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Spotlight on Interdisciplinary Programs

Choosing what you want to study is often challenging. After all, some students want to focus their studies more broadly, or can’t make up their minds between different fields. While some students are able to sate their curiosity with double majors, others are better served by interdisciplinary programs.

These programs, as the name suggests, merge two different disciplines into a single course of study. These programs are often quite demanding academically, as they require you to master two very different fields. For hardworking and devoted students, however, they can be quite rewarding. In this article, we’ll cover programs from MIT and UPenn. Most colleges have their own interdisciplinary options, and if they intrigue you, we encourage you to research interdisciplinary programs further.

UPenn

These programs at UPenn are all highly selective. Some require you to apply to them as part of your application to the school generally, while others allow current students to apply if there’s room. Acceptance to these programs is even more competitive than acceptance to UPenn as a whole, so we recommend only very well prepared students apply to them.

University of Pennsylvania Campus

Bio-Dent Program

This is a seven-year dual degree program. Students earn a BA in biology, and then a DMD from Penn’s School of Dental Medicine. This is similar to BS/MD programs, in that it is a very good choice if you are certain you want a degree in dentistry. Only incoming freshmen are allowed to apply to the program; you can’t transfer in later. Like other BS/MD programs, the application requires extra essay responses, five in this case.

Digital Media Design Program

This is an interdisciplinary major program, with students earning a BSE from the School of Engineering, while also taking a full load of courses from the School of Design. This program is intended for students who want to learn about programming and math which underlie computer-aided animation and design. This program is open to both first-year students, and later transfers. The school cautions that this is primarily an engineering program; while students are encouraged to submit a portfolio when they apply, this is not a fine arts program. If you don’t have an interest in programming, this program is not the right choice for you.

Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

This program offers students a BA in International Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences, and a BS in Economics from the Wharton School. It is only open to freshman applicants, not later transfers. The program focuses on learning about international studies, language, and business in a global setting, and is well suited for students with global ambitions in the business world. 

Life Sciences and Management Program

This is a dual degree program, where students earn a BA in a life sciences major from the College of Arts and Sciences, and a BS in Economics from the Wharton School. This is meant for students who want to look at the business side of the life sciences; biotech companies, agricultural and environmental research and development, and the new fields of green tech. The program is open to freshmen, or to later transfers, space permitting. Two extra essays are required for freshmen applicants.

Management and Technology Program

This program offers a BSE or BAS from the School of Engineering, and a BS in Economics from Wharton. The program is meant for students interested in the integration of business and technology, and the opportunities this provides. Students may apply as freshmen or later transfers; two additional essays are required if you apply as freshmen.

Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

This dual degree program has students earn a BSE from the School of Engineering, and a BA from the College of Arts and Sciences in a science subject. This program is meant for students interested in researching and developing new energy technologies, and new applications for energy technology. Doing hands-on research is an integral part of the program, and prior research experience is valuable for applicants. Students may apply as freshmen or may transfer in later, space permitting. One additional essay is required for freshmen applicants.

MIT

These programs at MIT are all undergraduate programs and allow students to combine coursework from multiple fields. All of these offer a single degree but grant an expanded field of study compared to normal majors. These courses are good for students who want to explore another field in more depth than a minor offers. These are open when you apply, or for later transfer. All of these programs are academically rigorous, as they require many courses in multiple subjects for interested students.

MIT Campus

Chemistry and Biology

This degree is offered by the School of Science in a joint program by the Department of Biology and the Department of Chemistry. It is distinct from biochemistry, though it can cover that field as well. The program is aimed at students who wish to study subjects that involve both fields, such as pharmacology or biotechnology. The program is heavily focused on research.

Computation and Cognition

This is a program run by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the School of Engineering, and the Department of the Brain in the School of Science. The program is wide in its applications; from biological approaches to artificial intelligence, to integrating technology with the brain. Students are members of both departments, and have broad leeway over which classes they take, though they should focus on some intersection of the fields.

Computer Science and Molecular Biology

This program is offered by the Department of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and the Department of Biology in the School of Science. This is an emerging field, and this program seeks students who want to be pioneers in it. The program prepares students for pharmacology, bioinformatics, or medicine. There is a fifth-year master’s program associated with this program, in which high-performing students are encouraged to participate.

Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science

This program is offered by the Department of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and the Department of Economics in the School of Arts. This program focuses on statistical analysis and computational modeling valued in both fields, and is increasingly seen as important in both computer science and business. This is well suited for students interested in game theory or computational modeling. There is a fair bit of math required by this program.

Humanities

This is an umbrella for numerous interdisciplinary study opportunities which exist within the Department of Humanities. All studies must be approved by the Dean, and students must submit a proposal for all of the courses they wish to take as part of their interdisciplinary endeavor. Students who want to explore some aspect of the humanities in relation to another will benefit from this program.

Humanities and Engineering and Humanities and Science

Both of these programs allow students to take courses in the humanities and another school, either the School of Engineering or the School of Science. The goal is for students to be able to investigate a topic within the humanities in serious depth while still continuing their pursuit of scientific research. The program may be heavily customized by students in consultation with their advisors. Students torn between the sciences and the humanities will benefit greatly from this program.

Urban Science and Planning with Computer Science

This program is offered by the Department of Urban Science in the School of Architecture and the Department of Computer Science in the School of Engineering. This program focuses on the merger between urbanization and technology, and how each impact and influences the other. Students interested in practical approaches or policy will benefit from this program. The impacts of new technologies on the future of urban planning are also a major topic.

Final Thoughts

It can be hard to choose what to study if you have multiple passions, and universities know this. If you have multiple passions or are excited by the opportunities offered in the area between two fields, we encourage you to investigate and apply to interdisciplinary programs. These programs are often quite challenging but can be incredibly beneficial to motivated and talented students.

This is only a small sampling of all interdisciplinary programs offered; you can find more in our University Fact Sheets. If you want help choosing the right program to apply to, or want to learn more about what these programs require, schedule a free consultation with us. We have a deep understanding of what colleges are looking for in applicants, and we’re always happy to share what we know.

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