graduierung" and "Staffelung", but these words sound strange to me as for whatever reason, I haven't heard them used.

  • 3
    Both Graduierung and Staffelung do indeed refer to other meanings of graduation and can not be used in this context.
    – Hulk
    Sep 15, 2014 at 5:52
  • 1
    Are you talking about the academic qualification, or about the social ceremony celebrating it? The former has an approximate equivalent in the Abitur, the latter not so much (but we're getting there, since everything American is hip and imitating the U.S. is on the rise). Sep 15, 2014 at 9:55

3 Answers 3


First, the German Abitur and the American Highschool graduation are not on an equal level, since the education level of an Abitur is more advanced. I know some people who had a guest year in an American Highschool and came back to our Gymnasium to finish Abitur and all of them confirmed that the level was lower over there.

Secondly, an Abitur is a "Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife" (meaning you are ready and allowed to study on any university, university of applied science or similar college institute). The Graduierung on the other hand is a "Verleihung eines akademischen Grades" (meaning awarding an academic grade, or shorter the graduation).

So when you speak about your school graduation, then you could say for the German version

Ich habe Abitur.

or for the American version

Ich habe einen Highschoolabschluss.

or for University/College

Ich habe einen Universitätsabschluss.

or more specifically

Ich habe ein Diplom / einen Bachelor / einen Master in ...

  • Thanks for this simple straight-forward answer! This is basically what I was looking for. Sep 17, 2014 at 22:25

As the school systems are not dircetly comparable, I recommend not to use the word Abitur for referring to your graduation from an American high school. Note that although our system here in Austria is relatively close to the German one, we are using the word Matura instead of Abitur.

I would use something more verbose and precise, like talking about Highschoolabschluss.

Or, if you want to refer to the ceremonies involved you can say something like

Bei den Feierlichkeiten zu ihrem Highschoolabschluss hielt sie eine viel beachtete Rede.

As to graduation from college or university, the usual way to talk about that would be to mention the academic title you've earned:

Er absolvierte ein Bachelor-Studium in Harvard.
Sie machte ihren Doktor in Physik an der XYZ University in Exampleville.
Er hat einen Masterstudiengang an der Fachhochschule in Hagenberg abgeschlossen.

Note that throughout most of Europe traditional names for academic grades are slowly being replaced by the Bachelor/Master system introduced by the Bologna process, so things are currently changing in this area.

  • 2
    +1 for not translating word for different things. Depending on the context (informal or job application) I think it is appropriate to either translate the function of the graduation (e.g. Hochschulreife if it allows you to study at a university) or using international systems like the ISCED
    – Harald
    Sep 15, 2014 at 9:33
  • Thanks! This is also a great answer. Mostly I wanted to talk about "When I graduated,..." so on an so forth. Sep 17, 2014 at 22:26

I don't think you should mix up the languages to create a word like 'Highschoolabschluss'. The german people are translating there Gradution, so should everybody else do this.

I think the correct terms are: 'Mittlere Reife' and '(Fach-)Hochschulreife'.

  • While these terms may be fine in a formal context, they are not used in informal spoken language. Also, they would mean quite different things in different countries (would be obtained at significantly different age for example).
    – Hulk
    Sep 15, 2014 at 9:18
  • Then we need more facts. If you talk to a native german person, who doesn't speak english, the person will not understand what 'Highschoolabschluss' means. Would somebody say: 'Gymnasiumdegree'? :)
    – Malmi
    Sep 15, 2014 at 9:27
  • It is my guess that a native speaker of German who does not know what a High School is would also have at best a very vague idea what Hochschulreife or Mittlere Reife means. They are very specialized legal terms that are not part of the average persons active vocabulary. (Things may be different and require more explaining when we are talking about a school system that we don't hear about in every Hollywood movie or TV show)
    – Hulk
    Sep 15, 2014 at 9:39
  • I'm in germany and everbody i met knows these words. I can't imagine that someone living in germany doesn't know what this words mean. Sorry, but if thats the case, probably you don't have to speak about gradutions at all.
    – Malmi
    Sep 15, 2014 at 9:50
  • 1
    Those terms describe different concepts: "Mittlere Reife" (more commonly referred to as "Realschulabschluss") is awarded after 10 years of schooling and does not allow you to enroll at any kind of university. The "Fachhochschulreife" generally allows you access to a certain kind of university ("Fachhochschule") or specific topics. (Source: German Wikipedia). Therefore the "Fachhochschulreife" is similar to the "Abitur" (also know as "allgemeine Hochschulreife"), which allows you to enroll at any university and any topic.
    – Soana
    Sep 15, 2014 at 14:42

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