Have you thought about taking outside options at LSE?

LSE prides itself on being a ‘social science’ university and thus taking an interdisciplinary approach to its subject matter. This really appealed to me when I first heard about LSE, because it matched the same interest that I had to approach a topic through the lens of different subjects.

As a first year undergraduate student doing BA History, I had the chance to take two outside options out of my department. From what initially felt like an exciting opportunity to take an interdisciplinary approach to studying History, my choices inevitably created unintended consequences.

I should clarify: out of the four modules I take for my first year, I do three outside of the History department, including one from the Economic History department. Strictly speaking therefore, I’m only doing one History module for my first year. Which has proven a very interesting experience.

Firstly, I should stress the benefits of taking outside options. As a first year student, it’s incredibly rewarding, as a way of broadening your intellectual horizons beyond what you’ve learned at high school in a much greater depth. Paradoxically, it continues on from the teaching style at high school, where you’re already accustomed to learning three or four different subjects.

Taking outside options can also provide a testing ground to measure your real interest in a subject. For example, I took a Government outside option and an Anthropology outside option which helped me to decide that History was for me. Again, as a first year student, don’t feel afraid to experiment with your interests – the same curiosity for different subjects will take you further in your academic progress.

Finally, taking outside options also helps make you a well-rounded student and individual. History already incorporates approaches shaped by other disciplines, such as Sociology, Government and Anthropology to name a few. Taking outside options can make you immersed within wider intellectual debates, and hone your sense of intellectual scepticism towards ideas that haven’t already been contested and proven by a wider field of academic research. Outside options help you appreciate the world outside the little bubble in your department.

On the other hand, there are certain drawbacks. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel overwhelmed at first. Sometimes you’ll feel disorganised because there’s simply not a common thread that runs through all of your modules. Try making an Economic History module ‘talk’ with Anthropology; in reality, it doesn’t work out sometimes.

It’s also a risk to gamble with. What if it turns out you don’t like an outside module? Sometimes you’ll only find out once you’re halfway through the course.

With all these misgivings put aside, it’s important to remember: you’re a first year student. With any perceived mistakes you make, there’s no better time to learn from them than in your first year. As I’ve mentioned before, taking outside options can satiate your interest in other subjects, and help incorporate their ideas into your own degree course: this is essential in forming a well-rounded, multi-faceted world-view which is engaging and dynamic. We’re first students before we adopt any degree structure; it’s important that our interest in learning comes first, before specialising in a chosen field of expertise.

In most undergraduate degree courses, outside options are restricted to one. I’m grateful that BA History accepts two outside options for first year students. From my learning experience this year, I’ve learned to appreciate the multi-disciplinary approaches to my subject matter. It’s done more to enrich my intellectual understanding and interest than taking purely History modules alone. Therefore, I strongly recommend any prospective student to take outside options where they can – the benefits will pay off over the rest of their degrees and academic life.