I am one of those kids who wants to study everything. Correction: I am one of those kids who wants to study everything related to the humanities (as if my AP scores weren’t enough to remind me to stay far away from Math 104, a friend recently told me, “You know, you’re just not a math/science person). I store college brochures with lists of majors circled in my desk. When it
came time for me to actually apply to college, I put myself down as a Humanities major–only to change, three weeks later, to Political Science. Then History. Then English. Then back to Political Science again.
I’m not the first college student to struggle with choosing a major. But for me, the problem isn’t finding a subject to love; it’s choosing between loves, wrestling to form some kind of hierarchy to prioritize Anthropology over Comparative Literature, or English over Philosophy. When I heard that my university offered an Individualized Major program–the chance for students to design their own course of study–I got excited. The reality, though, is that creating one’s own major isn’t as simple as selecting courses. As said friend put it, “There’s gonna be a lot of red tape.”
For UPenn, that red tape seems pretty intimidating. Students pursuing individualized majors are required to take 14 courses in their proposed major, to earn a 3.5 GPA, and to participate in a series of demos and presentations so deterring that only a handful of students per year end up designing their own majors. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, over 100 schools today offer individualized majors–but, as with Penn, those programs come with strings attached, ones so weighty that few students actually take up those opportunities. Self-designed education shouldn’t be so complicated. If students are qualified enough to get accepted to these institutions, the colleges should allow them full freedom to explore academia. Furthermore, the Chronicle also found that students with individualized majors are more likely to get into grad schools and win fellowships; those who take charge of their education reap the rewards. It seems unwise to confound the process with strict requirements, or, as is the case with many colleges, to not offer an individualized major program at all. Will I actually end up pursuing an individualized major? As of now, I’m not sure. But all students, including myself, should have the right to chart their own course. In the age of interdisciplinary education, the next logical step is to expand access to self-designed major programs. Anything less would be majorly misguided.