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Should You Study Liberal Arts in Europe?

Considering whether or not to pursue studies abroad is a significant decision all by itself. But when you introduce additional considerations like what to study and where to go, the options can quickly become overwhelming. For students interested in a liberal arts education, however, there is one destination in Europe that offers ‘the best of both worlds,’ combining the American liberal arts college tradition with an exciting and challenging setting in one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. Read on to find out about the why, where and how!

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
Should You Study Liberal Arts in Europe?

Considering whether or not to pursue studies abroad is a significant decision all by itself. But when you introduce additional considerations like what to study and where to go, the options can quickly become overwhelming. For students interested in a liberal arts education, however, there is one destination in Europe that offers ‘the best of both worlds,’ combining the American liberal arts college tradition with an exciting and challenging setting in one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. Read on to find out about the why, where and how!

What is a Liberal Arts Education?

The concept of a ‘liberal arts’ education dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that the study of music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy were essential in order to lead an active civic life as a free human being. Three more fields of study – grammar, logic and rhetoric – were added to this list after the 9th century.

This may not sound like the liberal arts education as we know it today, but it shares the core belief that the acquisition of general knowledge in a wide spectrum of topics is essential for the cultivation of a global citizen.

So what fields of study are generally included in a modern-day liberal arts education? While the specifics may vary from institution to institution, the following subjects typically fall under the “liberal arts” heading: the humanities (art, aesthetics, ethics, classical and modern languages, literature, linguistics, music, philosophy, religious studies, rhetoric, theater, etc.); the formal sciences (logic, mathematics, statistics, etc.); the natural sciences (archaeology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, earth sciences, geology, physics, zoology, etc.); and the social sciences (economics, gender studies, geography, history, law, politics, psychology, sociology, business informatics, etc.)

Degree programs in the liberal arts can involve specialized studies in one particular topic, but the overarching aim is the development of a broader, interdisciplinary, and transferable combination of knowledge and skills.

Why Study the Liberal Arts in Europe?

We’ve already established Europe as the birthplace of the liberal arts. However, the idea of a “broad-based humanistic education” has not been a prevalent one in more recent European history. In fact, according to a report from the New York Times, “Despite their European origins, the liberal arts have been in continual retreat on the continent, edged out by programs devoted to a single discipline like economics or history.” A return to the roots, however, has been noticeable among European institutions, with many of them offering majors in the liberal arts. Dedicated liberal arts colleges and universities are still a rare phenomenon, but they do exist and are an excellent choice for those international students seeking to study against the backdrop of Europe’s inimitably rich culture and history.

Spotlight on Bard College Berlin

One institution making a name for itself on the European liberal arts education scene? Germany’s Bard College Berlin, which offers a bachelor’s degree in Economics, Politics, and Social Thought. It is a program that connects the study of economics with that of historical and contemporary forms of political and social thought. The aim is to provide a rigorous interdisciplinary training while creating the opportunity to explore key questions that guide decision-making in the public and private sector, such as: What is the basis of human cooperation? How are scarce resources efficiently allocated? What are the most important goods in the life of a community? How is value created? What constitutes a

fair distribution of resources? How do people make economic decisions and how should they decide?

The core program consists of courses that place the evolution of economics and political

theory within the wider investigation of intellectual history from Ancient Greece to the present and students take courses in mathematics, statistics, and micro- and macroeconomics. Parallel to this, they also have the opportunity to take electives in a wide range of fields, including literature,

film, the practicing arts, language study in German or participation in an internship program.

The result? Bard College Berlin alumni/ae have been able to pursue careers in domains such as international relations, public policy, education, journalism, and the arts as well as graduate study at the world’s most renowned universities.

While Europe may have briefly fallen behind its western counterparts in the area of liberal arts education, it has regained its luster. Bard College Berlin offers international students from all over the world new and exciting opportunities to embrace liberal arts studies within the culture where this type of education found its origin and promises to flourish again in the future.

Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.