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College of Letters & Science

Individual Major

The individual major within the College of Letters & Science is a method of fulfilling the depth requirement for students whose interests bridge existing departments and disciplines in ways not accommodated by an existing major or interdisciplinary program. This major must consist of a coherent pattern of courses in more than one department or recognized interdisciplinary program in the College of Letters & Science and must be approved by the Faculty Committee on Individual Majors. Getting approval to pursue an individual major is never guaranteed. Thus, students should speak with their advisor about other academic options. Students interested in learning more about individual majors should contact L&S Undergraduate Academic Deans' Services at 608-262-0617 in 110 Ingraham Hall and set up an individual appointment with the coordinator for the individual major prior to starting this process. Information can also be found at this link.

Eligibility. Any student working toward an L&S degree may elect to develop an individual major. (Students earning degrees in other undergraduate schools and colleges on the UW–Madison campus are not eligible to pursue an Individual Major within Letters & Science.) This major should receive approval during the second-semester sophomore year or junior year. Seniors may find it impractical to use this major since all students are required to earn at least 30 degree credits after the term in which approval is given. A student may complete only one individual major.

Developing an Individual Major. The student takes primary responsibility for developing an individual major proposal. The well-written proposal must meet the requirements and rigor for a major in the College of Letters & Science (the proposal cannot just be a list of courses that are similar in content area or subject matter).  Also, the student must demonstrate that the proposed individual major is not currently available as an option in any of the L&S majors or certificate programs. 

Once a theme or topic has been identified and refined, the student must find a faculty member in the College of Letters & Science who is willing to serve as the individual major adviser. This designated faculty advisor will also:

  • assist the student in developing/refining the student's individual major proposal
  • assist in the review and selection of courses for the major plan
  • help in defining/redefining the relevant themes, learning objectives and rationale for the major.

As soon as the topic and the advisor (i.e., a tenured faculty member in an L&S academic department) are known, the student must meet with the individual major coordinator within L&S Academic Deans' Services. The purpose of this meeting is to review the details of individual major requirements and to review procedures. After the student has met with the individual major coordinator, the individual major advisor and the student work together to develop the rationale and the course structure for the major.

Applying for an Individual Major. Applications for the individual major are accepted up to Friday of the fourth week of classes in the fall and spring semesters. Applications received after that deadline will be reviewed during the following term. Individual major applications are not reviewed during the summer.

The application must include: (1) individual major application forms showing the proposed course list; (2) a letter from the student to the Faculty Committee on Individual Majors describing the area of interest, providing a rationale for the proposed major, and discussing its applicability to future goals and plans; (3) an expanded course list that explains how each individual course applies to the proposed individual major program; (4) a letter of recommendation from the individual major advisor; and (5) the student's current transcript. Additional supporting materials may also be included. Students must submit the original application plus three copies.

Each individual major application is reviewed by a subcommittee of the L&S Faculty Committee on Individual Majors. These subcommittees consist of three faculty members, each representing a department related to the proposed major. The subcommittee evaluates the proposal for coherence, appropriate breadth and depth, and similarity to existing majors. The subcommittee may approve the proposal as submitted, recommend modifications, reject the proposal altogether, or reject it with an invitation to revise and resubmit in a later semester. The subcommittee's decision is final. A student cannot declare an individual major until after it has been approved by the subcommittee.

Individual Major with Honors. It is possible to earn an Honors degree with an individual major. Honors candidates must complete all requirements for the Honors degree and the requirements for the individual major with Honors: a minimum of 20 Honors credits within the individual major with no more than 10 in any one department (not counting the Senior Honors Thesis) and a Senior Honors Thesis of 6 to 8 Honors credits. For more information about Honors in the Major, refer to Honors in the Major.