Skip to content

Online Master’s in General Studies, Liberal Studies, and Liberal Arts Degree Programs

Master’s in general and liberal studies and liberal arts programs represent an alternative to master’s programs that focus narrowly on a particular academic discipline or professional field of practice. They provide students with an opportunity to cultivate general research methods, advanced writing and communication skills, and tools for critical analysis while studying across a range of subjects in the arts, humanities, and social and physical sciences. Master’s programs with a liberal studies, liberal arts, or general studies curriculum emphasize interdisciplinary research and learning, encouraging students to integrate theories and methodologies from various disciplines and to develop skills that have broad professional and academic applications.

What Is a Master’s Degree in General Studies, Liberal Studies, or Liberal Arts?

A master’s degree in general studies, liberal studies, or liberal arts is a graduate degree with an interdisciplinary curriculum that draws broadly from the arts, humanities, and sciences. Students in these programs learn general analytical and communication skills that are applied in the conduct of academic research at the graduate level, and in the formal presentation of research findings. These programs are typically self-directed in that students choose areas for interdisciplinary studies and take a variety of complementary courses in the arts, humanities, and sciences under the direction of an academic advisor. Prior to graduating from a master’s in general or liberal studies program, students typically must complete a capstone project or final research paper in which they coherently integrate knowledge from their areas of study.

Online Master’s in Liberal Arts Programs

A number of accredited, non-profit colleges and universities offer students the option of earning a master’s degree in general studies, liberal studies, or liberal arts through programs that provide all or most of their instruction online. These programs utilize learning management systems (LMSs), which are online platforms that support the streaming of live and/or pre-recorded lectures, student discussion groups, and other instructional activities. Students in an online program can typically contact instructors and access library and other academic support services through a program’s LMS. While many online programs do not require students to attend any campus-based instructional sessions, some program require a limited number of campus visits (one or two per year). does not list programs that require students to attend more than two campus visits per year.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Master’s in Liberal Studies and Liberal Arts Programs researches academic programs and identifies online programs that offered by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. Programs offered by for-profit schools, programs that lack institutional accreditation, and programs that require students to attend more than two campus-based sessions per year are not listed on the site. Online programs are then grouped based on their degree level and their curriculum.

The programs classified as online master’s in liberal studies, liberal arts, and general studies programs must offer graduate coursework in the arts, humanities, and social and physical sciences as part of an integrated curriculum that provides students with academic research and writing skills. Some programs have designated concentrations or specializations, while others are designed to allow students to select from among an array of electives in various fields after completing several core courses in liberal studies and integrated graduate research methods. Among the formal designations for the types of programs that provide this type of curriculum are the following:

  • Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)
  • Master of Liberal Studies (MLS)
  • Master of Liberal Arts (MLA)
  • Master of Interdisciplinary Studies (MIS)
  • Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS)
  • Master of Humanities (MH)

What Students Learn in Online Master’s in Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies Programs

Master’s-level programs in liberal arts and liberal studies offer broad and flexible curricula that allow students to tailor the degree based on their personal goals and interests. As a result, the coursework completed by a student while earning a master’s degree in liberal arts by program and by student. However, these programs typically require students to complete several core courses that cover general skills and competencies in humanities and social science research methodologies, academic writing and professional communication, and approaches to critical analysis in the context of interdisciplinary studies. Core requirements may also include courses that delve into relevant cultural, social, and scientific issues, as well as trends in philosophy, literature, media, and politics.

In additional to core courses, students in online master’s in liberal studies programs typically complete elective courses in areas of their choosing, exploring specific topics in the art, humanities, and sciences, including but not limited to communication and media studies, literature, history and international affairs, and religion and politics. Some programs may offer concentrations in areas such as world literature, American studies, media and communication, leadership, digital humanities, and other liberal studies fields, while other allows students to create their own specialized area of interdisciplinary studies. The aim is for students to cultivate a deep body of cross-disciplinary knowledge that may then be applied to a final project. Indeed, many online master’s in liberal arts programs culminate with a capstone project, research paper, or portfolio presentation in which students demonstrate their command of the subjects they have explored in the program.

Online Master’s in Liberal Arts and Studies Courses

As noted above, the specific courses students may take in an online master’s in general studies program are dependent on several factors, including the types of courses offered online by the program and the specific interests of the student. The table below draws on actual online master’s programs that offer an interdisciplinary liberal arts curriculum. It provides a representative overview of the types of courses student may complete while earning a master’s degree in liberal arts.

Course TitleCourse Description
Writing About Social IssuesA survey of contemporary research and writing in sociology, political science, and other social sciences about social issues with a focus on how to present evidence, write clearly, and form persuasive arguments.
Ethics, Science, and CultureAn interdisciplinary exploration of ethical concerns surrounding scientific advances and the cultural impact of science on society.
Film, Television, and Mass MediaAn examination of how film, television, and other types of mass media reflect trends in our culture and impact the ways in which we see the world.
Interdisciplinary Graduate Research MethodsAn overview of various approaches and guidelines to conducting interdisciplinary research in the liberal arts and humanities, including an in-depth examination of different types of primary and secondary source materials.
Markup Languages for Humanities ResearchStudents learn how to use markup languages such as XML and (X)HTML to examine primary source documents on digital platforms and how to develop their own approach to research in the digital humanities.
Ethics for a Multicultural WorldThe application of philosophical ideas to a critical examination of decision processes and the biases than can affect scholarly work in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
Gender and MediaAn examination of how gender is discusses and portrayed in the modern media environment with a focus on common representations of gender and sex and the dynamics between sex, gender, media, and power.
Ideas of JusticeA survey of the political philosophies, religious doctrines, and cultural factors that inform our ideas about justice, fairness, equality, and human rights.
The Problem of EvilA philosophical exploration of morality and ethics in the context of evil, with a focus on critically examining various conceptions of good and evil over the course of history and in the contemporary world.
Social Brain, Moral Mind A multidisciplinary examination of socialization and morality using research and theories from cultural anthropology, social psychology, moral psychology, and neuroethics.
Pilgrimage, Travel, and TourismAn historical survey of religious pilgrimage, its meaning, and its relation to travel and tourism in the contemporary world.

Admissions to Online Master’s in Liberal and Interdisciplinary Studies Programs

The baseline eligibility requirement for admission to online master’s in liberal arts and studies programs is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs may prefer or require applicants with a minimum cumulative undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 2.5, 3.0, or higher on a four-point scale. In addition to furnishing undergraduate transcripts, some programs require additional materials, such as GRE test scores, two or three letters of recommendation, answers to one or more essay questions, and/or a short personal goals statement. It is important to note that admissions requirements vary by program. Potential applicants should review a program’s requirements and submission deadlines carefully to ensure their application is filed properly.

Online Master’s in Liberal Arts Program Formats

Not all online programs are the same. There are several important differences in program format and structure that potential applicants to online master’s in liberal arts programs may want to consider prior to submitting applications. For example, some online master’s programs require students to attend a limited number of on-campus sessions, while others do not require campus visits. Similarly, some programs require students to carry a full-time course load, while others offer flexible and part-time enrollment options. There are also two main types of online instruction: synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction. These factors are addressed separately in the sections below.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous instruction takes place in real time and requires students to be logged on to a program’s online instructional platform at specific times in order to view lectures and participate in class activities. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component and allows students to access lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. Students who prefer an online learning environment that more closely resembles campus-based classes may want to look for an online program that utilizes synchronous instruction. Students who have the self-motivation and self-discipline to keep up with lectures and coursework in the absence of set class times may prefer a program that utilizes asynchronous instruction, which offers more flexibility than synchronous instruction.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Many online master’s in liberal arts and liberal studies programs are designed to accommodate students who have jobs or other significant commitments outside of school. However, some programs may require full-time enrollment, which typically means spending a considerable amount of time per week on coursework while school is in session. An advantage to enrolling full-time in a master’s program is that the program can typically be completed in one to two years. Many online programs have flexible or part-time enrollment options that allow students to take fewer courses per term, thereby reducing the number of hours per week required for schoolwork. While part-time enrollment may be preferable to some students, it can lengthen the time takes to earn a master’s degree by a year or more.

Campus Visits: does not list master’s in liberal arts programs that require students to attend more than two campus visits per year, and there are many online programs that do not require any campus-based instruction. However, some online programs require students to attend one or two campus sessions per year. These sessions may include orientations, lectures, workshops, research seminars, and other learning activities, and typically affords opportunities for face-to-face interactions with instructors and fellow students. While campus visits can be a valuable addition to an online master’s program, they require travel and students may incur expenses in addition to a program’s tuition while attending campus-based sessions. As with other program format variations mentioned above, campus visits are a factor that potential applicants to online master’s in liberal studies programs should be aware of and may want to take into consideration when choosing an online program.