Should You Create Your Own Major?

Some college students have trouble identifying a major that truly appeals to them. Often they're interested in a number of academic disciplines, none of which on its own fully captures their higher ed vision. Independent majors give students the opportunity to design their own education programs. Learn about the potential benefits and drawbacks of this increasingly popular postsecondary option.

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By Douglas Fehlen

personalized major plans

An Alternative to Traditional Majors

Can't find a major you're interested in? Or having difficulty choosing between multiple academic disciplines? Designing your own major is a way to create an individualized learning program catered specifically to your personal, educational and professional goals. Build-your-own major programs are available at more than 900 4-year colleges and universities, which means you're likely to find a program at an institution that appeals to you.

Customizing your course plan will allow you to take classes that fully engage you. With the freedom to plan your academic career, though, comes responsibility. Designing a major often requires more work than signing up for an existing program. Working with an adviser, you'll have to come up with a suitable education program. Typically you must also find at least one professor to serve as your sponsor. Additionally, you'll likely have to present and defend your degree program for institution approval.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

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A Route with Tangible Benefits

Design-your-own major programs are ideally suited for students who want to pursue a specific career or field of research that incorporates diverse disciplines. For example, if you're interested in performing arts management you need not decide between earning a major in theater, music, dance or stage management. Instead you could take courses from each of these disciplines in your self-directed study. Creating a major allows you to design a program that best positions you for a particular job or grad school opportunity.

The ability to prepare for a cross-disciplinary job is one great professional advantage of creating your own major, but there are others. Because you will have significant experience in multiple fields, you may be eligible for work in each of them. You might even be an attractive applicant to employers in outside disciplines because hiring managers see you as an independent, creative and self-motivated person. Students who create their own major often have the opportunity to serve in significant research positions, internships, fellowships and other roles that are also attractive to employers.

Be Informed and Prepared

While many employers will look upon your self-designed major favorably, some organizations may regard such programs with less esteem. The perceived novelty of an independently created major can make it difficult for some employers to understand exactly what your degree will allow you to do in the workplace. College grads may have to work extra hard to market themselves, highlighting experiences that differentiate them from graduates of traditional degree programs. It's important to also know that designing your own degree may not be an effective route in disciplines that require a license or are highly tracked, including nursing, teaching and engineering.

Before moving ahead with the decision to design your own major, it's important to consider the challenges you may face. Because you have more responsibility in your academic career, you'll need to continually be self-directed and exhibit effective time management skills. The payoff? At the end of your undergraduate studies you'll be able to say that you did things your way while positioning yourself for professional success.

Looking for more of a sure thing than creating your own major? Find out what majors virtually guarantee post-graduation employment.

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