MALS Student
Survival Guide

Mast of Arts - LIberal Studies

Master of Liberal Studies
Student Survival Guide

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What exactly is a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies or Liberal Studies? There is often confusion as to what exactly one studies. The major question is what to do after the degree? What does the future hold? What kind of jobs are waiting out there after graduation? Well, the answers may be surprising.

The MALS program challenges students with its diversity of subjects. Courses in a typical graduate program are usually extremely specialized. Classes in a graduate liberal studies program, however, are designed to expand and advance the mind in various disciplines, not just one. That is the beauty, the draw of the MALS program. The MALS at Lourdes is designed to integrate the disciplines of liberal learning, providing students a broad lens through which they can examine enduring questions, issues, and challenges.

When going to school for a MALS degree one needs to have a curious mind, an openness to ideas, and the desire to learn. One may not specialize in everything, but at least explore everything and understand connections. This degree is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of hard work and determination; it is not the degree for the flighty.

The main reason why this degree is so special is because it is meant for the people of the world, the people who love anything and everything, the people who have a lust for life and a love for others, the people who have special interests and talents who want to share them with the world. This is the degree of innovators and world changers. Are you ready to join the ranks and be a world changer?

History of Liberal Studies

The portA brief history of the liberal arts begins with the early Greeks and Romans. The historical development of the seven liberal arts occurred as a progression of the ancient Greek and Roman systems of education. The early Greek education involved music and gymnastics. Music helped the educational development of poetry and letters in the life of the Greeks. The model that Plato used for higher education for the "guardian class" involved a broad course that included elementary, secondary, and higher education.

The elementary course at that time lasted until the twentieth year of the citizen. The secondary course lasted from the twentieth to the thirtieth year. The higher education was considered the final teaching for the practical life of the impeccable citizen, and occurred from the thirtieth to the thirty-fifth year of the citizen. The model that Aristotle used as a foundation for higher education was similar to Plato's when referring to the curriculum of the liberal studies, which included reading, writing, gymnastics, music and art. Plato and Aristotle both believed that music and gymnastics were significant branches of education.

St. Francis and the wolfOne exception was that Aristotle's plan for the systematic training of a man would need more natural sciences than mathematics; however, the model was never considered until the boy reached a certain age (Abelson, 1906).

An education in Liberal Arts was designed as an approach to education that empowered individuals and prepared them for dealing with complexity, diversity and change. The liberal studies provides the students with comprehensive knowledge of the wider world that includes science, culture, and society as well as thorough studies in specific areas of interest. The study of liberal arts aids the student in developing an awareness of social responsibility along with the intellectual skills that are learned in communications and the ability to apply knowledge and skills in everyday life situations (Nussbaum, 1998).

The wide-ranging objectives of the Liberal Arts education have been long-lasting even when the course and requirements have changed. Today's Liberal education typically includes a general education program that provides comprehensive learning in multiple disciplines and ways of knowing, as well as comprehensive study in a major (Nussbaum, 1998).

Abelson, P. (1906). The seven liberal arts: a study in mediaeval arts. Teachers College. New York: Columbia University.
Nussbaum, M. (1998). Cultivating humanity: A classical defense of reform in liberal education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

The Purpose of Interdisciplinary Study

MAH mosaicWhy are interdisciplinary studies so important? You will achieve a more rounded scholarship in the educational journey. Going down one avenue, you will encounter several side streets and might want to go down a few to see the attractions they hold. It is like this in education. Answer one question, and many more come from the answer, which gives a better understanding of the initial question.

Being educated with an interdisciplinary approach is like being fluent in another language; you not only know the language with its different nuances, but also the cultures and histories of the people who use that language. Just as knowing that language gives you a better understanding of a different people, and enables you to know how they think and why they do the things they do, knowing a subject with the understanding of other disciplines enables a student to have a clearer map of where they are going and the different pathways to reach one's goals.

The Humanities

Duns Scotus LibraryThe humanities are those subjects which refer to our culture as human beings; that which makes us uniquely human. As a student of liberal studies your intellect will be enhanced through an in-depth exposure to those disciplines within the humanities such as art, music, English, history, theology and philosophy. An integrated comprehension of these subjects is achieved through critical analysis and a study of theory, which will serve to expand your understanding of how we interact and communicate with one another, now and throughout history.

From antiquity through the present, the human mind and our quest for knowledge remain an innate part of who we are. Human beings still seek to achieve a greater understanding of the world around us. We still strive to expand our knowledge in ways that help to extend logic and reason into our everyday lives. It is our quest for knowledge, enlightenment and the expansion of the mind that makes us uniquely human. That, along with many aspects of a liberal studies education, has remained constant from the age of antiquity.

In synthesizing the humanities disciplines in multiple courses, MALS students learn to apply the wide-ranging concepts of literature, history, philosophy, theology, and the arts to provide a more cohesive, enhanced comprehension of the world around us. This multi-dimensional understanding of all disciplines of the humanities will provide a solid intellectual basis for all areas of life in the future.

The Natural Sciences

MAH bellNatural science is the study of physical, nonhuman aspects of the Earth and the universe around us. The term natural science is also used to identify disciplines following the scientific method. The natural sciences include: astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth science, ecology, geology, and physics.

The establishment of the scientific method in the sixteen-hundreds and the ensuing scientific revolution, helped create a pool of knowledge paving the way to modern science. The natural sciences are often referred to as "hard science" because of the heavy use of objective data and quantitative methods that rely on mathematics, experimentation, and observation.

The science classes in the MALS program are not the typical required lab science, white-coat classes. These classes dissect the thought process of natural science professionals from a historical perspective and look at paradigm shifts that helped move science forward.

The interconnectedness of the many elements of the natural sciences is enhanced by a greater understanding of our environment as a whole. Students learn to think as scientists and to be more discriminating and analytical when reading and researching scientifically. They learn about what constitutes evidence, valid research methods, and truthful representation of data.

The Social Sciences

Social science is any discipline or branch of science that deals with human behavior in its social and cultural aspects. The social science disciplines entail many areas of coursework, but the social science courses in the liberal studies program at Lourdes University focus mainly on the areas of psychology and sociology. An initial course allows the student to obtain knowledge and insight on the origins of behavior and external societal factors that combine the history of behavior and thinking with modern and theory that will continue to shape worldly facets in regard to how we attempt to co-exist.

Utilizing various methods of research, social science is able to collect both qualitative and quantitative information to be learned and applied to social behaviors and ideals that we utilize in society that will continue the evolution of culture and humanity. The students will then be able to apply this insight to both personal and professional endeavors, in which they will continue to learn and contribute to humanity through interaction with other individuals and being able to understand and embrace diverse perspectives and traditions. The vast amount of information learned through the social science components of the liberal studies program will allow one to garner a great deal of enlightenment about the many valuable ways in which to improve and innovate one's way of thinking.

Student Resource Manual


From research to writing to capstones, the following advice is a gift from the inaugural class that might facilitate your journey of working toward the MALS degree.

 Pax et bonus 

Style Guide

Why is it that anytime a paper is written for class, there is a certain manner in which the instructor wants it written? It usually has something to do with the subject area and the expected style and citation format for that particular discipline. Here are the three main styles usually used within the liberal studies program. Remember to reference style books and style web sites for more information.

Modern Language Association (MLA)
This is the format mainly used in humanities courses, with an emphasis on the authorship. Citations are in parentheses.

Sample Works Cited Format:

Books: Author's name, work title, publication city, publisher, year published, and publication medium.

Periodicals: Author. "Title of article". Publication, date published. Volume and pages. Publication medium

Article in online journal: Author. "Title of article." Journal name volume (date): pages. Medium. Date accessed.

American Psychological Association (APA)
This style is most used in the social sciences with an emphasis on date of the creation. Citations are in parentheses.

Sample Reference Page Format:

Books: Author's name. (Publication year). Work title. Publication city: publisher.

Articles in Periodicals: Author's last name and initials. (Publication date & month). Title in sentence case. Periodical title in title case, volume and pages (italicized)

Online Sources: Author. (Date). Article title. Site Title, volume or issue. Retrieved from URL or DOI (digital object identifier)

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)
This is the usual method for historical documentation with an emphasis on source origins. Footnotes and endnotes are used on page to show where information is derived.

Sample Notes Format:

Books: Author. Work Title. Publication city:publisher, publication year

Articles in Periodicals: Author. "Article title". Publication, Publication date written out, publication information

Online sources: Author. Document title. URL or DOI

Formatting Reminders


  • No title page needed
  • Name and page number in top right
  • 1" margins
  • Legible font, 12 point, usually Times New Roman


  • Title page, abstract, main body and References are the sections of an APA paper
  • Running head and page number (running head: shortened title page number)
  • 1" margins
  • Clear font, 12 point, usually Times New Roman


  • Title page, notes, and Bibliography
  • Page number in the top right
  • 1'-1.5" margins
  • Font clear, 10-12 point, usually Times New Roman

Works Cited

The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 2010. Web 06/20/2013.

The Purdue OWL: Citation Chart, n.d. Web 06/20/2013.

Suggested Titles

Aaron, Jane and Anderson, Daniel. The Little Brown Compact Handbook, 5th Edition. Pearson Education, 2004. Print.

Lipson, Charles. Cite Right, A Quick Guide to Citation Styles; MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.

Raines, Ann and Jerskey, Maria. Keys for Writers. Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

Research and Writing Tips

Graduate research is different from undergraduate work in the sense that graduate students are expected to acquire content through readings and research, but the real graduate work occurs when students are able to digest information and can create their own, substantiated opinion or argument on a specific topics. This list of tips will assist you as you begin to practice this process.

  1. Read, read, read.
    Have I exhausted scholarly avenues to find information on the topic? Have I searched for different keywords or for authors that have written on the subject?
  2. When in doubt, cite.
    Did I give credit to whoever thought this idea? Are the sources I am using credible?
  3. Critically assess data.
    Is the quantity of the data valid? Is the quality of the data acceptable? Is the data relevant to the topic?
  4. Organize your thoughts.
    Do I have a clear argument? Do my sources support my arguments? Does my argument have a logical progression?
  5. Use your cohort as a sounding board.
    Do my peers think I am on the right track? What suggestions or criticisms are they sharing with me?
  6. Document as you go.
    Did I record where I found relevant data? Is there more to this article/reading that I would need to better understand it?
  7. Pursue challenging and credible resources.
    Did I find resources that are peer edited? Did I find facts that can be substantiated?
  8. Create original ideas.
    Do my ideas or arguments contribute to the conversation about the topic? Has anyone else made the same argument or presented the same idea?
  9. Review writing and citation page before submitting.
    Did I have someone else edit major papers? Did I check pronouns for consistency and verbs for agreement?
  10. Fulfill the assignment requirements.
    Did I answer all of the requirements? Did I ask professors for any clarification?

The Cohort Model

Cohort modelBeing a part of a cohort means that you will graduate with the same people that you enter the program. More importantly they will become a support network of people that are sharing this educational experience with you, since you all will be taking the same class at the same time. This model allows the members of the cohort to work together during their program and in doing so they become a closely knit group of people. It is likely that the members of your cohort will become not only your classmates, but your friends. Going through this program is a lot easier when you know you are not doing it alone. Having people around you that are sharing the same experiences as you are is part of what makes this model special. The members of your cohort will bring many different perspectives and educational backgrounds to the table, which will greatly contribute to the class discussions and learning.

The cohort meets at the same time for class throughout the entire program. This makes it easier to fit it into a schedule because you don't have to worry about the class time or day changing. This works especially well for students who are working during the day or have a fixed work schedule. Meeting once a week also allows ample time to complete assignments and readings for class.

Quick Tips for Making the Most of Your Cohort Experience

  1. Wipe away any preconceived notions and come in with an open mind. Let the members of your cohort show you who they are, they may surprise you.
  2. Always respect the opinions and work of those around you.
  3. Expect to debate respectfully and academically.
  4. Establish open lines of communication and do not be afraid to contact one another.
  5. Support one another throughout the program.
  6. Do not get discouraged if people leave the cohort; just know that they have their reasons.

The Capstone Project

Duns Scotus LibraryCapstone:
The capstone project is the culminating experience for students in the program. Students will build on the proposal developed and approved in MLS 650, carry out the research plan, and create a final written thesis or capstone project that uses multidisciplinary knowledge, values, and methods of inquiry to analyze a complex issue or problem, evaluate alternative solutions, and propose original solutions.

Those who have completed a graduate program often identify very closely with their thesis/capstone work. Many list and explain their work on a resume or curriculum vita. Often, after telling someone about a graduate degree, the immediate question is, "What was your focus?" The question assumes the graduate will discuss his or her independent work–the created knowledge.

The capstone also allows a student to tailor the degree to potential future professional or academic goals.

Getting Ready:
The primary preparation for the capstone experience is in the courses leading up to it. These courses will provide students the opportunity to examine how different disciplines examine issues, what counts as evidence within them, and how they typically discover and present this evidence.

Students can and should engage in preliminary reading about the problem or issue before beginning the capstone preparation course. This reading helps the student to see what previous academic conversations have occurred, what strategies have been attempted, and what work has been accomplished. Students should try to find published works originating in several different academic disciplines or combinations of disciplines.

In MLS 650, the capstone preparation course, students will have seven weeks to make connections with mentors, craft a research process, obtain IRB approval, and create a formal proposal.

The Project:
A capstone or thesis goes beyond synthesizing knowledge to create original knowledge. For the MALS degree, the possibilities for knowledge creation are especially diverse. Students may engage in qualitative or quantitative research. They may work with any variety of primary and secondary sources. Because they will use a multidisciplinary approach, they will combine the approaches of academic disciplines in unique and innovative ways.

A researched thesis is typically 35 to 50 pages long. A capstone project may take other forms, however, so the page number may vary. Goals for the specific project should be discussed with mentors early in the process.

Student capstone or thesis will demonstrate:

  1. Competent analysis of a complex problem/issue using multidisciplinary knowledge and values.
  2. Meaningful synthesis of multidisciplinary literature on a complex problem/issue.
  3. Appropriate application of scholarly methods to explore/examine a complex problem/issue.
  4. Clear, coherent presentation of findings.
  5. Rigorous evaluation and recommendation of alter native future directions/solutions or alternative scholarly approaches.
  6. Original, creative thought and/or thesis claim (goes beyond a synthesis of current knowledge).
  7. Graduate level writing ability (conforms to standards of scholarly discourse in the liberal studies disciplines).

Students should create a timeline of due dates with mentors, allowing for multiple drafts and revisions. Breaking down a long paper into chapters or other divisions can be extremely helpful, both for the author and readers.

Anyone working on a long project with multiple drafts needs to know how to take criticism and suggestions, from workshops with other students and from mentors. Flexibility is key.

Career Advice

The exciting thing about a degree in liberal studies is that you can do almost anything. A degree in liberal studies can enhance one's career potential in a variety of fields.

Some common career fields:

  • Education
  • Management
  • Communications/Publishing
  • Public Service
  • Business/Marketing
  • Non-profit organizations

The specific profession all depends on what the degree holder is looking for. The nice thing about a degree in liberal studies is that it prepares the students and equips them with a variety of skills that may not be offered by other degree programs.

These skills include the ability to:

  • Understand diverse perspectives
  • Analyze complex issues and problems
  • Synthesize ideas and evaluate alternatives
  • Be flexible with methods and ways of thinking
  • Write well and give clear presentations
  • Apply a broad, multidisciplinary perspective to new challenges
  • show initiative and confidence

The reason these skills are so dominant in the liberal arts is because there is such a variety that it requires diversity in an individual. In a cohort setting especially, it helps build the social and communication skills. Everyone is coming from a different background with different interests and it makes going through school very exciting.

Candid Advice from Inaugural Students

Nastassia FiferNastassia Fifer
My experience in the liberal studies program here at Lourdes University was very valuable to my entrepreneurial endeavors. The analytical and critical thinking skills that I perfected through the coursework allowed me to be equipped with the necessary capabilities for becoming an effective entrepreneur, and will assist me in important decision making opportunities throughout my career. I enjoyed having my ideals and perspective challenged by exploring diverse philosophical schools of thought and being allowed to display my own ideas and creativity through research assignments and other projects.

Dianne KinkaidDianne Kinkaid
My bit of candid advice to prospective graduate students consists of "time management." The wide range of content and analysis required to achieve a masters of liberal studies means a significant amount of reading; don't let it get away from you! Find a study/work routine that works for you and stick to it. Immerse yourself in this intellectual ride of a lifetime as it's an amazing experience. Lourdes University's exceptional academic standards lead to exceptional academic outcomes. The rewards far outweigh the challenges.

Claudia ReynoldsClaudia Reynolds
Education has been extremely important to me. An education in the liberal arts has been a wonderful, enlightening experience and the whole curriculum has helped make me a well-rounded person. I have always liked to learn and become aware of everything around me, and this program has been the vehicle for my continued personal and educational growth.

The study of the liberal arts is extremely informative and has enriched my everyday living and awareness. The Master of Arts in liberal studies has taken me back over everything that I have already learned and given me a new perspective. The liberal studies program provides long lasting answers to questions and problems that I encounter in society. We need the tools that we gain from liberal studies for our daily lives.

Linda CokerLinda Coker
My experience in the Master of Arts in liberal studies has been fantastic! All of the liberal studies disciplines have a lot to offer future graduate students. New graduate students should prepare themselves to learn new and interesting concepts. One of my favorite classes was Humanities Topics III - Art and Music. I was able to express myself by participating in art by learning how to make a bowl out of clay. I learned how and why the different keys make different sounds. I learned about the different eras Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic. One of the assignments was to attend a live concert. That was a great experience to write reflective notes about a concert. It taught me to appreciate music in a different way. I watched the DVD about the life of Camille Claudel, which had a great impact on me that I will never forget. I would recommend the MALS program to prospective students wanting an educational experience that will last a lifetime.

Matt DanielsMatt Daniels
I am consistently surprised with how during the MALS classes I am able to take something from a reading or discussion in class and apply it to my teaching high school students. Each time this happens, I am reminded of the interconnectivity of disciplines and the importance of a liberal studies education. I have never been satisfied with just one path however; my undergraduate studies were a conglomeration of language, literature, economics, and history. Likewise at Lourdes, the MALS program provides students who are interested in a variety of topics a scholarly approach to interdisciplinary learning. Each class in an adventure, so as you prepare for each week, I encourage you to take time to mentally digest all that you are being asked to consider.

Robin ReidRobin Reid
Dear student, my advice on being successful in any graduate program is:

  1. Get plenty of rest.
  2. Eat a healthy diet.
  3. Learn to de-stress.
  4. Read something not scholarly.
  5. Go to the movies.
  6. Ask a lot of questions (by email if necessary).
  7. Find instructors to mentor you if needed.
  8. Have a sense of humor.
  9. Internship, anywhere.
  10. Have family and friends that are reliable to help you out when meals, babysitting or transportation is needed.
  11. Research the job market.
  12. Breathe.

I hope this helps.

Autumn RogersAutumn Rogers
There's nothing to it but to do it! I have learned that it is important to keep an open mind throughout this program. There will be many things along the way that you may think you will not enjoy. However, you may come to find your preconceived notions to be misleading. I found that I enjoyed something about every class I took. It is also important to manage your time well in this program. It does take a lot of work and dedication and it certainly is a time commitment. One of the hardest things for me was not waiting until the last minute to get things finished. I am a self proclaimed procrastinator and I had to train myself in the beginning of this program to start things in advance. It really makes things a lot less stressful to knock them out early. While there may be things that are challenging, there is nothing that you cannot do. This program has given me a broad and well rounded base to advance both academically and personally. I cannot wait to take the next step in my educational journey. This program fosters learning and sparks curiosity and it truly is designed for those who love to learn.

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Graduate Admissions Office

Melissa Bergfeld
Admissions Assistant
Toll Free: 1-800-878-3210, ext. 3517

Tara Hanna
Director of Graduate Admissions
Toll Free: 800-878-3210 ext. 8908

Kate Beutel, Ph.D.
Director, MA in Liberal Studies Program