The following paragraph appears in the article “"Auslese" fürs Gymnasium. So sortiert Deutschland seine Kinder aus” from Der Spiegel:

Unternehmen hätten ihre Erwartungen deutlich nach oben geschraubt: Genügte etwa für eine Bank- oder Optikerlehre früher ein Realschulabschluss, müsse es heute oft das Abitur sein, sagt der Bildungsforscher Jürgen Baumert, der einst die Pisa-Ergebnisse für Deutschland vorlegte. So wurden in den vergangenen dreißig Jahren Gymnasien beliebter, Haupt- und Realschulen dagegen deutlich abgewertet, sagt der Forscher, "und die Politik hat den Wünschen der Eltern nachgegeben und die Hürden fürs Gymnasium immer weiter gesenkt".

According to dict.cc,

Realschulabschluss {m} = high-school diploma

Abitur {n} = high-school diploma [Am.] [after 12 years at school] (there're quite a few other translations as well)

So, what's the difference between Realschulabschluss and Abitur?

  • 3
    Try Wikipedia if a dictionary does not help.
    – Robert
    May 14, 2017 at 2:31

3 Answers 3


Abitur is the highest school-leaving qualification exam in Germany, comparable to UK's A-Levels or France's Baccalaureat. These exams are meant as university-entry qualifications (although we have efforts to alleviate university access). Abitur exams are roughly comparable to USA's AP exams, and you have to take Abitur exams in at least 3-4 different subjects (usually German, English, Math are mandatory). You can graduate with Abitur after 12 or 13 years, under normal circumstances.

Realschulabschluss is a "lower" qualifcation that can be obtained after 10 years of schooling. It is less rigorous than Abitur and does not allow attending a university, but, traditionally, gives you access to starting an apprenticeship or similar traineeships. It is comparable to an US high school diploma with no AP or honors courses taken.


You cannot directly translate US words (like "high school") to German words because the school systems are not comparable. In fact in different parts of Germany you even have different school systems.

Traditionally you have three types of graduation:


This is more or less the minimum you have to pass before you can start to learn a job (like cook or mason).

You typically get this after 9 years at the age of about 15 years.


For many jobs (like nurse) "Hauptschulabschluss" is not enough so you need this type of graduation.

You typically get this after 10 years.


For many jobs (like airline pilot) even "Realschulabschluss" is not enough. You need "Abitur" for these jobs. If you want to go to a university (which is also required for many jobs) you also need "Abitur".

You typically get this after 12 or 13 years.


I think, that the other answers are correct, but they cover only the school types in Germany. Since this board is not about the nation called Germany, but about the language called German, and because German is also the official language in other countries (mainly Austria and Switzerland, but also some others), I want to give you a short overview over the school system in Austria (where I live), as an addition to the other answers:

  • Kindergarten
    This is for children who are between approx. 2 and 6 years old. It is not officially called a school, and the adults who take care of the children are not called teachers. They are officially called Pädagogen or Betreuer (pedagogues or supervisors), but since almost all of them are female, the colloquial name is Tante (aunt). Kindergarten is optional for children younger than 5 years and mandatory for children who are older than 5 years but still too young for Volksschule. (Although its not a school, i put it in this list because it is mandatory.)
  • Grundschule
    There is no Grundschule in Austria, this term is used in Germany for what is called Volksschule in Austria.
  • Volksschule
    This is a school with teachers. It is for all children between 6 and 10 years. Every person living in Austria who is in this age-range has to attend this type of school, as long as they aren't mentally retarded. (There are special school for those kids).
  • Hauptschule
    This type of school is obsolete in Austria. It was for children between 10 and 14 years, but has been replaced by Neue Mittelschule (NMS) a few years ago.
  • Neue Mittelschule (NMS)
    For children between 10 and 14 years. All former Hauptschulen and some former AHS are now Neue Mittelschulen. This type of school is thought for those who don't plan to make Matura, but at the end of NMS you can change to a school that offers Matura (and vice versa).
  • Polytechnisches Jahr; Berufsvorbereitendes Jahr
    In Austria you have to attend school for 9 years minimum. But Volksschule lasts 4 years, and NMS also 4 years. So if you want to start apprenticeship after school, you need one additional year, and this is this special one-year-school-type.
  • Allgemeinbildende Höhere Schule (AHS)
    For children and teenagers between 10 and 18 years. This type of school lasts 8 years. So if you choose this type of school, you have, together with Volksschule 12 years of school. At the end of AHS there is a big final exam called Matura.
  • Realschule
    I don't know exactly, what Realschule is in Germany, but in Austria it was a special kind of AHS. Now all of the former Austrian Realschulen are AHS.
  • Realschulabschluss
    There is nothing named Realschulabschluss in Austria, and also never has been.
  • Abitur
    This is the name for the final exam in Germany. In Austria it is called Matura.
  • Matura
    The final exam at the end of AHS. You need to have passed Matura if you want to study at an University and you also need it for many jobs.
    In Switzerland the final exam is also called Matura.

Some other differences between Austrian and German school system:

  • In Austria every school type starts with class 1. So you have: Class 1 to 4 in Volksschule, then class 1 to 4 in NMS and class 1 to 8 in AHS. You make Matura in class 8 of AHS. In Germany you start counting with class 1 when you start with school at the age of 6, and then count up year by year, independent of school type, so that in the year of Abitur you are in Class 12 in Germany. But you make your final exam in the same age in both countries.
  • The best mark you can get in Germany is 1, also in Austria. (In Switzerland the best mark is 6). But the worst mark you can get is 6 in Germany, but 5 in Austria. (The worst mark in Switzerland is 1). (I think in US and UK you have letters as marks instead of numbers.)

Sorry, I have not much knowledge about school systems in Germany, and even less in Switzerland.

  • 5
    The question is about Germany, though.
    – Carsten S
    May 14, 2017 at 12:57
  • 1
    The OP refers to an article by German magazine DER SPIEGEL about Abitur in Germany. The question is about Abitur, not about school systems in German speaking countries.
    – adjan
    May 14, 2017 at 14:44
  • Übrigens, von mir kam kein Downvote.
    – Carsten S
    May 14, 2017 at 15:21

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