In this DIY age of expression, exploration, and innovation, more colleges and universities are providing an opportunity for their students to design their own majors. In fact, the number of schools that offer such majors has increased nearly 5 percent in the past nine years, according to data provided by the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges. Some of these schools allow students to combine disciplines from traditional departments while other schools give the students the freedom to design a totally new degree. Individual studies require more self-discipline and motivation than a typical degree and often require students to draft a thorough proposal and present it to a committee. We have listed here some of the best individualized studies programs in the country. One thing to note is that the tuition rates below don’t incorporate room and board and reflect one school year (two semesters). Our data comes from the university and colleges’ websites as well as nationally recognized U.S. News and World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.
James Madison University
James Madison University is a public research institution in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which is located in the Shenandoah Valley. Their Independent Scholars (IS) degree can be achieved as either a Bachelor of Science or Arts. James Madison students who are interested in designing their own major can apply for the IS program at the end of their freshman year. It’s highly competitive—only students with a GPA of 3.25 or higher can be accepted—and the admission process requires meeting with IS coordinators and a faculty advisory committee. Other requirements for acceptance include strong academic record, demonstration of independent research ability, and attaining partnership with a faculty member.
Tuition: $10,066 for residents / $25,200 for non-residents
The Gallatin School at NYU
The Gallatin School of Individualized Study is a small school located within New York University that allows students to design their own interdisciplinary program of study. The coursework can be completed through any of the schools that comprise NYU in addition to Gallatin itself. Students at Gallatin can choose to explore multiple disciplines of study or diverse perspectives on a specific area not available in traditional departments. Typically, students combine their interest in art with social action, being that Gallatin’s primary areas of concentration include, though are not limited to, writing, arts, civic engagement, and global learning. Finally, students can opt into a year of abroad study at one of NYU’s global sites: Abu Dhabi, Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, London, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Shanghai, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Washington DC.
Tuition: $47,750 a year
California College of the Arts
California College of the Arts (CCA) is an art, design, architecture, and writing school with campuses in San Francisco and Oakland. In addition to a long tradition of art education—the school was founded in 1907—CCA emphasizes the artist’s work in helping solve cultural, environmental, social, and economic problems. Their Individualized Major (INDI) is no different; for those students whose wish to study outside regular and traditional departments, this degree can act as a bridge between mediums, all the while incorporating advocacy for social change in its curriculum. Unlike some other programs on our list, CCA does require specific classes for the INDI program, which cover the humanities, sciences, and studio time.
University of Washington
Located in Seattle, Washington, the University of Washington (UW) is the state’s flagship research university. It is one of the oldest universities on the West Coast. Their Individualized Studies major is for passionate, focused, motivated, and self-directed students who, as the university says, “epitomize the intentional intellectual engagement at the core of a great liberal education.” The University of Washington requires an Individualized Learning Plan, which comprises the core of the major. It includes a statement of purpose, learning goals, and an annotated course plan, which describes the courses and requires a signed faculty agreement form.
Cornell College should not be confused with the university. This private liberal arts college is located in Mount Vernon, Iowa and offers the option of majoring in individualized studies. Unlike other programs on our list where students fully design their degree, Cornell has students combine disciplines from a given list, and allows them to double major in a traditional program. Cornell also distinguishes itself with their One Course At A Time curriculum. Students take one class for eighteen days that meets for three to four hours. This structure specifically allows for flexibility, extra-curriculum involvement, options to travel abroad, and internship opportunities.
The largest urban university in the United States, CUNY (City University of New York) is a public institution known for making itself affordable and accessible to diverse populations of prospectives. They offer both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies. Students pursuing this degree work closely with faculty members and academic advisors to create and implement a degree that transcends the bounds of the traditional programs. CUNY is accredited by the Commision on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Tuition: $6,330 for residents / $16,800 for non-residents
Indiana University Bloomington
Located in Bloomington, Indiana with over 40,000 students, Indiana University Bloomington is a public research institution that has an Individualized Major Program. At Indiana University students design a curriculum of thirty to forty-two credit hours that culminates in a final project (e.g., a thesis, performance, project, or internship). Graduation requirements includes completing the bachelor of arts general requirements. Some examples of the individualized majors include the history of rock and roll, medieval archeology, social justice and advocacy, global food system studies, and more.
Tuition: $10,388 for residents / $33,740 for non-residents
Lesley University is a private university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts that offers a Self-Designed Major for those highly motivated students with GPAs of 3.0 or higher. Students have to make a formal proposal that includes a summarization of their academic plan, an explanation of why the focus makes sense, a list of potential internships, and how they plan to make and meet their goals. Those admitted still have to complete forty-two credits from the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s core curriculum. Lesley also emphasizes studying abroad, providing opportunities for students to study overseas for a semester or even a full year.
For a truly alternative learning experience, Marlboro College is an intentionally small, non-profit, academically rigorous liberal arts school located in Marlboro, Vermont. Classes are comprised, on average, of eight students. While most of the schools on our list are traditional institutions offering an individualized major, all of Marlboro is designed for individualized study. The curriculum has two parts: the clear writing requirement and the plan of concentration. New students at Marlboro must take one or more writing classes and present a portfolio at the end of their first year before moving forward in their studies. Third- and fourth-year students must come up with their individualized Plan of Concentration, a plan that involves a combination of disciplines, projects, and courses.
Evergreen State College
Located in Olympia, Washington, Evergreen State College is an experimental public liberal arts college where all students enroll in the interdisciplinary program and choose areas of emphasis. There are over sixty emphases to choose from, covering everything from biology and art history to somatic studies and sustainability. Not only is Evergreen considered one of the best colleges on the West Coast, as ranked by The Princeton Review and the U.S. News and World Report, but Evergreen is extremely affordable at nearly a quarter the price of other institutions.
Tuition: $8,000 for residents / $22,000 for non-residents
Warren Wilson College
Known for its Triad—a curriculum that combines academics, on-campus work, and community service—Warren Wilson is a liberal arts college located in Asheville, North Carolina. Their Integrative Studies major is for students wishing to combine two or more disciplines under the bachelor of arts program. There are over thirty-four disciplines that can be combined, from geospatial technology to pre-Peace Corps service. Over sixty percent of Warren Wilson’s students study abroad, from a few weeks up to a year, and more grants and awards are offered to Warren Wilson students than any other college or university in North Carolina.
University of Maryland
A member of the Association of American Universities, the University of Maryland is a public research institute with an enrollment of nearly 40,000 students. They offer a Bachelors in Individual Studies degree. Students design their program, combining disciplines, and work closely with a faculty member. Like many of the other programs on this list, students create a major that combines a course load, independent research, and study abroad opportunities. Many of the created majors that have been successfully proposed at the University of Maryland merge policy with leadership, global development with international relations, media with art, and more.
Tuition: $9,996 for residents / $31,144 for non-residents
University of Michigan
With an acceptance rate of only twenty-six percent, the University of Michigan is a highly competitive public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their College of Literature, Science, and the Arts offers an Individualized Major Program that has been part of the school since 1969. Like many of the other programs on this list, the University of Michigan also requires that students work closely with a faculty member to design a detailed curriculum and a statement of purpose, and then propose it before the Committee for Interdisciplinary Studies.
Tuition: $13,856 for residents / $43,476 for non-residents
Located on the banks of the Ohio River in Hanover, Indiana, Hanover College is a private liberal arts school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Since they are such a small school—they have an enrollment of less than two thousand students—they have only thirty majors to choose from, but they provide the option to design your own. Some past examples of designed majors include Women’s Studies, Computing and the Arts, Ethics, Ecumenics, Neuroscience, and more. Unlike other programs on this list that offer the individualized degree so students can combine disciplines, Hanover provides the design-your-own major so students can study in traditional fields that just are not offered.
Swarthmore College is a private liberal arts school located just outside Philadelphia in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. They allow students to either design their own major or to build upon programs already in place, such as astrophysics, biochemistry, linguistics, and more. Before graduation, students who have designed their own major must complete a comprehensive requirement, which is either a thesis, comprehensive exam, or a project that has been approved by a faculty advisor. Swarthmore is a renowned school known for its rigorous academics; students have won Rhodes scholarships, Fulbright scholarships, National Endowments, and more.
UC San Diego
Ranked ninth by the U.S. News and World Report among best public universities in the country, the University of California San Diego boasts a faculty who have received numerous Nobel Prizes, MacArthur Fellowships, Pulitzer Prizes, Fields Medals, and more. Through their Eleanor Roosevelt College, students can earn a degree in Individual Studies. Requirements include designing and completing a major proposal, with quarter-by-quarter plans, with the assistance of a faculty advisor. It’s possible to earn honors by having an overall GPA of 3.5, a major GPA of 3.7, and having completed eight units of Honor Thesis.
Oberlin College is a private liberal arts school located in Oberlin, Ohio. Their College of Arts and Sciences offers an Individual Major for those eager to spread their academic focus across disciplines. Like many other schools on our list, Oberlin requires students to go before a committee and stresses the mentorship between advisor and advisee. Some of the recently approved Individual Majors include Economics in the Music Industry, Linguistics, Architecture and the Environment, Global Health, South Asian Studies, and more. Oberlin is world-renowned for being the first American institution of higher learning to regularly admit women and African Americans.
St. Olaf College
St. Olaf College is a private, four-year liberal arts college located in Northfield, Minnesota. Unlike the other schools on our list, St. Olaf has devoted an entire center for cross-disciplinary academics called the Center for Integrative Studies that was established in 1999. Also unique to St. Olaf’s program is that they stress not just the interdisciplinary approach to course work, but the “intentional combination of diverse methodologies, experiences, subject matters, learning styles, and resources.” Because of the independent nature of the degree, St. Olaf has created a web community where Individual Major students can connect and share their portfolios, projects, experiences, and more.
The Univeristy of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. They provide two opportunities for students to create their own majors: the bachelor of individualized studies (BIS) or an individually designed interdepartmental major (IDIM). With the former, students combine three areas of concentration that are related or unrelated. And with the latter, students focus on a unifying theme by combining traditional courses from three or more departments. Whichever route a student takes, he or she will have to meet with an advisor to draft a proposal and thorough course description plan.
The flagship university in the University of California system, UC Berkeley is a public research university and is considered one of the best in the world. Their College of Letters and Sciences offers an Interdisciplinary Studies degree for highly motivated students who wish to study across disciplines. Requirements include a course study plan and the research for and writing of a forty-page senior thesis. Students work closely with a faculty member to develop their program and to build on their research skills. UC Berkeley is a world-renowned institution; faculty and alumni have won seventy-two Nobel prizes, eight Field Medals, and eleven Pulitzers, in addition to Turing Awards, Olympic gold medals, and more.