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Three top skills employers seek in 2023 are critical thinking, communication, and mental flexibility. A master’s in liberal arts focuses on these skills, preparing students for careers in various areas, such as education, research, journalism, public relations, law, and social work.

Many of these careers fall within the education, training, and library occupations. These fields are expected to see a 7 percent growth rate between 2021 and 2031. According to 2021 data, the median annual salary for careers in these fields was $57,220.

The average tuition for master’s degree programs for public and private schools in 2020-2021 was $12,394 and $26,621, respectively. Full-time students generally expect to complete a master’s in liberal arts degree program within two years.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Liberal Arts Program

Choose your area of study

The academic offerings of a liberal arts degree are broad, with coursework in philosophy, mathematics, the natural sciences, and social studies. Many students pursuing a master’s degree in liberal arts are attracted to its interdisciplinary nature. Liberal arts programs, in general, are not subject-specific and appeal to a student’s desire to explore a variety of intellectual pursuits. However, students can still focus on specific areas of their studies, such as history, economics, and sociology, by taking multiple electives in these subjects.

Research schools and programs

The best way to ensure that your online master’s program is held to the same standards as an on-campus program is to ensure it’s accredited. One agency accreditation to look for is the American Academy for Liberal Education, as it evaluates liberal arts programs and makes recommendations for achieving excellence.

Accreditation aside, consider how the school offers academic and social support to its online students. Some other questions to ask include:

  • Can I work independently, or is there a required course schedule?
  • How will I access the necessary materials online (e.g., digital libraries, software, etc.)?
  • What are the technical skills and requirements I need for this program?

Prepare for tests and applications

Every school will have different admissions prerequisites, but most will require at least an undergraduate degree from an accredited college. Some master’s programs (but not all) will ask for a qualifying Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and many will set specific grade point average (GPA) requirements.

Contacting an admissions counselor is your best bet for staying on top of the application process. An admissions counselor can assist you with each step in the application process and get you in touch with professors or current students who can help answer your questions.

Select your program

During your research, you’ve likely selected several potential programs that match your educational goals. You may narrow this list down to one or choose to apply to all of them. Remember, there will be application fees, so you’ll want to budget for these costs. After seeing which institutions accept you, choose based on your life goals and where you believe you will be challenged and successful in your education.

Remember to reach each program’s online student support. This division should connect you with other resources, such as study groups, student meetups, and mentorship opportunities, which can help you narrow down your choices.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Many graduate students must at least partially finance their education through loans. You can begin this process by applying for federal student aid with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your school’s financial aid office can help you find other sources of tuition assistance, such as grants, fellowships, or scholarships.

If you plan on keeping your employment while in school, ask your employer if tuition reimbursement is available. Similarly, veterans can take advantage of tuition benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Liberal Arts Programs

Best Online Master's in Liberal Arts Degree Programs

Stony Brook University

Harvard Extension School

Arizona State University

Rutgers University at Camden

Johns Hopkins University

UNC Greensboro

Fort Hays State University

The University of Oklahoma

University of North Carolina Wilmington

Kent State University

Western New Mexico University

University of Michigan at Flint

University of Memphis

Adams State University

SUNY Brockport

TCU AddRan College of Liberal Arts

SUNY Empire State College

University of South Dakota

Thomas Edison State University

Tiffin University

University of Toledo

Indiana University

Louisiana State University

University of Denver

University of Chicago

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How We Rank Schools

As a humanities-focused field, most liberal arts master’s programs award a Master of Arts (MA) degree. Our goal for this list was to find the best MA in liberal arts programs.

One of our primary criteria was that programs be delivered entirely or primarily online. We wanted programs that students could access regardless of their location or availability.

We also sought programs that meet high standards of quality set by objective and knowledgeable parties. Therefore, all of the programs on our list are offered by schools with regional accreditation. Degrees and credits from these types of schools are widely recognized and transferable to other regionally accredited institutions.

Once we narrowed our list of programs, we evaluated each based on reputation, faculty, outcomes, cost, and flexibility. Then we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Liberal Arts Program?

As you engage in your online program to earn your master’s in liberal arts, you’ll deepen your understanding of global and social issues, communication, leadership, philosophy, and literature. You’ll learn skill sets that will be useful for education, journalism, business, and nonprofit work careers. Your problem-solving and critical thinking aptitudes will be challenged and developed, and you’ll begin to individualize your multidisciplinary approach to education.

Of the 30-36 credit hours it will take, on average, to complete your online master’s degree, approximately half of these courses will be electives. You can use electives to guide your interests and complete your program with a specific focus. These courses might include:

  • Women’s studies
  • Global human resources
  • Sociology
  • Behavioral economics
  • Multicultural American literature

Most full-time students will complete a master’s in liberal arts in approximately two years, but part-time students can expect to take slightly longer.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s degree in liberal arts program

  • Liberal Arts and Professional Life. Students examine change, conflict, and resolution in a historical global context and will develop an understanding of these concepts as they relate to contemporary life.
  • Environmental Issues in the Global Media. Students take a journalistic look at environmental issues around the globe to examine how the scientific, cultural, and political dimensions of environmental sustainability are portrayed in the media. Students explore not just environmental issues but how media coverage affects public perception.
  • Cultural Studies Research Methods. Students develop a research project using methods of practical implementation, skills, and strategies to obtain more accurate results in research and class performance.
  • Composing Arguments. Students explore various models of argument, including persuasion, advocacy, consensus building, and classical rhetoric. Students will examine audience accommodation, research, tone, and revision.
  • Science of Technology. Students follow the intertwined histories of science, technology, and society, focusing mainly on communication technology. Students study the basic principles of electromagnetism, acoustics, and quantum electronics to understand communication technology, from the telegraph to cell phones.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Liberal Studies?

Career outlook

An online master’s degree in liberal studies offers a versatile and interdisciplinary education that equips graduates with a broad range of skills and knowledge. This advanced degree can open doors to career opportunities across different sectors, from business to industry to the nonprofit world. Those equipped with liberal studies skills such as critical thinking and writing have many job opportunities. Writers, for example, frequently earn this degree. These professionals earn a median salary of $73,150 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career paths

The career outlook for individuals with a master’s degree in liberal studies is promising, as it provides a unique combination of critical thinking, communication, research, and analytical skills that are highly valued in today’s job market. While the career paths may vary, the versatility of this degree allows graduates to adapt to a wide range of professions.

According to the BLS, job opportunities for individuals with master’s degrees in liberal studies can be found in sectors such as education, research, writing, and public service. Here are a few common career paths open to those with an online MLS degree:

  • Nonprofit manager or director — oversees the operations and strategic planning of nonprofit organizations
  • Writer/editor — creates and edits written content for publishing, marketing, the news media, and more
  • Policy analyst — researches and analyzes public policies for think tanks or advocacy organizations
  • Human resources specialist — recruits, hires, and manages personnel within organizations
  • Museum curator or educator — manages exhibits, educates visitors, and curates collections at museums

Higher Education Administrator

Earning Potential: $64,790-$121,490 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in liberal studies, educational administration, or a related field

A higher education administrator manages various aspects of academic and administrative operations at colleges and universities, including admissions, student affairs, academic advising, and institutional research. These professionals ensure the efficient functioning of educational programs and student services. They collaborate with faculty, staff, and students to enhance the overall student experience and handle issues related to student welfare. Additionally, higher education administrators are responsible for strategic planning, budget management, and compliance with accreditation standards, contributing significantly to the institution’s success and its students’ educational journeys.

Research Analyst

Earning Potential: $50,510-$106,230 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in liberal studies or a related field

A research analyst collects, interprets, and analyzes data to generate meaningful insights and inform decision-making. They work across various industries, including market research, the social sciences, and policy analysis. Research analysts design surveys, conduct experiments, and examine existing data to identify trends and patterns. Their findings help organizations make informed choices and address specific problems or opportunities. Effective communication of research results through reports and presentations is a key part of their role. Research analysts are instrumental in driving evidence-based decision-making and advancing knowledge in their respective fields.

Public Relations Specialist

Earning Potential: $51,690-$126,060 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in liberal studies, public relations, or a related field

Public relations specialists are communication experts responsible for managing an organization’s image and reputation. They develop and execute strategic communication plans to foster positive relationships with the public, media, and stakeholders. PR specialists craft compelling messages, press releases, and promotional materials to convey a favorable image and ensure consistent messaging. They arrange interviews, coordinate events, and handle crisis communication to protect the organization’s reputation during challenging times. By leveraging media relations, social media, and other platforms, they aim to enhance public perception and support organizational goals. PR specialists play a critical role in shaping public opinion and maintaining trust between an organization and its audience.

Online Master’s in Liberal Arts Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in liberal arts degree program?

To start the application process, begin with your school’s website to learn more about its admissions requirements and to contact an admissions counselor. Your counselor will be able to guide you through each step, but you’ll likely be required to submit the following documents:

  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • GRE scores
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Personal statement or letter of intent

Remember that it can take a while to gather all of the necessary materials, so make sure you allocate enough time in your planning to meet application deadlines.

How much does an online master’s in liberal arts degree cost?

To find the per-credit cost of your school’s program, search your school’s website or contact your financial aid advisor or admissions counselor. You can also research the course catalog for additional fees, such as software and technology fees, to figure out how much your program will cost.

On average, the per-credit cost for an online master’s in liberal arts degree typically ranges from $200 to $1,000. Therefore, most students can expect to pay between $6,000 and $36,000 for their degree.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in liberal arts degree?

Typically, most online programs for a master’s degree in liberal arts are completed within two years for full-time students. If you attend school part-time, you may need 3-5 years to complete your coursework. However, some schools offer accelerated programs and dual-degree pathways, so if you choose one of these options, you can expect to follow a different timeline than what’s typical. Nonetheless, on average, most students will complete between 30 and 36 credits, no matter their chosen pathway.

Is an online master’s in liberal studies worth it?

Earning an online master’s degree in liberal studies can be worthwhile for individuals seeking diverse career opportunities and a well-rounded education. This degree equips graduates with valuable critical thinking, research, communication, and problem-solving skills, making them adaptable in various professions.

Teachers, for example, can benefit from the broad scope of an MLS degree if taken in conjunction with their state requirements for certification. A high school teacher makes a median pay of $62,360 a year, according to the BLS.

Additionally, the flexibility of online programs allows students to balance their studies with work and personal commitments, making it accessible and convenient. For those interested in careers that require a multidisciplinary approach, a master’s in liberal studies can provide a strong foundation for success.

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