Parsons

Transdisciplinary Design (MFA)

  • Emphasizing collaborative design-led research and a systems-oriented approach to social innovation and service design, Parsons’ Master of Fine Arts in Transdisciplinary Design program serves as an academic laboratory in New York City for graduate students seeking to define the next phase of design practice globally. The Transdisciplinary Design program was created for designers interested in developing ideas, tools, and working methods to address pressing social issues and the complex challenges of a global culture. Students work in cross-disciplinary teams, consider issues from multiple perspectives, learn from industry leaders, and emerge with a portfolio that showcases design as a process for transforming social relations and contemporary life.  

    This program is part of Parsons' School of Design Strategies (SDS). Learn about the SDS community and explore our blog to see what students, faculty, and alumni are doing in NYC and around the world.

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    A New Approach to Design

    Graduates leave the program able to work in traditional design consultancies, while many elect to apply their skills in nontraditional design realms, such as restructuring services like health care and public education, initiating microbusinesses, and developing projects for nongovernmental organizations. Recent graduates have gone on to present research at the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town, open a consultancy with peers from the Transdisciplinary Design program, and take a position with the U.S. government’s first design-led innovation lab. The MFA in Transdisciplinary Design program is housed in Parsons’ School of Design Strategies (SDS), alongside graduate programs in Design and Urban Ecologies, Strategic Design and Management, and Theories of Urban Practice. In its programs and projects, SDS employs innovative approaches to design and business education in relation to cities, services, and ecosystems. Many students explore elective offerings in schools throughout the university, including The New School for Social Research and Schools of Public Engagement.

    Flexible Pathways

    This two-year, 60-credit program focuses on project-based work in four flexible and overlapping research pathways:

    • Systems explores ways to integrate ecological, economic, technological, and social systems to achieve common ends.
    • Sustainability considers how to build public infrastructure for sustainable practices.
    • The Social investigates the use of design to envision new modalities of social interaction and community.
    • Urban seeks ways to reshape everyday practices within highly networked urban environments.

    Future Opportunities

    Graduates pursue a variety of careers, including design consulting, teaching and research, business development, international development, service design, in-house design leads within government organizations and other industries, and entrepreneurship. 

  • Curriculum

    The Master of Fine Arts degree is awarded for completion of 60 credits. A maximum of six credits of graduate-level coursework can be transferred from another institution. Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and fulfill all requirements in a timely manner.

    Faculty

    Program Contact

    Full Time Faculty

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      Highlights

      Learn more about what Parsons students, faculty, and alumni are doing throughout the city and around the world.
      Explore the Transdisciplinary Design Community

      FAQ

      If you are thinking about pursuing an MFA in Transdisciplinary Design, please read below for answers to frequently asked questions about the program.

      What is transdisciplinary design?

      We developed the Transdisciplinary Design graduate program to address large-scale, complex challenges that transcend disciplinary boundaries. Always working collaboratively, our students extend the boundaries of design practice, discovering new and innovative ways to bring about social change. Students frequently work with external partners on both studio and thesis coursework, developing real-world approaches to complex problems.

      Do you accept applicants who do not have undergraduate degrees in a design field?

      Yes. Although most of our students have undergraduate degrees in a design field, we also accept applicants who do not. Typically these applicants have demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the design process, either from work experience or from personal academic development. We have, for example, accepted students with formal backgrounds in dance, journalism, business, social science, fine arts, radio, and the humanities.

      What sort of portfolio is required for the application?

      For a description of the portfolio requirement, please refer to the Admission Requirements page (see item 7 under "Required Materials").

      The styles of portfolios submitted to the program are as diverse as the students themselves, so we encourage you to be thoughtful in the way you approach the documentation of your work. We are interested in the context of your work and the questions that fuel it, not just representations of the work itself. If you do not have a background in visual or design fields, we encourage you to include documentation that helps us understand how you work and how your work might involve design.

      Many students ask whether they have to demonstrate that they are transdisciplinary designers already. The answer is no. We expect that most of our applicants will have focused on a single field of academic and professional development. It is fine for your portfolio to show the strength of that work alone. But also let us know, through your Statement of Purpose, how you see your work evolving while in the program and what questions or ideas you are seeking to explore.

      How old is the program?

      The program enrolled its first class of students in fall 2010.

      How many students enter the program each year?

      We enroll a class of approximately 20 students each year, which means that we have a total cohort of approximately 40 students (first and second year) in the program at any one time.

      Can you describe a typical student?

      Our students vary widely in age, ethnic background, and work experience. They have come from places such as Lebanon, Chile, Denmark, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, India, Mexico, Iran, and China. They range in experience from recent college graduates to professionals who have been working for 20 years. There is no typical student; the diversity of our students is part of what makes our program so exciting.

      Can I complete the degree through part-time study or evening classes?

      No. We do not have a part-time option at this time. The program is a full-time, two-year residency program, and most of our classes take place during business hours.

      Can I take classes in other areas of The New School?

      Yes; you are encouraged to take as electives courses offered by other programs within Parsons — such as Design and Technology, Design Studies, and Design and Urban Ecologies — and other colleges and programs of The New School, such as Anthropology, Organizational Change Management, or Media Studies.

      Can I work as a research assistant or teaching assistant while studying?

      Yes; you can work as a research assistant during your first and second years in the program. During your second year, you can also apply to become a teaching assistant. The availability of positions is not guaranteed, though most students who want to work or teach are able to do so.

      Can I work outside of Parsons and The New School while I'm in the program?

      Yes; many of our students do. However, we do expect that the program will be your first priority. We recommend, as a guideline, that students limit their outside work to 10-15 hours per week. International students may be limited to on-campus work by the terms of their visas and should contact International Student Services for further assistance and information.

      What kinds of opportunities are available to graduates of the program?

      Graduates of the program tend to move in three directions: 1) they work in established design consultancies; 2) they pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, starting their own businesses or working as independent consultants; 3) they find work as designers in fields such as education, health care, and public services.

      In the third semester, you take Professional Communication, a course in which you develop a professional profile, network, and portfolio. You graduate from the program with a clear understanding of both the work you do and the field you want to enter.

      Will all of my projects be collaborative?

      Because we believe that we can address complex problems only through teamwork, all of our studio projects and many other assignments in our curriculum, including the thesis, are collaborative. We have developed an innovative format for the thesis, in which students work collaboratively on projects but also develop an individual methodology or approach.

      Do your students work on real-world projects with external partners?

      Yes; in many instances students work with external partners on studio and thesis projects. These partners range from transnational corporations to local community groups. We also have independent study projects that students can take on with external partners.

      Can I visit the program?

      Yes; the admissions office hosts information sessions, webinars, and campus tours throughout the year. To register, click here. Additionally, we participate in the Graduate National Portfolio Day event (which takes place in late October) and Grad Expo Open House (which takes place in mid-November). Details can be found here. If you have not already done so, please join our mailing list so that we can invite you to various events as registration opens.  

      We invite students who visit throughout the academic year to make an appointment to discuss the program, sit in on a class, and chat with current students. This does take some planning, and we recommend that you make appointments at least two weeks in advance to get the most out of your visit by meeting with the program leadership and sitting in on classes. To schedule a visit, contact Andrew Tucker, program administrator of MFA Transdisciplinary Design, at TuckerA@newschool.edu.

      Admission Requirements

      Application and Financial Aid Deadlines

      Application Deadline

      The application deadline is January 1. To be most competitive for admission and merit scholarship consideration, please apply before the deadline. We will continue to review applications submitted after the January 1 priority deadline pending space availability in the program. The Admission Committee will make a decision on your application only after all the required materials have been received. Spring term admission is not offered for this program. The fall term readmission deadline is August 1 (review readmission information below).

      Financial Aid Deadline

      All applicants selected for admission into our program are considered for a merit scholarship award that is determined by the strength of their application. Scholarship award notification is communicated at the same time as the admission decision. International students are eligible only for merit scholarships. If you are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, we encourage you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be found on the Web at www.fafsa.gov. The FAFSA is available each year on October 1. You do not need to wait for an admission decision to apply for federal aid; we recommend submitting by our FAFSA priority deadline of February 1 for fall applicants. (The New School’s federal school code is 002780.)

      Application Instructions

      All applicants are required to apply online. Save your work frequently and print a copy for your records. You must complete all required fields and uploads prior to submission.

      Any additional supporting documents that need to be sent by mail must include an Application Materials Cover Sheet. All supporting materials must be received before your application can be reviewed.

      See below for additional information regarding submission of transcripts and recommendations.

      Some of your required materials will be submitted through SlideRoom:

      1. In addition to submitting the online application, Parsons requires that you submit a portfolio using SlideRoom.
      2. Finalize your portfolio at the time you submit your application. This will help prevent any delays in reviewing your application, as we need all required materials to be received before we can place your application under review.
      3. Once you have submitted the required SlideRoom materials, a confirmation number will be emailed to you. Save this for your records and enter it on the online application when requested.

      Required Application Materials

      1. Application Form: Complete the online application. All applicants are required to apply online.
      2. Application Fee: A nonrefundable $50 application fee paid as part of the online application. A $15 SlideRoom fee is also required.
      3. Transcripts:
        Unofficial Transcripts: Applicants must upload an unofficial transcript, mark sheet, or academic record for each institution (even if you didn’t receive a degree) in the Educational Background section of the online application.
        • All transcript uploads must be accompanied by a key, a legend, or the back copy of the transcript.
        • Non-English transcripts must be accompanied by an English translation. Records from non-U.S. institutions must have grades or marks and contain a copy of diploma if the degree has been conferred.
        • Make sure your name appears on the transcript/record. Scans must be clear and legible.
        • Do not mail materials that have been uploaded with the online application or any other materials unless requested by the admission office.
        • If you experience trouble uploading your transcript, email enroll@newschool.edu and give a detailed description of the issue and attach the document in question.
        The New School reserves the right to require official transcripts at any time during the admissions process. Any fraudulent activity or discrepancies found between uploaded and official transcripts will result in the immediate revocation of admission and/or dismissal from The New School. Transcripts uploaded with the online application are considered unofficial.

        Official Transcripts: Applicants offered admission will be required to submit official transcripts (as well as official certified translations and evaluations of the transcripts/mark sheets and degree certifications if the degree was earned outside of the U.S.) to The New School. Admitted applicants must submit all official transcripts pertaining to their entire academic career.

        Your offer of admission will be contingent upon the receipt and verification of these official documents. New students will not be permitted to register for their second semester of study until all official transcripts (including degree awarding transcripts) have been received by the Office of Graduate Admission. Transcripts uploaded with the online application do not satisfy this requirement.

        By Mail: Official transcripts should have an original signature or a raised university seal, and must be in a sealed envelope that has been signed or stamped by the issuing university’s registrar or records office. Applicants can either send official transcripts with an Application Materials Cover Sheet or request that institutions send transcripts directly to The New School. See “Mailing Address for Supplemental Materials” for our mailing address in the Additional Instructions and Information section below.

        Electronic Transcripts (U.S./Domestic Institutions Only): The New School accepts electronic transcripts only from our approved vendors. The New School’s approved vendors, in order of preference, are
        • Parchment Exchange
        • SCRIP-SAFE International
        • National Student Clearinghouse
        We do not accept electronic transcripts sent directly by a student or school offices. Note: All international academic credentials must be submitted as indicated in the International Academic Credentials sections below.

        International Academic Credentials: All transcripts not written in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation or be evaluated by World Education Services (WES), or by another member of the National Association of Credit Evaluation Services (NACES). A course-by-course evaluation must be prepared for each transcript. In the absence of an evaluation, the Admission Committee will do its best to render a decision. Please note: In some cases, a review cannot be made without an evaluation, and a committee decision will be delayed. The Admission Office reserves the right to request a transcript evaluation if necessary.

        If using WES, visit www.wes.org for instructions and to begin the application process. The “Required Documents” section will explain what to send. If you request your report online, search for “The New School” when selecting our institution. WES will send your completed evaluation directly to The New School.

        If using another NACES provider, follow instructions for that provider. Mailed evaluations and translations should be sent to the mailing address provided for supporting materials. Applicants forwarding these sealed documents should include an Application Materials Cover Sheet.
      4. Résumé: Submit a brief résumé/curriculum vitae summarizing your academic qualifications, relevant work experience, volunteer/community work, travel, exhibitions, public speaking, or any other relevant experiences as they may relate to your field of study, including dates and positions held. Please also note any special language or computer skills that you have.
      5. Statement of Purpose: Please outline your reasons for applying to this program. In what ways will you contribute to the subject matter of the program? You should include a thoughtful description of your background, tentative plan of study or area of inquiry in the field as you now envision it, your professional goals, and how this graduate program will help you realize those goals. If you have not been enrolled as a student in the past five years, please address anticipated opportunities and challenges in pursuing the degree, and future career expectations upon completion of the program. (500-750-word limit)
      6. Recommendation Letters: You are required to submit two letters of recommendation from faculty or people with whom you have worked professionally. Recommenders can submit recommendations online; instructions are included with the online application. If preferred, the recommendation form can instead be sent by mail in a signed, sealed envelope. To send by mail, download the PDF recommendation form found in the online application, complete the personal information, save the form, and forward it to the recommender for completion and submission. Applicants can also send signed and sealed recommendations to the Office of Admission using an Application Materials Cover Sheet.
      7. Portfolio: The portfolio must be completed in SlideRoom only. Submit a portfolio of up to 40 items or works that best document your design work and process. These may include design drawings, scenarios, research outcomes, photography, video clips, websites, blog URLs, essays, or other formats that you feel best convey your work and process. Where possible, please include descriptions of the projects, explanations of your role in the project (if it is team-based), or a thoughtful description of the context of the project. If you have dynamic media or other time-based work, you can also upload it using SlideRoom.
      8. Test Scores:
        TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE: All applicants whose first language is not English must submit valid TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores. The minimum score required for TOEFL (IB) is 92, for IELTS is 7.0, and for PTE is 63. Our TOEFL institution code is 2638.

        The New School does not require TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores for applicants:

        • Whose native language is English
        • Who have earned a four-year degree from a U.S. college/university or from a university where English is the primary language of instruction (minimum of three years attendance)

        Upon review of your application, the Office of Admission reserves the right to request a TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE test score.

        Arrange for the testing service to send your test scores directly to The New School using the codes listed above. We accept scores from the past two years. If your scores are older, you must retake the test. For more information, visit TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE.

        Applicants also have the option of enrolling in The New School English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Students must pass Level 6 in order to waive the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE requirement. Visit the ESL website for more information.
      9. Interview: You will be contacted if you are required to participate in an in-person or phone interview, as may be determined upon review of your application.

      Additional Information and Instructions

      1. Applying to More Than One Program: In any given term, a student can apply to only one department or program within The New School. Applicants who file more than one application in a given semester will be required to withdraw one of the applications, and application fees will not be refunded.
      2. Application Materials: All materials submitted in association with The New School application become the property of The New School and cannot be returned to you or transmitted to a third party.
      3. Test Score Codes:
        • TOEFL: The institution code is 2638.
      4. Application Status: Applications become complete and ready for review once all required items have been received by the Office of Admission. You can check your application status online at the Admission Hub.

        Allow at least 14 days from the date you submitted your application for items to be matched and shown as received on the Hub. Applicants are responsible for following up with schools and recommenders to confirm that items have been sent.

        The Office of Admission will periodically notify applicants by email if their file is missing any documents and again when their file is complete for review. These notifications are sent to the email address provided in the online application.
      5. Readmission
      6. The Application for Readmission (PDF) should be completed by students who wish to return after an absence of four semesters (fall and spring). Students must reapply to the program to which they were originally admitted. Readmission is only available for current New School programs. If you are looking to transfer 24 or more semester-based credits, you should apply for admission as a transfer student according to the instructions outlined above. The following materials are required of applicants seeking readmission:

        • Application for Readmission (PDF)
        • Statement of Purpose
        • One letter of recommendation
        • Transcripts if you have attended another college or university since last at The New School
        • An updated portfolio upon faculty request
      7. Mailing Address for Supplemental Materials:
        Parsons School of Design
        Office of Admission (PS 300)
        79 Fifth Avenue, 5th floor
        New York, NY 10003
       
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