Academic Policy

The MLAS curriculum focuses on the interdisciplinary exploration of the liberal arts, broadly defined.  Each year, a wide range of courses are offered from disciplines within Vanderbilt’s College of Arts & Science, as well as select courses from faculty in other schools at Vanderbilt, such as the Blair School of Music and the Divinity School.

During fall and spring semesters, four or more courses will be offered, of which MLAS students chose one each semester.  Each summer, two or more courses are offered.  Students are guided by the associate dean and director of the program serving as their advisor in designing a program of study that helps fulfill the varied interests and educational goals of the adult learner. Prior to the registration period for the next semester, a MLAS Pre-View Session will be held so that students can hear directly from that semester’s faculty about upcoming courses.

MLAS students who have previously completed at least two courses in the program may petition the associate dean and director of the program to enroll in two courses either in the fall or spring semester—in writing, at least one month before the start of the semester in which they intend to take the two courses.  (Vanderbilt employees should be aware that the VU Tuition Benefit only applies to one course per semester.)


30 Credit Hour Requirement

For students entering the MLAS program in the 2007-2008 Academic Year, the required number of credits hours for the Master of Liberal Arts & Science degree is 30. For students who were admitted in prior academic years, the 27 credit-hour requirement still applies, and those students should plan to file the “Intent to Graduate Form” early in the semester in which they are taking their ninth course in the program. The increase from 27 to 30 was made in order to align the degree requirements with most Master’s-level programs across campus.  The additional credit hours also allows for the inclusion of two new features to the MLAS program, the Core Seminar and the Capstone Course, to provide focused introductory and summative experiences for the MLAS student. Each student entering the MLAS program starting in the 2007-2008 Academic Year will be required to complete one Core Seminar and the Capstone Course as part of fulfilling the 30-credit hour requirement for the MLAS degree.

Early in their final semester in the program, MLAS students must file an “Intent to Graduate Form,” to be submitted to the associate dean and director of the program.  The form is available electronically on the Graduate School web site:

MLAS Core Seminar

Each fall or spring semester, new entering students should plan to enroll in an MLAS Core Seminar.  The Core Seminar is an interdisciplinary graduate course designed and required for MLAS students in the early phase of their graduate studies, examining a topic, theme, or event from the multiple perspectives within the liberal arts.

An example of a Core Seminar would be an interdisciplinary course concentrating on the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago, an event that offers a multiplicity of subjects to study.  From a literary standpoint, Frank Norris’ The Pit: A Story of Chicago and other works might be examined. From a sociological perspective, there was a large influx of farmers and immigrants into the city. From an economic perspective, the depression in the 1890’s lead to massive social displacement, adversely affected many, providing an impetus to many social innovations, like Hull House and other social welfare programs.  It was the age of Chicago-Boss politics and the Age of Muckraking in journalism.  It was the beginning of the skyscraper and profound changes in many of the arts. Students in this Core Seminar will explore these and other topics subsumed under the theme of the Chicago Exposition.
Another example would be a Core Seminar on the Panama Canal, investigating thematically the history, science, sociology, politics, and literature associated with the construction of the canal.  In other words, rather than a strict emphasis on a single discipline, the Core Seminar sets out to introduce students to the interdisciplinary perspective of the MLAS program.

Practically, the Core Seminar also concentrates on the skills and information MLAS students will need to pursue graduate work at Vanderbilt: writing a critical and analytical graduate research paper, conducting library research, and contributing to the seminar discussion.  By enrolling in this course early in their MLAS career, students will be familiarized with graduate-level research strategies and the research resources central to the liberal arts. An important aim of this course is focus on the range of current research methods and the writing skills necessary for graduate study.

Both academically and practically, the new MLAS student will be amply prepared for the subsequent coursework in the program. The course will be conducted by a noted Vanderbilt professor, and there will be guest speakers, as the occasion and course material allow.

Because of the interdisciplinary focus and innovative design of each Core Seminar, it is possible for an MLAS student over the period of their studies to enroll in more than one Core Seminar.  However, priority for enrollment will be given to MLAS Students in the initial stage of their involvement in the program, and others may enroll, provided there is available space in the course.

MLAS Capstone Seminar

Toward the end of the program, often the last course in the student’s plan of study, the student will enroll in the required Capstone Seminar, designed to encourage the integration and synthesis of course work in the program.  Conducted by a faculty mentor, the Capstone Seminar will meet on a weekly basis throughout the semester to review project ideas and to discuss progress on each student’s capstone project. Together the faculty/mentor and the seminar participants will form a learning community who will assist one another toward the completion of the respective capstone project.  It is an opportunity to reflect on the student’s academic exploration and to share with others in the program.
The goal of the project is to provide evidence of the student’s ability to conceive, organize and produce a graduate-level scholarly or creative work for academic credit. The seminar culminates in a variety of submitted work:

  • A thesis or capstone project;
  • a field study or research project that would synthesize or take off from their coursework in the program; or,
  • an original work of art along with a 20 pp. paper detailing the background, context and chronology of the process. 

Candidates should start thinking about their topic or project early in the program. All MLAS course and research work will naturally develop, improve and refine the original concept by the end of the program.  That capstone project will be evaluated by the course instructor and other members of the MLAS faculty and the program director. The MLAS Capstone course will be offered starting in the 2008-2009 Academic Year.

The initial assignment is for each student to present a summative paper to the course instructor, discussing major lessons learned through the program.  This summative paper may serve as the initial attempt to articulate the capstone project.  An additional and important purpose of the summative paper is to assess the learning outcomes of the program, as stipulated by the accrediting body for our region, SACS.

The next stage in the Capstone Seminar is for each student to prepare a prospectus of her or his project.  As stated above, it is assumed that the student has thought through many of the elements of the Capstone Project well in advance of the start of the course; this is important in ensuring its timely and satisfactory completion.  The purpose of the prospectus will be to:

  • encourage the student to clarify the intended capstone project;
  • assure that the project’s timeline for completion is mapped out;
  • delineate the roles of the student, faculty/mentor, additional readers;
  • ensure that the proposed project is possible to do within the student’s capabilities and the duration of the semester.

The prospectus should contain a summary of the intended scope, style and content of the project. Other elements of the prospectus include descriptions of:

  • The project’s goal: Describe the topic, questions, issue, or problem explored and analyzed in this project.
  • The context for the project: Explain the background important to the understanding of the topic, question, issue or problem.
  • The preparation and planning for the project: Summarize the personal, professional, and academic background that informs the preparation for this project.
  • The methodology for this project:  Provide an overview of the ways in which this project will be researched and developed.
  • The preliminary bibliography: Include some of the key sources that have been instrumental to shaping the project.
  • Additional faculty advisor(s).  MLAS students may enlist the help of Vanderbilt faculty who have research and teaching expertise in the particular area of the Capstone as an additional advisor and resource.

Once the project is approved, the timeline, additional reviewers, and other details will be developed with the Capstone Seminar Faculty/Mentor.

For information on this seminar or other aspects of the program, please consult with the dean and director of the program.


Degree Requirements

The MLAS is a graduate degree program that culminates in a Master’s degree granted by Vanderbilt University. As such, successful completion of 30 semester hours of academic credit (10 courses) is required for the Master’s degree. At least 24 of those semester hours (8 courses) must be accumulated through MLAS courses. See the section on "Course Roster " for additional detail on courses.

Academic Policy

As a graduate degree program, MLAS follows the academic policies set down in the Graduate School Bulletin of Vanderbilt University.   A complete version of these policies may also be found on the Graduate School’s web site:

Students must maintain a B average in all course work in order to remain in good standing with the program. MLAS students typically complete only one course each semester, with no more than two courses allowed to be taken during any given semester with approval of the program dean and director. All work must be completed within 6 years of the student’s initial registration. A maximum of 6 semester hours may be transferred from the liberal arts graduate programs of other accredited universities. These hours are counted towards the student’s 9 credit hours of non-MLAS course work. Any transferred courses must carry a grade of B or above, have been completed within the last ten years, and must be approved by the director of the MLAS program and the Graduate School.

Grading System

The grading system in the Graduate School includes the letter grades A, B, C, D, and F. A student will not be granted graduate credit for any course in which a grade less than C is received. The letter I may be used at the discretion of the instructor in those cases in which the student is not able to complete work in the normal time.

Academic Probation

A grade point average of 3.0 is necessary for graduation. Students who fall below an average of 3.0 are placed on probation for one semester. If the student’s performance does not improve during that semester, the Graduate School and the program’s director and dean will decide
whether to dismiss the student or to allow the continuation of probation. If at the end of the second semester the grade point average is still below 3.0, the student may be advised to withdraw or face dismissal. Students who earn a grade point average of 2.0 or less during their first semester are subject to dismissal at the end of that semester.

Intent to Graduate

An Intent to Graduate form must be submitted to the Graduate School at the beginning of the semester in which the student expects to receive a degree. Students should check the University Academic Calendar each semester to determine deadline dates. Intent to Graduate forms are available in the Graduate School office and at the Graduate School Web site.


The university holds its annual Commencement ceremony following the spring semester. Degree candidates must have completed successfully all curriculum by the published deadlines to be allowed to participate in the ceremony. A student completing degree requirements in the summer or fall semester will be invited to participate in Commencement the following May; however, the semester in which the degree was actually earned will be the one recorded on the diploma and the student’s permanent record. Students unable to participate in the graduation ceremony will receive their diplomas by mail.


Kerek Frierson
Kerek Frierson
Research Coordinator Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center
“Participating in the MLAS program is like visiting a new well of knowledge every semester.Each class is a refreshing renewal of the learning spirit. I have seen time and again the professor’s enthusiasm when conversing with motivated, mature students, who themselves provide another channel for the outpouring of creative thoughts and ideas.”
» More Testimonials