Published October 27, 2023

Graphic profile of a human head with different puzzle piece shaped sections highlighted.A Master of Liberal Arts is a graduate degree earned through an interdisciplinary course of study that immerses students in topics as far ranging as literature, history, art, science, philosophy, and culture.

Graduate-level study of the liberal arts offers personal and professional enrichment by helping you deepen your research, writing, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills, boost your creativity, and expand your knowledge of the world.

What Does a Master of Liberal Arts Program Entail?

A Master of Liberal Arts program offers an interdisciplinary education in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Unlike specialized master’s degree programs, this graduate program allows students to explore a variety of subjects and disciplines with the goal of expanding students’ understanding of the human experience.

While Master of Liberal Arts degree programs take different approaches in their course selections and degree requirements, they share a commitment to creating pathways for students to deepen their knowledge of the world and its intellectual history, says Laura DeSisto, Program Director for JHU’s Master of Liberal Arts program. “Some Master of Liberal Arts programs allow students to select from a broad cross-section of courses offered by a range of academic departments, while others offer topic- or question-driven courses that integrate different disciplinary perspectives into the conversation and are crafted with the MLA student in mind,” she says.

Through learning opportunities that include seminar-style class discussions, project-based learning, and independent research projects, Master of Liberal Arts students have many opportunities to push the boundaries of their knowledge, explore new outlets for creative thinking, and sharpen their analytical and communication skills.

Key Features of a Liberal Arts Master’s Degree Program

  • Broad Curriculum: Students study across a broad range of topics, gaining insight into art, culture, history, and science.
  • Customizable: Many programs allow students to tailor their studies to their interests and career goals.
  • Skill Development: Students typically develop transferable skills in research, analysis, writing, communication, and problem-solving.
  • Career Versatility: Graduates are equipped to advance in diverse careers in many fields, including education, business, government, nonprofits, and the arts.

What Will You Study?

The specific courses offered by each Master of Liberal Arts program varies by institution. Some examples from Johns Hopkins University’s Master of Liberal Arts program include:

  • Social History of Medicine: Students explore major developments in modern medicine, from the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment to the late 20th century, and consider those developments within their social, political, cultural, and economic contexts.
  • Family in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Students examine the family as a social institution through the lenses of race, gender, age, social class, and sexual orientation. Starting with an exploration of how the notion of family has changed over time in the United States, the course explores the social processes that take place within the context of the family and other issues that affect families.
  • Existentialism—Philosophy and Social Critique: Students in this course approach existentialism not just as a series of abstract claims, questions, and concerns, but also as a critical method for interrogating issues related to the embodied, interpersonal, and historical dimensions of human life.
  • Race and Jazz: Students in this course will examine jazz as a genre of music and examine the role that race has played in the creation of jazz, the perception of its history, and the perceived authenticity of present-day jazz. They will learn to make aesthetic judgments, identify various jazz styles, and discuss their relevance to their time and to the present.
  • The War for Reality—The Use, Misuse, and Abuse of History by Non-Historians: Students examine how history has the power to validate our understanding of the world around us by framing our interpretation of the past. The current battle over this power is revealing significant distortions of truth, accuracy and, indeed, reality. This course engages students in case studies about how historical actors have attempted to control perception of reality, and how historians are required to challenge these attempts at warping the truth.
  • Monstrosity & Metamorphosis: Imagining Animals in Early Arts & Literature: Students in this class will study the representation of animals and of human/animal hybrids in the ancient and medieval worlds, weaving together stories presented through visual art and literature. They will examine the ways in which, from humankind’s earliest artistic expressions, animals have figured centrally in the human imagination.

What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts?

The multidisciplinary nature of many MLA programs allows students to develop skills and knowledge that can help them meet a range of personal and professional goals. And graduates often report feeling a greater sense of self-awareness and fulfillment after their course of study.

At Johns Hopkins, “most of our students pursue the MLA program as a source of intellectual enrichment,” says DeSisto. For students who already have accomplished their career goals, and for those who are retired from professional life, the program offers opportunities to achieve long-held academic and personal goals. “It is a space where they can explore topics and ideas that capture their interest and open new areas of thought that they carry with them into their lives in a myriad of ways, including community service, advocacy, and support for the creative arts,” says DeSisto.

Students who are looking for new professional opportunities see the MLA program as a space to experiment and explore avenues of interest while honing their skills and developing new ways to articulate their talents and abilities. “I particularly enjoy seeing our students establish relationships and networks of peers across these categories, sharing their goals with one another and celebrating each other’s successes,” says DeSisto.

Earn Your Master of Liberal Arts Degree from JHU AAP

Johns Hopkins University’s Master of Liberal Arts program was the first of its kind in the United States and has been serving students for more than 60 years.

JHU MLA students have the flexibility to tailor their degree and learn from Johns Hopkins faculty with a broad range of research interests and professional backgrounds. Faculty members are jazz musicians, historians, philosophers, art historians, cultural anthropologists, religious scholars, sociologists, literary critics, and others with deep expertise in their field.

Contact us for more information about our Master of Liberal Arts program or apply today.

Hear from JHU MLA Program Director Laura DeSisto about her role in leading the MLA program at JHU, the program’s history, and its future.

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