PhD in Liberal Arts: Info for Aspiring Liberal Arts Doctoral Students

If you want to pursue a Ph.D. in multiple areas of study, you may choose to propose an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in liberal arts. Learn more about the application process, the unique curriculum and career opportunities for graduates.

Essential Information

Students who have more than one field of interest may consider a Ph.D. program in liberal arts, which combines doctoral level studies in multiple disciplines. Because these programs are designed based on the student's unique interest, most programs require the student to submit a curriculum plan and final dissertation proposal prior to admission. The proposed liberal arts degree plan must show that no established degree program meets the student's needs and that the project extends beyond interdepartmental work required by established programs.

Because of the flexibility offered in these programs, students can expect a high degree of academic rigor, and admission tends to be competitive. In addition to submitting the research proposal, applicants must also hold a master's degree; some schools require a minimum GPA, typically above a 3.0 or 3.3.


Ph.D. in Liberal Arts

Most schools have no set course requirements other than perhaps a graduate-level course in research methodology, in either the master's or doctorate program. In addition, a few programs require students to take a foundational course in interdisciplinary studies and a course in pedagogy to prepare candidates for college-level teaching. The most common subject areas for a liberal arts Ph.D. include the following:

  • American studies
  • Biological sciences
  • Ethics
  • Neuroscience
  • Philosophy
  • Political science

Popular Career Options

Many students who apply to these programs have unique career goals in mind. However, since these goals are individualized and different for each degree awarded, the resulting careers are too varied to list, but can include positions in business, education, or social work. Perhaps the most common profession is an academic career involving research and teaching at the college level.

Career and Salary Information

In 2014, there were over 1,313,000 jobs in the postsecondary teaching field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment in the field is expected to grow by 13% from 2014-2024, and the median salary for postsecondary teachers was $72,470 as of May of 2015.

Continuing Education Information

In most liberal arts fields, the Ph.D. is the terminal degree. However, students can pursue continuing education opportunities in their field of interest through universities and professional organizations. For example, a graduate who studied healthcare communications might pursue continuing education through organizations like the American Health Information Management Association and the Public Relations Society of America.

Ph.D. in Liberal Arts programs allow students to customize their curriculum based on their interests and career goals. Graduates may pursue advanced research or postsecondary teaching positions.


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