Choosing and Preparing for Your MALS Courses

The following are some frequently asked questions:

What courses should I take?

Most students begin the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with the first two required courses, Seminar in Liberal Studies and Models of Critical Inquiry.

Seminar in Liberal Studies orients you to the requirements of graduate-level critical thinking and writing. New schools of thought such as multiculturalism, post-modernism and feminism have challenged older assumptions about knowledge. Interdisciplinary approaches have reconfigured the relationships among formerly separate fields. This seminar will familiarize you with some of these developments. It will allow you to locate yourself among the ideas and inquiries that make up contemporary academic life and to articulate your questions and curiosity and consider the relationship of liberal studies to your own personal, intellectual and professional trajectory.

Models of Critical Inquiry is designed to help you more fully develop the competencies necessary for graduate-level critical reading, writing and thinking. A major theme is paradigms and paradigm shifts. This course examines the various lenses through which phenomena are perceived, interpreted and given meaning, as well as the tensions, debates and relationships between different ways of knowing the world.

We offer different sections of Models of Critical Inquiry from which to choose. All share the same pre-residency assignment, introduced at orientation and on the webpages of the online part of your course. All sections focus on the ways knowledge and power interact in historical and social contexts to produce particular paradigms for interpreting the world and how these paradigms shift over time. All sections include a graduate research paper assignment later in the term. You can choose the section that is the best fit for you. This information is available on the online registration page on MyESC.

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How can I be sure that I have registered for the correct version of Models of Critical Inquiry?

You will register for your section of Models by selecting the topic of greatest interest to you. Each interest topic is led by a different course instructor. The different Models topics available are described in the online registration system list of term courses.

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Should I take both required courses this first term, or only one of them?

Graduate courses are challenging and time consuming. Time management will likely be an issue for you whether you take one course or both. If you work full time, have a young family and have not done academic work in a long time, you might choose to take only the Seminar in Liberal Studies your first term. Many entering liberal studies students take both courses and succeed.

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What if my form of financial aid requires me to carry a specific amount of course credit?

Because of financial aid, some students need to take a minimum of either two courses or three courses each term. If this is your situation, there are a number of variable-credit course options. Contact the core faculty in your closest liberal studies location (listed below) to help you decide which elective(s) will complement your core course(s) and fit your academic needs and goals best. It is important to note that the majority of financial aid packages require that the student be enrolled in at least 5 credits per term. If you are not sure what your package requires, please check with the financial aid office.

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When is orientation?

Orientations for new students will take place as follows:


Jan. 8, 2014
4-7 p.m.
Metropolitan Center, Manhattan
Core faculty: Elana Michelson, 845-658-9838
Fifth floor front desk: 212- 647-7800


Jan. 6, 2014
4:30-7:30 p.m.
2 Union Ave, Saratoga Springs
Core faculty: Anastasia Pratt, 518-564-2841
Front desk: 518-587-2100, ext. 2784


Jan. 15, 2014
4-8 p.m.
Central New York Center, East Syracuse
Core faculty: Mark Soderstrom, 315-460-3164
Front desk: 315-460 3156


Jan. 16, 2014
4-8 p.m.
Genesee Valley Center, Rochester
Core faculty: Susan Hollis, 585-224-3246
Front desk: 585-224-3200

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What does orientation cover?

One of the purposes of orientation is to introduce you to liberal studies, the faculty and each other. Orientation is one of the few times in the program when you get the chance to clarify the important steps and resources you need to succeed in your first term. You will identify and connect with the people who can best help and support you if you have questions or concerns. Finally, it will be critical for you to participate in orientation to understand fully the approaches you will need to take in carrying out your Liberal Studies writing assignments.

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How do I prepare for the orientation?

The orientation also will focus on developing the graduate-level skills of academic inquiry that you will need to succeed in the program. For this reason, you are asked to complete a pre-orientation assignment that forms the basis for a discussion at orientation. The pre-orientation assignment appears directly below:

Pre-Orientation Assignment

All students will read Mary Louise Pratt’s essay, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” (PDF) preparing about one-and-a-half pages of written response for discussion and sharing at orientation.

Note: You will need Adobe Reader to read PDF documents. If the Reader is not installed on your computer, download it for free from Adobe.

One way of looking at Pratt’s essay is as a practical demonstration of different theoretical perspectives. In her essay, Pratt “reads” a surprising array of phenomena (baseball cards, Guamon Poma’s "New Chronicle and Good Government," academic communities, her son’s grade school composition and the curriculum and her classrooms at Stanford). She insists that traditional questions applied to these phenomena (in Cultural Studies we refer to them as “texts”) have led to misreading and failed communication. She asks other kinds of questions of these texts that open up new meanings.

Once you have read her essay, consider Pratt’s questions and the interpretations that her strategies yield. In what ways are her methods similar to and different from the ways you were taught to analyze phenomena in your undergraduate education? In what ways does her essay challenge you? You may just want to select one of her approaches that you find particularly interesting, helpful, or revealing. Please prepare and bring a thoughtful, specific response to this set of questions, about one-and-a-half pages long.

Also for orientation, come prepared to discuss the kinds of questions you might pursue in your field of interest while studying in the liberal studies program and how they might be interdisciplinary.

Bring your brief written response to the Pratt assignment to orientation, along with a notebook in which you can jot ideas while in discussion with the group. Please also spend some time looking at the Moodlerooms website and exploring its tutorial, accessed through the "Academics" tab of the MyESC website.

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When and where will the residency take place?

The residency will take place Feb. 6-8, 2014 at the Saratoga Hilton, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. You can view the residency information at Graduation Residency Information

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What will the residency cover?

The opening residency is one of the most important events of your core course. In this short-term conference setting, you will have the opportunity to discuss the concepts of the core course in depth with live faculty interaction. You will receive individual attention in small discussion groups, with feedback on your contributions, and will have the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the readings, concepts, skills and processes of Liberal Studies. Writing and research workshops, a session on the expectations of the literature review in your program and interactions with fellow students will help you get a sound start on your assignments and your program approach. Residency attendance is required. Once the residency schedule is available, you can view it at Graduation Residency Information

How do I prepare for the residency?

Both Seminar in Liberal Studies and Models of Critical Inquiry have a pre-residency assignment. They are included in each online course. Most of the courses will open one week before the term begins. You will also receive an introduction to these assignments at the orientation.

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Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read PDF documents. If Acrobat Reader is not installed on your computer, you can download it for free from AdobeIf you are unable to use the file, please contact Graduate Student Services for assistance.