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.
Explore the MFA Transdisciplinary Design community to see what students, faculty, and alumni are doing in NYC and around the world at sds.parsons.edu/transdesign. This program is part of Parsons' School of Design Strategies (SDS).
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.
This two-year, 60-credit program focuses on project-based work in four flexible and overlapping research pathways:
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.
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.
If you are thinking about pursuing an MFA in Transdisciplinary Design, please read below for answers to frequently asked questions about the program.
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.
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.
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.
The program enrolled its first class of students in fall 2010.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Lara Penin, program director of MFA Transdisciplinary Design, at email@example.com.
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.
Financial Aid Deadline
Merit Scholarships: All admitted students are considered for merit scholarship awards determined by the strength of their applications. Scholarship awards are included in applicants’ admission decision letters. International
students are eligible only for merit scholarships.
Federal Student Aid: If you are a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, we encourage you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be found at
www.fafsa.gov. The FAFSA is available each year on October 1. The New School’s federal school code is 002780. You do not need to wait for an admission decision to apply for federal
aid. Submit your FAFSA by our February 1 FAFSA Priority Deadline.
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
Learn more about what Parsons students, faculty, and alumni are doing throughout the city and around the world.
Explore the Transdisciplinary Design Community
Lara Penin, Program Director
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