How to Choose and Enroll in a School in Berlin
Berlin is home to many different types of schools and finding the right school for your child can be a daunting task. While choosing a school is a very personal decision that only your family can make, we’ve put together a guide that we hope will help you choose a school in Berlin.
Choosing a School in Berlin: Public or Private?
The first thing families can do to narrow down their choices is to decide if they will send their children to the German state school, or to a private or public bilingual or international school. This can be a very difficult decision, as there are advantages and disadvantages to both options.
Advantages of Public German State School:
— Your child will learn German.
— There is a fairly good chance your school will be in your neighborhood.
— Your child’s friends will live nearby.
— Your child will be on track to graduate with an Abitur diploma, which is preferred by German universities.
— School is free.
Disadvantages of Public German State School:
— Your child may go through a rough patch as he/she learns the language.
— Your child may miss out on some learning as they become familiar with the language.
Something to be aware of is that Berlin’s schools are very full. This means you may not be able to get into the school that is closest to your home. The city is required to find a place for all school-aged children (ages 6+), but sometimes that might mean you have to travel 30 minutes to get to school. While your assigned school will be located within your district, it won’t necessarily be in your immediate neighborhood.
In addition to state schools, Berlin is home to several public and private bilingual and private international schools (Read our guide to Berlin’s international and bilingual schools.) Bilingual or English-speaking families may decide that a bilingual or international school is a better fit for their child.
Advantages of Private Bilingual or International Schools:
— Your English-speaking child will be able to learn in an environment where his/her native language is spoken.
— Your non-English speaking child will learn English.
— The curriculum may be more in-line with what you are used to.
— You may find it easier to communicate with the teachers.
Disadvantages of Private Bilingual or International Schools:
— Your child will not learn German as quickly as he/she would in the state school.
— Integrating into the local community may be a slower process for children who don’t speak German well.
— Your child may not be able to do the Abitur as some of the international schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) instead of the Abitur.
— You have to pay tuition.
Choosing a School in Berlin: How long will you stay?
One way to make the decision easier is to think about how long you plan to stay in Germany. Are you only planning to live in the country for a limited time? One to three years? If so, you may want to go with a bilingual or international school, where your child will be able to continue a similar curriculum to the one he or she may eventually be returning to.
Are you planning to stay long-term? Then the state school may be a better option, so that your family can better integrate into German society.
Choosing a School in Berlin: How old is your child?
Another factor to consider is the age of your child. If your son or daughter is still very young — in first grade, or maybe even second, third, or fourth he or she will probably have an easier time falling into step with his/her German peers.
Older children, especially those coming from an international school curriculum will most likely have the most success at one of Berlin’s international or bilingual schools. These include:
PRIVATE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS IN BERLIN
- Berlin British School (BBS)
- Berlin International School (BIS)
- Berlin Metropolitan School (BMS)
- Berlin Cosmopolitan School (BCS)
- Berlin Brandenburg International School (BBIS)
- Swiss International School (SIS)
PRIVATE BILINGUAL SCHOOLS IN BERLIN
- Berlin Bilingual School (BBS)
- Freie Schule Anne-Sophie
Berlin is also home to free public schools where the curriculum is either bilingual or taught mostly in English. These are a good choice for families that don’t have a budget for private school tuition, but would like their child to receive instruction in English. Schools that fall into this category include:
PUBLIC BILINGUAL SCHOOLS IN BERLIN
- John F. Kennedy School
- Nelson Mandela School
- Charles Dickens Primary School
- Quentin Blake Europe School
STATE EUROPE SCHOOLS IN BERLIN
In addition to the public German-English bilingual schools in Berlin, the city is also home to a variety of schools designated “State Europe Schools.” These schools offer instruction in German as well as one other language, such as French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish, and Russian. Get more info on Berlin’s “State Europe Schools.”
Each of the schools mentioned above have specific requirements for admission as well as their own application processes. We recommend starting your search early so as not to miss any application deadlines.
Choosing a School in Berlin: Where will you live?
Location is another criteria for deciding on a school in Berlin. While a handful of private and bilingual Berlin schools are situated in the city centre, several of them are located in the western regions of the city in leafy districts like Zehlendorf and Dahlem.
Be sure to check the location of each school and think about where in Berlin you want to live so you can calculate your commute time. Is it worth a 45-60 minute commute so your family can live in the city centre and send your child to the John F. Kennedy School? For some families, especially those with older kids who can take the train by themselves, this would be totally fine, but others may prefer staying closer to home-base.
Choosing a School in Berlin: Consider your child’s personality.
Then of course another deciding factor will be your child’s personality. If he or she is outgoing and not afraid of a challenge, he or she will do just fine in a new school with a new language. If your child is shy and doesn’t socialize as easily with other children, he/she will most likely go through a tough transition period if thrown into an environment where he/she can’t readily communicate. It’s generally known to take about three months to get over the initial hurdle of integrating into a school where a foreign language is spoken. Some children may need less time, others may need much more. But remember, kids are resilient and you may be surprised how quickly your child picks up the language.
ONCE YOU’VE DECIDED ON PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE, INTERNATIONAL or BILINGUAL, you can narrow down your choices. Most every school in Berlin has a website, which will give you your first impression of the school. But if possible, an in-person visit is always a good idea.
If you’ve decided to go the public school route, you’ll need to have an address in Berlin along with your Anmeldebescheinigung before you can register for a spot. Non-German speaking students should expect to spend some time (potentially a full year) in a Welcome Class (“Willkommensklasse”).
Welcome Classes are comprised of non-German-speaking students from a mix of grades. These classes give foreign children the chance to spend focused time learning the language. Once your child’s language skills are up to speed and they’re ready to join a regular class, they may be able to continue in the same school, or be assigned to a different school, depending on space.
This is the process for enrolling in German state school:
- Register with the Schulamt as soon as possible.
- Receive a letter with your assigned school.
- Depending on age and level of German, your child will most likely begin in a “Welcome Class (Willkommen Klasse)”
- After approximately one year learning German in the Welcome Class, your child will move into the regular class.
- Your child may stay at the same school where he/she was enrolled in the Welcome Class, or move to a different school.
Each private international, private bilingual and public bilingual school in Berlin has its own application process. These are the steps to follow:
- Check the school website to download applications and get application dates.
- Schedule a visit with the school.
- Gather all the required documents and submit your applications.
- Apply to as many schools as possible and get on waiting lists if you’re not given a spot.
- Book an interview, if required by the school.
We know from experience that researching and applying to schools in Berlin is a time-intensive process. We hope this guide helps you as you navigate your choices in Berlin, and are available anytime for a professional consultation. Book a 30-minute school search consultation with Archer Relocation.