Best Online Master’s in Liberal Arts Programs

Although programs in the liberal arts, also known as liberal studies or general studies, do not offer hands-on training and industry specializations, they do prepare students to enter the workforce. Earning an online master’s degree in liberal arts allows students to develop the critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and persuasive communication skills needed to succeed in any profession. These programs also allow students to complete coursework that specifically aligns with their personal interests and career goals.

Master’s of liberal arts online programs were originally designed for educators but now prepare students for positions across many industries, including healthcare services and business operations, fields that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects to grow by 20% and 27% respectively from 2016 to 2026. According to The New York Times and Forbes, tech companies like Google consistently hire liberal arts majors.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost % Enrolled Online Location Description
1 Johns Hopkins University RANKING SCORE 78.00 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 47% LOCATION Baltimore, MD

The online master’s degree in liberal arts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, is an interdisciplinary program designed for students who want to learn about subjects in a wide variety of disciplines. Johns Hopkins created the MLA program in 1962, making it the first of its kind in the United States. The non-traditional master of liberal arts asks students to broaden their base of knowledge throughout the program, rather than to become more and more specialized in a particular subject, as is typical for most graduate programs. The curriculum draws from many departments across campus, including literature, philosophy, religion, history, and music.

The MLA is available fully online. New students may begin in the fall, spring, or summer term. An academic advisor helps each student to tailor the degree based on their own particular interests and goals. Distance learners need to take 10 courses in order to graduate, including a capstone experience at the end of the program. This capstone could entail an internship, portfolio, or graduate project.

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2 Stony Brook University RANKING SCORE 71.26 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 25% LOCATION Stony Brook, NY

Stony Brook University offers many distance education options, including a master of arts in liberal studies online. The program explores issues from an interdisciplinary perspective and provides ample professional development and enrichment opportunities. The program is designed for working professionals who take courses on a part-time basis. The liberal studies MA curriculum includes subjects in the social and behavioral sciences, the arts and humanities, and natural sciences.

Stony Brook’s 33-credit master of arts in liberal studies is available fully online with no in-person component. Asynchronous courses allow distance learners to complete classwork around their work and family schedules. Online students are eligible for numerous financial aid opportunities, including student loans, scholarships, and grants. Internships, field experiences, and service learning are among the experiential learning opportunities open to distance students. The program is not designed as a prerequisite degree for further study.

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3 Rutgers University - New Brunswick RANKING SCORE 63.99 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 20% LOCATION New Brunswick, NJ

Founded in 1766, Rutgers University is the eighth-oldest institution of higher education in the U.S. The school has grown into a significant public research university. The school, which is located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, offers several distance education programs, including a master of liberal arts online. The program provides students with an interdisciplinary point of view, drawing from history, literature, philosophy, and social science. Instructors in the MLA program are experts in their respective fields.

The master of arts in liberal studies at Rutgers is a fully online degree featuring small class size and extensive interaction with instructors and fellow classmates. Students can choose to attend part-time or full-time, and classes are offered year-round, with program start dates in fall, spring, and summer. Online learners benefit from one-on-one assistance from enrollment and executive coaches. These advisors help learners achieve academic success by addressing issues like enrollment, time management, financial planning, and study habits.

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4 University of Illinois at Springfield RANKING SCORE 63.39 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 67% LOCATION Springfield, IL

The online master’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois Springfield allows distance students to create an individualized, interdisciplinary degree plan. Designed for learners who want flexibility and freedom, the master of arts in liberal and integrative studies lets students tailor their curriculum to best suit their own individual interests and career goals. Independent study, self-assessment, and credit for prior learning experiences are all options available to individuals in this program. Each student’s degree proposal must include an area of focus. Sample areas of focus include African American studies, gender studies, technology, human resource development, or global education. The program culminates in either a master’s thesis or master’s project.

To be admitted to the MA in liberal and integrative studies program, applicants need to have a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit two letters of reference. The program is competitive and there are few spots available for prospective students.

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5 Excelsior College RANKING SCORE 62.29 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 100% LOCATION Albany, NY

Distance students seeking to earn a master of liberal arts online may consider the program at Excelsior College in Albany, New York. The MA in liberal studies includes coursework in cultural studies, writing, research, ethics, humanities, leadership, and global issues. Distance learners take interdisciplinary courses like the search for meaning and identity in the contemporary world and humanity and the cosmos. Graduates work in diverse fields such as education to management.

Students in the master’s in liberal studies program complete either a master’s thesis or master’s capstone. Students in the thesis option work with the guidance of Ph.D faculty to complete a paper on a topic of choice. The capstone option requires learners to complete an eight-week capstone course. The entire 33-credit MA is available completely online. Students who choose the thesis option can transfer up to 15 previously earned graduate credits into the program.

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6 Texas Christian University RANKING SCORE 59.83 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 20% LOCATION Fort Worth, TX

Founded in 1873, Texas Christian University is a private university located in Fort Worth, Texas. The school offers a fully online master’s degree in liberal arts that never requires students to come to campus. The main goal of the program is to help learners to expand their knowledge and to give them a chance to study the subjects and issues that truly interest them. Rather than focusing in on one subject area, the degree encourages students to expand their knowledge in many topics.

The master of liberal arts is multidisciplinary, drawing from a wide range of fields. Distance learners can choose from 57 different courses, including contemporary religious ethics, the abortion debate, the wild West, and ecological principles of the Earth. Students must complete 30 credits to graduate, including 12 credits of courses in perspectives on society. The program does not ask learners to complete a thesis. Most distance learners finish the degree in two to three years. For graduation, students must have a minimum 2.75 GPA.

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7 University of North Carolina Wilmington RANKING SCORE 57.96 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 42% LOCATION Wilmington, NC

The University of North Carolina Wilmington first opened its doors in 1947. The school offers a master of arts in liberal studies for working professionals and military members. All master of liberal arts online students must enroll in two specific courses: contemporary issues in liberal studies and a final project capstone course. All other credits are divided into three thematic categories: literature, art and society; environment, science, and society; and social concerns and cultural systems. Available courses include the social organization of cruelty, postmodern childhood, and shamanism. Students also have the option of taking a directed independent study under the supervision of a faculty member.

For admission, applicants must have a bachelor’s from a regionally accredited college or university and a minimum 3.0 GPA. The program accepts up to six previously earned graduate-level transfer credits. Students must complete the 30-credit MA within five years. To graduate, students should maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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8 SUNY College at Brockport RANKING SCORE 57.33 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 45% LOCATION Brockport, NY

The College at Brockport is a part of the famous State University of New York system. The school offers a fully online master’s degree in liberal arts designed for working adults who have other responsibilities like full-time jobs or family obligations. The asynchronous program allows students to study on their own schedule. Students do not need to attend any on-campus courses in order to meet program requirements. All distance learners create their own program of study, with course options in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and fine arts.

The 30-credit master of arts in liberal studies features a high degree of experiential learning, including internships and service learning projects. Support services for online learners include 24/7 technical support, one-on-one tutoring, and a personal concierge. The school may grant credit for prior learning experiences gained on the job training, work history, or formal education.

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9 Dallas Baptist University RANKING SCORE 53.24 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 43% LOCATION Dallas, TX

Dallas Baptist University is a Christian liberal arts university established in 1898. The school’s master of arts in liberal studies online is interdisciplinary and flexible, with course offerings in the humanities, arts, political science, regional studies, history, Christian studies, English, and education. Some courses require a field-based service-learning component.

Students must complete 30 credit hours in order to graduate. All students in the program must complete two three-credit courses: human beliefs and actions, and Western heritage and Christianity. After completing these two core courses, students can choose an interdisciplinary track or a single discipline track. Those who choose the interdisciplinary option complete 24 credit hours of any DBU graduate courses. Those who select the single discipline track earn 18 credits in their chosen concentration and six elective credits in any discipline. Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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10 McDaniel College RANKING SCORE 52.56 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 41% LOCATION Westminster, MD

The self-designed master of liberal arts at McDaniel College dates back to 1933. The program encourages students to explore the academic subjects and issues that most interest them, while at the same time improving their communication and critical thinking skills. The focus of the MLA program is the final project, in which students work one-on-one with a faculty member to create a thesis paper, novel, or some other creative project.

Distance learners can complete the degree without ever travelling to campus. Class sizes are small so that all learners can receive individual attention. The program also allows students to earn the continuing professional development credits needed to meet the recertification requirements of the Pennsylvania State Department of Education and Maryland State Department of Education. Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and three letters of recommendation.

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11 Arizona State University - Tempe RANKING SCORE 52.53 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 95% LOCATION Tempe, AZ

Recognized as the nation’s most innovative school by U.S. News and World Report, Arizona State University boasts Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners among its faculty. The school offers dozens of distance learning programs, including the master of arts in liberal studies online. Students in the program explore human values and ideas using a multidisciplinary approach. Course options include politics, religion, humanities, science, and culture. The master of liberal studies program features many areas of emphasis, including: science, nature, and creative nonfiction writing; gender, religion, and culture; and borders, migration, health, and cultural identity.

The 30-credit, ten-course curriculum includes seven-and-a-half week sessions with multiple start times each year. Students take nine core credits, 18 elective credits, and a three-credit culminating experience. To encourage learners to adopt a multidisciplinary point of view, no more than nine of the 18 elective credits can come from the same department. Core courses explore issues like film and media, writing about social issues, and ethics in science. Applicants must have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credit hours of a bachelor’s degree program.

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12 Baker University RANKING SCORE 50.18 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 42% LOCATION Baldwin City, KS

Located in Baldwin City, Kansas, Baker University offers a 36-credit master of liberal arts online that students can earn in 18 to 24 months. The master of liberal arts develops skills like critical thinking, analysis, communication, and synthesis. The self-designed program lets students customize their educational experience by choosing classes that align with their interests. Liberal arts courses come from three main subject areas: natural and social sciences, creative arts, and history and ideas.

Students also have the option of selecting an area of concentration in one of the following subjects: gender studies, management and leadership, history and ideas, creative arts, and natural and social sciences. Baker does not require MLA students to write a thesis. Instead, students complete a portfolio that documents their learning throughout the program. Online classes last seven weeks each and are available year-round. Applicants should hold a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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13 Clayton State University RANKING SCORE 44.95 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 26% LOCATION Morrow, GA

Clayton State University offers a master of arts in liberal studies online program for students who want to pursue graduate study but find most master’s programs to be too restricted and specialized. Designed for individuals looking to expand their education beyond the parameters of traditional graduate study, the MALS program is interdisciplinary and features faculty members from a variety of departments across campus. Perspectives from the social sciences, math, arts, and the humanities are all explored in the curriculum. The program gives students a better understanding of the relationships between ideas, disciplines, and historical developments.

Notable courses include studies in African American literature and culture, history of the American South, and applied algebra. All students also choose a concentration in one of the following areas: history, English, math, political science, philosophy, and liberal arts. The 36-credit degree requires distance learners to complete six credits of either a thesis or culminating project.

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14 Thomas Edison State University RANKING SCORE 44.91 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 100% LOCATION Trenton, NJ

Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, New Jersey, offers a 36-credit master of arts in liberal studies online program designed for working professionals. The entire program can be completed online in 18 months, with each term lasting 12 weeks. Students in the master of arts in liberal studies program can design their own area of study or choose from the following concentrations: industrial organizational psychology, professional communications, online learning and teaching, digital humanities, and geropsychology.

Each concentration focuses on making connections between liberal studies and the student’s career. Core courses include technology and the human community; change, conflict, and resolution; and the liberal arts and professional life. Students complete 18 credits in the core area, 12 in their area of study, and six in the MALS capstone. To be admitted to the program, applicants should have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75 and three to five years of relevant work experience.

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15 Albertus Magnus College RANKING SCORE 40.18 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 28% LOCATION New Haven, CT

Albertus Magnus College is a private, Catholic liberal arts college located in New Haven, Connecticut. Its master of liberal arts online program focuses on the context behind works of art. To graduate from the program, students must earn 33 credits. While most of the program is self-directed, all students complete two courses examining culture and civilization. Everyone in the program completes a faculty-supervised final project, which can be a traditional thesis, a creative work, or a combination of the two.

Individuals who earn a cumulative 3.9 GPA or higher and an A in the strategic management capstone course are eligible to graduate with honors. Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, a minimum cumulative 2.8 GPA, a Connecticut driver’s license or DMV-issued photo ID, two letters of recommendation, and a written essay. AMC will accept up to six graduate transfer credits towards the master of arts in liberal studies degree.

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Master of arts in liberal studies online programs standardize certain parts of their curricula, including core and capstone requirements, to maintain industry and government accreditation. However, liberal arts programs vary widely beyond these shared characteristics, providing students with ample options to find the right degree for their long-term professional goals. Prospective students should research each potential program to ensure that each is compatible in terms of professional goals, schedule, and budget.

Curriculum for an Online Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts

  • Liberal and Integrative Studies: This course is central to most liberal arts programs and covers theories, resources, and skills needed for students to become autonomous and self-directed learners. It is usually structured as a colloquium, where students create their own study plan and develop research ideas with help from peers and faculty.
  • Independent Study: One of the main reasons students choose to earn a master’s of liberal arts online is for the freedom to pursue academic and professional experiences that suit their interests. During an independent study, students propose a class, research project, or internship outside the school’s offerings, which is especially useful for professionals in new or interdisciplinary fields.
  • Bioethics: The course covers the history and philosophy of biomedicine and related moral concerns, preparing students for careers in the health sciences and related fields. Topics include cloning, human-assisted suicide, and in vitro fertilization.
  • Food and Politics: In this course, students explore the ethical concerns and race, class, and gender inequalities related to the production and consumption of food. Topics include the history and development of agriculture, the supermarket and mass consumerism, and governmental policies. This interdisciplinary class is especially useful for aspiring nutritionists, community activists, and urban developers.
  • The Harlem Renaissance: In this class, students analyze the first major black intellectual and artistic movement in the United States. Coursework covers historical precedents and the socioeconomic consequences of the movement. This course is useful for teachers, academics, and creatives, though all professionals benefit from understanding the movement’s lasting impacts.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s in Liberal Arts?

Most master’s of liberal arts online programs require students to complete at least 30 credits, which usually takes two years. While most online classes are delivered asynchronously, some programs offer synchronous courses. Asynchronous courses are self-paced, allowing students to progress through the program on their own schedule. Cohort-based programs typically offer synchronous classes, which require students to complete courses in a fixed sequence. Students in cohort-based programs progress through coursework with a small group of peers. This is ideal for part-time students, although it can extend the duration of the program.

Accreditation standards dictate some course and practicum requirements, which also affect degree completion time. However, the interdisciplinary nature of liberal studies programs makes them quite flexible, and most schools are able to accommodate all students’ needs. Those who want to graduate quickly should choose an online master’s degree in liberal arts program that offers individually-paced classes, accelerated courses, and summer sessions.

Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Liberal Arts Prepares For

An online master’s degree in liberal arts prepares students for careers in many different fields. However, there aren’t any professional certifications or licenses specifically for liberal studies graduates. Liberal arts students can still pursue training and professional development opportunities in their chosen discipline. Students should discuss certification and licensure options with their academic advisor to determine the best fit based on their career goals.

Common credentials for liberal arts majors include the Project Management Professional certificate for business professionals, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional for IT specialists, and the myriad of licenses available to professionals in psychology and mental health counseling.

Accreditation is crucial to ensuring that employers recognize degrees as legitimate. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee national accrediting bodies. Six organizations award regional accreditation, which requires schools to meet academic and professional standards. Though field-specific accreditation for liberal arts programs is relatively new, some programs hold recognition from professional organizations such as the American Academy for Liberal Education.

In exchange for working with the ED and CHEA on academic and extracurricular standardizations, schools receive access to government funding and other resources. The ED ensures that higher education outcomes reach thresholds defined by the national government. Founded in 1996, CHEA is a private nonprofit with more than 3,000 member institutions. CHEA advocates for member rights through research, education programs, and policy advancement. Visit the ED and CHEA websites for lists of nationally accredited colleges and universities.

Master’s in Liberal Arts Salary

The table below highlights possible careers for graduates from master’s of liberal arts online programs. Salaries generally increase with experience, reflecting the development of professional skills. Education and professional training can also impact salary, especially for professionals in design, research, and engineering. These figures represent the salaries earned by professionals with at least a master’s degree.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Nonprofit Program Coordinator $40,716 $39,511 $43,174 $49,405
Instructional Designer $60,939 $55,923 $64,822 $75,187
Clinical Research Associate $62,595 $60,436 $70,815 $83,819
Communications Director $72,189 $52,134 $69,000 $88,332
JOB TITLE $81,981 $76,534 $88,840 $106,354

Master’s in Liberal Arts Careers

The list of careers below illustrates the breadth of fields and industries graduates with an online master’s in liberal arts can pursue. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the degree, liberal arts students have varied personalities and work philosophies. Those who enjoy working as part of a team may prefer careers as teachers or managers, while those who prefer to work independently may enjoy careers as analysts or environmental scientists. Artists may work as part of a design team or in secure remote, self-directed positions.

Multimedia Artist

These professionals work in teams to design, animate, and edit graphics and illustrations for marketing organizations, film studios, and video game companies. They work with clients and directors to ensure products meet aesthetic and professional standards. Multimedia artists usually hold at least a bachelor’s degree and specialize in a particular medium.

Median Annual Salary: $65,300

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Environmental Specialist

Working to protect human health and the environment, these professionals conduct research and data collection for surveys, projects, and investigations. They enact policy changes within a company or government agency to reduce waste and clean up polluted areas. Environmental specialists must have advanced scientific and leadership training and typically hold at least a master’s degree.

Median Annual Salary: $68,910

Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Postsecondary Teacher

These educators work in colleges, universities, and other postsecondary institutions. They instruct students on career, academic, and technical subjects, while also conducting and publishing their own research. Most postsecondary teachers hold at least a master’s degree. Tenure-track positions typically require a doctorate and years of professional experience.

Median Annual Salary: $75,430

Projected Growth Rate: 15%

Health Services Manager

These professionals work in teams to plan, coordinate, and lead medical services operations. Some work in a specific clinical field or medical practice, and others manage entire facilities. In addition to holding an advanced degree and significant work experience, health service managers must be able to adapt to rapidly changing policies and technological developments in healthcare.

Median Annual Salary: $96,540

Projected Growth Rate: 20%

Operations Research Analyst

Using advanced analytical methods and software, operations research analysts help businesses and organizations solve problems and implement strategic and financial plans. Many analysts work in teams and facilitate communication between employees and management. Most analyst positions require a graduate degree, and some require skill- or industry-specific training.

Median Annual Salary: $79,200

Projected Growth Rate: 27%

Professional Organizations

Students earning a master’s of liberal arts online can supplement their studies and professional training by joining a professional organization. Membership in one of these organization’s provides students with access to resources that can improve their career opportunities. Many professional organizations host conferences and networking events as well as offer research support and funding, job boards, webinars, and training programs.

  • American Academy for Liberal Education: AALE is the primary professional body for liberal arts studies in the U.S. The organization accredits liberal arts programs and publishes the Liberal Education Matters magazine.
  • Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs: Founded in 1975, AGLSP advocates for graduate interdisciplinary education. The association holds an annual conference and offers member benefits, including writing awards, research discussion, and a national honor society.
  • Alliance for Liberal Learning: Established in 2015, ALL advocates for the expansion and integration of liberal arts education in the U.S. through event sponsorship, conferences, research discussion, online seminars, and training programs.
  • Association for General and Liberal Studies: AGLP provides academic and career development services for students and professionals in general education and the liberal arts. Members receive access to conference discounts, awards and scholarships, and a career services center that includes a job board.
  • National Association for Graduate-Professional Students: NAGPS is the country’s only organization that advocates specifically for the rights of graduate and professional students. Members receive discounts on insurance and professional services and have access to academic resources such as scholarships and dissertation support.

According to the Center for Financial Inclusion, U.S. student loan debt increased 75% between 2004 and 2014. As a result, students pursuing an online master’s degree in liberal arts should consider all financial aid options to lower the cost of their education. The first step for every students should be completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal financial aid through awards and student loans. Other funding opportunities are available through private organizations such as the Beinecke Scholarship and the United Negro College Fund.


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