What Is The Difference Between General Studies And Interdisciplinary Studies?

In the pursuit of higher education, students often encounter a variety of program options, each with its unique focus and benefits. Among these, General Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies stand out for their broad, flexible curriculums.

However, despite their apparent similarities, they cater to distinctly different academic and professional goals. Today we’ll talk about these two paths, highlighting their differences, and helping students make informed decisions about their education.

Brief Overview

Aspect General Studies Interdisciplinary Studies
Educational Focus Aims to provide a broad overview of knowledge across several fields without an in-depth focus on any. Focuses on integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines to explore specific issues or topics in depth.
Career Pathways Graduates can pursue a variety of entry-level positions in business, education, government, or any field that values a broad educational background. Prepares students for specialized career paths that require knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines or for graduate studies in a unique interdisciplinary area.
Curriculum Design Typically offers more structured curricula with fewer opportunities for customization. Provides students with the opportunity to design a significant portion of their curriculum, often with the guidance of academic advisors.
Student Goals Ideal for students seeking flexibility in their studies or those still exploring their academic and career interests. Best suited for students with clear, specific goals that require a tailored education, or those deeply interested in how different fields intersect.

What is General Studies?

General Studies

General Studies programs offer students a broad-based education across a wide range of subjects. This type of program is designed to provide a foundational understanding of various disciplines, including the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

It’s particularly suited for students who are unsure of their career path or those seeking a versatile education that can be applied to numerous fields. Subjects typically include Social Sciences, Humanities, Fine Arts, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Key Features

  • Broad Curriculum: Encourages a wide-ranging educational experience without focusing intensely on any single discipline.
  • Flexibility: Allows students to explore different subjects before committing to a specific career path.
  • Adaptability: Graduates are equipped with a diverse skill set, making them adaptable to various job markets.

What is Interdisciplinary Studies?

Interdisciplinary Studies

Interdisciplinary Studies, on the other hand, is a program that encourages the blending of courses from two or more disciplines to create a customized degree that addresses a particular theme, question, or problem.

This can involve combining areas such as English, Math, Social, and Life Sciences with elective choices that span subjects like Business, Information Technology, Anthropology, or Criminal Justice.

The key difference lies in the intentional blending of these disciplines to gain a deeper understanding of specific topics or problems, rather than the broader educational focus found in General Studies

This approach is ideal for students with specific career goals that cannot be met through traditional degree programs or those interested in studying the intersections between different fields.

Key Features

  • Integration of Disciplines: Combines methodologies, perspectives, and tools from multiple disciplines.
  • Customization: Allows students to tailor their educational paths according to their interests or career aspirations.
  • Critical Thinking: Emphasizes the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills through the exploration of complex, interrelated issues.

Where Can You Find These Studies?

Here are some examples of colleges with renowned interdisciplinary programs:

  • Stanford University: Contains 18 interdisciplinary institutes and a full roster of interdisciplinary options such as science, technology, society, and modern thought and literature.
  • Harvey Mudd College: Offers joint degrees in mathematical and computational biology, chemistry, and biology.
  • Carnegie Mellon University: Students can study at the nexus of music and technology or science and the arts.

How to Make a Choice?

1. Assess Your Career Goals

Career Goals

If you have a specific career in mind that requires a specialized set of skills or knowledge from various disciplines, Interdisciplinary Studies might be the better choice. This program allows you to tailor your education to fit precise career paths or graduate studies.

If you’re seeking a broad educational background to keep your career options open or if you’re unsure of your future career path, General Studies could be more appropriate. It provides a wide-ranging education that can be applied to numerous fields.

2. Consider Your Academic Interests

For students with a passion for a particular problem, theme, or issue that spans multiple disciplines, Interdisciplinary Studies offer the chance to integrate knowledge from different fields to explore that interest deeply.

If your academic interests are broader or if you enjoy learning about a variety of subjects without the need to deeply integrate them, General Studies could be a better fit.

3. Think About Educational Flexibility

Interdisciplinary Studies often require you to design your own curriculum with the help of academic advisors, which is great for self-motivated students who want a hand in crafting their educational journey.

General Studies programs typically offer a set of broad requirements with more elective choices, suitable for students who prefer a structured but broad curriculum without the need for creating a personalized course of study.

4. Evaluate the Degree Requirements


Look closely at the degree requirements for each program. Interdisciplinary Studies programs may require a capstone project or thesis that integrates the disciplines you’ve studied, while General Studies may have a more straightforward set of coursework requirements.

5. Future Education Plans

If you plan to pursue graduate studies, consider which undergraduate program better aligns with your future academic goals. Some graduate programs may favor a more focused undergraduate degree, which could be achieved through an Interdisciplinary Studies program tailored to your graduate field of interest.

6. Consult With Academic Advisors:

Meeting with academic advisors from both programs can provide valuable insights into the nuances of each program and how they align with your personal and professional goals.

7. Research Alumni Outcomes:

Looking into the careers of alumni from each program can give you an idea of the opportunities and paths that might be available to you after graduation.

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the earliest proponents of interdisciplinary studies? His work seamlessly blended art, science, anatomy, engineering, and botany, demonstrating the power of integrating knowledge across different fields.


Can I switch from a General Studies program to an Interdisciplinary Studies program mid-degree?

Yes, many universities allow students to switch programs. However, it’s important to consult an academic advisor as the switch may require meeting specific prerequisites or adjusting your course plan to fulfill the requirements of the Interdisciplinary Studies program.

Are Interdisciplinary Studies graduates as competitive in the job market as those from traditional degree programs?

Absolutely. Graduates from Interdisciplinary Studies programs often possess unique skill sets, including critical thinking, adaptability, and the ability to integrate knowledge from various fields, making them highly competitive in diverse job markets.

Can I create my own major with an Interdisciplinary Studies program?

Yes, many Interdisciplinary Studies programs allow students to create a customized major. This involves selecting courses from different departments to form a coherent program of study around a specific theme or career goal, with approval from academic advisors.

How do employers view a degree in General Studies?

Employers value the broad knowledge base and adaptability of General Studies graduates. Such degrees demonstrate a well-rounded education and the ability to learn across different subjects, which are valuable in many roles and industries.

What kind of support do students in Interdisciplinary Studies programs receive for their unique paths?

Students in Interdisciplinary Studies often receive support from a dedicated advisor or a committee of faculty members who help guide their academic journey, ensuring that their course selections align with both their educational and career objectives.

Are there any online Interdisciplinary Studies programs?

Yes, many universities offer online Interdisciplinary Studies programs that provide the same level of customization and interdisciplinary integration as their on-campus counterparts. These programs are designed for flexibility, allowing students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.


Choosing between General Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies depends on your personal, academic, and professional goals.

If you value breadth and flexibility, with the freedom to explore a wide range of subjects, General Studies might be your path. If you’re driven by a desire to solve complex problems that lie at the intersection of multiple disciplines, Interdisciplinary Studies could offer the customized educational experience you need.

In making your decision, consider not just your current interests, but also your long-term career aspirations. Both paths offer unique advantages and opportunities for personal and professional growth.