The world around us is undergoing profound transformations, and organizations of all kinds are being compelled to adapt.
The University of Chicago Master of Liberal Arts, for instance, attracts many executive leaders and graduates from master’s programs in other fields. They enroll in the program seeking opportunities to augment their leadership skills, read engaging texts, participate in discussions with accomplished peers, and learn from eminent scholars and educators.
Either a Master of Liberal Arts or a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies can provide a multidisciplinary education that fuels your curiosity and presents you with new ways of looking at the world.
What are the liberal arts and liberal studies?
The “liberal arts” refer to the entire range of topics associated with a traditional academic education. These fundamental areas of research and learning have roots dating back to classical antiquity, but they have evolved over time. In today’s higher education institutions, the liberal arts may encompass:
- Arts and humanities: Liberal arts education engages with the richness of human culture, through studies in literature, language, the visual and performing arts, philosophy, music, and religion. In humanities courses, students learn to read texts closely, consider the historical and social conditions that influenced works of artistic expression, and make clear, persuasive arguments in writing and discussion.
- Social sciences: Working in disciplines like sociology, anthropology, economics, archaeology, communications, and political science, social scientists analyze the development and dynamics of communities and cultures. Students can harness analytical tools and data to deepen their understanding of human interactions, revealing the effects of factors such as economic conditions and political movements on people’s lived experiences.
- Natural sciences: The natural sciences include fields of inquiry like biology, physics, astronomy, and chemistry. In a liberal arts curriculum, non-specialists can learn to apply scientific reasoning to a wide range of problems. By taking a logical, evidence-based approach to understanding the world around us, students are better prepared to tackle challenges with strategies based on close observation and rigorous experimentation.
A graduate program in the liberal arts or liberal studies may touch on all these fields. Students take multidisciplinary courses that engage with complex issues from multiple angles, exploring how to gather information, analyze sources, synthesize ideas, and then clearly express their own arguments.
Since both liberal arts and liberal studies programs include so many different disciplines, degree programs may take a variety of approaches. We have found, for example, that some liberal studies programs explore a wider range of academic areas, while a master’s in liberal arts often tends to delve deeper into the intersections between the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
Finding the right program
When comparing educational opportunities, whether in liberal arts or liberal studies, it’s important to consider which program is best suited to help you explore the topics that interest you and advance toward your goals. Some essential factors to keep in mind include:
- Curriculum and course topics: A curriculum in the liberal arts and sciences makes connections among seemingly disparate areas of research and learning. Examining the available course offerings will provide a sense of which disciplines you can explore, what topics you’ll discuss, and how much flexibility you’ll have to pick classes that match your interests.
- Concentrations: Some liberal arts and liberal studies programs include options to choose a concentration or focus area. Choosing a concentration allows you to hone in on the topics that you’re most passionate about, gaining knowledge and problem-solving frameworks that are directly applicable to your personal or professional growth.
- Major projects: Graduate studies frequently culminate in a thesis or capstone project that gives you the chance to demonstrate what you’ve learned, build on existing research, and make your own addition to academic conversations. In a liberal arts or studies program, you may be able to tailor this project to your strengths by producing a creative work like a volume of poetry or a piece of visual art as an alternative to a traditional research paper.
- Peers: Your classmates make an enormous difference in your graduate school experience, especially in classroom discussions and collaborative assignments. A vibrant cohort can help you find new insights and expand your network. Check whether universities provide information about the professional and educational backgrounds of liberal arts or studies students. In the UChicago MLA, 30% of students work in executive leadership roles, resulting in rich conversations where professionals share their experiences and apply liberal arts concepts to real-world situations.
- Modality: Fitting graduate education into your schedule can be challenging when you’re already busy with full-time work and other responsibilities. Find out whether the programs you’re considering are available 100% online and, if they include live class sessions, what times you’ll need to be available. If you’re interested in visiting campus to meet your peers and professors in person, look into any opportunities you may have for experiential learning.
- Support: Many people who enroll in master’s of liberal arts or studies programs have been out of school for years or decades, so it’s especially crucial to have access to useful resources. If you need to get your academic writing back up to speed, for example, check whether there’s a dedicated writing advisor associated with a program or writing workshops you can attend. Career support, such as mock interviews and networking events, may help you gain the greatest possible benefit from earning your degree.
A community of learners and leaders
An open exchange of ideas can reveal insights and result in improvements for our organizations and communities. But engaging in genuine conversations with people who have different points of view is often difficult in an era when each individual determines their own information diet.
Studying the liberal arts is an opportunity to overcome cultural barriers and join wide-ranging conversations in which you consider diverse perspectives, re-examine your assumptions, and refine your arguments. For UChicago MLA students like mathematics teacher Fatema Burhani, one of the program’s greatest benefits is the chance to meet accomplished people who have a variety of backgrounds.
“I have formed connections with students from all over the world, including Colombia, India, Australia, and China,” Burhani said. “I look forward to my class each week and can’t wait to discuss the readings with my professor and peers.”
A master’s in the liberal arts or liberal studies grants you a high-level perspective on culture and human knowledge. By drawing wisdom from across the whole spectrum of disciplines, you develop intellectual frameworks and habits of mind that will serve you well in any line of work or endeavor. You can prepare to make better decisions by analyzing the ways organizations and communities function and gathering strong evidence that supports your ideas.
A liberal arts or liberal studies master’s degree benefits people with a broad range of personal and professional backgrounds, helping them to become better informed citizens, stronger communicators, and more effective leaders. The UChicago MLA achieves these outcomes through a unique educational experience that opens up possibilities to grow and connect with others.
About the University of Chicago Master of Liberal Arts
The University of Chicago online Master of Liberal Arts provides a transformative education that strengthens skills in leadership, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. We welcome a diverse community of accomplished professionals to participate in live seminar discussions, guided by eminent faculty members with expertise in multiple disciplines.
Customize the online MLA to fit your goals by choosing from three optional concentrations. You can complete all the requirements online or visit us on campus for UChicago’s week-long, immersive residential seminars, held twice a year.
Contact us to learn more about the learning opportunities, resources, and support that make our MLA program unique.