Michael Truss, Principal of Concord College, argues that the brightest young minds are best served by living and studying in a community of diverse interests

I spend a lot of time talking to my students about the importance of making connections between different fields of study. At Concord, we’re fortunate to have hundreds of brilliant students, and like many students today, they are often already highly motivated to pursue challenging careers. We educate future doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects, entrepreneurs and economists amongst many others. Of course, it goes without saying that such careers are most readily accessible to those with outstanding qualifications. But what separates the good doctor, engineer or architect from the future superstar or leader in their field?

I am convinced that the best – the very best – are those who have interests across a range of disciplines, who can make connections not obvious to others. The doctor who has read widely and has an understanding (or an appreciation) of different areas of study is a better doctor. The economist who has learned the lessons of history is a better economist.

Concord College on academic diversity
Ensuring opportunities beyond the curriculum – and giving students exposure to other academic disciplines – is a recipe for success says Concord College’s Michael Truss

Every teacher – and every school student – knows that the most memorable or exciting lessons are the ones that go beyond the curriculum, often into unexpected territory. These almost always involve a discussion, a discovery or a realisation that seemingly unconnected things are connected in some way. Such realisations can inspire careers.

Consider the college structure found at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge here in the UK. A student at one of these institutions will attend lectures with other students doing their subject or course, just like any student at any university. But unlike just about anywhere else, that student will live, eat and have tutorial classes in their own college: a smaller, academically diverse community.

“The most memorable or exciting lessons are the ones that go beyond the curriculum, often into unexpected territory”

There they are surrounded by perhaps only a few hundred students, all doing a wide range of courses from Fine Art to Zoology. The size of the college sub-community and the vibrant diversity of conversations surrounding each student within this environment is critical. It fosters discussion, inquiry and intellectual arguments that go way beyond the contents of any single academic course.

The very able (and very fortunate) student of physics able to sit at dinner between a medieval historian and a philosopher is at a huge advantage in the future. Who knows what connections can be made between their fields, what inspiration comes from discussion with an exceptional mind trained in a different discipline? The temptation to specialise early is understandable; indeed, specialism by choosing A levels is necessary and advantageous, but doing so in the company of others specialising in diverse fields, attending academic, and extra-curricular societies together offers the best of all worlds.

My experience with students at Concord has only served to strengthen my view. Concord is roughly the size of a larger Oxford or Cambridge college. We are probably best known for our STEM provision and yet we are careful to curate a rich and diverse curriculum. Our artists, historians, geographers and linguists are as successful as our medics and engineers. Indeed, our most famous recent alumni include an internationally renowned fashion designer and a make-up artist. Why? Because they get to work alongside each other in an environment that rewards rigorous hard work while understanding the benefits of seeing and using connections between fields. It’s truly exciting.

Concord College concordcollegeuk.com

Further reading: Marymount International on the advantages of the IB