Aug 17, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Many of today’s career responsibilities no longer fit inside tidy boxes, so why should your major? In a report on the growing create-your-own-major trend, the Wall Street Journal  (WSJ) said, “The programs can spark students' enthusiasm for learning and sometimes equip them for complicated, cross-disciplinary jobs or emerging career fields.”

Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you are thinking of designing your own major, this step by step guide can help you cover your bases and do it right.

1. Make sure this is the best option for you.

Designing your major may seem like a wonderful opportunity and, for many students, it is. Anna Rogers, who created her own major in underwater archaeology, told WSJ of her experiences, “My individualized major has allowed me to travel and experience history first-hand. It has been really exciting.”

However, this does not mean an individualized major is right for everyone. In online textbook company Chegg, Hannah Bassett writes, “Have you struggled to fit into an offered program? Does it seem that you want to study more than possible in four years? Are you interested in multiple fields? Do you know what job you want, and want to plan the best degree to get that job? If you answered yes to any of those, you may want to look into creating your own major!”

Plus, insiders say that while individualized majors work well for many careers, as well as when it comes to positioning students for law or medical school admissions, students looking to earn PhDs in “highly tracked academic fields such as chemistry,” may not be as successful.

2. Pick the right college.

So you have decided that creating your own major is right for you. The next step? Making sure you choose a college that offers this option. According to data from the College Board, approximately 954 public and private colleges and universities in the US offer individualized majors, also billed as “customized,” “interdisciplinary,” and “design your own.”

3. Take the appropriate steps.

While many schools offer customized majors, the steps involved in bringing one to life vary from school to school. Still, the general process is the same. Online maganize for college women Her Campus says, “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.”

Understanding exactly what is expected of you can help ensure that you meet all deadlines and requirements.

4. Work with your advisor.

While the course of your individualized major ultimately rests with you, your relationship with your advisor is very important. Bassett explains, “Talk to your advisor. Mine was really helpful to me when I started pursuing creating a major. An advisor’s job is to help you, and it’s hard to find one that isn’t interested in helping you with your college career. Ask lots of questions!”

According to The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, the more “high touch” interactions between advisors and students during individualized major programs, the more productive the learning environment.

So while your interests lead the way, the importance of your advisor’s guidance cannot be overlooked.

5. Maintain initiative throughout the process.

At the end of the day, students who create their own major have ownership over it -- along with the increased initiative that goes along with it. “Designing your own major takes a lot of effort, plus skill in selling yourself and your major. At most universities, students must persuade at least one professor to sponsor and advise them. They must tie their major to a specific field of work or future study. Most are required to produce a weighty final project or paper,” says WSJ.

And your work is not done when you graduate: You will continue to be responsible for articulating the advantages of your individualized major when you’re on the job market. Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, told USA Today, “The number one thing employers are looking for is self-direction and the ability to solve complex problems are two key factors in getting a job today. What they want to know is, ‘OK, you learned this stuff, but what does it mean? Can you apply it to a complex project?’”

Designing your own major can be intensive, but it is also a uniquely empowering experience for many college students. If you designed your own major, we would love to hear about any wisdom you gained along the way. Please share your tips in the comments sections.

Thinking of changing your major to a customized one, meanwhile? Make sure to check out What to Do if You Regret Your Major? 





Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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