Editor’s Choice for 2024 – Top 10 Master of Liberal Studies Degrees Offered Through Private, Non-Profit Universities

Top 10 Liberal Arts Degree BadgeThe Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS), or MLS (Master of Liberal Studies), degree is a master-class in thinking for students who want to explore the frontiers of society, culture, and humanity on their own terms, in their own way.

Unlike traditional master’s degree programs, MALS studies don’t focus in tightly on one particular subject area. They don’t even have what you could call a typical curriculum in most cases.

Maybe because they are so non-traditional, master of liberal studies programs are also rare.

Only around 180 colleges in the country offer advanced degree programs in the liberal arts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

MALS degrees are broad and deep. They are designed for students who treat learning as a lifelong effort and value the exploration of diverse topics with new perspectives as a key piece of their intellectual growth.

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That means a MALS can be a good fit for someone from any profession, with almost any interests. And that makes picking the right college to earn your master of liberal arts degree a pretty important puzzle to solve.

How We Selected the Top Ten Master of Liberal Studies Programs in the Country

Selecting the best liberal arts master’s programs is a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. It is a subjective exercise by definition. You can’t look at how many graduates pass a particular professional test, or end up working in a particular field. That means our selection process is more soul than science, as there is no rote formula that can identify the best education available in the liberal arts.

Every program on this list allows a high degree of customization in a unique spectrum of academic interests. In fact, most of them don’t even offer the same courses from year to year, let alone from school to school.

How do you compare master’s degree programs without a standard curriculum or learning outcomes?

The goals and motives that every liberal arts master’s candidate has when entering these programs is unique, and they aren’t all weighed on the same scale. The doctor who enrolls to broaden their patient care skills and improve their bedside manner will have a very different career path than an artist who builds a curriculum around the history of some obscure school of French cubism.

So, like a MALS program, we had to go broad when we were looking at the criteria for picking out the top ten such degrees in the country. And what we found ranged from the oldest liberal arts master’s programs in the country to the most expensive… a full range of great options for students of any interest to choose from.

A Solid Master of Liberal Arts Comes From a Traditional Liberal Arts University

Every pick on our list belongs to a private, non-profit university—the kind of school where the liberal arts tradition grows and thrives. Without the requirement of the publicly funded college to educate all who come at a reasonable price, they aren’t bound by economy. And without the profit motive of the for-profit schools, there is no conflict with the true intent of academia. Instead, these schools are places where the small class sizes and academic freedom required of the liberal arts can thrive.

Reputation Means Quality in Liberal Arts Training

Reputation is a big deal for any kind of school, but for liberal arts master’s programs, it is everything. The humanities community is small and critical. Schools that meet with their approval have cleared a high bar, and that’s true of every program on this list.

Whether it’s the volume and quality of publication and research coming out of them, ratings from third party evaluators like U.S. News & World Reports, or the testimonials of graduates and visiting scholars, these programs all shine in the eyes of the liberal arts world.

With Small Seminar-style Classes, Engaged and Brilliant Teachers are Key

The majority of your class time in any liberal studies master’s program will be spent in seminars. These small, informal, discussion-based groups often have fewer than a dozen students, all engaged with each other and guided by the instructor. That makes your face-time with professors in advanced liberal arts classes a greater proportion of your study time than in any other field. And that makes the ability of those professors to guide and inform you more important than ever.

The instructors at these schools all have the kind of intense interest in what they teach to captivate classrooms and keep small groups buzzing with curiosity and conversation, from the Greek classics to cutting-edge gender theory.

All of These Colleges Understand That a Liberal Arts Education Means Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual freedom means a lot more than just holding unfashionable opinions. In a liberal arts context, it means challenging convention and plumbing the depths in search of the under-explored aspects of subjects.

In these master of liberal studies programs, it’s not just professors who have the green light to dive into the obscure and challenging aspects of these subjects. It’s an important part of your studies, too.

That means each student gets a unique curriculum in their MALS program, self-designed with input from the instructors, but tailored to their own interests and goals. Finding a top program that fits your interests comes naturally when you’re allowed to put together your own path.

Breadth of Expertise Gives Top Programs the Edge in Self-Directed Education

Of course, putting together your own plan of study only does you any good if the university has the classes or the resources with the knowledge you need for it. That’s no problem at any of these schools, which have a deep bench of expertise in a wide range of both classic liberal studies and in other more contemporary subjects that may draw your interest.

Going outside the bounds of the humanities department is easy when the university also happens to have a law school or a highly respected information technology program. Interdepartmental collaboration means you’ll have more courses to mix and match to create your own brew of intellectual excitement, making full use of the broader expertise on tap.

Top Liberal Arts Master’s Programs Give You The Resources to Get to The Finish Line

It’s not much good studying the arts and sciences if you don’t have the raw materials to work with. That means big libraries, unique collections, labs and reference works have to be available for a program to really be considered a top choice.

These schools have it all, from writing labs to research librarians. When you’re looking for that obscure 13th century treatise on Polish royalty, you want someone has an opinion on the comparative translations over the years, and, oh, also happens to have a copy of it right there on the shelf. With these programs, you don’t have to worry that your thesis will run into a wall because you didn’t get the support you needed… it’s always there for you.

Different Strengths Offer a Stronger Blend of Top Programs

Because every course of study is unique, and not every school can be the best in every subject, we looked for programs that had different strengths in their MALS offerings. Whether that is a program that offers a religious studies concentration that is unparalleled elsewhere in the country, or one that focuses on humanities applications in the field of medicine, we’ve picked colleges that didn’t come out of a cookie cutter.

That also goes for program format, where we looked for options that give you a wide variety of choices that can fit any student at any point in their life. You don’t always know when the urge to dive into a liberal arts masters will grab you, whether it’s right after you earn you bachelor’s degree or only after spending twenty years developing a career and raising a family.

So, you’ll find schools here that have online and hybrid study options, full-time accelerated studies, and everything in between. With the right support, the right instructors, and the right materials, everything can line up for you with at least one of these top programs.

Finding The Right Fit For Your Master of Arts in Liberal Arts Requires More Investigation

Of course, narrowing down the program that is the perfect fit for you is going to take more than just seeing a name on a list. That’s why we’ve included a bunch of additional information to help you get started, including:

Because some schools run on the typical semester system while others use quarters, we have converted all credits and costs to a standard semester format. That means multiplying quarter credits by 1.5 to offer an apples-to-apples comparison.

You should also note that these are all estimated values, since putting together your own course of study may mean coming out with different totals for credit hours than are listed on the sticker. But there’s no price tag you can put on being able to create your own program in your own way. And that’s exactly what these MALS degrees offer.

Our Top 10 Selections for the Best Master of Liberal Arts Degrees for 2021-22

Wesleyan University
Department of Graduate Liberal Studies
Middletown, Connecticut


Wesleyan University Logo

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Credits Required: 36

Cost Per Credit: $1,080

  • On-campus or hybrid formats that mix in-person with online attendance are a winning formula for flexibility.
  • The oldest liberal arts graduate degree program in the country has obviously been doing something right for nearly 70 years.
  • Interdisciplinary program is designed with working adults in mind with evening courses through spring, summer, and fall.
  • Offers up to six years to complete the program.
  • With only 100 students and an 8 to 1 student to instructor ratio, plenty of face time with your professors is built into the program.
  • Home to the Center for African American Studies, Center for the Arts, Center for Film Studies, and Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, the university offers on-campus expertise in global cultures and arts fields.
  • A GLS writing tutor is available to help with thesis proposals and general academic-writing support.

There’s no way to talk about graduate liberal studies programs in the United States without talking about Wesleyan. In 1953, the school was the first in the nation to introduce a graduate degree program in the liberal arts. But that wasn’t necessarily breaking new ground for Wesleyan—although named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, the school offered liberal arts rather than theological training from its founding in 1831. Today, they continue to innovate in curriculum, encouraging original research and publication alongside traditional pedagogy.

Reed College
Committee on Graduate Studies
Portland, Oregon


reed college

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Credits Required: 36

Cost Per 0.5 Unit Course: $2,475

  • The program hosts readings by critically acclaimed authors and presentations on their work including direct interaction with students.
  • Only 25 to 35 students are allowed in the MALS program at any given time so faculty can devote their full attention to assisting you through.
  • A flexible approach to course load allows you to finish the program in as few as two years or to take as many as six, including skipping terms.
  • Enjoy the full resources of the university to support your pursuit of knowledge, including the Hauser Memorial Library, Educational Technology Center, Instructional Media Center, and Performing Arts Resource Center.
  • Graduate courses of study are each unique and designed by the MALS candidates themselves choosing from an interdisciplinary menu of coursework with wide intellectual range.

Reed might be best known for one of its most famous students who never graduated: Steve Jobs pursued a traditionally diverse liberal arts curriculum here, studying dance, calligraphy, and Shakespeare in ways that undoubtedly influenced his thinking and later success as co-founder of Apple Computer and CEO of Pixar. The school’s unconventional conference method of teaching allow students and faculty to work together closely, with only five to ten students er course. Maximum participation in analysis, interpretation, dialogue, and discovery are encouraged to help you bring forth your own ideas and hone your thinking in your chosen path.

Dartmouth College
Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies
Hanover, New Hampshire



Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Credits Required: 36

Cost Per Credit: $3,275

  • Select MALS students are offered a study abroad opportunity at Oxford University’s International Summer School for an intensive 3-week series of seminars with students from around the world.
  • The famous on-campus Summer Symposium series offers lectures and presentation by resident and visiting scholars engaging in a broad range of topics and debate.
  • Every student at the Dartmouth MALS program develops an individual plan of study that includes both formal coursework and independent research.
  • A 7 to 1 student faculty ratio gives you a lot of first-hand interaction with instructors in every class.
  • The university has alumni including 14 Pulitzer Prize winners, 3 Nobel Prize laureates, and more than 200 prominent political figures.

You’ll never go wrong with a MALS degree from an Ivy, and Dartmouth may be the Iviest of Ivies when it comes to liberal studies. As one of the original colonial colleges chartered before the revolution, Dartmouth has a place in history that uniquely informs liberal studies here. Despite the storied history, the school has a reputation for being both inclusive and vibrant. The university is proud of its liberal arts core and uses the interdisciplinary expertise of faculty and students to engage as leaders in some of the most challenging issues facing society today. More than 75 campus centers and institutes open up your opportunities to explore any combination of fields that hold your interest, from medicine to engineering to business.

Johns Hopkins University
Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
Baltimore, Maryland


johns hopkins krieger

Master of Liberal Arts

Credits Required: 30

Cost Per Credit: $3,103

  • A hybrid course format puts you in classrooms on campus and allows asynchronous courses to be taken online to best fit your work schedule and time zone.
  • Established in 1963, this is one of the oldest graduate liberal arts programs in the country with national recognition for teaching quality and interdisciplinary curriculum.
  • Students come to the program from a broad range of working professions and all stages of careers, offering a stimulating environment for interaction.
  • A culminating capstone experience offers project-based, portfolio, or internship-based alternatives to a traditional thesis.
  • Knowledgeable, diverse faculty offer expertise in everything from literary criticism to jazz.

The Johns Hopkins MLA has been innovative since the start and continues to break new ground in advanced liberal studies. Although it doesn’t offer any defined concentrations, it does require each student to pick a customizable core course in:

  • Research
  • Critical Theory
  • History
  • Classics
  • Epistemology

Rounded out by an eclectic variety of elective courses and an innovative culminating experience, this is a unique approach to broadening and deepening your liberal arts training. With a hybrid format that requires only occasional campus visits, you can take advantage of this historic program from anywhere in the country, and interact with students from all over.

Wake Forest University
Continuing Studies
Winston-Salem, North Carolina


wake forest university

Liberal Arts Studies MA

Credits Required: 30

Full-Time Student Tuition Cost: $38,650

Part-Time Students Cost Per Credit Hour: $1560

  • Evening courses meet once per week, offering a relaxed part-time format for students with other commitments or obligations.
  • Some courses outside the core curriculum are available online for extra flexibility.
  • Flexible culminating project options include:
    • Master’s thesis
    • Research project and report
    • Creative work in any form of the arts
    • Internship project and report
    • Portfolio
  • Students design their own program of coursework to customize every program to their own interests.

Wake Forest has been offering a master’s in liberal studies for almost 40 years. The diverse classrooms offer perspectives from every angle on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from explorations of the sublime to the thought process of medical doctors. If the liberal arts studies program isn’t broad enough for you, though, the college also allows students to supplement their coursework with master’s-level classes from any department in the university. Flexible completion requirements also allow you to take your education in the direction that offers the best fit.

Georgetown University
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Washington, D.C.


georgetown university

Master in the Engaged and Public Humanities

Credits Required: 30

Cost Per Credit: $2,278

  • Fall of 2021 marks the inaugural class admission for this brand new and innovative program.
  • Only ten to twenty students are enrolled at a time, offering an eye-popping 2 to 1 student/faculty ratio and unprecedented attention from instructors.
  • Course selections include both main campus departments and law school courses
  • Two mentored internships or field research projects are required, for a hands-on style of learning that is unusual in humanities master’s programs.
  • A capstone project completion requirement integrates research and internship for a public-facing result that ties together all your expertise and experience in the program.
  • Offered in both full or part-time formats for flexible options for both traditional and working students.

If the title of the degree didn’t give you a clue, you’re definitely in for something different at the Georgetown MAEPH program. The program combines flexibility with real-world and academic rigor, all the while offering support and guidance from mentors to give you the tools you need to succeed in the humanities. This may be the most career-oriented of the liberal arts master’s programs on our list, preparing students for careers in content, project management, and research. With the first class entering in 2021, applicants have the exciting opportunity to help define and shape this program for future humanities majors.

The New School
The New School for Social Research
New York, New York


new school social research

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Credits Required: 30

Cost Per Credit: $2,260

  • Named the #1 Most International University in the United States for 2020 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • The Greenwich Village campus drops students right into the heart of multicultural New York for daily living experiences that are as exciting as the intellectual coursework.
  • World-class faculty are illustrious, intelligent, and collaboratively engaged with your learning process.
  • Visiting scholars include household names like Cornel West and Judith Butler.
  • Study full or part-time with the option to complete the program in as few as two years.
  • The program has a strong track record of sending graduates on to PhD studies or professional paths in teaching, government, or journalism.

Despite the name, The New School is not that new. Founded in 1919, the university has continued to redefine the boundaries of intellectual and creative thought. You’ll be walking the same halls as renowned scholars such as Hannah Arendt, Arnold Brecht, and Peter Berger. With exceptional scholastic and moral credentials stemming from World War I and the Holocaust, your perspective on history will be unique when studied here. Socially-engaged enquiry is the watchword here, powered by interdisciplinary studies ranging from literature to art to gender studies to critical media theory. If those aren’t enough for you, the school also offers the option of tacking on a graduate minor in some other specialization on top of your MALS.

University of Miami
College of Arts and Sciences
Miami, Florida


university miami arts

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Credits Required: 30

Cost Per Credit: $2,213

  • GRE scores recently waived for all graduate studies applicants.
  • A dual degree offering combining the MALS with a MA in medical humanities offers a key specialization of interest to broad-minded medical professionals and ethics experts.
  • Full-time and part-time enrollment options are available.
  • Most seminar classes have fewer than 15 students and meet only once a week in the evenings for the convenience of working professionals.

If you thought a killer MALS program couldn’t possibly exist at a college with a booming NCAA football team, the University of Miami would like a word with you. The school’s reputation for gridiron prowess sometimes obscures the excellent faculty and researchers at work in the liberal arts. For depth of experience, intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking, Miami holds its own as a liberal studies heavyweight. Course topics range from the role of religion in revolutionary history to modern subjects like contemporary race relations and human rights relating to immigration and social justice… hot topics you are well-positioned to study in multicultural Miami.

University of Rochester
School of Medicine and Dentistry
Rochester, New York


university rochester school medicine

Master of Science in Medical Humanities

Credits Required: 32

Cost Per Credit: $1,818

  • The degree is offered exclusively in a full-time, one-year format, offering you a fast track to a master’s degree.
  • Brings a human context to healthcare through the perspectives and tools of arts and humanities.
  • Designed to build and develop narrative skills essential to humane clinical practice.
  • Includes a supervised clinical practicum to bring out humanities skills in real medical environments.
  • Hones observational skills critical for diagnosis through arts and discussion.

The University of Rochester offers a uniquely focused perspective through its medical humanities masters program. Recognizing that medicine is both art and science, this program is aimed squarely at practitioners who want to expand their understanding of the human conditions, medical ethics, and social justice to improve their approach to patient treatment. Combining ancient and modern texts and treatises with cutting-edge challenges in the field of medicine, a master’s in medical humanities offers answers to challenges rising from pandemics, race, and wealth disparities. The program is also open to non-healthcare professionals who want to take their humanities background and apply it to health industry challenges.

University of Detroit Mercy
College of Liberal Arts & Education
Detroit, Michigan


university detroit mercy

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Credits Required: 30

Cost Per Credit: $1,700

  • Curriculum offers a maximum of flexibility and customization, with only six credits from required courses.
  • The unique religious studies concentration exposes you to a history of world religions, and crossovers between religious thought and the philosophies of sexuality and gender.
  • The cross-section of subjects offered broadens both personal thinking and career paths for students.

The highly-personalized curriculum in the MALS program here is designed to meet individuals with a thirst for knowledge on their own terms. You’ll explore cultural, social, and humanistic aspects of life in the world today and apply it both generally and to your own experiences. Studying the liberal arts at a Catholic university delivers a unique perspective. The optional religious studies concentration can further explore the many historical connections between religious thinking and the humanities, or you can focus on traditional liberal arts studies offered by experienced, expert professors in diverse fields of knowledge.