Students outside at Knox College #

Offices & Services > Academic Affairs > Faculty Handbook > Guidelines Relating to the Curriculum

H. Self-Designed Majors

Purple pens given to campus visitors

Guidelines Relating to the Curriculum

Self Designed Major Guidelines: FAQ format

A self-designed major is a coherent, interdisciplinary program of study focused on a set of intellectual issues or themes which involve several different disciplines, and which cannot be pursued within an established major.

1. Who should propose a self designed major (SDM)?

Students who have who have a keen interest in a substantial intellectual issue best studied through the integration of courses in different disciplines may want to consider a SDM. The motivation to seek a SDM should not be for credentialing or for avoiding requirements in a particular major.

2. What topics are appropriate for a SDM?

  • Your topic should be consistent with the mission of a liberal arts college.
  • Your major should combine, in a balanced way, courses from at least two (and no more than four) departments or programs.

3. How do I begin to develop my proposal?

You will need two faculty advisors [preferably permanent (e.g., tenure-track/tenured) full time faculty, one from each of (the) two main fields incorporated in your major]. You should work closely with these folks to develop your program rationale and course list (see below for specifics on courses).

You should have a clear, sophisticated understanding of your topic area. For example:

  • You should understand the key questions, theories and methods related to your area; your proposal should reflect knowledge of the professional literature in your area.
  • You should be familiar with comparable programs to your SDM offered at other schools. You are encouraged to use those program's course requirements to develop your own SDM.
  • If you are proposing a major in a "nontraditanional" area (i.e., one without established college or university programs), you should have a strong justification for doing so; it should be clear why you are approaching your topic from the proposed perspectives (departments/programs).

Established majors and minors at Knox College have been thoughtfully and carefully crafted and were approved by the full faculty. Your proposal should show similar thought, care and effort in constructing a convincing rationale for why Knox College should endorse your major.

Your program rationale should convince the Curriculum Committee that you cannot accomplish your educational goals by majoring (and/or minoring) in (an) established department(s) or program(s).

4. How should I select courses?

a. Discuss this with your faculty advisors and the instructors for the courses. They will have a better understanding of course content. The rationale for your major should reflect a clear understanding of course content so that you can accurately justify its inclusion in your major. Attempt to insure that proposed courses will be offered during your time at Knox.

Consult programs at other schools

Your major should include at least 11 and no more than 13 credits, including:

  • no more than 2 credits at the 100-level
  • no more than 2 credits of independent study
  • at least 4 credits of course work (i.e., excluding independent study) at the 300-level
  • courses from at least 2 and not more than 4 departments
  • one credit in the Self-Designed Major Senior Project (SELF 399)

The senior project is an independent study project which requires the student to bring together the principal elements of the major as a whole. The specific form of the project is determined by the major advisors and the student. The project is completed in one or both of the last two terms of the senior year.

No more than 2 courses (specifically identified and approved) may be used to satisfy requirements in both majors of a double major.

Your major should not be dominated by a single department or program, e.g., not more than one half of the courses coming from any single department or program

Your major should consist mainly of existing (and regularly offered) courses in the Knox Curriculum. An independent study and/or transfer course are okay but the bulk of the courses you include should be existing courses at Knox.

Your major should include a W (writing) and an O (oral presentation) course.

5. What are the timeline and the process like?

Applicants need to submit a three-part proposal consisting of program rationale, a course list and a personal statement. Completed applications must be supported by written recommendation from your two faculty advisors (for recommendation specifics see below). The Curriculum Committee reviews each application and its approval is necessary. This can be a long process, with lots of back and forth with your faculty advisors and the SDM liaison (currently Heather Hoffmann; as well as, sometimes, the Curriculum Committee). You need to start thinking about this process early in your sophomore year and plan to submit a final proposal by week three of the spring term of the sophomore year. SDM proposals will not be considered after the second term of the junior year.

Your final proposal should be vetted by your faculty advisors first and then by the SDM liaison. The Curriculum Committee no longer entertains SDM proposals on a rolling basis. They usually review such proposals once a term, usually sometime before the pre-enrollment period. The committee will need your final proposal and letter of recommendations one week before they meet to discuss your SDM. Hence, you should submit your proposal by Tuesday of week three of any term.

It is highly recommended that you use sample proposals to guide your process. They can be obtained from the SDM liason.

Each of your advisors needs to provide a letter of support that addresses the following:

  • Do you support the major? Why or Why not?
  • Does it fit the spirit and guidelines for a self-designed major?
  • Is it comparable in rigor to established majors? e.g., Does it contain method(s) course(s)? Does it address key competencies (e.g., oral)?
  • (Why) Do you feel Curriculum Committee should endorse this major?
  • How do you feel about the student's ability to complete the major?
  • Do you believe the courses included in the major will be offered during the student's time at Knox
  • Have you discussed the independent project? Have you discussed the major/project with the other advisor?

6. Whom should I contact if/when I need help?

Heather Hoffmann is the current SDM liaison. She can be contacted via email.

7. What about self designed minors?

Self-designed minors do not need Curriculum Committee approval. For guidance consult the faculty handbook.

Knox College

Printed on Saturday, October 10, 2015

Back to