Master of Liberal Arts Curriculum

Course Structure

Eminent faculty from across all four divisions of UChicago teach MLA courses in a Socratic seminar format. Students come to class having carefully read the assigned material and then engage in rich discussions, confronting fundamental questions and respectfully debating complex ideas. In this program, you’ll sharpen your critical, analytical, and writing skills as you examine topics from fresh perspectives that enrich your personal and professional life.

Classes meet once a week via Zoom with sessions scheduled on evenings or Saturdays to fit into a full-time work schedule. You also have the option to participate in our week-long, immersive residential seminars on the UChicago campus, which are offered twice a year in the Spring and Autumn Quarters.

You will not take many exams in this program. Instead, MLA faculty primarily evaluate students based on their participation in discussions and their performance on writing assignments. In both verbal and written communication, you’ll be expected to analyze complicated issues, make persuasive arguments, and synthesize information from multiple sources.

The Master of Liberal Arts brings the University of Chicago’s extraordinary intellectual assets together. You have the opportunity to engage deeply with professors from every division of our University in small, Socratic classrooms. Big ideas, eminent faculty, extraordinary peers—it’s a transformative combination.

Seth Green
Dean of the University of Chicago Graham School

Core Courses

Through four core courses, you’ll gain an interdisciplinary framework to break down complex topics into their basic components and answer challenging questions with methodological approaches from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Each class will require you to think critically, write thoughtfully, respond to your peers, and address problems.

To meet the core requirement, you’ll take one course in each of the following disciplines:


Grapple with foundational literary and philosophical texts, learning to interrogate subtle uses of language and ask important questions about the historic and cultural contexts in which texts were produced. Training in humanistic inquiry equips students to read closely and communicate original insights through writing and discussion. You’ll leave your humanities courses a more attentive reader, stronger writer, and better organized thinker.

Social Sciences

Pursue nuanced questions about human interaction and how societies form and function. The social sciences courses will equip you with modes of analysis to examine the effects of economic, political, and cultural phenomena on human behavior. Through rigorously scrutinizing the competing viewpoints from classic texts and thinkers, these classes deepen critical and analytical thinking. You’ll hone your analytic and communication skills by conveying thoughts in concise and persuasive prose

Biological and Physical Sciences

Deepen your knowledge of the processes involved in scientific thought and reasoning. Explore the potential for new discoveries to spur cultural change, shape public policy, and transform how humans perceive our place in our world and universe. You’ll become a more logical, evidence-based thinker by applying the tenets of the scientific method and discussing the principles of experimentation and observation.


To meet the elective requirement, you may either take three general electives in any discipline or choose a concentration and take all three courses in one area of study. The available concentrations are:

  • Literary Studies
  • Ethics and Leadership
  • Tech and Society

See our concentrations page for more information.

In addition, you must take one elective focused on a non-Western culture. Examples of these courses include:

  • Africa and the World: Ancient to Early Modern Times
  • India in Film: Imaginations of a Decolonial Nation
  • The Normal and the Pathological: Sickness, Care, and Wellbeing Across Cultures
  • Tsars, Soviets, and Putin: Modern Russia, 1860-present

Course List

Course offerings differ by quarter. Current course offerings include:


Smoking factory pipe against clear sky
MLAP 31206

The Science of Pollution and Climate

This class will explore the science behind contemporary issues such as global warming and forms of pollution such as urban aerosols, lead in drinking water, the global mercury cycle, endocrine disrupting organics, plastics, and other issues.

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Historical chart of mammal types
MLAP 31210

Human Origins: From Early Primate Beginnings to Evolutionary Medicine

The course is designed to provide an introduction to the origin of the human species within the context of primate evolution. Evidence from anatomy, physiology, behavior, chromosomes and molecular biology will be reviewed in an accessible manner, with appropriate attention to key theoretical issues.

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AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept. Deep learning. GUI (Graphical User Interface).
MLAP 30660

Culture and Technology

This class will look at the interplay between technology and culture with a particular focus on the ways in which technological advancements impact cultural production in literature, the arts, and media.

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Artwork of ancient scripts
MLAP 34910

The Ancient Art of Leadership

The question of how to lead is intimately linked with the question of how to live. Like many ancient civilizations, classical Greece offers us a rich body of teaching that invites its readers to explore the possibility that both living and leading are arts.

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Old artifacts on top of a table at the Ethnographic Museum
MLAP 33501

Ethnographic Traditions

This class will introduce students to the practice of ethnographic field work, or participant observation research.

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Illustration of film, photography and William Shakespeare
MLAP 33004

Foundations of Humanistic Inquiry

This course offers an introduction to advanced study in the Humanities across a range of fields, including poetry, philosophy, fiction, and film.

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Illustration of Human Rights and the Meaning of Work
MLAP 34860

Human Rights and the Meaning of Work

This interdisciplinary course explores work — free and unfree — and the experience of working people from the vantage point of human rights.

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Modern Technology
MLAP 30650

Technology in America

This course is an introduction to the history of technology, with a particular focus on the ways in which arts and manufactures, mechanisms and devices have shaped American culture and experience.

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MLAP Raphael Muse of Poetry
MLAP 32350

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Poet?

Sad, but true. Many folks who enjoy reading fiction, drama, and memoirs feel considerably less comfortable with poetry.

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I have always had a passion for learning and a desire to challenge myself. The MLA program presented a way to enhance my skills—not only as an individual but also as a participant and leader in our society. The MLA attests to the fact that there is inherent value associated with studying the humanities and in developing a background and comfort with the diverse topics that comprise the liberal arts.

Andrew F. Shorr
Division Head, Pulmonary, Critical Care, & Respiratory Services, Medstar Washington Hospital Center; and Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University

Thesis or Special Project Requirement

A faculty advisor will support you in selecting a thesis or project that aligns with your interests. MLA students have the flexibility to choose projects that hold value and meaning for them personally or that can be applied to their careers.

Examples of past MLA thesis topics include:

  • A Comparative Analysis of the American & Chilean Revolutions
  • Economic Survival of Small Chicago Area Farmers During COVID-19: Leadership Skills that Enabled Success in the Pandemic
  • Using Poetry as Leadership Training: Fostering a More Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive College

The format of special projects is flexible. Past examples include a piece of visual art and a book of poetry.

Once your thesis topic or project is approved, you will be paired with a faculty advisor, who will remain heavily engaged throughout the process. The advisor serves as a vital resource by pointing you toward scholarship and other sources of information that can guide your work. You will remain in contact as your project evolves, receiving meaningful feedback on drafts.

In most cases, it takes two quarters for students to complete a thesis or special project.

Students with questions about the degree requirements should contact MLA Program Director Tim Murphy.

Swipe Up: Is an MLA Right for You?