The road less traveled
Your journey to the Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) at Penn starts with you: your passions, your questions and your unique combination of academic interests. You state your goals, and we help you craft your course of study within the rigorous academic environment of the Ivy League.
A curriculum created with you, for you
The MLA offers intellectual explorers like you the opportunity to design your own curriculum at the intersection of your interests in the liberal arts. With the support of Penn professors and program staff, you’ll choose nine courses that deepen and broaden your engagement with the ideas, questions and practices that matter most to you. Most of our courses take place in a small seminar format, allowing you to connect with both professors and peers in an intimate setting.
The program culminates in a large-scale capstone project tailored to your professional and intellectual goals. Our alumni have found the capstone—whether a research paper, memoir, screenplay, novel or other form of expression—to be both a defining process of intellectual self-discovery and a professional asset as they consider a career shift or prepare for a PhD program.
Why choose the MLA at Penn?
The MLA at Penn provides a powerful combination of customizability, advising and the outstanding resources of one of the nation’s top research universities.
Whether as a full- or part-time student, you’ll have access to classes in over 50 liberal arts course areas, and the chance to study in other world-renowned departments throughout the university. You’ll have the full run of our unmatched libraries and archives. You’ll enjoy the support and challenge of your MLA peers: driven, curious and accomplished professionals like you.
And most importantly, you’ll receive one-on-one guidance from MLA program staff and your professors as you clarify your goals for the program and design your course of study.
The MLA beyond Penn
Our alumni have used their MLA degrees to enrich their current working lives or launch themselves into their ideal careers by gaining expertise at the precise nexus of interests about which they’re most passionate. Many of our alumni successfully enter advanced degree and PhD programs, and state that they find themselves better equipped to pursue their chosen career path. The MLA degree has helped our alumni advance in the workplace professionally and financially and even discover new career paths. We welcome you to read more alumni stories to learn how the MLA can work for you in the real world.
Connect with the MLA today
The Penn MLA program prioritizes the power of personal connection — between students, teachers and program staff. We’re available to answer any questions that may arise as you explore the MLA program at Penn.
Courses and Curriculum
Students in the Master of Liberal Arts degree program have the rare opportunity to develop their own concentration in the liberal arts from courses across the University. As an MLA student, you will design an individualized curriculum of nine graduate-level courses that center on a particular theme that interests you, culminating in an individual capstone project. The capstone is a large-scale academic project of your own choosing, created with the guidance of your professors and advisors. Previous capstones include memoirs, poetry cycles and research papers. The process of developing your capstone both tests and celebrates your education at Penn, and can be used to demonstrate the value of your time here to employers or graduate schools.
The range of courses available means you can construct a course of study at the precise nexus of your interests, or sample several different fields before settling on an ongoing focus. Moreover, the process itself of curating your own curriculum is one of the most valuable aspects of the MLA program. In doing so, you learn how to listen to your own instincts and curiosities, as well as to strategically direct your own development as a person, an academic and a professional in your field.
During the process of choosing your courses, you’ll be supported by the Program Director and our program staff. We take an intensive student-by-student approach, offering the open conversation and long-term advising relationships you need to help you choose the MLA path that meets your needs.
MLA course requirements and Proseminars
Your Master of Liberal Arts degree curriculum will consist of nine graduate-level courses. At least seven of these courses must be taken in the School of Arts and Sciences. Your curriculum may include up to two classes from other Schools in the University, such as the Annenberg School for Communication, the Graduate School of Education and the School of Social Policy & Practice.
Of the nine courses in your individualized curriculum, one to three of them must be MLA Proseminars. A Proseminar is a small, intensive class that asks you to integrate research, writing, discussion and other methods of inquiry. The small class size fosters thoughtful conversation and debate, and provides a powerful environment for intellectual growth. We offer multiple Proseminars each semester, and the topics change every semester as well.
While earning your Master of Liberal Arts degree, you have the opportunity to earn a certificate in one of several subject areas, including Latin American Studies, Urban Studies, Cinema Studies and more. Each certificate program consists of an interdisciplinary set of classes, which was chosen by faculty members to help students explore and master the given topic. Please visit the certificate page to learn more.