What is an Interdisciplinary Studies Program?
Today’s college graduates are far more likely to work in multiple fields, hold a variety of jobs, and be employed by numerous companies than the workforces of the past. This shift in a student’s future career path necessitates that college students graduate in possession of a broad skill set and a high level of adaptability—both of which are acquired when pursuing a degree in interdisciplinary studies, also called general studies. Colleges and universities are noticing this shift as well; between 2006-2007 and 2012-2013, the number of degrees awarded in interdisciplinary studies increased 42%.
What is Interdisciplinary Study?
At its most basic, an interdisciplinary study program is a track of courses derived from two or more academic disciplines—taking the knowledge and working methods of one discipline and applying them to another discipline to provide a broader perspective and a deeper learning experience. In addition to working with a wide span of knowledge, students engaged in interdisciplinary studies work with multiple departments, exposing them to a variety of ways of thinking and building communication skills.
How to Choose Concentrations
Depending on the college or university, interdisciplinary studies concentrations can be found within the institution’s offered programming; for example, Duke University offers 26 interdisciplinary certificates. Alternatively, students may be able to create their own major.
Due to the customizable nature of interdisciplinary programs, students will find variances from school to school. At a school like Duke, offered interdisciplinary studies programs range from language and culture-based studies such as French and Francophone Studies to more traditional liberal art tracks like Medieval and Renaissance Studies to more scientific paths such as Psychology and Neuroscience. Students creating their own major commonly choose between two or more complementary fields of study—for example, business and communication or American Sign Language and Interpreting—to create a unique program under the guidance of an advisor and professors.
General Ed Requirements
Although students in an interdisciplinary program choose classes from a variety of disciplines, they still must meet an institution’s basic requirements for graduation. Prearranged interdisciplinary courses are designed to ensure that students enrolled in them meet the school’s general education requirements. Students creating their own track are often required to take a minimum number of credits in general education classes like English composition, statistics, and biology. It’s common for colleges to limit the number of courses a student can take in an academic field to ensure they’re exposed to a broader field of study.
Why Choose an Interdisciplinary Studies Program
From a practical standpoint, interdisciplinary studies much more closely mirror how we live our lives outside of an academic environment. Life simply does not occur in a silo, requiring us to use our knowledge of math, science, history, or English singularly—rather, in everyday life, we use a combination of the knowledge and skills we’ve learned in a variety of subjects to navigate the world.
Interdisciplinary studies are a great option for creative thinkers as well, allowing them to explore and make connections between a wide variety of ideas, methods, and ways of thinking. The study of two or more closely related subjects is beneficial for better understanding subjects as they allow students to apply knowledge gained in one field to improve their comprehension of subject matter in another. For example, a student studying Shakespeare will make more connections and better grasp the author’s writing if they are simultaneously studying Elizabethan England.
Interdisciplinary studies can also make graduates more marketable in the workforce. In fact, the “general studies” moniker given to interdisciplinary studies can be misleading; in many cases, an interdisciplinary studies graduate has a wide range of skills ideally suited for employment in a position requiring that particular blend of skills. For example, a student who wants to be a technical writer in the high-tech field might study information technology and writing, or a student who wants to do business overseas might pursue business and international studies.
Some educators theorize that an interdisciplinary study program is a superior learning experience. Called constructivism in educational circles, the theory states that through an individual’s experience, and reflection on that experience, they create their own understanding and knowledge of the world. Constructivism, like interdisciplinary studies, turns the student from a passive recipient of knowledge to an active contributor to the learning process—altering the role of the student from someone who simply absorbs knowledge from lectures and textbooks to someone who, under the guidance of a teacher, is actively creating their own knowledge and comparing and contrasting it with previous ideas and experience.
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