What Is Interdisciplinary Studies? 2022 Degree Guide

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An interdisciplinary studies degree gives students a chance to explore multiple fields. Learn how this degree works and whether it could be a good fit for your goals.

[Featured Image] An interdisciplinary studies degree student in jeans and a blue striped shirt sits outside on steps with a laptop.

An interdisciplinary studies degree is an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree that lets you combine more than one area of study, as opposed to a specific major. This flexible degree option allows you to pursue two or more fields of interest that may better fit your educational and career goals. The result is a customized course of study that can lay a foundation for additional education or a career.

If your dream job combines knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines, an interdisciplinary studies degree may be just what you need. In this article, you'll discover what makes this degree stand out from other majors and what you can expect to do and learn through an interdisciplinary studies program.

3 reasons to consider an interdisciplinary studies degree

Students may choose an interdisciplinary studies program for a variety of reasons. Let's take a closer look at three circumstances where this degree could be a good fit:

1. You're interested in a career requiring knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines.

You may consider an interdisciplinary studies degree if you're interested in a career requiring knowledge and skills from multiple areas. For example, you may opt for an interdisciplinary studies degree with concentrations in Latin American studies and business administration if you want to pursue a career with a global corporation or establish your own company abroad. 

2. You want a degree your school doesn't offer.

If your university doesn't offer the type of degree you're interested in, you may be able to customize your learning through interdisciplinary studies. For example, if you want to study music management at a school that doesn't offer this specific type of degree, you may be able to combine business management and music courses to prepare for work in this field.

3. You're undecided or enjoy flexibility.

You may choose an interdisciplinary studies degree if you cannot decide on a major or enjoy the flexibility and range of courses you can study through this degree. In both cases, the coursework you take to earn the degree may feel more flexible than what you might study in a traditional major. 

Depending on the coursework offered by the school you choose to attend, you can typically explore various topics and disciplines that can help you develop a broader perspective valued by future employers.

Interdisciplinary studies vs. liberal arts vs. general studies

Both interdisciplinary studies and liberal arts degrees emphasize critical thinking and developing a broad knowledge base. However, the main difference between these two degree programs is how the courses of study are organized.

A liberal arts degree typically includes classes covering a wide range of topics, including philosophy, literature, history, and art. An interdisciplinary studies degree tends to be more customized. You still get to take a range of classes, but you can tailor your courses to help you focus on specific goals. For example, if you want to pursue a career as a crime journalist, you may choose journalism and criminology courses to get the best of both worlds.

Some schools offer a general studies degree that, like interdisciplinary studies, allows students to earn credits in more than one area. These two degrees serve different purposes. A general studies degree is typically used for students who have earned enough college credits to graduate but don't yet have a degree because they don't have enough credits for a specific major. Conversely, an interdisciplinary studies degree tends to be more purposeful–you carefully select concentrations that you can pair.

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Interdisciplinary studies degree benefits and considerations 

One of the main pros of majoring in interdisciplinary studies is the variety of perspectives, knowledge bases, and ideas you are exposed to. You may also have greater flexibility in customizing your degree studies to meet your needs and goals. Not only do you have more say in choosing the courses you want, but you may also have opportunities to explore your passions through a senior project or internship.

Along the way, you can develop valuable skills, including critical thinking and analysis, that can be useful whether you continue your education or enter the workforce. You also get to put these skills to use in the classroom, through research, and in fieldwork you may do. Designing a curriculum to help you learn the knowledge you need to follow your post-school interests is, in itself, a hands-on project that lets you use your analysis and evaluation skills.

A potential con to earning an interdisciplinary studies degree is that you do not get as in-depth of an education in one area. The emphasis is instead on breadth of knowledge. A traditional degree may be more suitable if you are interested in pursuing a career requiring in-depth scientific or technical expertise in a particular area.

Consider this summary of the potential pros and cons of an interdisciplinary studies degree when deciding what is best for your career goals:

ProsCons
Flexibility to customize your coursework to suit your interestsLimited options for choosing your coursework available in some schools
Broader educationLess in-depth study
Exposure to experts in a variety of fieldsMore effort required to design your coursework
Faster learning pace ideal for students who prefer gaining new information quicklyFaster learning pace less suited for students who need more time to gain foundational knowledge on a topic
Essay-focused assessment approach allows for expression of ideas from various knowledge basesMore emphasis on essay-based assessments difficult for some students

What can you do with an interdisciplinary studies degree?

The types of jobs you can get with this degree cover a wide range of fields, including journalist, project manager, and human resources professional. The knowledge and skills you can develop along the way can help you build a broad foundation of knowledge that applies to many different careers. The number of potential jobs you can pursue is typically limited only by the number of concentrations you can combine. Here are a few examples:

  • Financial advisor: As a financial advisor, you help people make decisions about their money, which typically requires more than math skills. Other important skills include communication, critical thinking, and research. An interdisciplinary degree with concentrations in finance paired with business administration, psychology, or philosophy may help you build these skills. 

  • Public relations specialist: A public relations specialist helps businesses with tasks like communication with the public, monitoring the business's social media accounts, and managing the brand image. You may choose an interdisciplinary studies program that combines communications or journalism with English, psychology, web design, or coding.  

  • Entrepreneur: When you start and build your own business, you rely on various skills, such as leadership, finance, marketing, and communication. An interdisciplinary studies degree program may allow you to study business management, marketing, communications, or an area specifically related to the type of business you want to start. 

  • Education administrator: Education administrators include school principals, assistant principals, district leaders, college deans, and college presidents. Since these roles typically involve working with people, managing resources, and overseeing projects, you may choose an interdisciplinary studies degree program that blends business management, finance, education, communications, or psychology coursework. 

  • Human resources professional: Working in human resources typically requires a combination of management and people skills. For this reason, an interdisciplinary studies degree with concentrations in business management, marketing, psychology, or communications may be helpful. 

  • Teacher: An interdisciplinary studies degree can be an alternative if you want to teach but don't want to major in education. Middle and high school teachers may prefer the option to study the subject or subjects they want to teach along with courses in education, sociology, psychology, or philosophy.

What is earning an interdisciplinary studies degree like? 

As an interdisciplinary studies student, you take classes and may have the chance to participate in an internship or write a thesis like you would in another degree program. The school should tell you how many courses you have to take to meet degree requirements and whether you'll be able to participate in a capstone project, thesis, or internship. This type of degree stands out from other majors because you can choose courses from different disciplines. 

Working closely with an advisor

Since students in interdisciplinary studies programs typically don't follow a pre-determined curriculum, they often work with advisors. These advisors may be professors, counselors, and even other students. You and your advisor work together to choose courses and ensure you stay on track to complete the requirements you need for graduation.  

Standard degree requirements 

Like in other degree programs, you must meet specific requirements to earn an interdisciplinary studies degree. These include core general education courses like English, math, and social sciences, as well as electives. Some schools expect you to choose a specific number of concentrations (typically two or three). Others let you select your courses as long as they meet the credit hour requirement for the degree.

Many schools also specify how many courses you need to take within each concentration and how many need to be upper-level courses. For example, the University of Colorado Boulder requires interdisciplinary studies bachelor's students to complete at least 15 credits from each area of emphasis they choose [1]. Alternatively, the University of North Texas lets master's students in their program select a recognized concentration or design their own program from an approved list [2]. 

Thesis or capstone project

As you near the end of your coursework, you may need to complete a thesis or capstone project. This lets you explore a question or problem that connects to what you have studied during your time in school. It also provides an avenue for reflecting on and demonstrating what you've learned along the way.

A capstone project or thesis tends to be spread across one or two semesters and requires extensive research and writing. At some schools, you spend an entire semester developing a proposal for the topic you want to research and defending it before you get the approval to start the actual research. Then you may spend an additional semester writing.

Internship

Some schools allow you to participate in an internship for credit. During your internship, you have an opportunity to work for a company in an industry related to the area you've studied. You get hands-on experience doing work that you may want to do for a living after you graduate. The internship counts as work experience, so you can list it on your resume.

Next steps

If you're considering an interdisciplinary studies degree, start by identifying your areas of interest. An introductory course in topics that interest you can help you decide which directions you want to go. 

For instance, Introduction to Data Science, Introduction to Financial Accounting, or Introduction to Psychology can give you a taste of the topics and tasks you may encounter when working on an interdisciplinary studies degree customized to these fields. Choosing courses on topics you like can help you decide which concentrations to pursue when you're ready to begin working on the degree. 

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Article sources 

1. University of Colorado Boulder. “ BA in Interdisciplinary Studies, “ https://www.colorado.edu/education/academics/undergraduate-programs/ba-interdisciplinary-studies.” Accessed June 29, 2022.

2. University of North Texas. “ Interdisciplinary Studies Concentrations,”   https://interdisciplinarystudies.unt.edu/concentrations.”  Accessed June 29, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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