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Self-Designed Interdisciplinary Majors

The option of a self-designed interdisciplinary major is available for those students whose academic goals may best be achieved by combining and integrating the work of two or more academic departments. Like the College’s other interdisciplinary programs, the self-designed interdisciplinary major exists to provide an appropriate structure for programs of study that do not fit within the bounds of existing departments and require an interdisciplinary approach.

The majors currently offered by the College’s academic departments and interdisciplinary programs are carefully designed and rigorously reviewed by the faculty for intellectual depth and coherence. Students who wish to propose a self-designed course of study should expect that their proposals will be held to the same standards. The self-designed interdisciplinary major petition process therefore requires a significant amount of time and reflection. Students wishing to pursue this option will work closely with their advising faculty in the relevant departments to construct their proposal and to see their study through to completion.

Students who wish to pursue a self-designed interdisciplinary major must complete the required “Declaration of Interdisciplinary Major” form. In completing that form, students should follow the steps below in order to meet the rigorous criteria for the proposed program of study.

  1. Consult with faculty members in the departments that will be combined in the major to determine the feasibility of the interdisciplinary major. Consultation with the Registrar is also recommended in order to secure an understanding of the approval procedure.
  2. Prepare, in consultation with those faculty members and departments, a petition requesting the College Faculty’s approval of the interdisciplinary major. This petition is addressed to the Chairperson of the Faculty Educational Program Committee. The petition must contain the following items:
    1. An essay that articulates the student’s rationale for the interdisciplinary major. Simply explaining how courses in different departments are related is not a sufficient rationale. The rationale must specifically explain why the academic goals of the self-designed major cannot be achieved through a combination of majors and minor(s). The petitioner must demonstrate that only by integrating work in the departments can those academic goals be realized. The importance of this essay cannot be overemphasized. It is not only a statement of the student’s reasons for choosing the proposed interdisciplinary major, but also a philosophical and practical statement of (i) how the new major meets the same rigorous standards as the College’s already-existing majors, (ii) how the proposed course-plan will include truly “interdisciplinary” study, (iii) how, if there are similar programs or majors at other comparable institutions, the proposed plan for interdisciplinary study compares to those.
    2. The Declaration of Interdisciplinary Major, including a complete listing of courses that comprise the interdisciplinary major, with numbers, titles, and dates when the courses are to be taken. Though it is customary that the number of courses in each department will be fewer than what is expected of a major in that department, it is essential that substantial advanced work is done in each department. The proposed program of study must include a complete description of how the “interdisciplinary” senior experience will be structured. It must be clear how the departments involved in the major will be integrated into the senior seminar, seminars, or capstone experience. Any self-designed capstone experience should be explained in detail and should be comparable in content, rigor, and methodology to the capstone experiences for existing majors.
  3. The Declaration of Interdisciplinary Major must be endorsed in writing by the chairpersons of the concerned departments. This endorsement must include a detailed assessment of the student’s rationale and of the student’s ability to undertake and complete successfully the work projected in the petition. The departmental endorsements should also specify who will serve as the principal faculty advisor for the student. If the student’s petition includes coursework or other projects outside of the participating departments’ normal course offerings, the chairpersons should also note their awareness of those elements of the proposal and give assurances that those or comparable opportunities will be available for the student.
  4. The entire Declaration of Interdisciplinary Major with the completed petition is submitted to the Registrar for review before it is sent to the Education Program Committee for a full review and final determination. Incomplete Declarations will be returned to the student without review.
  5. Interdisciplinary majors must be declared and receive approval no later than midterm of the spring semester of the junior year. It is expected that work on the petition, interviews with faculty, and consultation with the Registrar should begin as early as possible, but will take place no later than the fall semester of the junior year. The student who submits an interdisciplinary major petition will have already declared a major by midterm of the spring semester of the sophomore year. If the interdisciplinary major can be worked out in time for the sophomore year deadline for declaring a major, it should be submitted earlier.
  6. Any proposed deviation from an approved interdisciplinary major must have departmental approvals and the approval of the Education Program Committee before changes are made in the course of study.