Liberal Arts Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in Liberal Arts can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Study Liberal Arts: Master's Degrees and PhDs at a Glance

Graduate liberal arts degree programs are commonly designed around the ideal of achieving a broad educational experience, incorporating courses from several departments to create an interdisciplinary program of study. While these programs offer opportunities to take courses in history, government, linguistics, religion, ethnic studies, classical studies, psychology, visual and performing arts and cultural studies, ultimately your objective as a graduate student is to follow your interests through coursework to meet your professional goals.

The job outlook for careers in liberal arts fields does vary because the range of careers that graduates can choose from is wide. Sociologists and historians could expect average growth of 18% from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, employment of political scientists was expected to grow at a slower-than-average rate of 8%, while market research analysts could expect faster-than-average growth of 41% for the same time period, the BLS reported.

Master's Doctorate
Who Is this Degree For? Individuals seeking a well-rounded education and looking to expand their career options in multiple relevant fields Master's graduates interested in an academic or high-level career
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Historian ($52,000)*
- Market research analyst ($60,000)*
- Sociologist ($74,000)*
- Political scientist ($104,000)*
- Professor ($64,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full time Average 4-8 years
Common Graduation Requirements Essay or capstone project Dissertation and defense
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in related field Master's degree in related field
Online Availability Yes (fully online and hybrid) None found at this time

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degrees in Liberal Arts

Pursuing a master's degree in liberal arts or liberal studies can expand your engagement with different disciplines, such as philosophy, political science, religion and sociology, among many others, while at the same time giving you the freedom to choose your own unique program of study. Generally, a master's degree program requires completion of a capstone project, which could include a portfolio or research paper. You can choose your field of interest and work under faculty supervision to complete this final project.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Opportunity to create a specialized program of study from an array of subjects
  • Master's degree programs can enhance your performance in a variety of careers (education, research, consulting or government jobs)*
  • Often designed for working adults, making the course structure flexible

Cons

  • You may still need to earn a PhD for independent research or tenured teaching positions*
  • Some jobs might require additional field-specific education or training
  • Because classes typically are offered through various schools, students may lack a sense of a liberal arts community

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

In a master's program in liberal arts, you'll typically complete 30-50 credit hours of coursework covering the arts, cultural issues, politics and ethics. Coursework usually includes seminars, a range of courses in the subject of concentration and electives. In some programs, you may be asked to complete a foundations course in interdisciplinary studies or liberal arts. Samplings of courses that can be found in liberal arts master's degree programs include the following:

  • World religions
  • Moral and spiritual inquiry
  • European material culture
  • Ancient and modern cultures
  • Law, ethics and political campaigns
  • Humor and society

Online Course Information

Online master's degree programs in liberal arts are available through numerous universities. These programs have similar requirements for coursework to those in on-campus settings, including portfolio or thesis requirements. In most cases, the professors that teach your online courses are the same instructors who work with on-campus students. Some institutions offer hybrid graduate courses where both face-to-face and online instruction helps students complete their degree program.

Stand Out with this Degree

To stand out among applicants when you begin your job search, you might take advantage of the diversity of courses offered in a liberal arts program of study. Succeeding in the job market with a master's degree in liberal arts requires you to be as flexible in your skills and knowledge as the degree program itself, particularly outside of academia. Another option is to acquire some technical skills that can help you land a job. For instance, if you're considering pursuing a career in research, you could take elective courses in emerging methods for data analysis, or you could learn about statistical software or research models.

Additionally, you might consider completing certificate programs offered through some liberal arts master's programs. These programs provide concentrated study in such areas as African studies, Asian studies, atmospheric science, gender studies, museum studies, socioeconomic justice, applied statistics, children's literature, institutional research and project management, which can be used to open up new doors. Some graduate certificate programs are available online.

Doctorate in Liberal Arts

If you're considering a doctoral program, you can expect to put in a lot of effort to meet the interdisciplinary degree program requirements. It's not uncommon for doctoral students to spend two years completing coursework and 4-5 years finishing a dissertation. While some schools indicate that a PhD in this field is no guarantee for professional training or credentials for a future in academia, other schools provide the training needed to prepare for academic careers. Oftentimes, PhD students must choose a more specialized program of study for their coursework and research. For example, students could pursue concentrations in humanities and culture, leadership, public policy, textual traditions, global perspectives, visual culture, historical context, gender studies and neuroscience.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Training can prepare you to pursue a professorship at a liberal arts college or university
  • You can expand upon your master's degree studies with a more focused concentration
  • Many programs attract students from an array of fields, creating class diversity

Cons

  • Professorships are quite competitive, and publishing expectations for university professors have increased*
  • You could spend 4-7 years completing a doctorate program
  • Competition is expected to be strong for research positions in areas like political science and sociology**

Sources: *University of California, Berkeley, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Course Requirements

Doctoral students can expect to participate in foundational seminars and take exams, which are used to evaluate students' knowledge of coursework and applied skills. You also might engage in practicums or clinical practice, teach undergraduate courses and/or complete a dissertation and defense. Coursework and the dissertation involve original research, which will require an adviser's or department's approval. Some examples of courses that you might take include:

  • American studies
  • Ethics and social justice
  • Art and literature
  • Race and gender

Online Course Information

Due to the intensive research activity and interaction with faculty members required to prepare a dissertation, doctoral programs in liberal arts are generally not available online. However, these programs are commonly designed for working adults, and schools may offer courses in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate students' schedules.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

If you're looking for ways to stand out as an applicant in the job market, there are some things you can do while you earn your doctorate. You can work on getting your research findings published or pursue teaching assistant positions to prepare for careers in academia and research. Additionally, since many colleges and universities offer online courses to their students, you might consider taking courses covering the technologies and tools required to teach in online learning environments.

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