Why Pursue a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies?

Benjamin Pearson, Faculty Program Director, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)
Benjamin Pearson, Faculty Program Director, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)
Benjamin Pearson, Faculty Program Director, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)

We live in a fast-moving, ever-changing world.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans born in 1979 held an average of 11.7 jobs between the ages of 18 and 48 (BLS, 2015).  Millennials change jobs even more often (Meister, 2012).  As a result, the skills required to succeed in today’s workforce are always changing.

What kind of college education best prepares students for this job-market reality?  According to many employers, the surprising answer is: “the liberal arts.”   As Fareed Zakaria writes in his new book In Defense of Liberal Education:

The liberal arts in the Middle Ages

Whatever job you take, the specific subjects you studied in college will probably prove somewhat irrelevant to the day to day work you will do soon after you graduate. And even if they are relevant, that will change. . . . What remains constant are the skills you acquire and the methods you learn to approach problems. . . . Learning and re-learning, tooling and retooling are at the heart of the modern economy (p. 79).

What liberal arts skills do employers especially look for in their employees? 

According to a study by Hart Research Associates, employers place the most weight on sound ethical judgment, the capacity to understand and work with people from diverse backgrounds, and the ability to learn new things.  They also place a high value on critical thinking and problem solving, research skills, organization, and knowledge about contemporary American and world issues (Hart Research Associates, 2014).

These skills are at the heart of traditional “liberal arts education,” and they are embedded in the curriculum and core learning outcomes of Excelsior’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.

The liberal arts today

In their Tier I coursework and throughout the program, MALS students work to develop graduate level research and writing skills that will serve them well in any career they pursue.  They are trained to understand and appreciate the mindsets and experiences of people in other cultures—both in the United States and around the world.  And they grapple with the ways in which globalization is reshaping individual and cultural identity.

In their remaining coursework, MALS students select courses on topics such as the history of philosophical, economic, or scientific thought; cross-cultural interpretation; ethics; international politics; organizational leadership; and strategic problem solving.  They are trained in graduate literary, historical, or social scientific research methods.  And they develop their project management ability by applying all of these skills to a major research project, either in their MA thesis or in their capstone research paper.

These skills and this knowledge remain relevant to our students long after they complete their degree program, helping them to compete in today’s fast-moving job market, to advance their careers, and to develop their intellectual abilities.  In a survey of our recent graduates, 100% of MALS students report being “satisfied” with the way that the program has trained them in these crucial job and life skills (96% report being “very satisfied”).  100% said they would recommend Excelsior College to others (Excelsior College, 2015).

Excelsior’s MALS graduates work in a wide variety of different fields, including education, the military, management, information technology, counseling and social work, engineering, human resources, and journalism.  For many the MALS degree represents a major step forward for their career–27% of respondents to a recent alumni survey reported receiving a promotion in their job within one year of graduating from the program.   Others go on to graduate school, work toward additional professional certification, or work on personal projects (books, screenplays, and artistic creations) that grow out of their graduate research (Excelsior College, 2015).

“What can I do with a graduate liberal arts degree?”  The answer is that liberal studies students can succeed at anything they put their minds to.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Number of jobs held, labor market activity, and earnings growth among the youngest baby boomers: Results from a longitudinal survey.  Retrieved from www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/nlsoy.pdf

Excelsior College, Report of survey results: One-year survey. Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, September 21, 2015)

Hart Research Associates. (2014). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success, April 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/2013_EmployerSurvey.pdf

Meister, Jeanne.  (2012). Job hopping is the ‘new normal’ for millennials: Three ways to prevent a human resource nightmare.  Forbes.  Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/print/

Zakaria, Fareed. (2015). In defense of liberal education.  New York: Norton.

Photo credits:

  1. “Meeting of doctors at the university of Paris” by Unknown – BNF, Français 1537, fol. 27v[1] “Svenska folket genom tiderna. Vårt lands kulturhistoria i skildringar och bilder. Andra bandet. Den medeltida kulturen”. Edited by professor Ewert Wrangel. Published by Tidskriftsförlaget Allhem, Malmö, 1938. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meeting_of_doctors_at_the_university_of_Paris.jpg#/media/File:Meeting_of_doctors_at_the_university_of_Paris.jpg
  2. Freeimages.com/Celal Teber
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