I’m trying to translate the term high school into German. However this is proving to be difficult since the school systems in the U.S. are different from Germany. Using Dict.cc and Linguee, I’ve gotten the results




but I’m not sure which word best describes the typical American high school, i.e., the grades 9–12. Some insight on the best way to translate high school would be helpful.

  • 27
    If you want to reflect the US highschool, call it "Highschool". None of the German terms for the German school system would fit. You cannot compare apples with oranges.
    – Em1
    Feb 17, 2015 at 18:13
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    Also note that the literal translation "Hochschule" refers to universities and the like. I'm glad that nobody so far suggested that translation; but if someone does, they are certainly wrong.
    – Em1
    Feb 17, 2015 at 18:18
  • 4
    Also note that even within the German speaking area, there is no unified school system. So even the meaning of terms that apply to Germany might not be well known in Austria or Switzerland. See also this related question about how to express graduation
    – Hulk
    Feb 18, 2015 at 6:31
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    @Em1, I agree with everything but the part on fruit. improbable.com/airchives/paperair/volume1/v1i3/…
    – Carsten S
    Feb 18, 2015 at 6:57
  • The german school system is federal, so it isn't the same between the Bundesländer. This is even true for the last years of Gymnasium, which somehow match Highschool. Aug 16, 2017 at 0:00

6 Answers 6


Oh boy. If you are hoping for a one-word answer, you are out of luck. So let me elaborate a bit:

The German educational system (English version here) has three levels:

  1. Primary school
    Four years, for all children from ca. 6 to 10.
  2. Hauptschule/Realschule/Gymnasium/Gesamtschule
    9/10/12 or 13/various years. Children attend one of these, depending on the desired level of education and personal abilities.
  3. Vocational Training (Berufsschule)/University

This is slightly simplified, there are a few extra loops and varieties, but this description should be close enough to get the idea. See the links above for more details, if required.

Technically, the translation for high school would be "Sekundarstufe", with "Sekundarstufe I" refering to grade 5-9/10 and "Sekundarstufe II" refering to grades 11, 12 and, if applicable, 13. None of which match the typical age bracket of an american high school.

Problem is, however, that outside an educational context, hardly anyone uses "Sekundarstufe" in everyday language. If you want to translate high school, you should decide for yourself, which idea you want to express. Examples:

  • If you want to talk primarily about attending a school, use the name of the type of school (e.g. "Gymnasium") or more general "Weiterführende Schule" (still a technical term, but less so than Sekundarstufe).
  • If you are focused on children within a certain age bracket, dump the school reference and go with "Teenager" or "Jugendliche". This can be combined with a general "Schule" or "Schüler" and often gets the idea across quite accurately.
  • If you are actually talking about an American (or international) high school, just stick with "high school", because due to the fundamental differences in the educational systems, a translation might be misleading.

"Sekundarschule" and "Oberschule" are quite regional, often referring to only a special variety of "Weiterführende Schule", so use them carefully.

  • 6
    "Sekundarstufe II" is also called "Oberstufe", at least where I live.
    – kutschkem
    Feb 18, 2015 at 8:15
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    At least in Berlin most of the primary schools are from 1st to 6th grade. So what I want to say it is even worse, but what Stephie is writing is right Feb 18, 2015 at 11:05
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    And in Hassia, there is an "Orientierungsstufe" (5-6th grade) inserted in between Grundschule (1st-4th) and the various Weiterführende Schulen. (Or at least that was the case when I went there.) Feb 18, 2015 at 11:36
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    That's actually why I wrote "simplified" in my answer...
    – Stephie
    Feb 18, 2015 at 12:03
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    @Stephie: How about actually reading the question? To quote the first sentence: "I’m trying to translate the term high school into German." (Or is this formulation a result of later editing?) It appears that the OP, who most likely is just trying to translate an American CV, was merely confused because they used dictionaries that don't list "Highschool". (Leo.org does.)
    – user2183
    Mar 18, 2015 at 16:32

To refer to the grades 10 - 13 (or 12, depending on the state) of an German Gymnasium you could use the term:

Gymnasiale Oberstufe


  • 2
    Welcom to German Language SE. Can you say something on possible drawbacks of your translation?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Feb 17, 2015 at 18:21
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    Thanks. Gymnasiale Oberstufe is maybe not that common in everyday language and it is no direct translation of high school, nevertheless you can use it to refer to the grades 10 - 13. Another good way to refer to these grades would be Sekundarstufe II as Stephie suggested.
    – Enzo
    Feb 18, 2015 at 15:30

As Em1 pointed out in a comment, the correct translation of high school is simply Highschool.

Due to the dominance of American media, practically every German speaker knows this term and knows pretty well what it means. Some German states have schools that are somewhat similar to high schools, but even these can't agree on a uniform name for this kind of school, and since there are always alternatives that you can attend instead, their character isn't quite the same anyway. (They tend to get only the lowest performing students.)


Depends on the context, but in most cases you'll be fine with "Schule". There's no middle school in Germany so the two options are elementary school or not. And while the "or not" / high school equivalent is a hot mess, luckily elementary school is known as "Grundschule" everywhere. If you need to be more specific than that, it probably makes more sense to just refer to the grade they are in, since a student could be in the 5th or 12/13th grade.

There's also the "Gesamtschule" which includes all schools (but separately). It comes closer to what a US high school represents, but you wouldn't really use it in the same context as high school as it excludes about half of the schools in the country.


I guess there is no best way, since it depends on what you want to say. As you said, the systems are quite different. So highschool in the US can be several different schools in Germany.

The Gymnasium is from grade 5 - 13 (or 12) and is the highest school.

The Realschule is from 5 - 10 and is the second highest school.

Depending on what educational level you want to refer to one of these would be fitting.

  • I would want the word to specifically refer to grades 9-12, hence something more like Oberschule or Sekundarschule instead of Gymnasium/Realschule, since you only see those in Germany. (The educational level isn't specified--after all, in the U.S., high schools can operate at completely different levels.)
    – Ilei
    Feb 17, 2015 at 17:56
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    I would say that such a word is nonexistent since all secondary schools in germany start after the Grundschule, which is after the 4th grade.
    – Benjoyo
    Feb 17, 2015 at 17:59
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    "Sekundarstufe II" would be closest as far as the age bracket is concerned. But keep in mind that you are only talking about students on a Gymnasium (or equivalent), as the others would have finished school by then (and hopefully started vocational training which has a "school" part, too, see here: german.stackexchange.com/questions/18360/…). Therefore "Gymnasiale Oberstufe" is correct, too. But most likely not really what you want to express...
    – Stephie
    Feb 17, 2015 at 19:42

We have a "Grundschule" for the years 1-4. After this, you must change to a "Hauptschule", or a "Realschule" or a "Gynasium". But you can go to a "Gesamtschule" Is all three ones in one School. These are for the years 5-10.

After this, you can go to a Gymnasium for the "Gymnasiale Oberstufe". (Not all. It's your choice.) Year 11-13.

And after this, you can go to a "Universität" or a "Berufsschule". This is free to go. Only your choice.

I think you can write for Highschool only Schule.

I hope, I can help.

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