MALA Program Requirements

St. John’s College was founded in 1696 and is best known for the Great Books curriculum that was adopted in 1937. The list of books has evolved slightly over the last century, however, the tradition of having all students read foundational texts from the past 3,000 years remains. While reading lists are grouped by segment, many authors and texts span across areas. To understand the depth and breadth of classes and readings covered in the Liberal Arts program, we invite you to explore the class descriptions below.


The Master of Arts in Liberal Arts is a 36-credit hour program organized into five semester-long segments:

  • Politics & Society
  • History
  • Philosophy & Theology
  • Literature
  • Mathematics & Natural Science

Each segment is comprised of two three-credit classes, Seminar and Tutorial, both with a predefined reading list. Students are required to take four of the five segments for a total of 24 credit-hours and are advised to complete one segment before enrolling in another.

Segment Requirement (24 Credits)

Select four from the five options below.

  • Politics & Society Seminar and
  • Politics & Society Tutorial


  • History Seminar and
  • History Tutorial


  • Philosophy & Theology Seminar and
  • Philosophy & Theology Tutorial


  • Literature Seminar and
  • Literature Tutorial


  • Mathematics & Natural Science Seminar and
  • Mathematics & Natural Science Tutorial

The remaining credits are comprised of three-credit Preceptorials, or elective classes. Preceptorials vary from term to term and cover a wide range of subjects. Students who want to focus on a single subject are encouraged to align their preceptorial choices with a segment.

Class Types

All classes are 20 or fewer students in order to nurture a collaborative learning environment, creating space for every voice around the table to listen and be heard. Each semester contains three classes within your selected segment, so you will take a seminar, tutorial, and preceptorial class.

Segment Availability

All segments are not available each semester. However, students may transfer between campuses (in-person and online) to enroll in segments that meet their desired learning. Below you will find segment availability for each campus.

Segment Annapolis Campus Santa Fe Campus
Politics and Society Segment
  • Spring semesters
  • Even summer semesters (ex: 2022)
  • Fall semesters
  • Odd summer semesters (ex: 2023)
Philosophy and Theology Segment
  • ​​​​​​Spring semesters
  • Odd summer semesters (ex: 2023)
  • ​​​​​​Fall semesters
  • Even summer semesters (ex: 2022)
History Segment
  • Even spring semesters (ex: 2022)
  • Odd summer semesters (ex: 2023)
  • Odd spring semesters (ex: 2023)
Mathematics and Natural Science Segment
  • ​​​​​Fall semesters
  • Even summer semesters (ex: 2022)
  • ​​​​​​Spring semesters
  • Odd summer semesters (ex: 2023) 
Literature Segment
  • ​​​​Fall semesters
  • Odd summer semesters (ex: 2023)
  • ​​​​​Spring semesters
  • Even summer semesters (ex: 2022)

Optional Master’s Essay

Students who have completed at least two segments in the Liberal Arts Program and have demonstrated considerable facility in writing and class conversation may petition the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs for permission to write an optional Master’s essay. The essay may replace one Liberal Arts preceptorial or may be written in addition to the full program. The content and goal of the Master’s essay should be the thoughtful examination of a text or several texts. The essay is not intended to be a piece of specialized research, but rather a sustained performance in the liberal arts. Essays are evaluated by a specially selected committee of three college tutors, including a committee chairperson appointed by the Associate Dean. A public oral examination is scheduled at the time the committee approves the essay. Essays are graded satisfactory or unsatisfactory; oral examinations are graded pass with honors, pass, or fail.

Optional Focus

Students who want to concentrate their studies in a particular segment must formally declare their intention to pursue a focus with the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs. While students must complete the seminar and tutorial in four of the five segments, students pursue the optional focus by aligning preceptorials with a segment of choice. Individuals often choose this route if they plan to continue their education and for various career outcomes.