Completing a major helps you gain the intellectual maturity — creative, critical and skeptical acumen — that comes from disciplined, intensive work in one subject. In the College of Arts & Sciences, you can choose one of the established majors or apply to develop your own through the independent major program.
While independent majors involve interdisciplinary work, many established majors within Arts & Sciences also involve studies in various fields. So be sure to do your research before deciding that your interests do not fit comfortably into an existing department or major.
If you decide to pursue an independent major, set up an appointment with the director of the independent major program. You’ll work with the director and faculty in your areas of interest to develop and then refine your proposal, which will be reviewed by a board of faculty members.
If you take the time to speak with various faculty members, find an adviser who understands and shares your interests and work closely with the independent major program director, your chances of submitting a sound proposal — and therefore of having it approved — are much better than if you hurriedly put together a list of courses and talk your adviser into accepting it.
Your proposal should do the following:
- Bring your subject into clear focus. Your idea should be a definable subject (not a social topic/agenda) or a set of organizing intellectual questions. Since there is no interview in the board's selection process, your written proposal is definitive. You should describe the subject you propose to study — your organizing questions or idea — indicate what you will know at the end of your study and explain why you have chosen particular courses or groups of courses, why you cannot accomplish the program with a regular major and electives and how this program of study fits into your future plans.
- Be thorough, yet concise; five pages is usually too long; one paragraph too short. Include a range of inclusive courses, with at least eight to ten at the 3000 level or above. Courses in other colleges can count toward your major, but most courses should be centered in Arts & Sciences.
- List your proposed major courses by semester: department, course number and title of each course.
- Include a cover sheet (available from the program director), listing your name, address, proposed independent major title, adviser, etc.
- Include a letter of support from a faculty member who will serve as your independent major adviser if your proposal is approved. The letter should evaluate the proposal in detail.
If your proposal is approved, you may find your major more demanding than the usual departmental major. But you are also likely to find it deeply exciting and satisfying.
There are two application deadlines each semester to allow time for the board to make decisions about applications before the next semester begins. Applications must be submitted by sophomore year. While the board will consider applications from juniors, it’s often difficult to complete an independent major so late in your college career.
Be sure to speak with the director early enough to ensure that all materials, including the faculty letter, arrive at the program director's office by the deadline.
To earn honors, students in the Independent Major Program must maintain a 3.0 overall average, a 3.5 inside the major and have no grade below a "B" and no grade below a "C" in the major. Honors candidates will formulate a proposal at the start of the fall term of their senior year, recruit a three-person honors committee, including their adviser, and undertake a research project, which is completed in the spring.
Recent Independent Majors
- Computing, Cognition & Aesthetics: Courses in computer science, psychology, history of art, cognitive studies and information science
- Latin American History and Literature: Spanish, history, government, Romance studies and anthropology
- Space Policy: Astronomy, earth and atmospheric sciences, physics, policy analysis and management and government
- Cultural Food Studies: Anthropology, psychology, food science, hotel administration and science and technology studies
- The Politics and Law of Environmental Issues: History, government, science and technology studies, applied economics and management, natural resources, biology and society and biology
- Biological Illustration: Biology, art history and drawing
Independent Major Program Director