Interdisciplinary Studies Pre-Advising Workshop

SO ... you'd like to become an interdisciplinary studies major! The first thing to know is that you’re in good company.

ASU’s bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts is among the top five of the more than 650 such programs in the nation. Since celebrating its first graduates in 1999, ASU now boasts more than 10,000 interdisciplinary studies alumni!

Interdisciplinary studies is the 13th most popular major across the United States. Nationally, half a million students have graduated with an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary degree since 1973.

Even so, the question you’ll probably get from others about your major is: What is Interdisciplinary Studies?

Stated simply, it’s an approach to problem solving where you learn — individually and as part of a group — to use different standpoints from academic disciplines to develop a more effective approach to problems or challenges.

When done well, it makes you a broader and deeper thinker as well as a facilitator who can pull from the insights of others to make a strategic difference. You’ll learn to think differently.

If you have a curiosity and openness to developing thinking strategies outside conventional frameworks, you sound like an interdisciplinarian already! 

Knowledge, real-world challenges and solutions don’t fall into neatly partitioned disciplinary categories.

Interdisciplinary education promotes the intellectual fusion needed for the jobs of the future: the ability to think integratively, learn cooperatively, produce new understandings of world problems and ask meaningful questions.

  • Employers increasingly need graduates ready to address the interdisciplinary needs of the work world and globally connected economies and societies.
  • Science, medical, and engineering professions are placing a greater emphasis on interdisciplinarity.
  • Businesses value the hallmarks of interdisciplinarity: analytical thinking, critical thinking, research, and clarity and precision in reading, writing, and speaking.
  • Studies show that students with a background in interdisciplinary studies perform significantly better on tests measuring reasoning as well as intellectual and ethical development.

At ASU, you design your bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies by choosing two concentration areas, from two different academic disciplines.

As you can see from looking over the more than 120 concentration options, this rich menu makes for some pretty exciting and numerous (more than 7,000!) combinations.

How about computer gaming and art history? Technical communication and Spanish for the professions? Business paired with sustainable tourism? Global health with biochemistry? You begin to get an idea of the possibilities!

Of course, there are certain combinations that don’t work because courses overlap, or because the concentrations are too similar to be considered interdisciplinary (for example, it wouldn’t make sense to choose sociology at the Tempe campus and sociology at the West campus). 

Each concentration requires at least six courses (18 credit hours). You’ll also take four BIS core courses (12 credit hours) where you work on developing your skills as an interdisciplinarian. You’ll put your concentration areas together in the classroom and in an applied experience that you will develop — either in a workplace internship that melds your concentrations or in an alternative research project.

12 credit hours   BIS Core Classes
18 credit hours   Concentration #1
18 credit hours   Concentration #2
48 credit hours (minimum)

Of course, you will also complete your ASU General Studies and all other ASU graduation requirements

Start by thinking about yourself and your passions. Consider your answers to these questions.

  • What do you like to do?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What are you good at?
  • What do you like to study?
  • What skill do you want to improve?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?

Then consider some of the skills employers not only look for in new hires but expect from all employees. The top-10 skills favored by corporate recruiters in a recent survey were:

  1. Communication skills (oral, written)
  2. Honesty and integrity
  3. Teamwork skills
  4. Interpersonal skills
  5. Motivation and initiative
  6. Strong work ethic
  7. Analytical skills
  8. Flexibility/adaptability
  9. Computer skills
  10. Self-confidence

While some of the above are character traits, many are skills that you can build up and demonstrate while still in college.

To learn more about how different content areas match up with careers and professions, explore:

If you aren’t yet sure about what you’d like to do, that’s perfectly normal! ASU Career Services notes that most people don’t truly settle into a career until their 30s and change fields multiple times in their lives. The first half of your college experience is a great time to learn about academic subjects that are new to you.

Once you’ve successfully completed two courses in each of your concentration areas and your English and math requirements, you’re likely ready to take your first core course!

The four core courses are the heart and soul of the BIS degree. In them you’ll mindfully integrate your two areas of study, develop new forms of inquiry, apply your knowledge in real-life situations, and practice your interdisciplinary skills.

The core courses are offered in the fall, spring, and summer semesters in the iCourse and Online formats. In addition, they are sometimes offered on-site on the Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses.

You take the courses sequentially, but BIS 401 (offered only in C or B terms) and BIS 402 may be taken in either order or concurrently.

BIS 301: Foundations of Interdisciplinary Studies
You’ll learn concepts and methods of interdisciplinary studies and tools to begin integrating your concentrations. The class is writing-intensive and satisfies half of your university Literacy requirement.

BIS 302: Interdisciplinary Inquiry
Solving interdisciplinary challenges often means doing first-hand research. You’ll learn about various kinds of data gathering (e.g. observation, surveys, interview, questionnaires, analyzing texts or social and cultural phenomena) and which might work best for particular challenges.

BIS 401: Applied Interdisciplinary Studies (internship or applied research)
You will arrange a semester-long internship with an organization or directed study with a faculty member. No matter which option you choose, you will develop a situation where you can apply your concentration knowledge and skills in an active-learning, real-world setting. Start planning early — several months of prep time are essential to meet the application and proposal approval deadlines before enrollment.

BIS 402: Senior Seminar
This capstone integrates classroom and experiential learning around a single theme. Themes change each semester reflecting instructor expertise and current world issues; you select the section that most interests you. BIS 402 completes the second half of your ASU Literacy requirement.

Please call your campus academic advising office to schedule an appointment with an academic advisor to discuss the Interdisciplinary Studies degree and your two concentration areas of interest.

Be sure to go back and explore your interests and resources noted earlier to have a thoughtful conversation with your advisor about your concentration choices and any other concentrations options.