Creating your own major gives you the freedom to study your own interests on your own terms. But the opportunity often goes unrealized, as many students stick to the familiarity of their university’s programs simply because they either don’t know creating a major is an option or worry that creating a major will affect their post-graduation opportunities. Never fear, collegiettes! By speaking to real-life girls with self-designed programs of study and professional career advisors who know what employers want, we’ve uncovered the truth behind the mystery of creating your own major.
Why You Should Create Your Own Major
Creating a major is the ideal choice for collegiettes with academic and professional interests that extend beyond the boundaries of their university’s traditional programs. By self-designing a major, students assume responsibility of their own education by creating a unique degree combining a variety of courses to suit their needs.
Avery Newton, a recent grad of the College of William and Mary, self-designed a major in United States Education Sociology and Theory after realizing her passion for education during an eye-opening community studies program in Washington, D.C. “I wanted desperately to learn more,” says Avery, referring to her exposure to the social inequity of education in the U.S. during the program. “Luckily, William and Mary has a school of education, so I thought it would be a great idea to take some classes there and learn among future teachers while also learning more about the context of U.S. education in other departments.” Beginning the summer before her junior year, she began to work with two professors on figuring out the process of creating a major at her university. Since then, creating her own major has been extremely rewarding. “Each class is automatically tailored to my interests and I can explore several different departments,” she says. In addition, Avery’s advisors connected her with underclassmen also interested in her field of study, allowing her to serve as a resource for a subject she finds important and rewarding.
Erin Kim, a collegiette from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, a school that allows students to create their own program of study, is also familiar with the process of creating her own major. This year, she will declare a major in New Media and Cultural Communities after originally planning to double major in Journalism and Cinema Studies. Erin decided to switch her major after finding herself desperately wanting to explore classes beyond her programs of study. “I ended up taking more courses than planned in other NYU schools,” says Erin. “While I was figuring out what I wanted to study, something just didn't fit. I knew I wanted to focus on media and the arts, but I didn't like that they were separate majors.”
Fortunately for Erin, Gallatin’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies allowed her to study the crossroads of these subjects instead of the traditional cookie-cutter routes that usually accompany disparate majors. “College is the time to push my mind's boundaries and I didn't feel I would get this intellectual challenge if I stuck with my original plan,” she says. “I might learn the how-tos of being an awesome journalist, but I think Gallatin will teach me that in a different, more ‘interdisciplinary’ way. It's not for everyone, but for me, transferring to Gallatin has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
How to Create Your Own Major
The specific steps involved in creating your own major vary among universities, but the general process is usually the same. The first step is always to find out if the option even exists at your university. From there, students usually create a proposal of the self-designed, often interdisciplinary, choice of study to be approved by faculty advisors. Once approved, students work with professors and advisors to create a curriculum that suits their interests in addition to the major’s educational requirements.
At William and Mary, Avery appreciated the ease of the streamlined process to create her own major. Her wheels began turning immediately after a fateful conversation with a friend who had already completed the process. “I didn’t even know it was possible before speaking to my friend,” says Avery. “After talking to a few professors and friends who have similar interests, I came up with a tentative list of classes and then set up a meeting with the appropriate office on campus to make sure I was approaching the process correctly.”
After Avery’s advisor signed off on her proposed list of classes, she wrote a one-page report explaining the importance and usefulness of her major, as well as detailing the potential for repetition by another interested student. About a week later, she received a letter confirming her major’s approval by the interdisciplinary studies committee. “The most important thing to think about when considering creating your own major is to make sure it is unique enough to stand apart from the other programs available at your school,” says Avery.
Drawbacks of Creating Your Own Major
Although creating your own major can be rewarding, the process is not devoid of challenges. Gary Miller, assistant director of career services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that a drawback is that a student belonging to only a single university department may experience more support by peers and faculty than those who have created their own majors and are spread thin among several departments. “Creating your own major puts a huge burden on the student to guarantee that their curriculum’s combination of courses is going to have the desired outcome,” says Miller.
One of the biggest disadvantages for Avery is the difficulty of gaining permission to enroll in classes that are “major restricted” to other fields although they are also requirements for her self-designed major. “One semester a professor at the school of education told me that because I wasn’t in the teacher preparation program, I would not be able to take a class that I needed to graduate,” recalls Avery. “Luckily, the interdisciplinary studies office stepped in and I got into the class. It turned out that it wasn’t even full!”
The only downside to Erin’s experience is actually more of a pro than a con. “Choosing only about four classes every semester is difficult because the opportunities are endless,” she says. “But that's actually one of the advantages of creating my own major.” She says that a lot of students at Gallatin worry that they will lose the direction and focus of their coursework by designing their own major. However, she insists that if you are passionate about a subject, the curriculum will fall into place with your goals. “With the help of my professors and the inspiration of the world around me, I am able to craft a relevant and enlightening curriculum,” Erin says.
Remember that in the long-term scheme of a fulfilling academic journey, these obstacles are simply minor setbacks. “These types of hurdles can be frustrating and anxiety-inducing, but overall the self-designed major process is definitely worth the occasional roadblock!” insists Avery.
The Effects of a Self-Designed Major on Your Future
One consideration that students must take into account when deciding to create their own major is the post-graduation consequences. Will devoting your undergraduate degree to a self-designed course of study affect your chances of employment or acceptance to graduate school?
Avery is confident that creating her own major demonstrates initiative and will help her stand out during interviews. “The interviewer for my internship last summer was extremely interested in my created major and asked me a lot about it during the selection process,” says Avery. “I was happy to have the opportunity to dive deeply into my academic passions while showcasing something unique about myself in a professional setting.”
Although creating your own major makes you unique, it is important to not let it be the only thing that defines you. To prove that you are taking full advantage of other academic opportunities in addition to pursuing your individual interests, you must also demonstrate consistent accomplishments elsewhere. “Someone could very easily create a major of random classes, but if this decision isn't backed up by other experiences in the field, I can't imagine it would help them when they apply to graduate school or a job,” says Avery. “I think a self-designed major is a great opportunity for someone with unconventional interests to showcase their passions and unite their experiences in a cohesive way.”
Like Avery, Erin believes that creating her own major has given her the opportunity to explain her studies to employers in a memorable way. “No one else has my major, and my concentration is all about me,” says Erin. “Isn’t that what interviews are all about?”
In general, however, the post-graduation effects of creating a major aren’t drastic. Vicki Salemi, founder of the Career Boot Camp for College Grads, author of Big Career in the Big City: Land a Job and Get a Life in New York and host of Score That Job, a show from mediabistroTV, says that creating your own major barely affects your chances of finding employment after graduation. “When employers evaluate candidates for a job, they are focused on specific skills and strengths, particularly from your internships,” says Salemi. “Overall, your major won't make a huge difference in terms of employment.”
Nevertheless, she adds that there are important additional factors to take into consideration. “Keep in mind that the biggest accounting firms typically only hire candidates for accounting positions who have studied accounting as undergraduates, and even something related like economics won't really fly,” says Salemi. “It really all depends on the type of employment you're seeking. Your major doesn’t always matter if you can show that you took some related courses and have the skills to back it up.”
For the most part, Salemi recommends creating a major if it will allow you to succeed in a field you love. “You're going to excel in a major that gets you psyched to study and invigorated to learn,” says Salemi. “If the majors offered at your school don't do anything for you, the only con for creating your own major is that an employer may not take you seriously if it’s too ‘out there’ to fit the realm of their industry.” But if it turns out your major and career don’t match, your life isn’t over! Focus on majoring in a subject you are passionate about and remember that it doesn’t have to dictate your career choices for the rest of your life.
“It all boils down to the student’s motivation and their ability to articulate why they chose this path for themselves and the benefits they have derived,” says Miller. “It doesn’t generally make a student any more or less competitive for graduate school or employment on its own, but is really more about the compelling story each student has to tell.” Customizing a major is one of many ways to create a significant college experience that can be explored in an interview or detailed in an application.
Now that the secrets behind creating your own major have been revealed, start thinking about the cool majors you’ve considered but didn’t think were possible, and make them happen! Keep Her Campus posted, and your self-designed major could earn a spot on our Top 10 Weirdest College Majors list.