College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Academics > Interdisciplinary Self-Designed Program > Graduate Programs > Liberal Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies?


Choosing an Interdisciplinary Graduate Program

Many people find interdisciplinary graduate programs appealing because they offer flexibility in addressing individual educational needs. Moreover, interdisciplinary graduate programs are more than the sum of their parts: they enable students to make connections between various fields of learning. DePaul University offers several interdisciplinary graduate programs. In the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the Interdisciplinary Studies Program and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program are jointly administered. Since each program has features and qualities that will appeal to different students, this page is designed to help prospective students decide which program best meets their needs.

Advantages of IDS

The Interdisciplinary Studies program has no required core and no required thesis. Students create a curriculum of courses that meets their specific needs and interests. IDS students are free to combine specific areas of professional expertise (business and computer science, business and corporate communication) or to combine areas in professional preparation (business, computer science, etc.) with the traditional liberal arts (business and psychology, computer science and English, education and art, etc.). Some students are interested in combining two or more areas in the liberal arts (sociology and English, philosophy and women’s and gender studies, etc.), but these students generally find a better home in the MALS program.

Most often IDS students are working professionals who seek to augment their current work experience with new skills.

Advantages of MALS

The MALS program has a core of approximately four courses in diverse subject areas that provide a foundation in graduate level intellectual skills, including analytic reading, writing and research. Students then take six or seven courses in one or more areas of their chosen interest. They conclude their education with a capstone project, which can be like a traditional master’s thesis or may combine personal and academic interests.

Most often MALS students are adult learners who are searching for intellectual exploration and growth.

The MALS Admission Process in addition to the application form, the application fee, and official transcripts, requires the completion of a two-part admission essay describing the prospective student’s desire to pursue graduate education and the ideas, books and people which have influenced the prospective student’s thinking and goals.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are not required for MALS application.

For students who have taken an undergraduate degree within the past five years, a minimum GPA of 2.75 is required, although promising students with lower GPAs may be admitted conditionally.

The IDS admission process, in addition to the application form, the application fee, official transcripts, and letters of recommendation requires a Statement of Academic Purpose and a proposed List of Courses. Qualified candidates may be required to have an interview with the program director. However, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are not required for IDS application.

An undergraduate GPA of 3.0 is the minimum for admission, although promising students with lower GPAs may be admitted conditionally.

Curriculum Flexibility

MALS students have the freedom to develop their focus as they go. IDS students have the flexibility to change course selection throughout their program; however the basic goals and focus of the program are created at the beginning.

MALS students are easily able to meet each other and create a community in the MALS core classes before they go on to take elective courses. IDS students must work a bit harder to meet other IDS students due to the diverse nature of their curriculum.

Financial Aid

While all graduate students are eligible for loans and any outside scholarships, MALS students are eligible for some internal tuition assistance.

Combining MALS and IDS

Even though MALS is basically oriented toward the liberal arts, it is possible for MALS students to take courses for professional enhancement. They are permitted to take up to three courses in professional areas, including business, computer science, public service, education etc.

It is possible for IDS students to enroll in MALS courses. In fact IDS students who have some interest in the liberal arts regularly take one or more of the MALS core courses because they provide an excellent grounding in graduate-level intellectual and research skills for humanities and social sciences.

Using a MALS or IDS Degree

For students who have pursued a MALS degree, professional goals often include teaching, writing, consulting, leadership in foundations and other non-profit settings, etc. The great breadth of cultural knowledge, communication and leadership skills developed in the MALS program has served our graduates well time and time again in career change and career enhancement. The required MALS Culminating Project also enhances a graduate's professional portfolio.

Any interdisciplinary MA graduate will have to be creative to use the degree for career change and enhancement, since the designation "MA in Interdisciplinary Studies" or "MA in Liberal Studies" is likely to be unfamiliar to prospective employers. However, employers are often less interested in the MBA degree than with the actual knowledge that the prospective employee brings. On a resume, for example, an interdisciplinary graduate may list "MA in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in computer science and public service," and stress these areas of expertise when meeting a prospective employer. It is also helpful to create a final project or thesis that shows how the various areas of expertise have been combined. This is especially effective when looking to move into a new area, but is also helpful for advancing in a current field.

Selecting a Program

The MALS and IDS programs offer different opportunities for professional enhancement. The MALS program is appropriate for those who are interested in fulfilling a personal desire to better understand history, culture and the ideas of the world. The MALS program is also fitting for people whose job requires a greater breadth of cultural knowledge. In addition to this, MALS is well suited for individuals who are looking for a stronger and broader background in intellectual skills and cultural knowledge before they move on to another Liberal Arts master or doctoral degree.

The IDS program is well suited to those people who have a specific professional skill set in mind that they are hoping to gain for their anticipated profession or professional move (for example, computer science and public service, marketing and communication). The IDS program is also a good fit for people who are trying to combine parts of a professional field (business, computer science, etc.) and a liberal arts field (sociology, philosophy, English, etc.).  

Qualified candidates may be required to have an interview with the program director.​