Degree Requirements

Successful completion of the Duke Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) course of study leads to a Master of Arts degree.  (This degree is sometimes referred to as a MALS -- Master of Arts in Liberal Studies -- degree.)  This degree requires nine courses and a Master's Project for a total of 30 units of credit.  Students may attend part time or full time.

The GLS Course of Study

Three Liberal Studies (LS) seminars (9 units of credit)

Six elective courses (18 units of credit)​

  • Students choose the remaining six courses from among both LS courses and courses from other departments of the Graduate School, so long as those courses are graded (i.e. not pass/fail).
  • Many graduate certificate programs can be incorporated into a MALS degree without exceeding the number of units required for the degree.
  • Two undergraduate courses at the 200 level or higher may be taken for degree credit, if the student achieves a B (3.0) or higher.
  • A student may propose an independent study under the guidance of a faculty supervisor.

Master's Project (MP) (3 units of credit)

The Master's Project fulfills the remaining three credits required to complete the degree.  It requires the student to complete a series of prerequisites, which include finding a faculty supervisor and writing a proposal.  Although designated as three credits, the Master's Project is considered a full-time activity, and is typically taken after all other course requirements are completed.  All students must complete a Master's Project in order to graduate.


Non-LS Courses 

Graduate-level courses

Most graduate-level courses at Duke (course number of 500 or higher) are open to GLS students. Course offerings and description for graduate-level courses can be found online through DukeHub. However, the following conditions apply:

  • The course must be graded (i.e., may not be pass/fail).
  • The student must have the appropriate background to fulfill course pre-requisites.
  • The student must have the consent of the course professor.

Undergraduate-level Courses

Students may take up to two undergraduate courses for credit toward the MALS degree, with the following conditions:

  • The course number must be at a level of 200-400.
  • The course must be graded (i.e., may not be pass/fail). The student must achieve a grade of B (3.0) or higher.
  • The student must have the appropriate background to fulfill course pre-requisites.
  • The student must have the consent of the course professor.

Students should be aware that units of credit for non-LS courses may vary. It is the student's responsibility to confirm that the course constitutes three units of credit. In addition, courses graded as pass/fail will not be credited towards the MALS degree. Courses in schools other than The Graduate School (e.g., Divinity School, Fuqua School of Business, Law School, Medical School, Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering and Sanford School of Public Policy) may have registration restrictions or special registration procedures and limited availability to GLS students.



  • What is a typical course load, and how long does it take to finish the degree?   Our course load is flexible.  A typical full-time student takes three or four courses per semester -- and finishes in two years or less.  (Nine courses per year is considered a maximum course load.)  A part-time student might take just one or two courses each Fall and Spring, along with an occasional Study Away course during the summer -- to finish in about four years.  The degree must be completed within six years, according to the regulations of the Duke Graduate School.  
  • Can I apply my transfer credits from another school to this degree?   You can be given transfer credit, but it does not count towards the thirty-credit Duke GLS requirement.
  • How important is class attendance?    Very.  Students are expected to attend all seminars.  Any student who misses more than three class sessions may fail to receive credit for the course.
  • What is the minimum grade point average I need to maintain?   The Graduate School requires that a student must maintain at least a B average in order to be considered a student in good standing. 
  • Can I take an Incomplete grade?  A student must complete all coursework within a given semester to receive credit for the course.  Under extraordinary circumstances, a student may make prior arrangements with the professor to submit some coursework by a specific due date after the end of the course semester.  In such cases, the professor assigns a temporary Incomplete grade that resolves into a regular grade once the coursework is completed and graded.
  • This program gives me a lot of options.  What kind of planning does it require?   While we encourage students to explore a variety of ideas in their early courses, you should also be aware that a self-designed degree such as ours offers great possibilities if you plan wisely.  In particular, by the second half of the program, you should be planning your courses in such a way as to acquire the knowledge, methods, skills and relationships you will need when you propose the Master's Project.  The program's academic advisors are always available to help you make these plans.