What is an Interdisciplinary Major?

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Sometimes, a student’s intended area of study is not offered by his or her college or university, or generally is not a common major at the undergraduate level. While having a double major or dual degree programs may help the student learn what he or she needs to know in order to be successful professionally or in graduate school, sometimes it is necessary to create a new program of study to gain the education and skills a student needs to enter the job market or graduate school.

At many colleges and universities, this is called an interdisciplinary studies program, or an interdisciplinary major. These programs allow students to propose majors that are tailored to the student’s academic and professional needs.

What is an Interdisciplinary Major?

An interdisciplinary major, according to Hollins College, is a program of study that allows students to create a major program of study by taking courses from various academic departments and using them to create a major that is not offered by any department on campus.

Interdisciplinary Studies. Image by pinterest.com

Interested students usually are asked to submit a proposed program of study, including a description of the program, list of established courses that the student intends to take to complete the program, possible internships or study abroad requirements, and other possible materials as requested by the college or university’s academic advising office or faculty director in charge of the interdisciplinary studies program.

At some colleges or universities, such as Appalachian State University, also offer pre-designed majors and college minors for students who are looking for unique qualifications, such as degrees in Internet Studies, Environmental Policy and Planning, or minors in Interdisciplinary Studies and Non-Profit Management.

Creating An Interdisciplinary Studies Program

In order for a proposed program to qualify as an interdisciplinary major, it must be unlike any other college major on campus or combination of majors. Before proposing an interdisciplinary major, interested students should consult an academic advisor to see if there is a major or combination of majors that already exist that can meet the student’s academic and professional needs.

interdisciplinary studies degree
Creating An Interdisciplinary Studies Program. Image by degreeplanet.com

After consulting an academic advisor and the program director on campus, interested students need to develop a proposal and make sure that they meet minimum class standing and GPA requirements. For example, students who wish to create an interdisciplinary studies major at the University of Virginia must have a minimum 3.4 GPA and be in their third or fourth semester of study at the university.

When selecting relevant courses, students may have to meet specific requirements put in place by the interdisciplinary studies program, as well as creating a program with a minimum number of credits to qualify as a major, usually 30 to 45 credit hours. Students may also be required to complete an internship, take a semester of studying abroad, or complete a senior undergraduate thesis in their area of study.

Before submitting the program proposal, students should look over all of the aspects of their program to make sure that they have met all of the college or university’s requirements. Additionally, students should be prepared to answer questions about how long the program will take to complete, if the school has the resources to support this program, and how this major will serve the student both before and after college graduation.

Graduating with an Interdisciplinary Studies Degree

Colleges and universities have specific requirements for students with traditional majors in order to graduate with their intended degree. Aside from completing their program of study, these requirements may also include a minimum GPA overall and within a student’s major, completing general education courses, and possible other requirements such as capstone seminars, internships, or undergraduate theses.

interdisciplinary studies internship
Graduating with an Interdisciplinary Studies Degree. Image by is.utdallas.edu

For students with interdisciplinary majors, there may be additional graduation requirements to meet. These may include research courses in one of the departments that comprises the major, a presentation on the program of study, a portfolio, or an evaluation done by one or more mentoring professors to certify that a student has completed this program and has benefited from it.

College graduates with interdisciplinary studies degrees can go on to use their diverse educational background in almost any career field, or continue on to graduate school to pursue a more formal program of study of their choosing.

An interdisciplinary major is a great option for motivated students who are looking to create a unique program of study to better prepare them for a career or graduate study. However, these programs may vary greatly from campus to campus, and interested students should consider all of their available options.


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