June 07, 2023

What Can You Do with a Master of Liberal Arts?

The world around us is undergoing profound transformations, and organizations of all kinds are being compelled to adapt.

In recent years, businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies have all been forced to adjust to dramatic transformations.

Leaders face complicated, high-stakes questions such as:

These aren’t questions with straightforward, one-size-fits-all answers. However, leaders are better prepared to tackle complex challenges when they’re equipped with a broad base of knowledge, robust decision-making frameworks, and strong skills in communication and collaboration.

A Master of Liberal Arts cultivates these skills and habits of mind, making it possible to thrive even in periods of uncertainty. In this article, we’ll outline some of the ways an MLA degree can help you achieve your goals.

How you can benefit from a master’s in liberal arts

A liberal arts education synthesizes concepts from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to help people to better understand the world, to engage with complex ideas, and to make simultaneously strategic and ethical decisions.

Whereas many graduate degrees instill technical abilities that are tied to specific jobs and industries, an MLA program presents broadly applicable approaches for thinking and communicating about complex issues. Students build skills that are instrumental to success in leadership positions, including critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and adaptability to change.

A liberal arts master’s program furthers your personal and professional growth by giving you opportunities to:

Putting the liberal arts to work

The competencies you hone in an MLA program, such as communication and critical thinking, are often described as “soft” skills since they’re not associated with specific technical applications. But there’s a growing recognition in professional environments that these capabilities are even more vital to an organization’s long-term success, especially when managers must marshal cooperation among teams working remotely.

For example, a recent McKinsey Global survey revealed that the workplace changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic caused numerous employers to place much greater weight on developing their employees’ social, emotional, and cognitive abilities. In the wake of these shifts, some observers have even suggested a rebrand, referring to soft skills instead as “power” skills.

Regardless of how you refer to these skills, the intellectual frameworks garnered from the liberal arts make a significant difference in keeping organizations and communities progressing toward their goals. University of Chicago Associate Professor of English Mark Miller teaches in the MLA program and he has seen firsthand how graduates go on to apply their education in a variety of professional contexts.

“I’ve talked to a number of MLA students who have found direct career benefits from this program,” Miller said. “Learning to think in more creative and analytical and critical ways opened up their imaginations, taught them problem-solving skills, and nurtured an intellectual creativity that they were then able to bring back to their work.”

With that intellectually creative mindset, professionals are better able to look at challenges from fresh perspectives, seeking and evaluating possible solutions.

How the liberal arts bring value to organizations

Studying insights from the liberal arts reveals opportunities for organizations to spur greater productivity, cooperation, and innovation. Through careful analysis and thoughtful careful analysis and thoughtful discussion, you can strategize for making improvements like fostering an organizational culture that elevates employees’ needs and values.

Indeed, cultural improvement is a major priority for many companies: 83% of the learning and development professionals who participated in LinkedIn’s 2023 workplace learning report said they’d set the goal of creating a people-centric atmosphere where workers are happy and feel a sense of achievement.

To reach that objective, organizations must have leaders who solve problems proactively and inspire others. That’s why Cara Brennan Allamano, the chief people officer at software management company Lattice, enrolled in the UChicago MLA program when she wanted to grow as rigorous critical thinker who could be more responsive to employees.

“I feel I am continuing to develop deeper empathy for the human experience, which is improving my ability to make tough decisions and lead people,” Allamano said.

She added, “I’ve been able to think more deeply about how to support employees in a high- growth company and how we define objectives as well as the moral imperatives about what we do for the business and for our employees.”

The humanities and social sciences are powerful resources even in some surprising professional contexts. For example, UChicago MLA graduate Adam Zelitzky served as a sergeant in the Chicago police force. One of his humanities courses examined The Iliad, Homer’s classic epic of the Trojan War, leading to a discussion of whether the poem’s hero, Achilles, was an effective leader. It’s a complicated topic since Homer depicts Achilles as the mightiest Greek warrior, but also a flawed man who is motivated by excessive pride and uncontrollable anger.

“I took the point of view that Achilles was a not a hero and that heroism differs from being courageous,” Zelitzky said. “Achilles did not value the life of others equally to his own and was only driven to action, after a period of inactivity, due to his rage and bloodlust.”

Struck by the richness of that experience, Zelitzky went on to share what he’d learned with colleagues and subordinates. He had discovered that analyzing and discussing literature could be a means to explore the very real moral ambiguities that were relevant to law enforcement.

Prepare for the next stage of your career

By engaging with influential texts and talking about complex issues that will shape our future, you can become a more reflective, empathetic, and effective leader.

UChicago’s online Master of Liberal Arts provides a fertile environment for professional and personal development, with a community where 30% of students work in executive leadership roles and 59% already hold graduate degrees. Courses are built around open, respectful discussion, giving this diverse community of accomplished learners ample opportunities to exchange insights based on their own experiences and discover nuances in their own arguments.

If you’re seeking new opportunities to apply your skills as a leader, communicator, and collaborator, UChicago also offers an array of career support resources to help. Our global alumni network of more than 193,000 people includes numerous industry leaders, many of whom are eager to help others reach their professional objectives.

In our dynamic, tech-driven world, it’s more important than ever for leaders to stay flexible and consider how their efforts affect the big picture for their organizations and communities. Contact us to learn how earning an MLA will prepare you to become an active, persuasive participant in leadership conversations and excel in a rapidly evolving professional landscape.


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