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The German School System



  German English
2-4-year-olds Kindergarten Preschool
5-year-olds Schuleingangsstufe School Entry Level
Grades 1 through 4 Grundschule Elementary School
Grades 5 through 12 Weiterführende Schule Upper School



To start off, please let us clarify one very common language confusion. The equivalent to "Kindergarten" at American Schools is called “School Entry Level” at the German International School. The German word “Kindergarten” translates into "preschool" where children age 2-4 learn in a play-based environment.

School Entry Level

After Preschool, children move up to the School Entry Level (SEL) for one year (age 5-6).

Elementary School (Grundschule)

When German students start first grade, their parents give them a large cone filled with school supplies and some special treats. The German word for these cones is Schultüte.

Elementary School (Grundschule) goes from first grade through fourth grade. Subsequently, parents along with teachers choose one of three levels of the upper school for the child.

Three levels in the Upper School

1. College Preparatory High School (Gymnasium)

Many German children go on to College Preparatory High School (Gymnasium) from fifth through twelfth grade. Students who graduate from Gymnasium, earn the diploma called the Abitur or the German International Abitur (DIA) and with that they have the qualification to continue their studies in colleges and universities in the U.S., in Germany and all around the world.

Most students at the German International School are in this College Preparatory Level. At the German School Washington D.C., the Class of 2017 will be the first for which both the German International Abitur (DIA) diploma as well as the normal Abitur diploma is awarded.  After 2020, the German International Abitur (DIA) will be the standard diploma offered to graduates of the German International School Washington D.C.

> More information about the DIA


2. Technical Academic High School (Realschule)

Other children may go to Technical Academic High School (Realschule) from fifth through tenth grade. After graduating, they can choose to continue to study at a Gymnasium through twelfth grade or to start learning a trade.


3. Lower Secondary School (Hauptschule)

Another choice is to go to Lower Secondary School (Hauptschule) from fifth through ninth grade. After graduating, students learn a trade, pursue an extended degree or enter the work force.


At the German International School Washington D.C., fifth grade is the orientation level. A determination is made as to which of the three school types the student will pursue. Starting in 6th grade all three types study united in one classroom. The majority of our student body is in the College Preparatory High School. Students of the other two school types are being taught in an integrated manner.

The German International  School Washington D.C. also offers the U.S. High School diploma in twelfth grade.

Please note: This is a basic overview of the German school system. Each of the 16 states has developed slightly differing systems. For specific information on the system in a particular state, please contact the corresponding ministry of education and cultural affairs.

Click here to learn more about German Schools Abroad.


The German International School Washington D.C. stays in touch with its alumni around the globe and is very proud of their achievements.

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Founded in 1969 and run solely by parent volunteers, this group raises funds to benefit GISW. Learn more about the Friends