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.

What are the best liberal arts programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
2 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
3 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
4 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Newark, NJ
5 Arizona State University Scottsdale, AZ
6 University of Oklahoma Norman, OK
7 Texas Christian University Fort Worth, TX
8 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC
9 University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington, NC
10 The College at Brockport Brockport, NY

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.

2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Liberal Arts Programs

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 98%

Harvard's Extension School offers master's in liberal arts degrees across more than 20 subjects in arts, business, education, environmental sustainability, global studies, life sciences, social sciences, and technology.

Students can take classes online or on campus, and all graduates can walk at Harvard's traditional commencement ceremony. The program includes a thesis requirement that gives students the opportunity to complete and present a self-designed research project.

To qualify for admission, prospective students must earn satisfactory grades in 2-3 initial classes. They can then complete the remaining 10-12 courses in their program, typically graduating within two years. All students pay the same tuition, regardless of where they live.


Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 93%

Johns Hopkins' online master's in liberal arts program offers a flexible curriculum that students can tailor to match their interests and career goals. The 10-course program features one interdisciplinary core class, with the remaining courses consisting of electives. Students also take a capstone course, completing a portfolio, graduate project, or internship.

Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited postsecondary institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students also need to submit a 2-3-page essay, a resume, and official college transcripts. Individuals who have completed graduate-level liberal arts coursework may qualify for advanced standing.

Students may begin the program in the fall, spring, or summer, and most participants graduate in 12-24 months. All master's in liberal arts students pay the same tuition, even if they live outside Maryland.


Stony Brook University

Stony Brook, NY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 74%

An interdisciplinary program spanning the arts, social sciences, and natural sciences, Stony Brook's online master's degree in liberal studies gives students considerable flexibility regarding the courses they take.

The 33-credit, two-year program serves working adults who wish to attend graduate school part time. All coursework takes place online and is delivered asynchronously. However, students also have opportunities to engage in internships, field experiences, and other in-person learning to supplement their studies.

Individuals interested in enrolling in this master's in liberal arts program must possess a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students should also submit a 750-1,000-word personal statement, a resume, and at least two letters of recommendation. Stony Brook is part of the State University of New York system.


Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Newark, NJ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 64%

Rutgers delivers an online master's in liberal studies program designed for working adults with considerable life experience. The program prepares individuals for advanced career opportunities or to transition into a doctoral program.

Students complete 30 credits — tailored largely to their interests — and take classes related to the arts, social sciences, literature, philosophy, history, and natural sciences. Students also complete a capstone project on a topic of their choosing.

Prospective students must provide two recommendation letters, a writing sample, and a personal statement. The program accepts candidates who possess a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The admissions process does not require GRE scores.


Arizona State University

Scottsdale, AZ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 48%

ASU's online master's degree in liberal studies explores the intersection of arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Students can tailor their degree to meet their interests and learning goals.

The 30-credit program features 10 courses delivered in 7.5-week terms. All distance learning takes place asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework around their schedules. Most full-time students graduate within two years. Before graduating, all students complete an applied research project.

Application requirements include a letter of interest, a resume or biographical statement, and two letters of recommendation. Eligible students must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university. They should also have a minimum 3.0 GPA.


University of Oklahoma

Norman, OK Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

OU's master of arts in integrated studies allows students to explore a variety of subjects that can help improve their communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Students may choose from concentrations in research methods, foundations of interdisciplinary studies, cultural communication, diversity in the United States, volunteering, and volunteer management. The program's format features 16-week classes, and students can usually graduate within two years. All learning takes place online using an asynchronous course format. Students complete 33 credits and a master's thesis.

To apply to this master's program, prospective students should submit a statement of purpose, a resume, and at least two recommendation letters. Eligible students must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA.


Texas Christian University

Fort Worth, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 83%

Offering self-directed degree plans and a variety of intellectually challenging courses, TCU's master's in liberal arts program gives students the chance to explore their personal and vocational interests.

The 30-credit program features many online course options, and most students graduate in 1-2 years. In addition to classes of their own choosing, students complete at least one course in each of the following topics: contemporary U.S. society, American cultural diversity, and other world cultures.

The program is open to individuals who possess a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Applicants do not need to meet a minimum GPA requirement or submit GRE scores. All TCU graduate students pay the same tuition. The university is located in Fort Worth, Texas.


University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Greensboro, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 53%

UNCG offers an online MA in applied arts and sciences that teaches students data analysis, creative thinking, and collaboration skills that can maximize their value in the workplace.

The 33-credit program features project-based courses that allow students to complete assignments largely on their own time. Classes last seven weeks each and full-time learners can graduate in 18 months. The program also offers an Applied Learning Studio, which gives students the chance to work with one another virtually to network, conduct research, and collaborate on assignments.

Eligible applicants to this master's program must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. However, the admissions process does not require students to submit GRE scores.


University of North Carolina Wilmington

Wilmington, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

UNCW's online master's program in liberal studies gives students the chance to create their own curriculum, with course options that cover topics like environmental studies, social sciences, cultural studies, the arts and humanities, natural sciences, literature, and social concerns.

Designed for lifelong learners, the 30-credit program features online courses with mostly asynchronous formats. All students complete a capstone project and take a final exam before graduating. Students may concentrate their degree on women's studies or conflict management and resolution.

To apply, prospective students must submit a writing sample and three letters of recommendation. The program requires incoming students to hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited postsecondary institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants do not need to provide GRE or GMAT scores.


The College at Brockport

Brockport, NY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 65%

Brockport, based in northwest New York, offers a variety of online programs through OpenSUNY — the online division of the State University of New York. Among Brockport's distance offerings is an online master's degree in liberal arts.

Students in this program complete 30 credits of coursework. Faculty deliver classes asynchronously on a semester-based schedule, and there are no set log in times for learners. Participants also have the option to engage in hands-on learning by completing an internship, clinical placement, or other type of service learning activity.

Distance learners are paired with a "personal concierge" who serves as their point of contact for the duration of the program. Students can also receive online help from a tutor. Brockport holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Liberal Arts Program?

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 for Online Master's in Liberal Arts Degrees

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.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Liberal Arts Graduates

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.

Financing Your Online Master's in Liberal Arts Program

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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