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

It is important to note that German language skills are NOT required for admissions at GISW from preschool through Grade 5. If you are interested, please find out more about our FastTrack program for students starting in Grade 1 though 5 without German Language skills: The FastTrack program



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  students in Germany 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 students in Germany 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 International School Washington D.C., the Class of 2017 was the first for which both the German International Abitur (DIA) diploma as well as the regular Abitur diploma was awarded.  Since 2020, the German International Abitur (DIA) is the standard diploma offered to graduates of the German International School Washington D.C. in addition to the American High School Diploma.

> More information about the DIA


2. Technical Academic High School (Realschule)

Students who chose this path go to Technical Academic High School (Realschule) from fifth through tenth grade. Here they graduate with the intermediate certificate, (mittlerer Schulabschluss) MSA for short, (formerly Realschulabschluss) and then have the choice of learning a profession or, if their grades are good to very good, transferring to the Gymnasium to take the Abitur.


3. Lower Secondary School (Hauptschule)

Another choice is to go to Lower Secondary School (Hauptschule) from fifth through ninth grade. After graduating with the first school certificate (erster Schulabschluss) or ESA for short, students learn a trade, pursue an extended degree.


At the German International School Washington D.C., fifth grade is the orientation level1. 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.


1 We are currently working on extending the orientation level to include grade 6 as well, so that our students have ample time to settle into the Upper School.