Master of Liberal Studies

Program Details

The Human Experience. The Art of Renaissance Italy. Wit and Humor in African American Literature. The Religious World of Asia. The Struggle for Human Rights. Creating Poetry.

Provocative course titles like these and many more carry a cache unique to the SMU MLS program. Few teaching institutions offer the depth and breadth of study, the variety of educational avenues available to pursue.

Each student is provided with the opportunity to chart his or her own self-directed course to a graduate liberal studies degree. Cultivate your own passion with your personal selection of subject matter, discover that special interest along the way, or sample randomly the rich palate of intellectually challenging learning experiences at SMU.

The decisions are as individual as the students who make them.

Where Divergent Paths Converge

SMU’s MLS program is a study in heterogeneity. Students range in age from their early 20s to their 70s; they come from all educational backgrounds; they represent ethnic diversity; they bring with them special knowledge gathered from a variety of life experiences. When students of such backgrounds meet to discuss the issues of the human experience and society, fresh ideas emerge. In classes that average 15 students, everyone has an opportunity to participate, to grow, and to learn from one another.

The curriculum reflects contemporary considerations of fundamental human issues. In any given term, the student will find courses that examine human rights and social justice, global citizenship and responsibility and the effects of change and technology on human minds and bodies. To contemplate contemporary issues from a historical perspective in the company of peers is exhilarating and contributes to the personal growth necessary to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex society.

If there has been a single precept that has shaped the MLS curriculum, it has been that each course must present an idea that is both timeless in nature and socially or culturally relevant.

The MLS program provides a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the liberal arts. The curriculum is designed specifically for adult students who wish to continue their intellectual development through study across several disciplines. Choosing from a wide variety of courses, students design their own program of study to focus on specific areas or to attain desired breadth in disparate fields.

Courses are divided into the general fields of behavioral science, fine arts, humanities, science and culture, and social science. The only prerequisites for participation in any course is an inquiring mind and a passion to make a special contribution and difference in the world.

Southern Methodist University's Master of Liberal Studies program (MLS) is a graduate program available to students on a part-time or full-time basis. The MLS program is suited to students who are interested in pursuing a full course load or registering for one course each term. Courses are held in the evening beginning at 6:30 p.m. with some courses available on Saturday mornings.

Degree Requirements

To earn the Master of Liberal Studies degree you will need to successfully complete thirty-six (36) credit hours of approved graduate study, or 12 courses, within six years after beginning the program. You must take two foundational courses within the first 12 hours of your course work:  HUMN 6316/The Human Experience: An Introduction to Liberal Studies, and another designated writing intensive course of your choosing (HUMN 6370, SCCL 6305, HUMN 6397, or HUMN 6309).  It is highly recommended that students take these as their initial courses in the program.  These courses may not be waived.

Students must complete their coursework with at least a B (3.0 GPA) average. All courses attempted for credit on a student's graduate program must average B (3.0) or better, with no grade less than C (2.0) applying toward the degree. Within the 36 hours, students may include up to six hours of transfer graduate credit from another accredited institution or another academic department at SMU (see below). Students may also include up to six hours of Independent Study (see below). Students may not take more than three one-credit-hour classes unless special permission is given by the Director/Dean. At least 3 credit hours must be taken as part of the required capstone course/experience.

Required Capstone Experience

The Capstone Experience required of all graduates of the MLS program will be introduced by the Introductory course "The Human Experience."  Click here for additional information.

Curricular Concentrations

MLS students have the option to choose a specific concentration as part of their curriculum to explore in depth an area of particular interest. Current concentrations include the following:


  • American Studies 
  • Communication, Media and Technology 
  • Creative Writing 
  • Environmental Sustainability 
  • Gender Studies 
  • Global Studies - Global Trends, Power, Non-Western Literature, and Geography 
  • Human Rights and Social Justice 
  • Humanities 
  • Organizational Dynamics 
  • The Arts and Cultural Traditions  - Literature, Art, Poetry, Performing Arts, and Society 
  • Self-Designed 

If you elect to concentrate or specialize in a certain curricular area, you must complete the following requirements:

  • 3 credit hours for the required introductory course: HUMN 6316 The Human Experience
  • 3 credit hours for a designated writing intensive course of your choice
  • 18 credit hours of approved credit from your chosen area of concentration
  • 3 credit hours for the required capstone course/experience
  • 9 elective credit hours

If you elect to earn a dual concentration in two curricular field areas, you must satisfy the following additional requirements:

  • each independent concentration must total 18 approved credit hours
  • 4 distinct courses or 12 credits must be from the first curricular field area; 4 distinct and separate courses (12 credits) must be from the second curricular field of area.
  • dual concentrations may share a maximum of 2 courses or 6 credits between them.

Once the student satisfies the requirements for a given concentration, the concentration area will appear on the student's final transcript (not on the diploma).   

Note: Concentrations within the MLS program are not designed to be a professional or vocational credentials, but rather to enrich the student’s knowledge and understanding of this curricular field of study.

Transfer credit: Students must file a Petition for Transfer Credit, accompanied by a course description and official transcript, with the MLS office. Transfer credit will be accepted by the Dean under the following regulations:

  • The course must be compatible with the overall curriculum of liberal studies.
  • The course must be graduate level (6000 or above).
  • The course must have earned a grade of A or B.
  • The course may not have been used in attaining a previous degree.
  • The course must have been taken within the past six years.
  • Courses taken prior to matriculation must be approved within one year of beginning the MLS program.
  • Transfer credit will be considered for study by correspondence or online study on a case-by-case basis
  • The form is available online in the MLS Forms Library.

Independent Study:  Students may earn up to 6 credit hours through Independent Study in a subject area relevant to the MLS Curriculum. Students must first complete the two required courses and must be in good academic standing to be eligible to undertake an independent study. To enroll in an Independent Study, students must work with an MLS faculty member to define specific course requirements and complete an Independent Study Contract subject to the approval of the Director and/or Dean. Independent Study courses may be taken for one, two, or three credit hours. The deadline to submit proposals to the MLS office is at least two weeks before the beginning of the term for which the study is requested.  The form is available online in the MLS Forms Library.

  For a comprehensive listing of the policies, procedures and possibilities of the MLS program, please review the MLS Student Handbook.