Master of Arts in Humanities

School of Humanities

The Humanities graduate program is interdisciplinary. It emphasizes critical theories and interpretive approaches that transcend disciplinary boundaries, as well as providing advanced study within various humanities disciplines. The program offers graduate-level study in art history, communications, history, literature, music history, philosophy, and writing, along with interdisciplinary topics. Drawing on the perspectives of the various arts and disciplines and various theoretical approaches, the program’s faculty assists students in developing important analytical, synthetic, and interpretive skills.

Graduate students in this program acquire an ability to interpret several kinds of "texts" (both literary and non-literary works); investigate them using standard reference tools; situate them aesthetically, critically, and socially; and write about them in scholarly and sophisticated ways. They learn to relate works from different genres to one another, to a pertinent critical or theoretical perspective, or to a significant issue. With the assistance of their adviser, students are expected to create their own programs of study, focusing on the analysis of at least two different academic disciplines and learning to make connections between them.  The program culminates in an interdisciplinary scholarly or creative project.

Degree Conferred: M.A.


Program Requirements for Admission

Requirements More Information
GPA Applicants must  have earned at least a 3.00 grade-point average in their junior and senior years.
Supporting Materials
  • Two letters of reference attesting to the applicant’s suitability for the program.
  • A writing sample that demonstrates interpretive and analytical skills in the Humanities’ areas of philosophy, literature, history, the visual arts, music, or theatre.
  • A statement explaining reasons for interest in this program. The statement should be one to two pages in length and should address specific academic as well as professional reasons for selecting this program.  Since this is an interdisciplinary program, the letter should describe the  applicant’s intellectual interests in more than one discipline and should be as specific as possible about areas of academic interest.
  • An admissions committee often interviews applicants in person or by telephone.
  • Students applying for assistantships must submit scores from the GRE or similar examination by February 15, for the following Fall semester

Application Deadline

This program has rolling admission, that is, no specific deadline. Note that it may take 4-6 weeks to receive transcripts and process an application. If a student wishes to be considered for an assistantship, the application deadline is February 15 for the following Fall semester.


Application Process

Gather supporting materials and begin the standard graduate application.


Who are the students who pursue the Masters of Arts in Humanities?

Students come to the program from many backgrounds and for a range of purposes. Most are returning after spending some time in other pursuits since college; most attend part-time. Others arrive directly from undergraduate work. Many are teachers, taking classes toward permanent certification through an interdisciplinary degree that expands their pedagogical and personal repertoire. Some intend to begin or change careers; others wish to develop further expertise, prepare for doctoral study, or satisfy strong personal interests. Many program graduates have returned to their schools prepared to teach a wider range of courses and subjects; others have gone on to doctoral or professional programs; become faculty at universities and community colleges; worked as journalists, public relations specialists, and corporate art directors; practiced various fine and performing arts; become directors of colleges’ cultural programming; and followed still other pursuits.

Graduate study in the Humanities can prepare students for careers in teaching, communications, business, government, and the arts, and for further study in the liberal arts. The intellectual content and expressive skills it cultivates are advantageous in many professions.

The Curriculum

All students must complete 30 credits, 18 of which must be at the 500-level, achieve a 3.00 grade-point average, and successfully complete an interdisciplinary master’s production (academic thesis or creative production with academic essay). Students work with their faculty advisers and supervisory committees to select courses in accordance with their individual interests. The 30-credit program is distributed over three groups of courses: prescribed courses, supporting courses, and recommended elective courses.

Prescribed Courses – 9 credits


Supporting Courses – 9 credits

To acquire breadth in the humanities, students must take courses in at least two disciplines; single-discipline courses are available as HUM 515 Seminar (repeatable for credit). Academic areas of study in American and world history, art history, communications, literature, music, philosophy, religious studies, theatre, women’s studies, and writing are examples of some of the various disciplines in which students study. 

Recommended Elective Courses – 12 credits

  • HUM 530 SEMINAR IN COMPARATIVE ARTS (3 credits per semester, maximum of 9)
  • HUM 535 TOPICS IN CULTURAL AND INTELLECTUAL HISTORY (3 credits per semester, maximum of 9)

(HUM 525 and HUM 535 are multidisciplinary courses, covering the content of various disciplines from the perspective of one discipline.)

The topics of courses in the disciplinary and interdisciplinary seminars vary from semester to semester: recent examples are "Power and the Story," "1880’s–1890’s/1980’s/1990’s: Early Modernism and Postmodernism," "Narrative in History and Literature," and "Critical Theory."

No more than 9 credits of HUM 596, Individual Studies, may be counted toward the degree.

Junior or Community College Internship

Students planning to teach in a junior or community college may arrange a teaching internship (HUM 550), subject to appropriate preparation and approval by the program and the community college. Internship credits are not counted toward the degree.

Other Courses

Other courses in particular disciplines are available at the 400-level. Other available 500-level courses are listed in this section.

  • HUM 515 SEMINAR (3 per semester, maximum of 9) May be repeated for credit.
    • Unit A. Art History (3) Study of sources and documents, style analysis, iconography, criticism, interpretation, and social context of art, within a selected chronological period.
    • Unit B. History. (3) Study of a particular historical period or theme, emphasizing critical use of sources, interpretive approaches, and theories.
    • Unit C. Literature (3) Study of a period, form, author, or idea and/or investigation of a fundamental problem in literary aesthetics or theory.
    • Unit D. Music History and Analysis (3) Study of a period, style, composer, or genre and/or investigation of problems in the aesthetics or history of music.
    • Unit E. Philosophy (3) Detailed investigation of a period of philosophy, e.g., ancient, contemporary, or of a fundamental problem, e.g., mind, language, ethics, logic.
    • Unit F. Communications (3) Study of an issue, genre, or development in media, their social/cultural context, or communications theory.
    • Unit G. Writing (3) Investigation and application of one or more genres or composition theory.
  • HUM 550 JUNIOR COLLEGE TEACHING INTERNSHIP (3). (Credits not applicable toward graduation) Prerequisite: HUM 500, HUM 560, 12 additional graduate credits
  • HUM 590 COLLOQUIUM (1-3)
  • HUM 597 SPECIAL TOPICS (1-9)

Grade-Point Average and Time Limit

Students must achieve a 3.00 grade-point average. A full-time student can expect to complete the program in four semesters, a part-time student in six or more semesters. Students are expected to complete all requirements for the degree within six years, although the deadline may be extended at the discretion of the graduate coordinator in accordance with policies approved by the Graduate School.

For Current Students

This page is not a part of the official Penn State University Bulletin.