Frequently Asked Questions - Academics
 

Are you a distance program? And what exactly is a distance program?
In a distance program, students pursue their studies without setting foot on a school’s physical campus. Nowadays, most distance programs offer their courses through the internet.

Skidmore’s program is different: we offer working adults the chance to pursue a rich, rigorous graduate education without having to uproot themselves from their homes, their jobs, or their families. Our students (who come from across the country and around the world) start out their studies with an intense, one-week immersion course on the Skidmore campus (the introductory seminar), and then take the rest of their courses through independent studies and classes at universities near their homes. Once they have completed their coursework, students return to campus to review their program of study and discuss their final project proposal with a faculty steering committee.

If there are no standard concentrations or required courses, how do I know which courses to take?
Each of our students works with two advisors, a Skidmore faculty member whose academic expertise resonates with the student’s specific area of interest, and a member of the program’s advising staff. Through an ongoing conversation, the student and his or her advisors clarify the particular focus of the student’s concentration and develop an integrated set of courses that explore this central focus.

What makes a student’s program of study “interdisciplinary”?
Our program is based on the idea that real curiosity is messy—that the answers to the most interesting kinds of questions are not found in any single academic department, but in the work of drawing connections between the particular truths that each has to offer.

Our students work with their advisors to choose a set of courses that explore their central curiosity from a number of different disciplinary perspectives. One of our new students, for example, is examining the ways in which the on-court psychology of female athletes differs from that of male athletes, and exploring the origins of those differences. Her investigation will lead her to courses in women’s studies, psychology, and sociology.

How long does it usually take students to complete the program? Can I study part-time?
Some of our students begin the program right after college, but most have been out of school for a while—and are often deeply involved in careers and family. Because the program is not bound to a traditional academic calendar, our students have the freedom to start and end courses throughout the year and to shape the schedule of those courses to match the pace of their lives.

Because of this flexibility, different students move through the program at very different rates. The average time it takes students to complete the 30-credit requirement is three years. Students may take up to five years to complete the program.

What are Independent Studies?
Most MALS students take the majority of their courses as independent studies. These courses are designed to allow students to pursue serious graduate study without having to disrupt their careers or families, or to move from their homes in order to live near a school’s campus.

Each independent study is handcrafted: students collaborate with faculty members to develop a course that explores the questions at the heart of his or her program of study. Working together, students and teachers craft the particular form and content of these courses, choosing materials (novels, paintings, essays, films, case studies, etc.), agreeing on the course’s requirements, its dynamic (whether the course will be conducted by e-mail, phone, in-person visits, or some combination of the three), and its pace. Since these courses are not tied to a semester schedule, they may begin or end at any time; they may be short and intense or long and relaxed; they may even include pauses or periods of especially heightened activity.

Can I study with people who aren’t part of the Skidmore faculty?
Our students take independent studies with professors from Skidmore and from other colleges and universities—as well as with other accomplished scholars and artists. Our advisors’ capacity to review the credentials of instructors on a case-by-case basis enables MALS students to set up independent studies with well-known authors, documentary filmmakers, theatrical directors, and others whose qualifications equip them to direct rich and rigorous courses of study.

Can I take online courses? Can I do an internship?
The program’s flexibility allows students to take graduate-level courses—whether in-class or on-line—offered by any regionally-accredited graduate school. These courses, like all those our students take, are approved beforehand through discussion between students and their advisors.

Students may also balance theoretical and practical investigations by working with their advisors to design structured internships.

Do you offer an MBA? An MEd? An MFA?
Although we offer none of the above degrees, per se, many of our students take courses in business, education, and the arts as part of their concentrations, always in combination with others in their disciplines. By incorporating coursework in two or three different disciplines, students examine a central question from a range of different angles—and thereby develop a richer understanding of the multi-dimensionality of the subject at hand.

What makes a MALS degree different from more traditional degrees?
Every one of our students does the same degree—in a completely different way. Each degree is custom-designed for a particular student, emerging from that person’s specific questions and concerns, and charting an individualized path to explore them. Students who commit themselves to this process learn an immensely flexible type of thinking rather than a set of static skills that might be required for a particular job or profession at a specific point in time. The MFA, MBA, and MAT train their students for a particular profession or job; the MALS develops intellectual powers that can be applied to a variety of professional situations.

I’m interested in getting a Ph.D. after I complete my Master’s. Will the MALS program take me toward this goal?
Students regularly graduate from the Master’s program and continue into Ph.D. programs. Often they enter the MALS program to measure their readiness for doctoral-level work, to clarify their area of focus, and to hone the academic skills they will need to continue further.

What else can I do with an MALS degree? What are some of the other reasons that students come to this program?
Students put the MALS degree to a wide range of uses. Some students come to the program because they need a Master’s degree to continue in their current job or to qualify for a promotion. Often, they are hoping to start a new career, and they are drawn to this program when they realize that the standardized requirements of a traditional degree (for example, an MBA, MEd, or MSW) won’t give them the chance to do what they really want to do.

Many students are attracted by the chance to develop an individualized concentration tailored to the specific challenges of the career they are hoping to enter. A MALS student who wants to become a speechwriter, for example, might combine work in politics, history, and writing in a way that she could not in a graduate history or political science or journalism program.

(Click here for more examples of the kinds of concentrations that MALS students develop.)

Nor is it uncommon for our students to be looking to do something different in the next stage of their professional life—and to be hoping that their work in the program will help them identify this new direction.

We also work with a number of students who do not need the degree. Many are retired, some are homemakers whose children have left for school, and more than a few already hold advanced degrees. These students—like all our students—are looking for a certain kind of personal fulfillment, for the chance to explore dimensions of their intellectual and artistic lives and discover who else they might be next.

Is the MALS program accredited?
The College is fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, and the MALS Program operates under the authority of Skidmore’s faculty. We are also a member of the National Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs.

Maureen Lafferty
Maureen Lafferty

Here, the process is as important as the outcome. It's like the difference between a meal you cook with your friends and a meal that you go out to eat at a restaurant. They could both be excellent meals, but the one you cooked is more satisfying. It matters that you made it.