For many professionals, an online Master's in General Studies is the perfect opportunity to diversify or specialize their expertise and interests. Because the degree is generally created with the intent to allow students to have a large say in their curriculum choices, it is a good choice for students who have very specific interests that may not be available in specific graduate programs. It also provides a way for working professionals to earn a graduate degree in fields that are of interest to their current or new career path.
Online degrees in general studies, also known as humanities or liberal arts, provide a foundation of advanced knowledge that may be highly useful for professionals. They are also more flexible and affordable than traditional programs; students often choose programs that provide on-demand courses as well as short term schedules while the cost for an online program is significantly less than that of traditional campus degrees. This ranking has been created with the intention to showcase each school's features, ensuring that professionals who are interested in the degree have the information they need in order to make a decision.
This ranking was created using information provided by the College Navigator database, an online tool that is supported by the National Center for Education Statistics. An initial pool of 30 schools were considered for this ranking, with the 10 listed below chosen based on their in-state graduate tuition rates.
Ranking Low-cost Online General Studies Master's
10. Tiffin University
Online Master of Humanities in Humanities
Tiffin University offers an online Master's in General Studies is perfect for students who are interested in exploring a broad-based curriculum that focuses on social and human sciences. It was a degree designed for those interested in pursuing postgraduate, doctoral, and professional schooling after graduation. This is a 100 percent online degree that delivers asynchronous courses on a 15-week term schedule with three start dates every year. It is possible to earn a degree concentrated in six different areas, including humanities, communication, and film studies. Students will find a curriculum focused on bridging the gap between disciplines, enabling students to find the connections and patterns between various fields of study. This degree requires 30 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive written exam or capstone project for graduation. Sample courses include Studies in Philosophy, Studies in History, and Literary Theory.
9. SUNY Empire State College
Saratoga Springs, New York
Online Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
Students interested in a graduate-level liberal arts education will find a home at SUNY Empire State College. This is a program designed for creators, educators, and lifelong learners who wish to exercise a great deal of control over curriculum. This online Master's in General Studies is a hybrid program; the degree requires two weekend residencies on campus while the rest of the plan of study is delivered synchronously online. The program, while open for students to create their own concentrations, also comes with the ability to earn advanced certification in six areas, including Community Advocacy, Public History, and Women's and Gender Studies. Students will complete 36 credit hours of coursework that will culminate in a final project; the project can take the form of a thesis, an internship, a research project, or a creative project. Sample courses include Methods of Inquiry, Models of Critical Inquiry, and Literature Review.
8. Wayland Baptist University
Online Master of Arts in Humanities
Wayland Baptist University offers students an online Master's in General Studies that focuses on English, history, and religion. This is a 100 percent online degree that is asynchronous in nature and can be completed in as little as 18 months. The program works by choosing one of the disciplines as the major and dividing up the rest of the courses between the other two disciplines. The result is a well-rounded graduate degree that is perfect for professionals who work in politics, public relations, or writing. Students interested in this degree will need to provide evidence of college work in a second language and at least six undergraduate hours in history or religion if this is to be the major; English majors will need to provide evidence of at least 12 undergraduate hours if this is the major. This degree requires 36 credit hours of coursework and one credit hour of a comprehensive exam; some students may also opt for a thesis instead of the exam. Sample courses include Historical Methods, Literary Theory, and Advanced Literary Research.
7. University of South Dakota
Vermillion, South Dakota
Online Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies
Professionals interested in a flexible Master's in General Studies online degree are assured such a program at the University of South Dakota. This degree is 100 percent online and consists of asynchronous and synchronous courses on the traditional 16-week term schedule. Students will choose three disciplines of different varieties, which could include business, administration, health policy, and education. In addition, students will also be required to take one research course and one applied learning course; the applied learning course could be a thesis, an internship, or an independent research project. Because the curriculum is solely affected by the student's choice of courses, students will find the degree requirements fairly straightforward. Only 32 credit hours of coursework and a final project are required. Sample courses include Independent Study, Ethical Leadership, and Introduction to Scholarly Research.
6. University of Toledo
Online Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
The University of Toledo prepares students for a unique career path by conferring a general studies master's online degree. This 100 percent online degree was created for students who have varying interests and require the option to tailor nearly their entire graduate degree plan of study. Courses available vary and span everything from the humanities to natural sciences. Students must plan their course of study with their graduate advisor prior to beginning their program. Because this degree is a general studies degree, students can choose from any of the online courses, provided they choose one discipline to major in for the duration of the program. Students will be expected to complete 33 credit hours of coursework as well as a thesis for graduation. Sample courses include MLS Seminar in the Humanities, MSL Seminar in the Natural Sciences, and MLS Seminar in the Visual and Performing Arts.
5. Baker University
Baldwin City, Kansas
Online Master of Liberal Arts
The online Master's in General Studies that is available from Baker University is a critical thinking degree; it is geared towards professionals who utilize research and writing skills in their everyday lives. This is a 100 percent online degree that is delivered asynchronously and was designed to be completed in as little as 18 months with full-time study. Students must take courses in Creative Arts, History and Ideas, and Sciences with the other half of their degree focusing on one of these concentrations, Gender Studies, or Management and Leadership; students may also choose a concentrated area of interest outside of liberal arts with the approval of the department. Students will then be tasked with creating a portfolio that serves as their capstone project; this comes from their core focus within the curriculum. The only other requirement for graduation is 36 credit hours of coursework. Sample courses include Religion in America, Critical Thinking on Current Issues, and Disease and Contemporary Culture.
4. American Public University
Charles Town, West Virginia
Online Master of Arts in Humanities
American Public University confers an online general studies master's degree that is inspired by the Great Books tradition and is perfect for students interested in research and advancing into a doctoral program in their chosen field of interest. This degree is conferred entirely online and it is possible to complete the requirements in less than two years with full-time study. The plan takes its influence from the Great Books, which are known as the foundational texts of Western culture, and the core requirements reflect that. Students will traverse Western history, exploring everything from socioeconomic class structure, religion, science, art, and more. This research-based degree requires 36 credit hours of coursework that is followed by a capstone portfolio and a comprehensive written exam. Sample courses include Evolution of Earth and Universe, Enlightenment and the Modern World, and The Renaissance.
3. Western New Mexico University
Silver City, New Mexico
Online Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies
Students who are interested in earning an online Master's in General Studies will be excited to learn that Western New Mexico University has an incredible opportunity for them. This degree is found entirely online and is delivered through asynchronous and synchronous courses. Students will be able to choose between two or three different fields of study, with one study taking precedence over the others; at least 18 credit hours should be earned in one field of study. Everything from bilingual education to political science to writing is available as a concentrated area of study; students can also choose another area of study with the approval of the department. This degree requires a total of 36 credit hours of coursework, a midpoint essay, and an exit essay. Sample courses depend on the student's chosen concentrations.
2. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina
Online Master of Arts in Applied Arts and Sciences
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro confers an online Master's in General Studies that is unlike any other. Utilizing applied learning to an interdisciplinary degree, the school provides students a chance to build their own curriculum based on their needs and career goals. Students begin this 100 percent online program by discussing their own work, education, and life experiences with a graduate advisor. Once the student knows the goal they are trying to achieve, students will be able to tailor a curriculum based on what they want to accomplish, skills they'd like to enhance, and bring their graduate knowledge under the umbrella of the applied learning studio. In the studio, students will complete a final project based on their stated area of interest and the courses they have chosen to complete. Courses are delivered asynchronously and on a seven-week term schedule. Students will complete 33 credit hours of coursework, an applied learning project, and a comprehensive essay based on their experience with the program. Sample courses include Dangerous Minds: Understanding Terrorism, Global Human Rights, and Modern Problems of Belief.
1. University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Wilmington, North Carolina
Online Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington is an incredible opportunity for students interested in completing a graduate degree based on one or more interests. This is a 100 percent online degree that requires one campus residency; this is in the form of an oral defense for the final thesis, which takes place the semester prior to graduation. Students will be able to access the school's online academic library and resources as part of their entry into the program. Courses are delivered asynchronously and are on 10-week term schedules; this allows students to complete the necessary requirements in two years of part-time study. The curriculum offers three concentration areas: Social Concerns and Cultural Systems, Environment, Science, and Society, and Literature, Arts, and Society. It is also possible for students to undertake directed independent study, which is a form of a tailored curriculum supervised by a faculty member. Students will be expected to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, a final thesis, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Contemporary Issues in Liberal Studies, The Social Organization of Cruelty, and Atheism and Unbelief.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Your Career Options for an Online Master's in General Studies Degree?
Career options available with an online Master's in General Studies consist of so many job positions that it is best to list the careers in which a master's in this field will not grant entry to a professional. These include:
These professions require specialized education; therefore, a general studies graduate degree is of little use. It can be useful, however, if a student is already working in one of these fields and would like to enhance their knowledge of the liberal arts disciplines at play within their environment.
How Much Can You Earn in this Field?
A general studies degree can help with a variety of careers and salaries; currently, the salary range is $25,000 to just over $150,000. An attempt to explain the salary ranges for each position would be futile because there are too many career options, industries, and sectors in which general studies can play a role in salaries.
One thing to note, however, is that while a graduate degree in general studies alone will not provide a specialized career and high salary for a professional, it can aid them in proving expertise which could lead to higher wages. Graduates who hold mid to senior-level positions in a variety of fields who take on this degree and choose a customized curriculum that favors their employers may find themselves earning a substantial raise. Other times, the degree is the gateway to a new career; students in this situation should expect lower salaries since they will be considered entry-level employees.
What are the Various Disciplines of General Studies?
General studies is such a broad term that every single discipline found in natural sciences, the humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and more could fit under it. Everything from management to instructional technology can be housed in a general studies program. The term is so vague that even most schools don't try to limit the areas that are available for study. It is best for students to think of general studies as a field in which their particular interests, as well as research and critical thinking, take the spotlight.
Is a Master's in General Studies Really Right For You?
A graduate degree in general studies may seem like an odd choice for a working professional who is already working in a particular field. However, more professionals are interested in diversifying not only their personal interests, but also their professional interests. They may also be making a decision to change careers and feel as though a graduate degree in general studies may be a good fit for them.
For example, a professional who works in the for-profit business sector may have a personal interest in humanitarian causes. If they do not have an education in nonprofits, a degree in general studies may be a good fit for them, especially if the school has a variety of social science and politics courses available to students. Since most general studies degrees require three core interests, this professional may choose to learn about social justice, management, and perhaps take further business courses.
That same professional from the above example may also want to switch careers and become the director of a nonprofit organization. They will need further education on how to run a nonprofit and the specific field they want to work in. A general studies program is perfect for them as well, providing them with advanced courses in various fields of study that could help them move from the for-profit sector to the non-profit sector.
An online Master's in General Studies is not for a professional who wishes to advance in their current career. This is especially true if there are already educational avenues open to them, such as the Master of Business Administration, Master of Education, or Master of Science in Nursing. These professionals already have pathways built into the educational system for them, so a degree in general studies will be of little help.
This degree is also not a good fit for students interested in pursuing professional licensure or certification. These degrees do not provide a pathway towards either distinction alone; further study in a certificate program built for a particular field will be required.
In the end, the decision comes down to the professional. Whether undertaking the degree is for lifelong learning or to build expertise on a particular matter, only an individual knows what's best for them.
Why Do Some Schools Require a Core Curriculum and Others Don't?
General studies is a term that encompasses liberal studies, the humanities, and also natural and social sciences. The term's definition varies from school to school, meaning that some schools believe it is necessary to have some core course requirements while others do not. In some cases, the core requirements serve a purpose, especially in research and project-oriented degrees.
Some programs on this list require a core curriculum. These courses are generally an introduction to advanced liberal arts studies or the humanities. They often also require research courses. This is because these degrees require a project, such as a thesis or a portfolio, or a research paper as the exit exam for that program. Requiring research and critical inquiry courses prior the beginning of any tailored program ensures that students are well aware of the requirements of their final project.
Requiring core courses, such as a final project or critical thinking courses, also serves another purpose for students. Those who choose to pursue doctoral study in their chosen field need a program that requires a thesis in order to prove they understand the advanced material well enough to move onto terminal education, which is the main purpose of the degree. Most doctoral programs prefer students who have completed a graduate thesis over those who have only needed to complete a comprehensive exam.
Other schools on this ranking do not require any core requirements at all. These programs operate under the belief, which is stated on the program website, that the majority of their students are lifelong learners and who wish only to complete graduate education in a field that is of interest to them. Programs without core requirements rarely request a thesis or final project for graduation.
General studies is often regarded as an undergraduate degree, but working professionals have also become interested in having the freedom to tailor their curriculum. That's why schools are creating graduate programs in the field, enabling those with specific needs to build the degree that will help them in their career ambitions. With an online Master's in General Studies, professionals will be ready to take on advanced positions in their career, all while studying other specific interests that may become useful later on in their profession.