In the German-speaking, the Scandinavian and the Benelux countries gymnasium has, at least since the Reformation in the 16th century, had the meaning of a secondary school preparing for higher education, at university. In general, Gymnasiums provide more generic education, as opposed to vocational secondary schools which provide more specialized education.
However, many Gymnasiums have a specific focus nevertheless. The three traditional branches are
- humanistic education (specialising in ancient languages, like Latin and Greek)
- modern languages
- mathematical-scientific education
- Countries with Gymnasium schools
- Austria (ends with Matura)
- Belgium (?)
- Croatia (4 years, starting at age 14/15, ends with Matura)
- Czech Republic (?)
- Denmark (3 years, starting after 9 or 10 years of primary school)
- Finland (2-4 years (most people spend 3 years), starting usually at age 15/16, graduation after passing the Matriculation Examination)
- Germany (6-9 years, starting at 5th or 7th grade, Abitur in 12th or 13th grade)
- Hungary (4/6 years, starting after 8/6 years of primary school, ends with Matura)
- Iceland (?)
- Luxembourg (?)
- Netherlands (6 years, starting at age 12/13)
- Poland (3 years)
- Slovakia (4 years starting at age 13/14; 8 years starting at age 9/10; both end with a Maturita)
- Slovenia (4 years, starting at age 14/15, ends with Matura)
- Sweden (3-4 years, starting after 9 years of primary school)
- Switzerland (usually 4 years, after 6 years of primary and 2 or 3 years of secondary school, ends with Matura)
In countries like Croatia, most university faculties only accept students from secondary schools that last four years (rather than three). This includes all Gymnasium students but only a part of vocational high schools, in effect making Gymnasium the preferred choice for all pupils aiming for university diplomas.
In Germany, other types of secondary school are called Realschule, Hauptschule and Gesamtschule. These are attended by about two thirds of the students. A Gesamtschule largely corresponds to an American high school. Students who graduate from Realschule or Hauptschule (usually after year 9 or 10) continue their schooling at a vocational school until they have full job qualifications. These two types of German secondary school are practically unknown in other parts of the world.