Colleges have a wealth of degrees to choose from that can lead you to all different kinds of career paths.
But if you’re looking for something more specialized, something that can combine your love for multiple disciplines into one complete package, interdisciplinary studies might be right for you.
If you have questions like what is interdisciplinary studies, what kinds of students will do best in these programs, and how can interdisciplinary studies lead to a great career, read on!
What Is Interdisciplinary Studies?
Interdisciplinary studies is unique among degree programs. Most traditional programs are focused on a specific field of study, such as mathematics, literature, or computer science.
Interdisciplinary studies can include all of the above and more—it depends on what you hope to get out of these programs.
The most basic interdisciplinary studies definition is that these programs allow students to choose their concentrations.
You can effectively create your own major by choosing two areas of interest and combining them into one degree program that you’ll specialize in.
For example, say you love psychology and art. You might combine an art program with a psychology program to create your own art therapy degree.
Interdisciplinary studies are distinct from integrative studies, which have one primary focus with others supporting it. For example, if you wanted to study psychology and art in an integrative fashion, you might study how art feeds into psychology but not the other way around.
Integrative study doesn’t treat your disparate fields as equal; you have one key discipline, and other programs inform that discipline.
Why Choose an Interdisciplinary Studies Major?
Interdisciplinary studies is great for students who have specific interests that won’t necessarily be met through a traditional degree.
For example, maybe you have a deep interest in linguistics and biology and the ways that the two intersect. You might take linguistics courses and biology courses to get your degree, but the two may not typically cross over in traditional degree programs. If you study those fields as part of an interdisciplinary program, you’ll be designing your major specifically to understand the relationships between the two fields.
If you have a specific field you’d like to work in the future, one that requires specialized knowledge, a degree in interdisciplinary studies may be a good approach.
If you want to work as a biologist but specifically with the human body has evolved to suit speech, you can design your major to suit those interests.
Even better, an interdisciplinary studies program means you’re personally choosing things that are interesting to you. In a traditional degree program, you might end up having to take animal biology or microbiology, neither of which have that much in common with linguistics.
In an interdisciplinary program, your classes are more likely to line up directly with the things you want to study because you’re going to be working with advisers to create the ideal major.
What Kinds of Students Succeed in Interdisciplinary Studies?
Because interdisciplinary studies are a special field, it takes certain kinds of students to succeed.
Students who are more likely to succeed in the field include students who are:
If you’re interested in interdisciplinary studies, you’re probably at least a little creative.
You don’t want to follow the existing paths; you want to create one that’s new and unique to you.
That trait will serve you well as you’re connecting different fields and planning out your course schedules, because part of an interdisciplinary studies program is forging new connections between disciplines.
Because interdisciplinary studies doesn’t have a clear path the way many majors do,
you’ll need to be a particularly motivated student to make it work for you.
You’ll be designing your own course schedule and program with your advisers, which means more work than usual for you as a student. You need to keep your motivation high if you want to succeed as an interdisciplinary studies major.
You might be the only student at your school with your specific combination of fields in interdisciplinary studies, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be collaborating with others.
Forming connections with people with similar interests is a great way to improve your own experience,
particularly since you’re going to be forging your own path. You’ll also be working heavily with professors and advisers to create your academic pathway. So though you might be the only person doing exactly your program, it’s still important to work collaboratively with others!
Many disciplines overlap in college, but for interdisciplinary studies, that overlap is something you’ll largely be figuring out for yourself. Critical thinking is a valuable skill for interdisciplinary studies students for that reason. You’ll be considering all of your courses in conversation with one another, even if the connections aren’t clearly laid out for you. If your program requires a thesis or capstone project, you’ll likely be covering all of the ways your courses and fields intersect.
Being able to think critically about those courses will be invaluable to you as you progress through your program.
Motivation and hard work will get you far, but a sense of discipline will get you even further.
Interdisciplinary studies requires that you adhere to a different set of standards than traditional degrees. That means you’ll be guiding yourself, a lot of the time—though you’ll likely work out a plan with your advisers and instructors, you’ll be the one in charge of properly executing it. People who are good at setting goals, hitting deadlines, and planning will have an easier time
Pros and Cons of Interdisciplinary Studies
There are a lot of considerations to be made in deciding on an interdisciplinary studies program.
These programs have lots of unique benefits over other majors, but also some potential drawbacks.
- Learning multiple disciplines
- Understanding how fields overlap
- Opportunities for new research and development
- Passion about whatever you’re studying because you design it
- Professors may not understand your program
- Professors may not understand your unique needs as an interdisciplinary studies student
- Difficult to transition between subjects because work may not necessarily be connected
- It’s a specialized degree, so some jobs may not know what to make of it
- May be difficult to get into grad school
- Jobs may not understand what your degree is
What Schools Offer Interdisciplinary Studies Programs?
Though the major is an unusual approach, many great schools offer interdisciplinary studies as an option for their students. Some of those schools include:
- Boise State University
- Bowling Green State University
- Brown University
- College of William and Mary
- Creighton University
- Duke University
- George Washington University
- Lehigh University
- Lipscomb University
- New York University
- Purdue University
- Portland State University
- Stephen F Austin State University
- SUNY at Fredonia
- University of California – Berkeley
- University of California – Los Angeles
- University of Connecticut
- University of Denver
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
- University of Virginia
- Valparaiso University
What Are Interdisciplinary Programs Like?
Many schools throughout the US offer interdisciplinary studies programs.
Not every college has an interdisciplinary studies program, and even if they do, it might not be particularly well-supported.
The programs covered below all have plenty of information about their interdisciplinary studies programs, including how to apply, what the expectations are, and information on past successes of the department.
At UC Berkeley, interdisciplinary studies is considered part of the bachelor of arts program.
You’ll graduate your program, no matter what fields you combine, with a BA.
Berkeley also requires a minimum of three fields in your interdisciplinary studies program. The program should be designed to answer a specific research question, but the question can be approached in a multitude of ways, including regional, comparative, and historical approaches.
Though interdisciplinary studies allows students to design their own major, B
erkeley has a structure in place to ensure that the education students receive is well-rounded and comprehensive.
You’ll be choosing from
a list of acceptable courses
to take to satisfy prerequisites, including introductory courses, world region courses, and methodology courses, with each requirement having an assortment of disciplines to choose from.
Tufts makes it clear that interdisciplinary studies is not just a method of creating a unique major—it’s a dedicated field of study that should be taken seriously. According to their website, “it is a serious undertaking for the student who is committed to blending disciplines in a way that is demonstrably relevant to an identifiable area of intellectual inquiry.”
Tufts has the requirements to match their feelings about interdisciplinary studies being a serious undertaking. Getting your degree requires a thesis and thesis defense in front of an advisory committee, representing the culmination of your work and research. Students create their own advisory committee with three instructors from different disciplines, one of which must be a tenured member of the Arts and Sciences faculty.
With their advisory committee, students of interdisciplinary studies will develop their major.
Major proposals must include a title, a description of why it needs to be interdisciplinary, what problems will be addressed through the program, and what methodology will be used to address them, as well as letters of support, a bibliography, and list of courses they plan to take.
That proposal must be approved by the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies Faculty Committee before you can begin your program.
University of Florida has some interdisciplinary programs already in place, including
biological illustration, sustainability studies, and Middle Eastern languages and culture.
For students who wish to design their own major, they must apply separately to the IDS program through the Dean’s office. They must also find at least two tenured advisers to help them design their program.
As in the Tufts program, students will be required to complete a thesis to graduate.
Because interdisciplinary studies can be customized for each student who pursues it, programs can vary pretty widely between colleges. Here’s a look at three of the programs from some top schools:
What Should You Look for in an Interdisciplinary Studies Program?
Programs can vary from college to college, but there are a few things to look for if you’re interested in pursuing an interdisciplinary studies degree:
A Track Record
A college doesn’t need to have your specific interests clearly outlined, but
having a framework for interdisciplinary studies makes it easier for you to get a good, well-supported education.
A traditional degree program has a pathway for success as well as advisers and professors who are well-trained in helping students make it through. That isn’t necessarily true of interdisciplinary studies, which means
you have to be extra diligent about evaluating how well you’ll work with your professors.
Unfortunately, since professors may not know what exactly your program is, it may be hard for them to understand exactly how one piece fits into another. Unlike traditional degree programs, there’s no real “stepping stone” approach—your courses may be in radically different fields with no attempt to bridge them.
That’s why it’s so important to connect with your professors and your advisers. You need to be sure that you’re all on the same page as far as what you need to get out of each class, even if you are doing the bulk of the bridging yourself.
When you are clear about your intentions and goals, it’s easier for your professors to help you meet them!
What Kinds of Interdisciplinary Studies Jobs Exist?
One of the benefits of a traditional degree program is that future careers will probably know what they mean, even if they’re highly specialized. Interdisciplinary studies degrees are a bit different—while a future job might recognize “communications” and “art history,”
they might not understand exactly what it means to have an interdisciplinary degree covering both.
But that doesn’t mean that you
get interdisciplinary studies jobs—only that clarity and dedicated study are the best way to ensure your degree will help you down the line. Here’s a few jobs that benefit from the interdisciplinary approach:
Teaching children or adults in a specific subject
Understand education principles, have a firm grasp on one or more specific subjects, and enjoy working with others
None, but a bachelor’s or higher is greatly preferred
Analyzes financial information to prepare reports for businesses
Work well with numbers, have an eye for detail, and who enjoy analysis
Bachelor’s degree minimum, but a master’s degree is preferred
Offers advice and guidance to people in a variety of contexts
Have great listening skills, are able to remain objective, excel at communicating
None required, but bachelor’s degree greatly preferred
Writes and researches a variety of topics to create news articles, videos, or other reports
Are curious, have writing skills, enjoy research
Participates in digs and excavations to learn more about history
Have an eye for detail, are inquisitive, have flexibility in where they live and for how long
Taking on an interdisciplinary studies program can be a lot of work. You’ll be looking out for yourself more than you would in a traditional degree program, but the increased freedom and flexibility are worth it for many students.
To be sure you’re getting the most out of your program, keep these things in mind:
Do Your Research
Schools that already have procedures in place for interdisciplinary studies students are likely to better support you.
Know ahead of time if these frameworks for success exist, and if not, develop a plan for how you’ll approach your program.
Seek out other interdisciplinary studies students and alumni to learn more about their experiences. Did professors support them? How about the school administration? Do they have recommendations about how to make the most of the program?
Spending some time learning more about interdisciplinary studies at your school is a great way to ensure that you get the biggest benefit from the program.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions—it’s a skill you’ll need for the field!
Pick a Focus and Stick With It
Interdisciplinary studies is great for students who have a multitude of interests. But that multitude of interests can also be a problem if you struggle to stick with one project for an extended period of time.
When you plan out your program with your advisers, be sure it’s a plan you can stick with throughout your time in college
—changing your degree is difficult even for traditional programs, but the lost credit hours can be especially hard for interdisciplinary degree students.
Looking for other unique ways of combining your interests in college?
dual degree or double major
, two other degree programs that let you explore multiple subjects.
Curious how long it’ll take to complete your interdisciplinary studies program? If you’re doing a bachelor’s degree, this article about
how many years it takes to complete a bachelor’s program
Journalism is a great field for interdisciplinary studies students.
Want to know what schools have the strongest journalism programs?
Check out this list