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Northwestern University

Ad Hoc Majors

If you are a Weinberg student whose curricular interests are not served by the University's wide variety of majors and minors, you may consider an individualized course of study called an ad hoc major. Using already existing majors as formal models, you and the professors who agree to advise you can carve out a new major by putting together existing courses and special projects in new combinations which reflect your interests and talents.

The only limits are those of the curriculum itself and of the faculty. For example, a major in business and ethics might not be feasible because of a shortage of courses and professors with the appropriate expertise, whereas a major in computational chemistry might exploit some extraordinary strengths in the curriculum and the faculty. In this way students can take personal advantage of the best Northwestern has to offer.

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Should you pursue an ad hoc major?

Weinberg College requires you to complete a major, a demonstration of competence in a coherent field of study. Most students complete this requirement in one of three ways:

These three methods of specialization—departmental majors, interdisciplinary program majors, and combining a major with a second major and/or minor—serve the needs of most students. They generally have the great advantage of nearly universal recognition: no potential employers or graduate schools will need a special explanation if they see a major in mathematics or philosophy on your transcript. They are recognized and generally respected because they are designed by scholars committed to the integrity of their discipline.

A few students' curricular interests will not be met by these methods of specialization. Furthermore, there is a certain challenge and excitement to mapping your own course in a field which you define for yourself with the guidance of members of the faculty. There is also an element of risk, trial and error, and discovery which can be stimulating and educational in itself.

How to apply for an Ad Hoc Major

If you decide that you would like to design your own major, you will need to complete the following steps.

1. Discuss your proposal with your Weinberg College Adviser and with a professor with expertise in at least one of the disciplines included in your prospective field.

You may need to consult with a number of instructors. Among other things, you must determine whether Northwestern offers enough courses in your field(s) of interest to make up a program. Don't base your plans on courses which may be offered, or on the expertise of a single professor, or on the prospect of a string of independent studies. Your program should reflect existing and continuing curricular strengths. It should also be robust enough to survive the departure of any one professor.

You must determine that no existing major and no combination of major(s) and minor(s) can accommodate your special needs and that Northwestern has the courses and the faculty that your alternative major requires.

Once you have consulted with a faculty member who supports your proposal and is willing to serve as your adviser, you should schedule a meeting with Assistant Dean Mark Sheldon (sheldon@northwestern.edu) to allow him to see and respond to your proposal (see below). This will provide you with feedback that might result in further revision, or additional information about the process as it goes forward. You can also meet with Dean Sheldon at the beginning of the process if you want, to discuss your initial thoughts about a possible ad-hoc major.

2. Petition the Curricular Review Committee for approval in a letter.

Petitions supported by faculty advisors are not approved automatically. They must be convincing in content and presentation to show that your proposal is intellectually rigorous and practically feasible.

Your ad hoc major proposal should have several sections:

More advice for a strong proposal:

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