Grad School in Germany: 9 Unique Master Programs to Study for Free


Entrance to University of Bielefeld Photo: Jay Malone

Entrance to University of Bielefeld Photo: Jay Malone

Jane wrote back in October about the announcement that is still causing jaws to drop from Miami to Maui: the news that Germany, thanks to late arrival Lower Saxony, is now a country free of college tuition. Germany has long been known for its superlative system of higher education, and for many, like myself, the free tuition was just gravy. So for those of us who finished our undergraduate degree in the States, the only question to answer after recognizing the value of this opportunity is what to study. Fortunately, the German university scene is awash in graduate study programs certain to pique myriad interests while opening up future career opportunities in a variety of fields, enough to tempt just about anyone to pick up stakes and catch the first flight to Frankfurt. Here are a few standouts.

  1. Geography of Big Cities (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Humboldt University is located a short walk down historic Unter den Linden from the Brandenburger Tor and the glitzy heart of the largest city in Germany. It’s also a only few U-Bahn stops away from the rapidly gentrifying bohemian enclaves that have characterized the city since reunification.  The Geography of Big Cities Master gives students a chance to take classes that will help them to make better sense of a lot of the phenomena at work in cities like Berlin, including the ecology of big cities, the consequences and challenges of the development of large cities in industrialized countries, and the politics of living in big cities with segregation, gentrification, migration and all the other forces that have produced the wonderfully discordant messes that are our modern metropolises.

  1. Livestock Sciences (Universität Rostock)

The Holstein cow is iconic in the United States, a breed that nearly anyone who has ever drunk milk or opened their eyes while driving across Wisconsin would recognize, and one that originates not far from where the Livestock Sciences Master is offered in Rostock. All of the livestock consumed in America is European in origin, and agricultural studies in the homeland of many of the animals we breed in America offers the possibility to reconnect with our agrarian past and is an interesting way to study thousands of miles from home while surrounded by faces (like the one above) that’ll make you feel like Madison is still  just a few exits away.

  1. Friesan Studies (Universität zu Kiel)

Friesan is the closest extant cousin to English on the continent, and the similarities between the two languages have long been celebrated, as per the old rhyme, pronounced nearly the same in both languages:  “As milk is to cheese, so is English to Fries”. For those of us intimidated at the thought of tackling the Gordian Knot of declensions that is the German language, studying Fresian is a much more palatable prospect. It’s arguable the easiest language for English-speakers to learn, and can be easily put into practical use in northwest Germany, where more than 100,000 people still speak it as their first language.

  1. Heritage Conservation (Universität Bamburg)

Symbol for Protected Monument in NRW


First time visitors to Germany are often astounded by the sheer abundance of history on display across the country, despite the depressing amount that has been lost to the wars of the last few centuries. The Heritage Conservation Master at the University of Bamberg aims to give students who enroll at the university the tools to combat the further decline of historical sites and moments and protect the past for the enjoyment of future generations.

  1. Advanced Mineral Resources Management (TU Bergakademie Freiberg)
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TU Bergakademie Main Campus in Freiberg Photo: Jay Malone


Freiberg is home to the oldest mining university in the world, thanks to the abundance of wealth that was afforded by their now defunct silver mine. The modern university still boasts a working study mine and some of the best facilities for mining science in the country. Anyone interested in going into the burgeoning mining industry might want to check out the Advanced Mineral Resources Management degree, which works to give its graduates insight into cutting edge methods while studying in a picturesque hamlet in the foothills of Saxony’s Ore Mountains.

  1. Hydro Science and Engineering (Technische Universität Dresden)
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Computer Science Department Building at TU Dresden Photo: Jay Malone


Water security is a defining issue of the 21st century, and TU Dresden gives international students the opportunity to study Hydro Science in one of the top engineering departments in Germany. Students who enroll at the university learn about methods of conservation, management, development of new water resources, and the construction and management of water management systems. As someone who has spent six month showering in poorly desalinized water, I can vouch for the importance of this program, which should also appeal to anyone currently living the drought-ridden Colorado River basin.

  1. Peace and Conflict Studies (Phillips-Universität Marburg)

One of the greatest accomplishments of the past seventy years has been the near disappearance of violent conflict from Europe, a continent that had seen near constant warfare since the collapse of the Roman Empire. Part of the reason for this accomplishment has been the appearance of dedicated programs like the Peace and Conflict Studies Master in Marburg which aim to prepare students to deal with the problems that led to violence in the past through diplomacy, mediation and the establishment of mutual understanding, instead of weapon-stockpiling, propaganda and chest-thumping speechifying. Students who enroll also have a chance to spend a year at the University of Kent in England, which awards a second Master upon completion of the program.

  1. Franco-German Studies (Universität des Saarlands)

If one of the greatest accomplishments of the last seventy years has been peace in Europe, the main vehicle of this peace has been the establishment deep and lasting partnership between the two great historical antagonists at the heart of Europe: Germany and France. For ten German and ten French speakers per year, the Franco-German Studies Master at the University of the Saarland affords the opportunity to further strengthen the cultural ties, mutual understanding and trust that bonds these European giants together. It’s also open to anyone who meets the language and study prerequisites, so those with German heritage and interest in learning more about the Franco-German “Special Relationship” are also eligible to apply.

1. Viticulture and Enology (Hochschule RheinMain)

Riesling Grapes from Rheinland-Pfalz


If you’ve visited the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties in California and wondered how you might be able to one day start your own, this is a good place to start. According to the director of the Viniculture Studies at Hochschule RheinMain, the most important qualification for application is an appreciation of the product, and the second year in the program is spent entirely in cultivation of the student grapevines, which are later tested and enjoyed in class. This program also offers a joint degree with universities in France, Italy, and Spain, giving participants the chance to enjoy all the variety of European wine while studying.

In total, German universities offer nearly 18,000 study programs, with courses designed to prepare students for jobs in the natural sciences, medicine, law, engineering, the social sciences, the humanities, education, and nearly any other imaginable profession. These are just a few interesting outliers. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out the searchable database at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) or go to the fantastic Study in Germany website for more general information on studying in Germany in bite-sized chunks.

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