skip to content

Master of Liberal Arts Program

Associate Dean and Director: Linda Paulson

Participating Faculty: Russell Berman (Comparative Literature, German Studies), Marc Bertrand (French and Italian, emeritus), Jay Bhattacharya (Medicine), Eamonn Callan (Education), Gerry Dorfman (Hoover Institution, Political Science), Michele Elam (English), Martin Evans (English), Paula Findlen (History), Larry Friedlander (English), Kenneth Fields (English), Hester Gelber (Religious Studies), Albert Gelpi (English, emeritus), Barbara Gelpi (English, emerita), Robert Gregg (Religious Studies, emeritus), Tom Grey (Music), Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (French and Italian), Van Harvey (Religious Studies, emeritus), Gavin Jones (English), Charles Junkerman (Continuing Studies Program), Nancy Kollmann (History), Marsh McCall (Classics, emeritus), Mark Mancall (History, emeritus), Scotty McLennnan (Religious Life), David Palumbo-Liu (Comparative Literature), Linda Paulson (English), Denis Phillips (Education, emeritus), Ronald Rebholz (English, emeritus), Rush Rehm (Drama, Classics), John Rick (Anthropology), John Rickford (Linguistics), Paul Robinson (History, emeritus), Ramón Saldívar (English), Paul Seaver (History, emeritus), Thomas Sheehan (Religious Studies), Robert Siegel (Microbiology and Immunology), Peter Stansky (History, emeritus), Stephen Stedman (Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies), Thomas Wasow (Linguistics), Ernlé Young (Medicine, emeritus), Steven Zipperstein (Jewish Culture and History)

Program Offices: 482 Galvez Mall

Mail Code: 94305-6079

Phone: (650) 725-0061


Web Site:

Courses offered by the Master of Liberal Arts Program are listed under the subject code MLA on the Stanford Bulletin's ExploreCourses web site.

Program Description—The Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program aims to provide a flexible, interdisciplinary program for returning adult students who seek a broad education in the liberal arts. The underlying premise of the MLA program is that knowledge gained through an interdisciplinary course of study leads to intellectual independence and satisfaction not always found in discipline-based programs of study. The goals of the MLA program are to develop advanced critical thinking, to foster intellectual range and flexibility, and to cultivate an individual's ability to find the connections among different areas of human thought: art, history, literature, music, philosophy, political science, science, and theology.

The program is designed with part-time students in mind: seminars meet in the evening, and students complete the degree in 4-5 years. All master's seminars are taught by members of the Stanford faculty. Seminar size is limited to 20 students.

Degree Requirements—Candidates for the MLA degree must complete a minimum of 50 units of course work with at least a grade point average of 3.3 (B+). These units must include a three-quarter foundation course (equal to 12 units total), one 4-unit core introductory seminar for second-year students, at least seven 4-unit MLA seminars, and a 6-unit master's thesis. Students must also fulfill distribution requirements in each of the following areas: humanities; social science or social policy; and science, engineering, or medicine.

Foundation Course—During the Autumn, Winter, and Spring following admission to the program, a three-quarter foundation course is required of all students. The purpose of this course is to lay the groundwork for the interdisciplinary, intercultural studies the student will shortly undertake. The foundation course will introduce students to the broad framework of history, literature, philosophy, political science, and art.

Core Seminar—During the first quarter of the second year, students take the core introductory seminar, MLA 102, An Introduction to Interdisciplinary Graduate Study. This seminar prepares students for interdisciplinary graduate work at Stanford. Students concentrate on writing a critical graduate paper, conducting library research, presenting the results of their research, and productively participating in a collaborative seminar.

MLA Seminars—Students are required to take at least seven MLA seminars of four units each. Each year, at least nine seminars are offered in the MLA program. Each MLA course requires a substantial seminar paper. Students are encouraged to use these papers as a way to investigate new fields of interest, as well as a way to develop different perspectives on issues in which they have an ongoing interest.

Master's Thesis—The MLA program culminates in the master's thesis. Students approaching the end of the program write a thesis, approximately 75-100 pages in length, that evolves out of work they have pursued during their MLA studies. The thesis is undertaken with the prior approval of the MLA program, and under the supervision of a Stanford faculty member. During the process of writing the thesis, students are members of a work-in-progress group, which meets regularly to provide peer critiques, motivation, and advice. Each student presents the penultimate draft of the thesis to a colloquium of MLA faculty and students, in preparation for revising and submitting the final draft to the adviser and to the MLA program.

Enrollment Requirements—MLA students must enroll for each academic year from the time of original matriculation until conferral of the degree. To remain active, students must either: (a) complete a minimum of two courses (eight units) in one academic year, defined as from the beginning of Autumn Quarter through the end of the following Summer Quarter; or (b) be actively working on their thesis and regularly attend a minimum of three quarters of the work-in-progress meetings from the time the student enrolls in work-in-progress through graduation.

Timeline for Completion—All requirements for the Master of Liberal Arts degree must be completed within five years after the student's first term of enrollment in the program. If extraordinary circumstances prevent completion within five years, a student may submit a written petition for a maximum one-year extension to the Associate Dean and Director. This petition is reviewed by a committee which makes a recommendation to the Director; the final decision is at the discretion of the Director. To be considered, the petition must be submitted on or before May 1 of the student's fifth year in the program.

Registration—Master of Liberal Arts students enroll in courses through Stanford's Axess system.

Copyright ©2011 Stanford University | Office of the University Registrar | Academic Year 2011-12 | Terms of Use | Copyright Complaints | Report a Problem with this site.