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Online Bachelor's in General and Liberal Studies Degree Programs (Liberal Arts Major)

General studies and liberal studies are academic designations that apply to a pedagogical approach and philosophy of higher education that emphasizes broad, interdisciplinary learning across academic fields and disciplines, as opposed to focusing on a specific field of study (e.g., business, chemistry, English). Most bachelor’s degree programs incorporate elements of a liberal arts curriculum in the form of general education requirements. General education coursework is meant to encourage students, regardless of their major, to cultivate a solid foundation of writing, research, critical thinking, and qualitative and quantitative reasoning skills through required and elective courses in the arts, humanities, and social and physical sciences. Bachelor’s in general or liberal studies programs give students the option of continuing this type of multi-disciplinary mode of study as an academic major instead of majoring in a single field or discipline.

What Is a Bachelor’s in General or Liberal Studies Program?

A bachelor’s in general studies program is an undergraduate program that confers a bachelor’s degree and that allows students to major in general or liberal studies rather than in a particular discipline like English, history, economics, mathematics, biology, psychology, or art history. Liberal studies majors typically complete advanced undergraduate coursework in a number of fields, study cultural, social, and/or scientific issues and trends, and strive to integrate what they have learned into a coherent body of knowledge.

Students in these programs may be required to take one or more core courses in humanities research methods, writing and communication, and/or scientific methods, as well as to complete a certain number of courses in specific academic disciplines or divisions, such as literature, history, social and behavioral sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics. However, much of the coursework associated with a bachelor’s in general studies curriculum is typically elective in nature, allowing students to engage in a self-directed plan of study under the guidance of an academic counselor.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Bachelor’s in General and Liberal Studies Programs

Through independent research of program curricula and formats, identifies bachelor’s in general studies programs that offer all or most of their coursework via distance-learning technologies. To be listed on the site, programs must be offered by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities; they must offer all of their coursework online or require no more than two campus visits per year; and they must provide students with a major that is interdisciplinary in nature and that incorporates coursework from a variety of arts, humanities, and social and physical science disciplines. These programs may go by a number of formal academic designations, including:

  • Bachelor of Arts in General Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies
  • Bachelor of Liberal Arts
  • Bachelor of Science in General Studies
  • Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies

Note: Some online bachelor’s in general and liberal studies programs are bachelor’s completion programs. A bachelor’s completion program is a program designed for students who have already earned college credits through an associate degree program or prior enrollment in a bachelor’s degree program. These programs provide eligible students with the coursework necessary to finish their bachelor’s degree requirements in liberal studies or general studies. For more information on these types of programs, refer to our FAQ on Online Bachelor’s Completion Programs.

What Students Learn in Online Bachelor’s in General and Liberal Studies Programs

By design, the specific plan of study for an individual student in a bachelor’s program with a general studies curriculum varies based on the courses selected by the student. However, most online bachelor’s programs provide students with a framework or guidelines that outline the type and number of courses required to successfully complete the program. Students may be required to take several core liberal studies seminars in addition to a program’s general education requirements in order to prepare for upper division coursework that will determine the focus of their major.

Most programs then require students to select a number of courses that fall into several categories, such as culture and arts, literature and humanities, natural and physical sciences, philosophy and religion, social and behavioral sciences, and writing and communication. Programs may also offer designated liberal studies courses that take an interdisciplinary approach to a particular subject or issue. Students are thus encouraged to synthesize concepts, theories, and methodologies from numerous fields and to cultivate the research, writing, and communication skills necessary for interdisciplinary academic studies.

Some online bachelor’s in liberal studies programs may give students the option of choosing a concentration in areas such as arts and humanities, business and leadership, media and communication, international relations, and science and technology. Some programs also allow students to choose a minor in relevant field or focus area. However, the stated purpose of most bachelor’s in general and liberal studies programs is to encourage students to take advanced courses in a variety of areas rather than specializing in a narrow field of study or discipline.

Online Bachelor’s in General and Liberal Studies Courses

As noted above, there are variations in the courses typically taken by students earning a bachelor’s degree in general studies. The table below is intended to provide a representative overview of the types of courses commonly offered by online bachelor’s programs in liberal studies.

Course TitleCourse Description
Dimensions of Liberal StudiesThe concepts and methods of liberal studies with a focus on modes of inquiry, tools for critical analysis, and academic writing and presentation skills.
General Studies SeminarAn introduction to cross-disciplinary studies and to the application of advanced analysis methods and critical theories of human and social inquiry.
Communication in the Electronic AgeAn examination of contemporary communication technologies and media platforms, their impact on society, and their implications for the future of mass media.
Immigration and Ethnicity in the United StatesThe ethnic and social consequences of international migration with a focus on the US economy, American culture and society, and the immigrant experience at various points in American history.
Global Awareness and Cultural UnderstandingAn exploration of cultural and social differences and the practice of integrating knowledge and perspectives from multiple sources in order to better understand global issues.
The Psychology of Critical ThinkingThe use of logic and other tools to systematically critique academic research and media reports, with a focus on correlation, causation, common biases, and methods of persuasion.
Reading American CultureAn introduction to the field of American cultural studies through an interdisciplinary examination of discrete periods in the American past using traditional historical accounts as well as visual representation (art, photography, and film), music, commercial products, built environments, and political discourse.
Survey of MathematicsThe practical application of mathematical concepts and skills to understanding and solving real-world problems and interpreting and explaining complicated concepts.
Humanities and CultureAn exploration of human social and cultural life, including artistic representations, religious beliefs, and the economic and historical realities that create cultural identity and contribute to the human experience.

Admissions to Online Bachelor’s Programs in General and Liberal Studies

The primary eligibility requirement for admissions to an online bachelor’s in general studies program is a high school diploma or the equivalent. In addition to high school transcripts, programs may require applicants to submit standardized admission test scores (typically the SAT), letters of recommendation or references, and/or a written essay or statement of purpose. As with many campus-based undergraduate programs, some online bachelor’s in general studies programs may request in-person or videoconference interviews with qualified candidates for admissions. In addition, programs that are designated as bachelor’s completion programs typically require applicants to hold an associate degree or up to two years of transferable college credits (i.e., as many as 60 or more eligible undergraduate credits). Potential applicants to online bachelor’s programs should examine each program’s admissions policies and requirements carefully prior to submitting applications.

Online Bachelor’s in General and Liberal Studies Program Formats

While most online bachelor’s programs are designed to accommodate a broad range of students who may have professional careers or be working full-time, there are several variations in program format and structure that potential applicants may want to consider in advance. There are, for example, two different modes of online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous instruction. There are also programs that require full-time enrollment; programs that have part-time enrollment; and programs with flexible enrollment policies that allow students to carry a part-time or a full-time course load. Finally, while many online bachelor’s programs do not require students to attend any campus-based classes, some programs require a limited number of campus visits, which may include orientation sessions, research seminars, and professional development workshops. These factors are addressed in greater detail below.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous instruction is analogous to traditional classroom-based instruction in that it takes places in real time and requires students to be logged on to an online program’s learning management system (LMS) for regularly scheduled lectures and other instructional activities. In contrast, asynchronous instruction allows students to access videotaped lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. Asynchronous instruction is thus a more flexible mode of online instruction, whereas synchronous instruction provides a more structured online learning experience. Due to the fact that both methods of online instruction have certain advantages, prospective students should look for programs with the type of instruction best aligns with their preferred style of learning.

Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: A typical bachelor’s degree program takes full-time students eight semesters or roughly four years to complete, which means spending up to 40 hours per week on schoolwork while classes are in session. Some online bachelor’s in general and liberal studies require full-time enrollment and some types of financial aid may require students to earn a certain number of credits per term in order to qualify for student loans, scholarships, and other types of financial assistance. However, many online programs have flexible and part-time enrollment options, allowing students who would prefer to spend less time per week on coursework (15 to 20 hours) to take fewer classes per semester. Part-time enrollment may be a good option for students who have work and other commitments outside of school, but it can lengthen the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree by several semesters.

Campus Visits: While many online bachelor’s in liberal studies programs do not require students to attend any campus-based sessions in order to earn their degree, some programs incorporate campus visits into their instructional curriculum. Campus visits can last a weekend or a week to ten days and may include a variety of learning activities, including lectures, workshops, and seminars. By giving students opportunities to meet fact-to-face with instructors and interact in-person with other students, they can enrich the online learning experience. However, campus visits require travel and may cause scheduling conflicts for some students. They may also add travel and lodging expenses to the overall cost of earning a degree. does not list programs that require more than two campus visits per year. Potential applicants to online bachelor’s in general studies programs should examine program requirements carefully prior to submitting applications to ensure they are clear on a program’s graduation requirements.