Transdisciplinary Design (MFA)

  • Emphasizing a collaborative, systems-oriented approach to design and social thought, 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, artists, activists, civic and social practitioners, and others interested in imagining alternative futures through design-led research tools and methods for addressing pressing social, economic, political, and environmental issues and challenges of local and global dimensions. Students work in cross-disciplinary teams, consider issues from multiple perspectives, learn from community and industry leaders, and emerge with a portfolio that showcases design as a process for transforming social relations and contemporary life.  

    This program is STEM-designated. This means that after graduating, eligible F-1 international students in this program can apply for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training at the end of their Post-Completion OPT.

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    A New Approach to Design

    Graduates leave the program prepared for work in traditional design industries; many elect to apply their skills in emerging design spaces, such as restructuring services like healthcare and public education and developing projects for nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations. Recent graduates have gone on to present research at international conferences, such as Design Indaba in Cape Town, open consultancies with peers, take leadership positions within government innovation labs, and pursue academic careers. 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 the Schools of Public Engagement.

    Flexible Pathways

    This two-year, 60-credit program focuses on project-based work supported by elective courses students select to complement the core curriculum. Students tackle challenges related to a range of themes, including:

    • Systems thinking: integrating ecological, economic, technological, and social systems to achieve common ends
    • Sustainability in transition: building programs and infrastructure for resilience and sustainable practices
    • Social innovation: using design to envision and build more just modalities of social interaction and community engagement

    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. 

  • Student Work

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    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.


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    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 Lara Penin, program director of MFA Transdisciplinary Design, at

    Admission Requirements

    Application and Financial Aid Deadlines

    Application Deadline

    The application deadline is January 2. To be most competitive for admission and merit scholarship consideration, please apply before the deadline. We will continue to review applications submitted after the 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. 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 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.

    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 application materials will be submitted through SlideRoom:

    1. 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.
    2. 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: The application fee is $50. The fee is paid through the online application and is non-refundable. There is also a $15 SlideRoom fee.
    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.
      • If you experience trouble uploading your transcript, email 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 admission 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 with proof of their degree conferral prior to enrollment. Admitted applicants must submit all official transcripts pertaining to their entire academic career. Transcripts uploaded with the online application do not satisfy this requirement.

      Submitting Transcripts By Mail: Applicants should make arrangements to have their college/university send transcripts directly to The New School at the mailing address for Supplemental Materials. All transcripts must be received in a sealed envelope with the institutional seal and signature of the registrar. All documents not written in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation.

      Submitting Electronic Transcripts (U.S./Domestic Institutions Only): The New School accepts electronic transcripts only from our approved vendors:
      • National Student Clearinghouse
      • Parchment Exchange
      • SCRIP-SAFE International
      We do not accept electronic transcripts sent directly by a student or school offices. 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.

      International Academic Credentials with Transfer Credits: Applicants who attended postsecondary institutions outside of the United States are required to have their transcript(s) evaluated by World Education Services (WES), Education Credential Evaluators (ECE), or by another member of the National Association of Credit Evaluation Services (NACES). A course-by-course evaluation must be prepared for each transcript.

      Follow all document requirements as outlined on the evaluation service providers’ websites. Evaluations completed by WES or ECE will be sent directly to us electronically by the vendor.

      All other NACES provider evaluation should be mailed directly by the vendor to the address for Supplemental Materials. A copy of the transcript which was evaluated should accompany the evaluation in the same sealed envelope or the official transcript should be sent directly to The New School by the issuing college/university.
    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: Two letters of recommendation are required. Recommenders may submit recommendations online. Instructions are included in the online application. If preferred, the recommendation forms may be sent by mail in signed, sealed envelopes. To send by mail, download the PDF recommendation form found in the online application, complete the Applicant Information section, and save the form. Forward the saved form to the recommenders to complete the remaining sections and submit. Applicants may 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. Applicants are requested to submit the following two items:
      1. A video introduction, maximum of three minutes. Please record and upload a video of yourself including the ways in which you wish to engage with the MFA Transdisciplinary Design program.
      2. A portfolio of up to 40 images 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. You may also upload dynamic media or other time-based work.
    8. Test Scores:
      TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, and DET: All applicants whose first language is not English must submit valid TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or DET scores. The minimum score required for TOEFL (IB) is 92, for IELTS is 7.0, for PTE is 63, and for DET is 115. Our TOEFL institution code is 2638.

      The New School does not require TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or DET scores for applicants 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). After reviewing your application, the Office of Admission may require you to submit an English Language Proficiency test score to evaluate your candidacy.

      We accept test scores taken within the past two years. If your scores are older, you must retake the test.

      Applicants also have the option of enrolling in The New School English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Students must pass Level 6 to waive the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE/DET 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. 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.
    4. Readmission:
      The Application for Readmission should be completed by students who wish to return after an absence of four semesters (fall and spring). If you would like to apply for readmission, review the readmission deadlines and requirements in the Readmission section of our How to Apply information.
    5. 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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