Careers With a Master of Liberal Arts

In recent years, leaps forward in artificial intelligence, dramatic shifts in working environments, and urgent challenges ranging from ecology to economics have transformed our professional world.

Even as data increasingly guides decision-making and more processes become automated, it’s essential for organizations to cultivate leaders who are capable of addressing those challenges with a creative mindset and an eagerness to collaborate.

The online Master of Liberal Arts from the University of Chicago offers a pathway to develop knowledge and skills that will prove invaluable in the dynamic, rapidly evolving future of businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits. We also provide online students a wealth of resources to grow their networks and activate the next steps in their careers.

Smiling student with pencil in hand

From Soft Skills to Power Skills

The technical skills you may have gained in a career-aligned undergraduate or graduate program are vital to launch a career, but they may not be sufficient to achieve your long-term goals. Business experts have long recognized that so-called “soft” skills like critical thinking, teamwork, and emotional intelligence are major contributors to management success. Today, there’s even a push to rebrand these competencies as “power skills” to emphasize just how fundamental they are to professional advancement.

For example, to excel as a leader, you need a broad understanding of current and emerging challenges in your industry, in the global economy, and in our society at large. You can make wiser choices when you perceive how specific issues within your organization connect to the overall mission as well as larger socioeconomic conditions. Gaining that bigger picture is especially important as technical advances disrupt existing processes across multiple industries.

While we often focus on the technological achievements unleashed in areas like AI and analytics, it takes creative thinkers and exceptional collaborators to optimize how their organizations leverage these new possibilities. In fact, LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report found that communication was the second most in-demand skill according to learning and development professionals. If you can clearly write about and discuss your ideas, you have a much better chance of persuading others to follow your lead.

For organizations to thrive with remote and hybrid work arrangements, managers must strategize to keep employees working together productively no matter where they’re located. Especially when there’s tough competition to hire top performers, leaders are responsible to cultivate an atmosphere where capable people from a wide range of backgrounds share a sense of purpose.

Managers and executives who are attentive to others’ preferences, needs, and beliefs are best prepared to bring their teams together around a common mission. In the 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey from Deloitte, 84% of leaders said that giving workers a sense of agency is an important factor in business success. If you want to get the most of employees, consider how you can address their preferences and values.

A liberal arts curriculum that nurtures your power skills can make you a more well-rounded, reflective person and also has practical benefits for your career.

If you want your idea to win in today’s fast paced, time-starved, and technology-driven workplaces, the ability to communicate and advocate your position coherently and concisely is a key differentiator. The MLA program helps you develop skills to better organize your thoughts, sharpen your points, and deliver a strong argument.

Brian O’Connor
Head of Embedded Banking, JP Morgan

Liberal Arts in the Future of Work

In addition to expanding your cultural and scientific knowledge, the UChicago MLA program focuses on an array of skills that will benefit you in a leadership role:

Verbal Communication

MLA courses follow a Socratic seminar format that’s driven by open, respectful discussion rather than top-down lectures. Through conversations about vital topics, you’ll grow as a communicator, listening carefully to what your classmates have to say and formulating compelling, thoughtful responses. Advocating for and defending your positions results in a deeper knowledge of the subject matter and reveals strategies you can apply to achieve your objectives in the workplace.


There are few traditional exams in the MLA program, but you will write a great deal. These tasks range from short reflections on assigned reading to full-length essays and finally a thesis or special project. By reading foundational texts from multiple disciplines, you’ll explore what factors go into a compelling piece of writing. Then, you’ll produce work of your own that investigates new ideas, interprets data, presents information from sources, and makes powerful arguments. You can access support along the way from a dedicated MLA writing advisor and writing workshops.


Even for highly technically capable professionals, it’s often difficult to collaborate with others efficiently and productively, not letting disagreements or incompatible work styles get in the way. The MLA gives you opportunities to engage with perspectives that are different from your own through discussions as well as reading and writing assignments. Exchanging ideas with others makes you aware of your own biases and intellectual tendencies, adding nuance to your views and helping you to become a better, more understanding team member. You’ll see how cooperation between people with varied strengths and diverse life experiences can serve to overcome individuals’ limitations, yielding better outcomes.

Critical and Synthetic Thinking

Strong leaders are defined by the ways they work through complicated issues, determining what ideas and sources of the information to embrace or to set aside. Studying the liberal arts gives you intellectual frameworks and discipline of mind to think analytically about a wide range of subject matter. You’ll break down concepts into their essential components and draw informed conclusions based on the evidence at hand. At the same time, you ‘ll become more capable of synthesizing varied perspectives and strategies into your own approach. By finding useful points in research and others’ experiences, you can identify the best way forward.

Problem Solving

In the MLA program, you’ll contemplate problems that humanity has wrestled with for centuries as well as a new wave of challenges. Our courses present structured, evidence-based frameworks to address questions such as what obligations a tech firm has to protect user data, what actions a corporation should take to protect the environment, and whether literature plays a central role in creating a more just society. These issues don’t have simple solutions, and individual or organization may view them with disparate perspectives. Considering those varied points of view will deepen your skills and enhance your mental discipline.


Today’s hyper-connected, global businesses operate at a lighting-fast pace that requires employees to pivot quickly between different types of tasks and monitor developments around the world. The MLA is designed to help you become a more flexible leader who can examine evidence and confidently enter conversations on a wide range of topics. As you take courses in fields of knowledge from poetry to astrophysics, you’ll stretch your mind to adapt quickly to shifting subject matter and situations.


Innovation is key to organizational growth, so businesses value creative thinkers. The MLA nurtures your imagination in many ways, presenting you with great works from the past and driving you to rethink the established ways things are done. Rather than repeating lessons you’ve been taught, you’ll be constantly asked to apply logical frameworks, establish your own positions, and support your points with original arguments. Feedback from your peers and professor will motivate you to refine your thoughts and inspire you to pursue new avenues of learning. In your thesis or special project, you’ll be able to research, develop, and fully realize an idea that’s relevant to your personal or professional goals.

When leaders solve complex problems, they draw on the liberal arts. I was always willing to speak about the elephant in the room. I was able to differentiate myself with my ability to articulate and defend arguments, particularly when decision making moved from the black and white into the gray area.

Anne Gehring
MLA Alumna and Founding Partner, Stanton Blackwell
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Prepare for the Next Stage in Your Career

As a student at one of the world’s top universities, you’ll gain access to exceptional career support resources. If you have questions about the next steps in your professional development, knowledgeable advisors are available to review your resume, recommend networking opportunities, conduct mock interviews, and answer questions. And when you’re ready to seek a new role, you can participate in virtual and on-campus career events where world-class employers seek to recruit UChicago alumni.

Our expansive, well-connected alumni network is more than 193,000 strong and stretches around the globe. These graduates include internationally respected experts and innovators working at the forefront of transformations in technology and business. By earning a degree from UChicago, you become part of an active community that’s passionate about providing guidance and opportunities to the next generation of leaders.

Completing the UChicago MLA provides broadly applicable knowledge, skills, and resources with the potential to advance your career in any field. For more details and a first-hand perspective from an MLA student, attend an online information session.

Swipe Up: Is an MLA Right for You?