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How to Create an Individualized Major

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Contents

Introduction

Individualized Majors, or IM, are designed by students in conjunction with Academic Deans, Heads of Departments, Individual advisors, and other stakeholders. In institutions where specific programs of study are not offered, they allow students to create a curriculum that integrates multiple disciplines into a coherent educational vision. highly motivated students can use this function to prototype specific education programs they wish to found at the institution, especially in relatively new fields of study. This is especially helpful to students wishing to study in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, as institutions may have no experience in creating such programs. Individualized Majors are helpful ways to show institutions what it takes to support new programs and the students within them.

Some fortunate institutions have individualized major programs, including specific requirements for approval, and processes to complete. Other institutions lacking such programs can use these frameworks as a way to design their own IM programs, or as a way to draft a proposal for personal study at an institution. 

Proposal

Regardless of whether or not your institution has an IM program in place, it is wise to go through these steps in order to ensure your ideas are communicated effectively and intelligently. Individual schools may have requirements for your major when designing curricula and corresponding programs. It is important to adhere to those specific steps in order to have your proposal accepted. 

Executive Summary

The best way to start planning your curriculum is to have a concise vision of its application and importance in the real world. Most individualized programs require the student to provide an executive summary in order to illustrate the goals and vision of the proposed field of study. This is a helpful tool to onboard stakeholders like deans and department heads to your cause. Specific items that may help convince difficult administrators to support you include:

  1. Personal Mission. If you have a personal connection to the work, have illustrated you interest in the past, and have specific examples of career paths or programs you'd like to start or join with the help of your individualized major, its a great way to onboard them to your vision.
  2. Relevant statistics/research. This can mean trends in the space, how many institutions have the major, what people do in the space, just anything to make your lofty idea seem like a viable business plan to spend four years on. 
  3. Specific institutional Benefits. What will the college get, specifically, out of offering this major? What will they get about offering an Individualized Major Program? Programs? Funding? More students? Community support? Stronger, more involved students? This is about their very basic wants and needs. See if you can align with an existing University goal. 
  4. UIF examples.There are many Fellows that have created individualized majors with exceptional success and have left legacies of curricula, programs, and support in our institutions. Pointing to success stories similar to your pursuits at similar universities can be extremely helpful for them to visualize.

Curriculum

Designing your is an important step, as this is the actual proposal of your courses. Make sure you're taking a competitive amount of courses, but also stress that a main part of your creation is outside the classroom- you'll want room to apply what you're learning and share it with others. In any case, look at the best ranked schools in your field. Basing your curriculum of those schools will give you more credibility, but kept in mind that many institutions don't exactly offer the same resources and course offerings as Stanford or Cornell.

In these cases, where your institution doesn't offer the exact component classes, refer back to your mission statement. What classes fall in line with your vision? What classes can be repositioned? What classes can be substituted for requirements out of your range? Will the institution consider Directed Independent Studies, Research, or creating a new course? 

Presentation

Many schools will have formalized processes for presenting proposals regarding curriculum suggestions. In the event your school does not have a formalized process, a few stakeholders you will want to involve in this conversation are:

  1. Individual Faculty Members. If a professor has a vision aligned with yours, they are a great person to start with They may also have dreams of starting programs like yours, and could be interested in backing a pilot program (you!) to test their assumptions. 
  2. Department Heads. Heads of departments you want to take classes in will most likely have to serve some role in the approval process. It will be important to solicit their help early on in the design process.
  3. Academic Deans. These individuals often make decisions in areas where there are no precedents to draw from.  
  4. Provosts/Presidents/Trustees., etc. Soliciting support from the top can expedite any process. relationships with these individuals should be used responsibly, but in the event you have the opportunity to bring the issue up, be prepared as their support can open multiple doors at once.

Make sure that all of this is together in a coherent, easy to visualize and understand, physical proposal that you can give to interested parties. Be prepared to make concessions and have alternatives to courses planned. You will have to be positive and confident, but humble- especially if you're the first student. They may ask for revisions. They may also ask for you to validate the choices you've made for classes or focuses. Be ready for a two way conversation. 

University Fellows Resources

Fellows with Individualized Majors

Nadia_Gathers - Social Entrepreneurship

Ben_Riddle - Sustainable Development and Social Change

Tran_K._Nguyen - Public Policy

Institutions with Individualized Major Programs

Converse_College

Furman_University

Berea_College