8 Benefits of a Multidisciplinary Summer School Course

Students walking towards the bridge of sighs in Oxford, in the sunshine

The vast majority of summer school programmes are focused on a single subject. That might be a subject you’ve encountered in school, such as Computer Science or English as a foreign language, or it could be something you’ve never had the chance to study before, such as Architecture or Robotics. At Oxford Royale Academy’s summer schools, most of our programmes do fall into this category, where you’ll focus for one, two or several weeks on a single subject, exploring it from different perspectives and through interactive learning. 

However, we also offer several multidisciplinary programmes. The best known of these are our flagship New Perspectives (for students aged 13 to 15) and Broadening Horizons (for students aged 16 to 18), though our Academic Discovery programme in our Junior summer school also has multidisciplinary elements. On these courses, students can choose three of a selection of different morning classes and afternoon workshops (17 for New Perspectives and 30 for Broadening Horizons), to build their own course according to their own interests. If you’re not sure whether to pick a single-subject or multidisciplinary programme at your next summer school, here’s why these courses are worth considering. 

1. Try out more than one subject














The obvious reason to choose a multidisciplinary course is because you don’t have to choose a single subject. That can have all sorts of advantages. For instance, some students find it easier to concentrate for a longer period when they can switch between different topics over that time. Or maybe you’re trying to decide which subjects to pick for A-level (or your country’s equivalent), or which to study at university? Trying out just one subject can let you work out whether you enjoy that subject or not, but it doesn’t help you narrow down your choices all that much. 

Taking three different subjects that you’re considering, on the other hand, will help you figure out which ones you enjoy the most. Doing so in a summer school environment is particularly beneficial because with small class sizes and interactive learning, it’s much closer to university study than you might have encountered in school. It’s not unusual to discover that you feel differently about a subject when it’s taught university-style than you felt about it in a school classroom, whether that’s for better or for worse. And if you’re considering applying to university to study a subject that isn’t taught at your school, taking it as part of a summer school course is a particularly good idea to ensure that you’ll like it as much as you think you will.

2. Explore related subjects…














A multidisciplinary course lets you explore a field from different perspectives through distinct but related subjects. For instance, in Broadening Horizons, you could explore the world of writing and performance by taking English Literature, Creative Writing and Acting and Performance Skills (though do note that if you’re keen to study so specific a combination of courses, you should book early before subjects become booked up). Or in New Perspectives, you could learn a variety of skills in the world of business and economics by taking Mathematics, Economics and Management, and Business Challenge

This can be beneficial in different ways. First, you might know that there’s a particular field that you’d like to study in your future academic career, but not know which facet of it you’d like to explore; taking related subjects can help you clarify your thinking. Second, you can enhance your understanding of the field in ways that you might not have expected. In the first example, taking both Creative Writing and Acting and Performance Skills will help you understand a theatrical performance from the perspective of both the writer and the performer, leading you to become better at both aspects. And third, it’s always fascinating to learn about something you’ve long been interested in from perspectives that you didn’t previously know about.

3. … Or learn from completely different fields
















This isn’t to say that the subjects you choose have to be related. It can be a lot of fun to choose three subjects that are completely different, such as Criminology, Physics and Graphic Design (all part of Broadening Horizons). One of the great things about studying courses like these in the context of a summer school is that they only last for two weeks, so you can afford to try out something on a whim. If it turns out that you don’t like one of the subjects you’ve chosen, it’s only a third of your course for a short period – and if you love it, then you’ve had the good luck to find an unexpected new passion. 

While you can’t get into as much depth switching topics like this than you could do if you were studying a single subject or related subjects, if you’re someone who struggles with focus, switching between subjects can help keep you interested. There’s always so much going on at a summer school, between your classes, meals with friends, activities in the afternoons, excursions at weekends, parties and more besides, that your fortnight of studying with us will fly by.

4. Learn from different teachers














One underappreciated benefit of attending a summer school is the opportunity to learn from different teachers. If you attend a small school where you have the same teacher for multiple subjects, or across multiple years, and even more so if you’re home-schooled, the chance to experience different teaching styles and approaches can be invaluable. You can find out a great deal about which approaches work best for you in your learning, which can then be useful in turn in working out where and how you might like to study in future. 

That’s especially the case in a multidisciplinary course, where you’ll have three different teachers for the duration of your time at the summer school. If you’ve chosen related subjects, it can be useful to explore just how much of an impact teaching style has on your enjoyment of a subject. While all Oxford Royale Academy teachers are encouraged to have lively classrooms with discussion, debate and interactive learning, teachers also use their personalities to bring out different aspects of a subject. Different teachers will also see different things in you; three different teachers means three times as much feedback. While it’s unlikely that their opinions of you will differ significantly, one teacher might have advice for you that another might not, or spot something that you can improve on that another doesn’t.

5. Draw connections between different subjects














Different subjects relate to one another in unexpected ways, and multidisciplinary courses offer you a unique opportunity to spot those connections and learn from them. Some of these might be obvious: for instance, when you’re studying war poetry in the context of English Literature, your knowledge of history is important in understanding why the tenor of poetry saw a change after the Somme; it became much harder to write bombastic verse about a glorious sacrifice when so many soldiers had died on both sides to so little military gain. But other connections might take longer for you to work out, and be more rewarding as a result, such as seeing how Philosophy affects Management Studies, or how Classical Civilisations can shed light on Political Science and IR (and vice versa). 

Younger students tend to view subjects as existing separately to one another – it takes experience and maturity to apply what you’ve learned in one subject to a different one. It involves thinking creatively, outside the box. A particular advantage to looking across subjects, rather than merely within them, is that can help you to find an original approach to a question that your other classmates, lacking your knowledge of the other subject, might not have considered. That can translate into getting better marks! Your experience of multidisciplinary studies doesn’t have to last only for your time at summer school; you can apply the same principles to when you go back to school in September.

6. Make a wider circle of friends














You don’t just go to a summer school in order to learn; you go in order to make new friends from all over the world. Students of over 150 different nationalities studied on each of Broadening Horizons and New Perspectives in 2019. If you study a course focused on a single subject, you’ll be with the same classmates for the entire programme, which can be an advantage in getting to spend more time with the same friends. But if you study a multidisciplinary course, it’s likely you’ll be studying with different people for each of the different subjects, which means you’ll have the chance to meet a greater variety of students, and therefore potentially get to know a wider circle of friends. 

What’s more, attending a summer school makes getting to know new people as easy as possible; after all, for many of our students, the social side of the summer is just as important as the educational side. Alongside all the activities to ensure you have a good time, there are icebreakers and other sessions to help students to find friends. And it works – at Oxford Royale Academy, we’ve seen students return year-on-year to meet the friends that they’ve made with us, and travel independently to visit each other’s homes around the world.

7. Improve your English language skills














Though Oxford Royale Academy’s summer school programmes are taught through English, most of our students have English as a second language, and we know that practising and improving their English is a goal that many of our students share. When your English is already pretty good, classroom study of the language might not be necessary, but studying another subject through English can help improve your language skills further. It introduces you to new contexts for the use of the language, as well as additional vocabulary that you might not have come across in your classroom studies – after all, not that many English teachers will also teach English vocabulary that is specifically relevant for fields such as Genetics or Cryptocurrencies. Studying through the medium of English also provides a great incentive to work on your language skills, as the better your English, the more you’ll be able to express yourself, understand the nuances of what your peers are saying, and contribute to classroom discussions. 

As much as all of this is true of single-subject courses, it’s even more true of multidisciplinary courses, where you’ll learn even more specialist vocabulary and have a broader range of students to speak to, helping you learn how to understand different dialects of English as well. Some subjects are easier to study through a second language than others (compare Chemistry with English Literature, for instance) so by taking more than one subject, you can spend some of the day challenging yourself and developing your linguistic abilities, while giving yourself a bit of a break in the subject that’s easier.

8. Study in a future-proof way














It’s been suggested that multi- and interdisciplinary courses represent the future of education, and it’s easy to see why. Most people’s jobs don’t focus on a single discipline: someone who works in marketing, for instance, might need to be able to write copy, calculate results using robust statistical methods and manage a team, while even an academic in a focused science disciplinary might also need to be able to write funding applications and reports, and balance a budget. It therefore doesn’t necessarily make sense that our education system often treats skills from different subjects as discrete rather than overlapping, and discourages projects that work across subjects as lacking focus. But this is changing, what seems like an unusual choice now could well become the norm in the education system. 

A multidisciplinary programme will also give you valuable experience for the world of work, where in the vast majority of careers, swapping between types of task and using different skills is happens several times a day. Studying a multidisciplinary programme and making the most of it by seeking connections between the subjects you’re studying could therefore give you valuable experience for the future.


All images in this article were taken at Oxford Royale Academy summer schools.