The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Monday December 6th

Self-designed majors cater to the individual

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Most high school applicants can browse through a college website or brochure at the selection of over 50 majors and find a major that piques their interests. Undecided students can take a variety of courses and find a curriculum to dedicate their college career. But some students find the offerings limited and decide to make their college experiences work for their interests.

Mackenzie Hickey, junior English and writing/publishing self-designed double major, decided to make her major work for her.

“I knew I definitely wanted to study English but that it wouldn’t be enough on its own,” Hickey said. “I played with the idea of adding a few minors, but I just wasn’t totally satisfied. However, once I read more about the self- design option, I knew that was the right thing for me.”

Although somewhat unconventional, self-design majors are becoming more popular at the College and on other campuses. Self-designed programs began in the 1960s and in 2010 more than 100 institutions had self-design majors, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Besides the College, there are numerous other institutions, such as William and Mary University and Tulane University, that offer this option to students.

“This is particularly attractive for students who are prepared to undertake extensive work in interdisciplinary areas like biochemistry, cognitive science, environmental studies, political economy and religious studies,” said Richard Kamber, coordinator of the self-design major program at the College.

The self-design major program began about five years ago after students showed interest in officially acknowledging it as a major at the College.

At the College, there are several different requirements for the self-design major. This is by no means a lazy alternative to pre-designed majors.

Any student who wants to even consider designing a major has to have at least a 3.0 grade point average. Then the planning can begin.

Timing is important when declaring a major, especially a self-designed one. The proposal for the major has to be created and submitted by the student before his or her first semester of junior year. In the proposal, at least 12 courses that would help fulfill said major must be selected and considered, half of which must be at the 300 or 400 level. A capstone proposal must also be designed by the student and included as one of these courses.

In order for a major to be approved, the chairs of the departments where most of the courses for the designed major are being taken would have to approve the major itself.

Another thing to consider for students who go the self- designed major path is what potential employers would think of a student who had designed his or her own major, for better or for worse. But Lynette Harris from Career Services does not think this major is much different when it comes to looking for jobs.

“The ability to market one’s self via skills and experiences is what allows a student to stand out, not the major itself,” Harris said. As with any college experience, it is important to do internships to try and seal a job for after graduation.

Another advantage of the self-designed major is it may show future employers that the student showed initiative. There are many extra steps to be considered when designing a major, so students have to be dedicated to their particular area of study to be successful in the major.

“I just knew that studying English on its own, without a minor, wasn’t going to be enough for me,” Hickey said. “I also knew that I definitely wanted to pursue publishing, so it made sense to create a major based on that since TCNJ didn’t offer one.”

Self-design majors are definitely not for everyone, but this new trend can be a great way to steer yourself in a direction you are really interested in. Although it may not necessarily give you any sort of a leg up when it finally comes to job searching, you might really love your major in the end, after working so hard to design it.


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