20 Best Undergrad Programs to Create Your Own Major

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Designing Your Own Major for DIY Learners

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.

Top 10 Best Undergrad Programs that Allow You to Design Your Own Major

Rank School Location
1 James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA
2 The Gallatin School at NYU New York, NY
3 California College of the Arts Oakland, CA
4 University of Washington Seattle, WA
5 Cornell College Mt. Vernon, IA
6 Columbia University New York, NY
7 Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington, IN
8 Lesley University Cambridge, MA
9 Marlboro College Marlboro, VT
10 Evergreen State College Olympia, WA
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  1. James Madison University
    Location

    Harrisonburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  2. The Gallatin School at NYU
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  3. California College of the Arts
    Location

    Oakland, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  4. University of Washington
    Location

    Seattle, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  5. Cornell College
    Location

    Mt. Vernon, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  6. Columbia University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  7. Indiana University Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  8. Lesley University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  9. Marlboro College
    Location

    Marlboro, VT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

  10. Evergreen State College
    Location

    Olympia, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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.

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