You could go to school for just about anything, within reason. Whatever your interests are, there’s a school for that. But what happens when there isn’t a major that teaches the specific studies you wish to learn? Dedicated students have found that sometimes, if what you want isn’t being offered, you need to resort to a self-designed major. Beware, though, this track is not for everyone.
Before you start applying for an individualized major at your college, consider not only your goal, but your work ethic, and your ability to organize and communicate these thoughts to faculty members. “Do not think of the student-defined option as a way around the more difficult parts of existing majors,” warns Dr. Joseph E. Devine, Associate Dean, Dietrich College of Humanities & Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Colleges tend to require a rigorous application process.
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Kevin Egan is the Director of Interdisciplinary Inquiry at Drexel University, and he believes that Drexel’s lengthy application process makes some students reconsider self-designed majors. “I’ve seen an increase of students expressing interest in individualized majors – probably over 100 students,” says Egan, “but quite a lot don’t ever go through the application process, and I think it’s because of the amount of work that’s involved.”
The payoff, however, is worth it. “Students who are a good fit for this program are the ones inspired by wanting to solve real world problems,” explains Egan. “It can be something large, like sustainability, and they already have the right mindset because these problems aren’t owned by one area of study.”
That’s a notion that schools can agree upon. Paulette Hutchinson, Dean of Undergraduate College at Rosemont, agrees. “The purpose of an individualized major is to provide options to a student who is interested in something that does not fall within the parameters of a single discipline,” she says. A self-designed major requires a great deal of work, sure, but when you have something that you want to zero in on at college, it makes it all worth it. Plus, when applying for jobs, you’ll be the only one with a degree in bio-mimicry designs.
“Students in these programs achieve a much higher and more integrated understanding of the core ideas of their major, and how each constituent part fits in. They own it in several ways, and can point to ways in which they have innovated and created something new rather than simply selecting a major that a department created, and knowing less well how it all fits together,” says Devine.