Online Liberal Arts Degree Programs & Majors

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The versatility of a liberal arts degree is its very strength. However, students drawn to these degrees face a number of challenging questions. What will they study in the major? Are there campus-based and online liberal arts degree programs? Can liberal arts majors go to graduate school? This guide provides answers to those questions and more, anticipating the concerns students may have during and after the course of their education.

What Does a Liberal Arts Degree Entail?

Choosing a liberal arts program give students the chance to tailor their education to reflect their interests and goals. This diverse degree provides a comprehensive overview of the humanities, social and natural sciences, mathematics and fine arts. Among the subjects found in this interdisciplinary curriculum are literature, English language, visual and performing arts, Classical or modern foreign languages, sociology, and anthropology and world cultures. Beyond coursework in specific topics, students can master the critical skills of research, scholarly writing, oral communication and reasoning. Colleges and universities offer associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in this major.

Studying for Online Liberal Arts Degrees

Online liberal arts schools are available for busy students who cannot attend classes on a college campus because of family and employment obligations. Degree programs from associate to PhD levels are offered through the virtual classroom. At the post-graduate levels, students may decide to declare a specialized major in the liberal arts, with more in-depth courses in chosen areas ranging from history to education to women’s studies to music.

Online liberal arts degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels allow students to progress through coursework at their own pace. Using asynchronous technology, students can access lectures, assignments, exams and collaborative projects anytime from their computers. While professors often have specific due dates for submitting work, students can set their own schedule as they proceed through course materials, rewinding recorded lectures to catch tricky concepts. There are plenty of opportunities for peer and instructor interactions via chat, email, streaming multimedia presentations, and voice- and video-conferencing tools. These flexible online liberal arts schools offer the same academic challenges as campus-based programs, emphasizing activities such as reading, writing, research and analysis, which makes them a good fit for self-motivated distance learning students.

Top 10 Online Liberal Arts Degree Programs & Majors

Rank School Location
1 University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL
2 Duquesne University Pittsburgh, PA
3 Rochester Institute of Technology-RIT Online Rochester, NY
4 University of Oklahoma-Norman Norman, OK
5 Bay Path University Longmeadow, MA
6 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS
7 Brenau University Gainesville, GA
8 Saint Leo University St. Leo, FL
9 University of Maine at Fort Kent Fort Kent, ME
10 Westfield State University Westfield, MA
Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Best Online Colleges for Liberal Arts: 2017

  • Methodology

    To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

    • Accredited at the institutional level
    • Private nonprofit or public school
    • Minimum of 1 online master’s degree in subject area

    Schools were then scored on factors such as:

    • Cost & Financial Aid
    • Number and variety of online program offerings
    • Student-teacher ratios
    • Graduation rates
    • Placement and support services offered
    • Academic/Career counseling services
    • Employment services
    • Loan default rates

    These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or “bang for your buck” of a college or degree program.

An degree in liberal arts gives graduates a broad overview of a variety of subject matter, putting them in a position to choose a number of careers or move on to more targeted learning in a specific arena. Earning that degree online helps students develop leadership skills and autonomy they can put to use in the workforce. The challenge comes in finding the right program fit and college. We’ve done some research on which liberal arts programs are best in 2017, based on the programs available, overall cost and student services offered.

4 Year Colleges

  1. University of Illinois at Springfield

    Springfield, IL

    The University of Illinois at Springfield has online undergraduate and graduate degree programs, as well as certification programs designed to enhance professional skills and knowledge. One program is the schools liberal studies major that allows students to create their own degree requirements based on their individual needs, goals, and interests. In addition, the school also partners with several institutions such as Lewis Clark Community College, Heartland Community College, Richland Community College, Southwestern Illinois College, and Lincoln Land Community College to help students seamlessly make the transition from an associates degree to a bachelors degree program.

  2. Duquesne University

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Duquesne University has liberal arts programs that can be completed entirely online, including bachelors and masters degrees and professional certificates. Students who are able to travel to campus can also choose hybrid degree programs that combine online and traditional elements. Also, the school has accelerated degrees that help students who are juggling education with their full-time jobs finish their bachelors in convenient, eight-week terms. Those interested in studying liberal arts can choose from bachelors degree programs in behavioral science, organizational leadership, and computer systems technology and masters degree programs in corporate communication and leadership.

  3. Rochester Institute of Technology-RIT Online

    Rochester, NY

    Rochester Institute of Technology was founded in 1829 to give students career education and experiential learning that will guide their success in any career. In addition, the school has decades of experience providing distance learning programs, which it has leveraged in its online degrees and courses. Students can choose to enroll in associates and bachelors degree programs in applied arts and sciences, as well as masters degrees in human resource development and professional studies. To help students navigate the online learning environment, Rochester Institute of Technology has concierge services that answer students questions and direct them to useful services offered by the school.

  4. University of Oklahoma-Norman

    Norman, OK

    Non-traditional students who are interested in studying liberal arts can earn a bachelors degree online at the University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus. Through the College of Liberal Studies, the school offers programs in criminal justice, liberal studies, and administrative leadership. No matter which bachelor's degree program students choose, they can take their coursework entirely online. As a result, these programs allow students to achieve their educational goals as they work full-time jobs and take care of their families. In addition, the structure of these programs allows students to bring their real-world experience into classroom discussions, which helps to translate theoretical principles into life situations students will encounter.

  5. Bay Path University

    Longmeadow, MA

    The liberal studies program at Bay Path University gives students a holistic look at issues in our society by providing political, cultural, and environmental perspectives that can be applied locally or globally. In addition, the program encourages students to express themselves artistically by creating websites, audio and video messages, and social media content. Through the schools associates and bachelors degree programs in liberal studies, students are able to enhance their problem-solving, literacy, and critical thinking skills. When students finish these programs, they can pursue careers as educators, copywriters, advertising specialists, museum coordinators, social media managers, and event organizers.

  6. Fort Hays State University

    Hays, KS

    The College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Fort Hays State University has the mission of enhancing the 21st-century workforce by creating highly-educated and responsible employees that have a fundamental knowledge of their chosen fields. In addition, the school values its highly-interactive community that encourages students to share ideas with their professors and peers alike. To that end, the school offers a master's degree program in liberal studies that is both highly personal and practical. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the program offers courses in information literacy, corporate communications, mathematics, political leadership, and public administration.

  7. Brenau University

    Gainesville, GA

    Brenau Universitys College of Fine Arts and Humanities works to instill students with the values of service to others, personal integrity, and artistic expression. Students at the school can choose degree programs in English, conflict resolution and legal studies, women's leadership, history, and liberal arts. In addition to coursework in their major, students are required to take classes that foster their understanding of world events and enhance their scientific and analytic abilities. Outside of the classroom, the school offers a study abroad program so that students can experience different educational systems and cultures to broaden their knowledge.

  8. Saint Leo University

    St. Leo, FL

    The online bachelor's degree program in liberal studies at Saint Leo University is a broad program designed to give students the computer literacy, analytical, leadership, and communication skills that employers look for. To create this broad perspective of the world, students are exposed to coursework in humanities, fine arts, natural and social sciences, business, and quantitative reasoning. The program requires that students take foundation courses in writing, math, and computer skills and then build upon that information by learning about a variety of other disciplines. For example, science-related courses in the program tackle areas such as human ecology, evolution, global warming, and the impact of energy on society.

  9. University of Maine at Fort Kent

    Fort Kent, ME

    The University of Maine at Fort Kent was established in 1878 in order to provide education for teachers in the local community. By 1970, the school had expanded its focus to include more degree programs and today, it offers dozens of degree programs that can be completed on campus or via the Internet. One program that the university offers is its bachelors of arts and sciences, which allows students to tailor their coursework in order to meet their individual needs. In addition to providing a strong foundation in liberal arts, students are encouraged to enhance their writing, speaking, mathematics, and logic skills while in the program.

  10. Westfield State University

    Westfield, MA

    Students who have completed associates degrees from Massachusetts Community Colleges can enroll in the bachelors completion program in liberal studies at Westfield State University. In order to earn their bachelors degree, students in this program can take available coursework in the regular fall and spring semesters, as well as the summer and winter sessions. In addition, the school offers liberal arts bachelors degree programs to those who have not attended community college. Students in this program can choose a multidisciplinary track where they focus on humanities, math, and science. There is also a bachelors of science program that has a management, computer science, and criminal justice emphasis.

2 Year Colleges

  1. Haywood Community College

    Clyde, NC

  2. Edgecombe Community College

    Tarboro, NC

  3. Pamlico Community College

    Grantsboro, NC

  4. Lamar Community College

    Lamar, CO

  5. Wayne Community College

    Goldsboro, NC

  6. Surry Community College

    Dobson, NC

  7. Bladen Community College

    Dublin, NC

  8. Stanly Community College

    Albemarle, NC

  9. Community College of Baltimore County

    Baltimore, MD

  10. Metropolitan Community College

    Omaha, NE

Program Highlight:
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts

An online bachelor’s in liberal arts degree combines coursework from multiple areas such as literature, political science and philosophy, providing a well-rounded education. Students gain analytical and critical thinking skills and also learn how to communicate effectively, merging knowledge from English, psychology and other social science classes.

Online liberal arts degrees at the baccalaureate level generally require 120 credit hours, which full-time students can finish in four to five years. Coursework can typically be completed 100 percent online, although each program varies. Students receive and submit coursework virtually, through email or an online learning platform such as Blackboard, which can help them maintain personal and professional schedules while furthering their education.

Associate Online Liberal Arts Degrees (2 Years)

The associate degree in liberal arts can represent a terminal degree for those ready to enter the workforce, and it also provides key skills and an understanding of core curriculum that can be transferred to a four-year college or university degree program. Students focus on developing research and writing techniques at the college level, along with completing a rounded introduction to the arts and sciences. The following table illustrates some of the common courses from online liberal arts schools at the associate level:

Oral CommunicationProvides training in research, writing and delivery of presentations that support ideas, employing various forms of speech-making.
World HistoryReviews historical development around the world, including political movements, armed conflicts, nationhood, economic and social systems.
Music AppreciationReviews the six historical eras in classical music, the music vocabulary and ways to understand and critique music.
Mass CommunicationsProvides an introductory overview of the history of print, broadcast and digital media, focusing on political, cultural and societal impacts.

Bachelor’s Online Liberal Arts Degree (4 Years)

To earn a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, students complete general education or core courses, interdisciplinary studies, elective subjects and more. Graduation requirements vary by program, from a thesis to a culminating presentation or some other type of milestone project.

Depending on the institution, students who have earned associate degrees may be able to transfer up to 60 credit hours, cutting full-time studies to as little as two years. The table below shows the range of studies that make up a four-year online liberal arts degree curriculum:

Liberal Arts Research MethodsIntroduces research sources, tools, strategies, citations, bibliography and other related skills.
Cultural GeographyProvides an overview of land use and social interactions, including cultural, language, open space and urban impacts.
Business CommunicationsProvides a practical introduction to techniques and modes of effective communications, including resumes, emails, proposals, news releases, multimedia and publications–both print and digital.
American Political Parties and ElectionsSurveys historical, foundational and theoretical beliefs informing local, state and national elections.
History of Art, Renaissance to Modern DayExamines philosophical, cultural and religious influences in art and architecture of American and European cultures.
Digital Editing WorkshopExplores the techniques and software platforms commonly used in sound and picture editing.
Money and BankingReviews financial markets and institutions with a focus on monetary policy and the role of the Federal Reserve System.
Beginning LatinStudies basic grammar and vocabulary in this Classical language. Texts include literary and other works by historic Roman scholars and authors.

Master’s Level Online Liberal Arts Degree

A master’s degree in liberal arts represents a non-traditional post-graduate degree. Depending on the college, students complete an average of 30 credits to fulfill degree requirements. These include core courses, electives, graduate research seminars and independent studies of topics such as the physical and social sciences, religion, fine arts, art history or foreign languages. Graduation requirements may include capstone research projects, internships, portfolios or performances. It’s wise to confer with advisors at online liberal arts schools to make sure that all components of a graduate program can be completed online.

The master’s degree can stand on its own merits, or students can continue their work toward a PhD in a range of liberal studies disciplines. Since degree requirements and courses vary across colleges and departments, students should evaluate schools with an eye toward accomplishing their academic or career goals. The table below represents a sample of courses found at the master’s level through online liberal arts schools:

Topics in the American NovelStudies the “encyclopedic” American novel and the themes that authors use to portray the social, religious, political and cultural eras in which their works are set. Authors include Melville, James, Faulkner and Pynchon.
History of Slavery and EmancipationOverview of subject ranges from ancient times through Asian and African slave-trade societies of the 15th century, with emphasis on slavery and freedom in the Americas.
Graphics Design LaboratoryGraduate students master advanced concepts in computer-assisted design and graphics programs with a focus on creating a professional portfolio.
Hollywood: History and InfluencesExamines the interactions between culture and film, how politics and societal movements affected Hollywood, and how Hollywood impacted society.
Non-profit Organizations, A to ZWhat are vital elements that go into development, launch and success of not-for-profit organizations? Topics include mission design, fundraising, legal issues, team management, marketing, human resources and advocacy.
The 1960s: Rage and RevolutionDid the sociopolitical reactions to the Vietnam War really change America? Students will delve into film, music, journalism and fiction to evaluate the major themes expressed during this tumultuous era.
Cyber EthicsExplores the ethical issues affecting the digital age, including personal privacy, intellectual property, gambling and censorship.
Tibetan Buddhism and Modern LifeWith the Dalai Lama in exile, how do the varying branches of Tibetan Buddhism thrive in the diaspora? What is the Buddhist response to war, terrorism and racism?
Capstone ProjectStudents synthesize two or more academic specialties in an interdisciplinary research paper or creative arts project.

Online Liberal Arts Degree – PhD Level

The doctorate in liberal arts represents the field’s highest level of formal academic study. Graduates may go on to university-level teaching and research, work in the visual and performing arts, or assume leadership roles in arts organizations, museums and galleries. Studies may include master’s level coursework and doctoral classes, along with requirements to produce literary works, music recitals, art portfolios or presentations. Certain distance education programs incorporate the creation and defense of a scholarly dissertation, so it’s important to determine if the defense can take place virtually.

The requirements and curriculum for graduate liberal arts online degrees vary considerably by institution. Students should research the many distinct options available, including professional or performance-related degrees.

Where Can You Go With an Online Liberal Arts Degree?

Successful liberal arts grads demonstrate skills that apply in numerous industries, including the ability to gather data, solve complex problems and show integrity, ethics and sound judgment. Fields that attract graduates of online liberal arts schools are wide-ranging, spanning graphics, writing, advertising, legal services and sales. Liberal arts graduates also discover careers in fields including journalism, business management, politics, social work and teaching, although some such occupations call for specific educational qualifications. Completing elective courses in a specialized field could potentially improve opportunities for those graduating with liberal arts degrees.

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