A Guide to Creating Your Own College Major

By Alicia Geigel on September 22, 2019

In college you are faced with a lot of decisions, some on a smaller, less stressful scale and others on a larger, more important one. One of the biggest and most significant decisions one can make in college if not the biggest, is what to major in. Some people know what they want to major in immediately, have their career path picked out, and need no additional help from anyone. On the other hand, there are some that either have no clue what to major in or want to major in more than one thing.

Creating your own major is a foreign world to many people, especially students, and familiar to others. If you’re someone who is unfamiliar with the idea of creating your own major, it can sound weird, impossible, and kind of intimidating. However, there are plenty of students that take on a leap and create their own major in college, despite the small number of students doing this—they’re still out there!

Whether you are a high school student curiously thinking about college or someone who has just started college, anyone can benefit from learning more about creating your own major. Are you currently someone who is looking at or currently in college? Unsure of what to major in or considering creating your own? Unaware of the positives and negatives of doing so? Check out this comprehensive guide to how to create your own major, which includes the benefits and disadvantages of doing so! Not only will this help you figure out what you want to major in, but it can also help you navigate your college experience a little better!

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Image via Pexels

The Struggle in Deciding a Major 

As a college student, it can be a difficult process to try and narrow down all of your interests into one condensed field of study. While most colleges and universities have a multitude of majors and concentrations to choose from, choosing among a giant list can make your head want to spin. Maybe you simply don’t know what you want to do, maybe you have an idea of a career path but it doesn’t fit in the rigid major requirements, or maybe you have multiple interests that cannot be satisfied in a traditional major. Whichever problem you may face, you are not alone in it.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, and on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. The struggle in deciding a college major is universal in universities and colleges across the country, which is why for some, double-majoring or even creating your own major can be a great option for college and a career in the future.

How to Figure Out Your College Major Path 

Figuring out a college major can be tough to do all on your own, here are some ways to discover what your interests are and combine those with an educational concentration!

Ask Friends/Family: Sometimes, family or friends can add unnecessary pressure onto you in terms of education and deciding a career path. If you’ve been in this situation, you know this can be tough, but at the end of the day, it’s always good to reach out to those closest to you to get an extra insight or opinion if you’re feeling lost. Reaching out to friends and family can help you pinpoint your strengths and gather your interests, after all, they know you best! Before doing anything in terms of a college major, consult those closest to you for some extra help. It’s a good first step!

Stay Generalized: If you are totally stuck on narrowing down on your interests and picking a major, sometimes the best thing to do is to stay generalized. What does this mean exactly? Giving yourself the appropriate time to get a taste of what field you like. Remember that statistic from earlier? At least 80% of students end up changing their major once, so as much as you may think you have it figured out, you probably don’t, and that’s ok! I am proud to say that I am apart of that statistic, having changed my major once, from Film and Screen Studies to Political Science. It takes time.

Tori Reid of Lifehacker writes, “Prevent yourself from switching majors again and again by declaring “Undecided” and exploring three (or so) different majors early on.” If you end up creating your own major down the road, come Sophomore or Junior year, you’ll most likely have a good deal of your necessary credits out of the way!

Evaluate Your Desired Life and Needs Post-Graduation: It is no surprise that you have to consider the future when enrolling in college and selecting a major, its essentially the whole point.

It’s important, however, to dig deep and evaluate the desired life you want and the needs you might have post-graduation. Are you ok with having a lower salary? Working interesting hours? Traveling? Will you need to live at home to manage student debt? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself, relative to the major and career path you are seeking, so that way you’re not 3/4 of the way there and want to change.

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Image made via Canva

Creating Your Own Major: What it Takes

With a little help in deciding how to select the right major for you, now comes the fun part- learning how to create your own major! What does it take? What do you need to do in order to get this accomplished? Don’t worry, I got you covered.

See If Option Exists at Your University: This is a bit of an obvious first step, but it definitely matters. Before jumping in and arranging your schedule with courses that you have in mind and ones that will fulfill your intended major, see if the option to create your own major even exists at your university.

You don’t want to take matters into your own hands and start selecting classes that ultimately can’t fulfill your major/GenEd requirements in the long run, you’ll be in college for longer than you want to be.

Douglas Fehlen of Study.com notes that “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.” Here are some of the top undergrad programs that allow you to create your own major!

Speak to an Advisor to Get Insight on Your Interests: Scheduling a meeting with an advisor can further help you get a better idea of what creating your own major entails. Academic advisors can give you a comprehensive breakdown of the requirements and obligations of taking on something somewhat ‘unusual’ in college.

Additionally, an advisor can help guide you to figure out which concentrations and areas of study would be best to suit your skills and interests, and thus form the perfect major for you!

Creating Your Own Major: After seeing if it is possible at your university and speaking with an advisor, you are ready to hit the road and create your own major! Creating your own major is often referred to as an individualized major, self-designed major, student-designed major, or an interdisciplinary major, and all these terms mean is that the program of study is developed by the student with an advisor and approved by faculty or a registrar.

When it comes to building the major and its structure, you can look at typical degree standards for help. Usually, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelors of Science (BS) require around 124 credits, spread out with one-third GenEds, one-third major-related courses, and one-third elective courses. When creating your own major, keep this in mind with your advisor and select courses that will align with your major and your interests.

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal gives more insight into this, saying, “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.”

The Benefits 

Graduate School/Career Path: Creating your own major essentially means you’ll be getting a more diversified, interdisciplinary, and well-rounded the education. As you have a unique major that you’re working in and a dense degree you will be completing, you will have a broader educational experience and potential work experience, thus giving you the chance to develop a multitude of skills.

Because you will be well in a specific major and have a strong/diverse skill set, you can explore broader career options. Since you have a foundation in different areas, employers will be more inclined to consider your credentials and view you as a well-rounded, attractive candidate for their position.

The Disadvantages

Taking on something as unique as creating your own major doesn’t come without some trouble and minor disadvantages. Here are some small setbacks that you can expect during the process.

Not as Concentrated: Compared to students with one major and area of focus, as someone who is creating an individualized major, you can expect to be spread among different departments rather than being concentrated in one. This can sometimes be hard as you aren’t getting the unified support of peers and faculty. Because it’s more choppy and spread out, you may find trouble keeping track of things and getting lost as to which department to go to for issues.

Risky: Creating your own major is a bit of a risk because you aren’t taking the traditional path in college. Instead of having a program that has been refined with the specific curriculum set up within it, you will be starting from scratch and pulling together different courses and areas of study to fulfill your ideal major.

Doing so can be risky, says Gary Miller, assistant director of career services at UNC Chapel Hill. He  notes that, “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.”

Difficulty Choosing Classes: All of the disadvantages I’ve listed so far are intertwined in some way. When creating your own major, as stated, you’re going to be spread out in multiple areas and different departments due to the specific nature of your program. This can be a pain when it comes to choosing classes and being registered for courses.

In some situations, you’ll find that some courses are “major restricted” to other areas of study, despite the fact that they would be necessary requirements for your major as well. If this is the case, just be sure to talk to with an advisor or an interdisciplinary office to help you solve the problem!

What a Created Major Means for the Future/Employment 

Motivation is Necessary: To reiterate, creating your own major is a special path to take while in college, and it requires the right amount of motivation, perseverance and grit. Its important to stay motivated while you’re completing your program and you work extra hard to brand yourself as someone who has a unique set of skills that can be beneficial to a field of work.

Douglas Fehlen writes, “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.”

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Image via Pexels

Creating your own major while in college is not easy. There are a whole new set of responsibilities to take on, which can make your college experience difficult and stressful at times. If you do end up doing this, there are benefits, such as expanding your knowledge and skillset and giving yourself broader career options.

There is a rough side to creating your own major, however, with the disadvantages including some academic challenges. Just remember to do what is best for you and your life; not to cater to anyone else’s view of success because you create your own success. As always, good luck!

By Alicia Geigel

Uloop Writer
Temple alum | columnist at Uloop News | photographer | food blogger if you want to learn more about me, visit my profile and check out my articles!

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