Master of Liberal Arts (MLA)


The Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program fosters intellectual breadth through courses that address a broad range of cultural issues from different academic perspectives. Students may explore questions of identity through art, literature, and religion. They may analyze the politics of race in fiction, historical documents, the visual arts, and music. They may debate ethical choices presented by fiction writers, jurists, philosophers, and scientists from Antiquity through the present. MLA seminars examine literary, artistic, and cinematic masterpieces; historic moments of discovery and change; traditions of thought; cultural differences; and civic responsibilities.

MLA students sharpen their thinking about contemporary values and choices through courses that ask them to reflect on the individual's relation to society; technology and the spread of ideas; challenges to freedom; inspiration and creativity.

Students pursue course work and independent research with Washington University scholars from a number of academic disciplines, including architecture, art, film, history, literature, music, philosophy, religion, and science.

The program provides four optional concentrations in which students may focus a portion of their work: Literary and Historical Studies; Philosophy, Religion, and Ethical Studies; Visual Culture, Arts, and Media Studies; and Science, Technology, and Culture.

The MLA program emphasizes critical thinking and inquiry, close reading, intensive writing, and problem solving, all hallmarks of a liberal arts education and essential skills for a range of professional contexts.

Who Should Apply?

The Master of Liberal Arts program is designed for the experienced adult learner who wishes to pursue interdisciplinary study along with scholarly reading and research.

There is no single profile of the typical MLA student. Students range in age from their 20's to their 80's, and they come from various backgrounds and professions.

required course work

Required Courses: 12 units

Core Interdisciplinary Seminars: 15 units

The Master of Liberal Arts program consists of seminars that introduce students to the methods and questions of different disciplines. Planned and taught by full-time Washington University faculty, these seminars are organized into four general categories and cover a wide variety of topics and issues. Most core seminars are held one evening a week during the fall and spring semesters and twice a week during the summer term.

  • Philosophy, Religion, and Ethical Studies
    How do we know what we know? What ideas have shaped human consciousness? How do ideas and myths define our theories, models, and metaphors?
  • Visual Culture, Arts, and Media Studies
    What are the nature and sources of creativity, especially in the arts and literature? What does creativity mean to the artist, scientist, writer, or composer? What qualities of mind, personality, and environment affect creation and innovation?
  • Science, Technology, and Culture
    How has the growth and application of human knowledge affected human society? What is the non-scientist to believe as new discoveries are announced daily? What new ethical choices are posed by developments in science and technology?
  • Literary and Historical Studies
    What have been the enduring values of the Western and non-Western cultures? How can we cultivate in ourselves empathy and understanding for people in other times and places?

Some students take all 30 hours of the degree in the seminars that are designed specifically for the MLA program; others augment a particular interest by taking related courses drawn from different departments.

Final Project: 3 units

A Final Project, developed under the supervision of a Washington University faculty member, is required for the Master of Liberal Arts degree. This project presents an opportunity to explore independently and extensively an area of personal interest and must be completed at the conclusion of a student's course work.

Learn more about the final project.

admissions requirements

Transferring Credit

A maximum of six units of related, comparable graduate-level course work may be transferred from another university or from a related graduate program at Washington University with the approval of the program director. These must be graduate-level units not used to fulfill undergraduate degree requirements. Transfer credit may be granted only for authorized courses for which the student received a grade of B or higher. 

Bachelor's Degree

Admission to this program is on a selective basis to qualified persons with a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution.

application requirements

Completed application form

The online application is available online on our Apply page. Applications are ready for review when all fields on the application form are completed, required documents have been received, and the application fee is paid.

Official transcripts from all previous college work

Contact the registrar at each previous college or university attended to request an official transcript. Official transcripts must be sent directly from the registrar to University College.

Personal statement

Tell us about yourself in a brief essay (about 250 words). Why are you applying to University College? What are your goals, both academic and professional? What do we need to know when considering your application?

TOEFL scores (if applicable)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, official TOEFL scores must be forwarded to University College.

Graduates of a U.S. university or college or Canada, Australia, and U.K. residents are exempt if they have earned a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree from such college or university.

$35 application fee

You may pay by credit card online, or via check or money order payable to Washington University in St. Louis. You may also pay the fee by cash at the University College office. 

This fee is waived for all WashU staff.

Three Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation should be completed by teachers or professional associates. They can be submitted as part of your online application or mailed to University College.

Writing Sample

Please submit a recent academic writing sample. If one is not available, please submit an original essay that answers the following question: What important idea, discovery, or work of art (including music and literature) has made a difference in your life, and why?

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Still have questions?

Program Coordinator: Harriet Stone | (314) 935-5175 |

Director of Advising and Student Services: Elizabeth Fogt | (314) 935-6778 |

Administrative Assistant for Academic Programs: Holly Schroeder | (314) 935-6759 |