What Does a Liberal Arts Degree Entail?
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.
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.
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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.
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:
Provides training in research, writing and delivery of presentations that support ideas, employing various forms of speech-making.
Reviews historical development around the world, including political movements, armed conflicts, nationhood, economic and social systems.
Reviews the six historical eras in classical music, the music vocabulary and ways to understand and critique music.
Provides 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:
Introduces research sources, tools, strategies, citations, bibliography and other related skills.
Liberal Arts Research Methods
Provides an overview of land use and social interactions, including cultural, language, open space and urban impacts.
Provides a practical introduction to techniques and modes of effective communications, including resumes, emails, proposals, news releases, multimedia and publications–both print and digital.
Surveys historical, foundational and theoretical beliefs informing local, state and national elections.
American Political Parties and Elections
Explores the techniques and software platforms commonly used in sound and picture editing.
Digital Editing Workshop
Reviews financial markets and institutions with a focus on monetary policy and the role of the Federal Reserve System.
Money and Banking
Studies 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:
Studies 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.
Topics in the American Novel
Overview 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.
History of Slavery and Emancipation
Graduate students master advanced concepts in computer-assisted design and graphics programs with a focus on creating a professional portfolio.
Graphic Design Laboratory
Examines the interactions between culture and film, how politics and societal movements affected Hollywood, and how Hollywood impacted society.
Hollywood: History and Influences
What 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.
Non-profit Organizations, A to Z
Did 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.
The 1960s: Rage and Revolution
Explores the ethical issues affecting the digital age, including personal privacy, intellectual property, gambling and censorship.
With 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?
Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Life
Students 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.
Best Online Colleges for Liberal Arts: 2021
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.