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Liberal Arts Education in Germany: Where to Study and Where to Work

Germany is a great place to study philosophy, history, or literature. Let’s find out what study and career opportunities the homeland of Schiller and Goethe can offer to those looking for a liberal arts degree.

What Is Liberal Arts Education?

Liberal arts education focuses on humanities that study human beings and their role in society, culture, and history. Popular humanities subjects include history, philosophy, art, and sociology.

Those specializing in humanities study languages, patterns of behavior and problems in society, historical and cultural events, as well as interactions and relationships between people.

Students of humanities should have skills that include critical thinking, the ability to analyze information, and debate. You will have to read and write a lot, as well as research ideas and concepts.

Advantages of a Liberal Arts Education in Germany

You will definitely find a program you like. Today, German universities offer over 6,000 programs in humanities taught in German and English, from African Philology to Modern History. In 2019 alone, more than 11,000 international students completed a degree in humanities in Germany.

You can study almost free of charge. International students do not have to pay tuition fees at public universities in most of the German states. They are only charged a small fee of 200-400 € per semester that covers administrative expenses and the services provided by the students union.

You can get a degree in two subjects instead of one. In Germany, there are two types of bachelor programs: Mono-Bachelor focusing on a single core subject, or a major, and Combined Bachelor where you pick a minor in addition to your major. This allows you to combine several subjects and dive deep into the things that you find most interesting.

What Are Admission Requirements?

If you are interested in a particular university or program, you’d better find out more on their website. However, the general list goes as follows:

— excellent writing, speaking, and communicative skills;

— knowledge of German (the level depends on the program’s language and your major);

— knowledge of English (check out the required minimum score for IELTS or TOEFL on the program’s website);

— knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek (for Classical Studies).

Students of humanities programs in Germany enjoy a lot of freedom. Professors or the academic department do not supervise you. You set your own schedule and are responsible for your studies. No one is going to monitor how you organize the learning process. Everything from earning the required number of credits during the semester, handling the schedule of the lectures, and building a study group for a particular subject to making presentations and finding the necessary books in the library is done by students themselves.

Best Universities and Liberal Arts Degrees in Germany

According to QS Ranking, in 2021, the top liberal arts universities in Germany include: 

Humboldt University of Berlin (19th in the world);

Free University of Berlin (24th in the world);

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (49th in the world);

Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg (62d in the world);

Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen (86th in the world);

Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg (107th in the world);

Goethe University of Frankfurt (128th in the world);

University of Göttingen (149th in the world);

University of Hamburg (157th in the world);

University of Cologne (174th in the world).

For international students looking for a bachelor’s degree, there are a lot of programs taught in English, like North American Studies (BA), Computational Linguistics (BA), Advertising & Brand Communication (BA), Applied Literature and Cultural Studies (BA), and African Verbal and Visual Arts (BA)

Master's programs in English include Sociology — European Societies (MA), Logic and Philosophy of Science (MA), Communication, Literature and Media in Modern South Asian Languages (MA), Digital Curation (MA), and Analysis and Design of Social Protection Systems (MA). 

Employment Prospects

Here are some of the career options for those with a degree in humanities obtained in Germany:

— teacher / professor (the gross monthly pay ranges from 1,805 to 4,276 €, according to Paylab Germany);

— editor (from 2,009 to 4,876 €);

— journalist (from 1,948 to 4,716 €);

— PR manager (from 2,100 to 7,632 €);

— interpreter (from 1,760 to 5,719 €);

— advertising manager (from 2,542 to 6,045 €);

— HR manager (from 2,231 to 5,842 €);

— event manager (from 2,393 to 6,228 €).

Apart from art, culture, media, publishing, and education, you can find a job in commerce, banking, legal and economic consulting.

Getting Employed With a Degree in Humanities in Germany: What to Keep in Mind

Graduates of humanities programs in Germany are less welcomed by employers than law, economics, and engineering graduates. The unemployment rate for humanities is almost twice as high. However, the unemployment rate among humanities graduates in Germany is no higher than the national average.

Why so? Most liberal arts programs at German universities include theoretical units in a variety of subjects that are not related to the major. As a result, you get a fundamental education instead of acquiring specific knowledge and skills for a particular job.

On the one hand, this is an advantage. Humanities students boast a wide range of knowledge and great analytical skills. They know how to process information and look for creative solutions. This makes them agile workers who can apply their skills in many fields, from teaching and marketing to IT.

For example, German Studies graduates can work as editors in publishing houses, librarians, documentalists, cultural managers, journalists, and press officers. That's in addition to teaching German in schools, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Goethe-Institut, and German government institutions around the world.

On the other hand, if you are not trained for a specific job, there is a risk you will fail to make your presence known in the labor market.

What solutions do universities come up with? Many liberal arts programs in Germany have integrated modules that provide students cross-disciplinary knowledge and practical skills. These include career guidance, job fairs, foreign languages, management, and the basics of entrepreneurship.

Many liberal arts programs include a mandatory internship, a semester at a partner university abroad, or a research project. This makes a liberal arts education an applied one.

What can you do? Think about your skills and interests. Don’t wait until your studies are finished to figure out what industries and positions might need your knowledge and skills. Try to gain relevant experience. Internships and the on-job training during your studies will be a big plus for your CV.

For example, you are a foreign language student, but you like books and want a job that has something to do with them. You could become an intern at a publishing house, a foreign literature store, or a library. Any employer would appreciate the applicant's ability to make a choice and pursue their goal.

Do your research: check out the jobs that you find interesting and analyze the requirements. Develop your digital competencies. After all, Microsoft Office skills will hardly impress anyone in 2021. Improve your soft skills and don’t forget about networking because job hunting through word of mouth proves to be very effective.