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College of Arts and Sciences

Self-Designed Major

The self-designed major can expand your intellectual horizons, provide you with an opportunity to master and express knowledge of a complex subject, and meet your specific needs. If you are a highly motivated student who would enjoy this challenge, please contact

Overview of The Self-Designed Major

Arts and Sciences students enjoy a wide choice of departmental majors, ranging from art and anthropology to zoology and women's studies. Such majors provide a solid foundation in a traditional field of study. Many students choose a double major or combine a major with a minor, sometimes in related fields like mathematics and physics and sometimes in two very different fields, geology and English, for instance. Other students take advantage of one of three distributed majors: Social Sciences, Humanities and Fine Arts, and Mathematics and Science. 

If your goal is one that can't be fulfilled with a single major or combination, you may wish to consider the Self-Designed Major (SDM). It is meant especially for highly motivated students with career or educational goals that require a different approach from that offered through existing programs. You will have direct involvement -- and responsibility -- in both the design and the implementation of your SDM. You will work with a faculty committee of at least three people, one of whom will be your primary advisor. You will also meet with a College of Arts and Sciences associate dean, at least twice, first when you submit your SDM proposal [The Admission Process] and again when you have completed and submitted your senior project.

Components of the Program

The SDM has three parts:
  • A core of at least 24 hours of formal course work (no independent study or
    "readings in" hours in the 24), with a minimum of 12 hours of upper division courses,  to be determined by you and your faculty committee and approved by the associate dean
  • 6 hours of independent study, also approved by your committee and the associate dean
  • A senior project or thesis which sums up or typifies the SDM

Students must also complete all university and A&S Core requirements, including the University Studies Program, and maintain a cumulative grade point average of 2.8.

The Admission Process

Begin application for the SDM program at least 3 semesters before you plan to graduate. To qualify for admission you must have a 3.0 grade point average.

To apply, first make an appointment with the A&S associate dean, who will explain the program and help with the application process. Before this meeting, prepare a brief, preliminary description of the focus of the major and an explanation of why it cannot be attained through existing systems (such as double majors or a major/minor combination). If you have not selected a faculty member to be your primary advisor, the SDM advisor can suggest faculty with expertise in the areas in which you wish to study.

Next, meet with your primary faculty advisor, who will help you prepare the application. In addition to completing the application form, you will prepare a one- or two-page rationale for the particular focus and a list of at least 24 hours of formal course work (including a minimum of 12 hours of upper division courses)  through which you will explore that focus. The main faculty adviser writes a letter of support for the proposal which is submitted with it.

In consultation with your primary faculty advisor, select two additional faculty members with expertise in your areas of interest.The three faculty members will serve as your advisory committee for the SDM, and all three must sign the application form.

Return your completed form, rationale, and projected course of study to the associate dean who will review your application, meet with you, and approve or deny admission or suggest revisions. The associate dean will be especially concerned with your proposed major's coherence and with your ability to do independent work. Evidence of strong motivation and effective self-direction will be an important consideration. If the associate dean approves your proposal, you are then admitted to the Self-designed Major, and the courses listed in your proposal are entered into On-Course as those required for your major, along with successful completion of the senior project.

The Senior Project

The most creative and demanding part of the SDM is the senior project, a substantial original work which shows what the major has enabled you to accomplish. The project should:
  • Synthesize the components of the major
  • Offer original insights into the central focus of the major
  • Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the academic foundations on which the project is built.

Many projects are research papers, usually around 40 pages in length. However, the senior project may take the form of a performance, exhibition, composition, or whatever other expression is appropriate to your focus. An exhibition may be the appropriate outcome of a study of the relations between insanity and the visual arts in European cultures. A performance might be the result of an interdisciplinary study of seventeenth-century musical instruments. Projects other than research papers must be accompanied by a substantial essay describing and documenting the ways in which the project explores the major.

Before beginning your senior project, you must develop a proposal and present it to your faculty committee and the associate dean for approval. Your faculty .committee should be consulted throughout your project's development. Then, no later than the middle of the last semester before graduation, you must submit the project to your faculty for evaluation. The committee then makes a recommendation to the associate dean, who will meet with you. If both your faculty committee and the associate dean approve your senior project (and you have successfully completed all the courses in your SDM major with the required 2.8 cumulative gpa), you are recommended for graduation.

Senior Project Acceptance Form.

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