The liberal arts and humanities is a broad category of academic disciplines that can be studied at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Most all colleges and universities have a liberal arts and humanities department, and these types of degrees are particularly popular amongst students with varied interests as well as among those who have not yet decided upon a specific course of study. Prospective students interested in studying the liberal arts and humanities have plenty of options, including different types of degrees, varying approaches to this versatile area of study, online programs, and accelerated options.
What Subjects Fall Under the Category of Liberal Arts and Humanities?
Because this category is so very broad, there are numerous different subjects and academic disciplines that can be placed under the umbrella of liberal arts and humanities. Here are some examples:
The Liberal Arts and Humanities Advantage
There are many reasons to pursue a degree in the liberal arts and humanities, but the key advantage of such a degree lies in its flexibility. Because these degrees are so broad in scope, and because many of them are interdisciplinary by nature, they can be applied to many different career paths and can provide the foundational knowledge and skills for graduate studies in a wide range of subjects. Plus, students with a liberal arts and humanities background are widely sought after by employers because they tend to learn valuable soft skills that are important in the workplace such as leadership, communication, organization, written and verbal skills, and the like. These skills can sometimes be overlooked in more technical degree programs.
Earning Potential for Those Holding a Liberal Arts and Humanities Degree
In recent years, many critics have called into question the validity of pursuing an education in liberal arts and humanities, some going so far as to call these types of degrees worthless. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. There are many lucrative careers in this field for those willing to put the time and effort into earning their credentials. Consider the following occupations along with their 2017 mean annual wages according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Note that these employment positions bring in annual salaries that are well above the average for all occupations:
Graphic Designers: $48,700
Public Relations Specialists: $59,300
Human Resource Specialists: $60,350
Writers and Authors: $61,820
Archeologists and Anthropologists: $62,280
While there are many good-paying jobs in the liberal arts and humanities field, not all of them require the same level of education. For example, no formal education is required to become a writer or author (although it may certainly help!), but you must have a minimum of a master’s degree in order to practice as a psychologist. Keep in mind too that an advanced degree in liberal arts and humanities may position you for managerial or supervisory roles in your field that pay significantly more than an entry-level position in the same area. In the next section, we’ll explore the different levels and types of degrees available in the liberal arts and humanities.
Associate’s in Liberal Arts and Humanities Degrees
The most basic liberal arts and humanities degree one can pursue is the associate’s degree in liberal arts/humanities. These postsecondary programs can prepare students for entry-level work in a variety of field, or (more commonly) provide a foundation for further study in a more specific sub-area of liberal arts and humanities. Depending on their short-term and long-term goals, students may choose to seek an associate of science or an associate of arts in the liberal arts and humanities. Either way, the program will typically take two years to complete, although some schools offer accelerated options that allow students to complete their degree requirements in less time.
Associate’s in Liberal Arts and Humanities: Sample Courses
An associate’s degree in liberal arts and humanities is a brief, yet broad program. This means that the curriculum covers a wide range of topics in a short time, so classes are typically very general. Consider these examples:
Introduction to the Humanities
Integrated Life Science
Principles of Sociology
Introduction to Philosophy
Depending on the specific school and program, an associates degree in liberal arts and humanities degree may require a capstone component such as a practicum or research project, for example.
Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts and Humanities Degree Programs
Most students who desire a solid academic foundation in the liberal arts and humanities pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field. Bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts and humanities are typically four-year programs that require a full-time commitment. These programs of study typically include many of the same courses one would study in an associate’s degree program but are more comprehensive, inviting students to delve deeper into certain academic subjects. Bachelor’s degrees are often more flexible as well, allowing students to customize their curriculum by electing a minor or area of specialization. This versatility can open up more options for students as they enter the workforce or graduate program. To complete a bachelor’s degree program in the liberal arts and humanities, students are usually expected to earn approximately 120 credits.
Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts and Humanities: Sample Courses
There isn’t a standard curriculum for all bachelor’s in liberal arts and humanities program, so specific course titles will vary from school to school and program to program. Even so, these programs are similar enough that you can get a general idea of what to expect by examining a sample curriculum. Consider the following course titles taken from real bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and humanities programs:
Mathematics for Liberal Arts
Civic and Community Engagement
Music As Cultural Expression
Contemporary Social Justice Issues
Religions of the West
U.S. History Since 1877
In addition to specialized classes like the ones listed below, bachelor’s in liberal arts and humanities will also invariably include general education courses that cover basic topics in communication, writing, research, mathematics, arts, behavioral sciences, social sciences, computing, and the like. To fulfill this general education requirement, students with an associates degree in liberal arts and humanities or a related field may be able to transfer in credits already earned and complete their degree in a more timely manner.
Master’s Degree Programs in Liberal Arts and Humanities
A master’s degree in liberal arts and humanities is an advanced program of study beyond the bachelor’s degree that usually takes two years to complete. A master’s degree in liberal arts and humanities is sometimes called a Master’s in Liberal Studies or a Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies. Unlike most graduate programs, this type of master’s program asks students to broaden their studies rather than specialize in a specific area. Master’s in liberal arts and humanities students become experts in a wide range of topics such as history, literature, political science, philosophy, visual and performing arts, communications, religion, language, culture, and more. To complete the degree requirements for a master’s in liberal arts and humanities, students must typically earn between 30 and 36 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree.
Master’s in Liberal Arts and Humanities: Curriculum
As we’ve mentioned, masters degrees in liberal arts and humanities tend to be very general. They also offer students a great deal of flexibility in terms of curriculum and course content. More often than not, students are required to take just a few core courses while the remaining credits are earned through elective courses. This format allows students to individualize their graduate studies, tailoring them to their specific academic interests and career goals. In some cases, master’s in liberal arts and humanities programs offer defined concentrations. Some of these concentration options include:
Religious and Ethical Studies
Social and Public Policy
Depending upon the elective classes and/or concentration they choose, students will take specific courses such as:
Film and Media Studies
Writing About Social issues
Methods and Approaches to Multidisciplinary Studies
Technology and the Human Community
The Liberal Arts and the Professional Life
Examining Culture and Civilization
Religion and Conflict
Theories of Technological Chance
Politics of the Middle East
Even those masters in liberal arts and humanities degree programs that do not offer predefined concentrations may offer ways for students to customize their degree plans through the selection of elective classes. Students who desire a customizable curriculum should select a program with few required core courses and more free elective requirements.
Doctoral Programs in Liberal Arts and Humanities
While undergraduate and masters degrees in liberal arts and humanities tend to be broad programs that encompass the whole of liberal studies, doctoral programs in this field tend to be more specialized. While it is possible to pursue a more general program at the doctoral level such as a Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities or a Doctor of Liberal Art/Liberal Studies degree program, the more popular option is to study a specific academic area that falls under the umbrella of liberal arts and humanities, such as religion, philosophy, natural science, history, fine arts, etc.
Doctoral Programs in Liberal Arts and Humanities: Curriculum
While doctoral programs in liberal arts and humanities are similar to master’s programs in that they provide students with the opportunity to study liberal arts topics in depth, doctoral programs differ in that they are heavily research-based. Students are trained in proper quantitative and qualitative research methods and are tasked with applying these methods to an individualized research project in their chosen discipline.
In addition to fulfilling the required research component, doctoral students will study advanced topics in the humanities and liberal arts. Below are examples of course titles from actual doctorate programs:
Family and Community Ties
Social Transformation Through Art
Philosophical Perspectives on the Digital Age
Modern Literature and the Human Condition
Culture, Society, and the Global Tradition
Online Programs in Liberal Arts and Humanities
Liberal arts and humanities is a subject that can be studied online, and it’s becoming more and more feasible for students to earn degrees in this field entirely online. This is true at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students don’t have to sacrifice quality for convenience and flexibility, either. On the contrary, many of these online degrees in the liberal arts and humanities are carbon copies of their on-campus counterparts, and some are even taught by the same faculty.
Not all online liberal arts and humanities degrees are the same, though, and while important, quality isn’t the only thing to consider when selecting a program. There are many factors to contemplate, including course delivery. While most offerings are asynchronous, meaning students can complete coursework on their own schedules, some are synchronous and therefore, less flexible. Synchronous liberal arts and humanities degrees online require that students log on to their learning platforms at predetermined times to view live streams of class lectures or attend a teleconference with professors or fellow students, for example.
Many schools offering online degrees in liberal arts and humanities acknowledge that their distance students are often busy with work and family obligations and therefore offer part-time options to accommodate their scheduling needs.
A few online liberal arts and humanities degree programs are technically hybrid offerings as they require some on-campus visits for the purposes of orientation, internships, or residencies. While this requirement may discourage some students, others may prefer the increased interactivity offered through these in-person learning experiences.
Finally, some online degrees in the liberal arts and humanities offer accelerated options, allowing students to complete more coursework in less time and finish their degree requirements faster. Before opting for an accelerated program, be sure that your schedule is open enough to accommodate a heavier workload. While receiving a degree faster is certainly tempting, students with considerable work and/or family obligations may perform better with a more relaxed pace.
Liberal Arts and Humanities Rankings: