I am trying to understand the meaning of the following:

Das originalsprachige Schulabschlusszeugnis, das den Hochschulzugang eröffnet

My initial "translation" for this phrase intended only as a starting point and which was obtained entirely by looking up every word in a dictionary, is as follows:

The original language school graduation certificate, that opens high school admission.

Now I do not think that "Hochschul-" means "secondary school" in this phrase. I would guess "Hoch-" is more like the "high" in the English "higher education". It seems to me that if secondary school was intended then "Oberschul-" would be used instead.

With this in mind, and a couple of small tweaks to make this more natural, a revised translation reads:

The untranslated diploma, that gives access to higher education.

This seems like a nice translation but it is quite meaningless to me. It seems to imply that the diploma is from a high school, but I don't know why this seemingly roundabout phrasing is used if that is the case.

It feels to me that the writer may be using precise language because there are multiple different equivalents that could fill this spot. For example high-school diploma / GED.

What is the "Schulabschlusszeugnis" in this phrase? and of course What am I missing or getting wrong that is preventing me from seeing?

The full context of this phrase can be found here. And I have copied a bit more of the context below in case that page changes:

Bitte in einfacher Fotokopie und nicht übersetzt:

  • Ihren Arbeitsvertrag (Nur bei Antrag auf "Blue Card")
  • Das originalsprachige Schulabschlusszeugnis, das den Hochschulzugang eröffnet.
  • Die originalsprachigen Abschlussurkunden mit Fächer- und Notenübersichten eventuell vorhergehender Studienabschlüsse (z.B. bei Aufbaustudiengängen).
  • Ihr Ausweisdokument (Pass oder Personalausweis)
  • Den offiziellen Nachweis einer eventuellen Namensänderung (sofern aus dem Ausweisdokument nicht ersichtlich)
  • Belege für die Gründe, falls Sie sich mit einer Echtheitsüberprüfung Ihrer Dokumente durch die ZAB nicht einverstanden erklären können (vgl. Hinweis 10 im Antragsformular)

I am not asking for a translation of this page, I am just providing it for context if it is needed.

  • 4
    Welcome to GermanSE! What a great first question! Feb 1, 2020 at 12:59
  • 1
    I might have written "The original-language school graduation certificate, that opens high school admission.", with that hyphen to make it clear that this doesn't say anything about a "language school". That is not intended as a translation of the German phrase, but as a less ambiguous way of saying something in English. The traditional way of using hyphens in English has been dying out very slowly for many decades. It's still used in novels, newspapers, and magazines. But not in advertisements or package labels. This present instance is an example of its utility. Feb 1, 2020 at 21:53
  • I have a hard time recognizing a special context. The meaning Diploma confirming successful completion of a school, in this case of a school allowing registration in a university, is the same in any context I can imagine.
    – guidot
    Feb 1, 2020 at 22:10
  • 7
    shouldn't it be 'dass' No!!!
    – TaW
    Feb 2, 2020 at 11:17
  • 1
    The most common understanding would be 'Das Abiturzeugnis, das den Universitätszugang ermöglicht.' - But the are some variations..
    – TaW
    Feb 2, 2020 at 11:18

6 Answers 6


The original language school graduation certificate, that opens high school admission.

Now I do not think that "Hochschul-" means "secondary school" in this phrase,

Indeed, "Hochschule" refers to tertiary education. This is the case not only in this context, but in general, "Hochschule" and "high school" are false friends.

It seems to me that if secondary school was intended then "Oberschul-" would be used instead.

As far as I can tell, the term "Oberschule" is not really used today and sounds rather old-fashioned, or at least not suitable for the German school system.

The untranslated diploma, that gives access to higher education.

This seems like a nice translation but it is quite meaningless to me. I just don't know what it means. It seems to imply that the diploma is from a high school, but I don't know why this seemingly roundabout phrasing is used if that is the case.

I think this has two reasons:

  • At least in Germany, probably also in some other education systems, there are various ways to graduate from secondary education. However, not all of them grant access to universities/colleges. (Also note that a "Hochschulzugangsberechtigung" is really that: It's not a prerequisite for applying to a university; for many majors (that do not have restricted admission) it can simply mean that once you have graduated with a "Hochschulzugangsberechtigung", you are basically already guaranteed to be allowed in, without any additional entrance exam.)
  • In this context, there is no concise German word for "high school". As noted above, "Oberschule" is not used for schools in Germany. "Weiterführende Schule" denotes the school that follows elementary school - but, depending on the school system, this may not be the school that immediately precedes university/college. "Sekundäre Bildungseinrichtung" or something like that is unusual and sounds very bureaucratic. In Germany, the schools at high school level are Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium - but of course, this is specific to Germany and therefore unsuitable for a text that is meant to be understood internationally.

Therefore, the "roundabout phrasing" is indeed the shortest way to unambiguously express this in German.

  • 1
    According to Wikipedia, the use of the word Oberschule varies by Bundesland. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberschule
    – Carsten S
    Feb 1, 2020 at 17:41
  • 1
    @CarstenS: Interesting, thank you. I think the list illustrates why "Oberschule" is not a suitable term here, even though my assessment that it is outdated seems regionally incorrect. Feb 1, 2020 at 18:16
  • My first, and wrong, reaction was that it means exactly what the OP meant, but I am from Berlin. (And I wouldn’t even be sure about the current usage here.)
    – Carsten S
    Feb 1, 2020 at 18:51
  • Trouble stems from the generalization .. the immigration office giving out the cited paper tries to translate foreign education systems and their various grading schemes and diplomas into the "known" German system.
    – eagle275
    Feb 3, 2020 at 10:57
  • 1
    @eagle275: IMHO they actually avoid doing that. That's precisely why they do not talk about "Gymnasium" or "Abitur", but instead use a country-independent, purely descriptive phrasing. Feb 3, 2020 at 11:00

As already explained in other answers, "high school" and "Hochschule" are false Friends: "Hochschule" means "school of higher education".

It was also already explained that "Schulabschlusszeugnis" means "diploma", but notice that this can easily lead to another false friend: "Diplom" has a very specific meaning in Germany, and it is not the certificate that you get at the end of secondary education, but rather the certificate that you get when you finish higher education. (Note that nowadays, in order to increase international competitiveness, the Diplom has been mostly replaced by a Bachelor / Master system.)

One reason why this is phrased in such a roundabout way is that there are four different kinds of diplomas in Germany alone that fit that description wich give access to (at least) four different kinds of schools of higher education!

In Germany, there are (at least) four different kinds of schools of higher education:

  • Universität: focused mostly on theoretical education. Used to be considered the highest form of education, but that perception is slowly changing towards a view where the other forms of higher education are not considered to be "lower" but rather having a different focus. The ideal of a University is still to prepare the student to be a scientist and educator, pursuing a doctorate degree and professorship, even though that is not true for the overwhelming majority of students. Note that technically speaking, only a school that is "universal", i.e. offers a wide array of subjects is called "Universität", schools with a narrow range of subjects are often called "XYZ-Hochschule", e.g. "Kunsthochschule" (specializing in arts), "Musikhochschule" (specializing in music), "Technische Hochschule" (specializing in "hard" sciences and engineering), "Pädagogische Hochschule" (focused on education, i.e. high school teachers are typically required to graduate from "PH"), and so on.
  • Fachhochschule: focused more on applied education. "FH" are typically not universal, but specialized.
  • Berufsakademie / Duale Hochschule: both "BA" and Duale Hochschule are *dual education schools" or "cooperative schools" that combine academic / theoretical education with vocational training. As such, they require an apprenticeship / trainee contract with an accredited company in addition to the "Schulabschlusszeugnis" in order to apply. About half of the education is spent in the academic institution, the other half is spent in vocational training in the company. The company needs to demonstrate that they meet specific high standards in the quality of their vocational training in order to qualify.

There are four different kinds of Schulabschlusszeugnis that give access to (part of) those schools of higher education. They are organized in two different tiers and whether they are general or specialized, giving four different combinations.

  • Hochschulreife vs. Fachhochschulreife: Hochschulreife gives access to all of the above four kinds of Schools, whereas Fachhochschulreife only gives access to the latter three, i.e. not to University.
  • Allgemein vs. Fachgebunden: The "Allgemeine Hochschulreife" or "Allgemeine Fachhochschulreife" gives access to all subjects, whereas the "Fachgebundene Hochschulreife" or "Fachgebundene Fachhochschulreife" only gives access to a particular set of subjects.

Of course, as if this wasn't already complicated enough, there may be exceptions to these rules. For example, some Berufsakademien, Duale Hochschulen, or even Fachhochschulen may waive the requirement for a "Hochschulqualifizierendes Schulabschlusszeugnis" for exceptionally skilled tradesmen. E.g. if you are already a Master Carpenter, a BA may allow you to enroll into a "Holztechnik" program even without the fachgebundene Fachhochschulreife.

  • 4
    The only thing missing from this otherwise excellent answer may be a remark that if things are so diverse already within Germany, a text that targets people who have graduated from foreign education systems can only rely more on "descriptive relative clauses" and less on single unambiguous and exactly fitting terms. Feb 2, 2020 at 13:21
  • exactly - adding to that, even the immigration office has no real clue about the cultural differences in foreign education systems [college UK vs college US] but they still try to translate foreign diplomas into the German education system
    – eagle275
    Feb 3, 2020 at 11:03

Hochschule is college or university.

Schul-Abschluss-Zeugnis is the certificate that you get when you finish a school (graduate).

It's hard to compare the educational systems of different countries. Thus they ask for a diploma from any school that allows you to enter college or university. Depending on the country of origin that might be a highschool diploma or whatever is comparable to the German Abitur oder Fachabitur (which is a second path to a limited Abitur).

The Abitur qualifies for Universitäten, the Fachabitur qualifies for Fachhochschulen.

  • Looking at the numerous meanings of college I suggest to drop that.
    – guidot
    Feb 1, 2020 at 22:05
  • 3
    @guidot What is the differenz between Fachhochschule and Universität? It's college vs. university.
    – Olafant
    Feb 1, 2020 at 22:50
  • 1
    @Olafant, see my answer. Feb 2, 2020 at 4:55
  • 1
    @Olafant: Some years ago the difference was, that you could only perform a PhD thesis or dissertation at a university, but the difference is still shrinking. Anyway the difference is not relevant here, since a diploma in a foreign language is unlikely to consider the same distinction (as would German Allgemeine Hochschulereife = Abitur und Fachabitur). Therefore I favour a generic term like university.
    – guidot
    Feb 2, 2020 at 19:04

Schulabschlußzeugnis = School diploma of any kind.

Hochschulzugang = Admission to Hochschule.

A Hochschule is either a Universität (classical university (law, med school and others)) or a Fachhochschule (university of applied science or college of higher education (there may be more equivalents))

So the Schulabschlusszeugnis, das den Hochschulzugang eröffnet is the school diploma that grants you the qualification to access the Hochschule in question.

AFAIK some US college studies may be equivalent to a Hochschule. But the vast majority of college studies are taught in the Berufsschule (professional school) which is NOT a Hochschule.

The German Abitur qualifies for Universitäten and Fachhochschulen.

The German Fachabitur (which is a second path to a yet limited Abitur) qualifies for Fachhochschulen.


The key concept is Hochschulreife. Because other posts have tried to address the details, I'll limit myself to the most frequent case: Acquiring the Abitur from a Gymnasium (or a Gesamtschule mit gymnasialer Oberstufe). The Abitur attests allgemeine Hochschulreife, i.e. that the student has the requisite abilities to study any subject at a university of their choosing.

This differs from the US system, where a student would have to pass additional tests (such as the SAT or Advanced Placement tests) in order to to be able to gain admission to a given university, with the requirements set by the university.

Given these differences, the phrase in question

Das originalsprachige Schulabschlusszeugnis, das den Hochschulzugang eröffnet

is looking for an equivalent to an Abitur: what qualifies you to study at a German university? I personally have no idea about the particulars, but the DAAD suggests the following requirements (for details check the link):

High School Diploma
16 "academic units"
at least 4 AP tests (depending on the subject you want to enroll in) with grade 3 or higher

Note that this will grant you only fachgebundene Hochschulreife (only for certain fields of study), not allgemeine Hochschulreife, which shows in what high regard Germans hold their Abitur and the concept of Hochschulreife. To get allgemeine Hochschulreife, you would need a 4-year bachelor's degree.

So the phrase in question is looking for a high school diploma accompanied by a transcript that documents all requirements are met – or a bachelor's degree.


Nothing to do with a language school. They mean your diploma in the original language, aka not translated. Most probably another requirement is to attach the translation too, as a separate document but they want to see the original also.

  • Aside from the (incorrect) speculation this doesn't provide any information that was not already present in the question. Nor does it attempt to answer the question. This should really be a comment if anything. Feb 2, 2020 at 21:06
  • Well... it is obvious that the OP wants to apply for something and he has a list of required documents he needs to attach to his application. Not much to speculate here. The OP is also not interested in explanation of the German education system, he simply wants to know which document he needs to attach. Feb 2, 2020 at 21:18
  • I am the OP for what it is worth. I am interested in explanations of the German Education system since they are useful in answering the question. Feb 2, 2020 at 21:58
  • OK. Is that your primary interest or just eager to know? I mean, your diploma remains the same, they want a diploma that qualifies you for study at an university. Knowing the German education system will not change the diploma you have. Either it qualifies you for accessing German universities or not. You simply send them your highest qualification. Good luck! Feb 2, 2020 at 22:27
  • Well, OP, than you have to formulate your question accordingly. I have no telepatic powers to know what you are interested in, I only can read what you wrote. Aug 24, 2023 at 2:16

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