Proposing an Individual Major

What makes a good major?

A “good major”:

  • develops the capacity for recognizing and interpreting connections, or “for applying learning from one context to another.”
  • develops the capacity for analyzing evidence and arguments, and interpreting experiences.
  • develops an understanding of factors that condition knowledge
  • includes “reflexivity” – the opportunity to return to something learned in the past and to reexamine it in light of further learning.
  • cultivates “the capacity for relating academic learning to the wider world, to public issues and personal experience.”
  • includes a culminating opportunity to synthesize a student’s various experiences in the major.

There are many good majors at St. Olaf, and one of them may be right for you. In some cases, pursuing a major of your own design may be appropriate. Any student in good academic standing may, with the support of CIS staff and a faculty advisor, develop and propose an individual, integrative major that satisfies their educational goals. See intended learning outcomes for an Individual Major here

What are the requirements of an Individual Major?

Individual majors must be developed around a central, organizing idea that integrates a proposed sequence of courses, seminars, independent studies, internships, and/or study abroad. Individual majors must permit coherent, in-depth study using resources available through the college. Individual majors may not duplicate any existing program at the college. Individual majors must include 11 -12 courses, including IS 391 or IS 392, which is taken during the fall or spring semester of senior year and which is devoted to an integrative senior project, and a web portfolio. Finally, an individual major should satisfy a student’s educational goals.

Before you begin writing your proposal…

The burden is on you to design, describe, and make the case for your individual major, so take time to reflect, research, and consult with experts.


What are your interests? What do you hope to do with your degree? What are the formative educational experiences that will help you reach your goals? Try to identify exactly what you want from an individual major.


Does St. Olaf already offer a major or a concentration that meets your needs? Would completing a double major suffice? Consider whether an additive approach (rather than an integrative approach) would provide you with the foundation you’ll need after graduation. If not, what majors come close, and what exactly are they lacking?

Does the major you are trying to design exist at another college? How does that department describe the purpose and value of that major? Does St. Olaf offer the courses and the other resources that would be necessary to recreate that major? Study the course catalog, survey on- and off-campus learning opportunities, and figure out whether it is possible to stitch together experiences in a way that will give you what you are looking for.

Do you understand the process for proposing and completing an individual major? Read this document carefully so that you are fully aware of all of the requirements.

Consult with Experts

As part of your research, meet with people on and off campus who can help you understand the relevant disciplines and subject area and identify your desired focus. Professors of classes that you’ve found most inspiring, chairs of departments that offer related majors, research librarians who have worked with individual majors, professionals who are working in the field you’re considering — engage a few of these individuals in conversation, explain what you’re thinking about, and ask questions. Your academic advisor, the CAAS/CIS faculty and staff advisors, and the career coaches at the Piper Center can all help you think through your goals.


Proposals may not be submitted for approval in a student’s first year and proposals may not be submitted for approval by students on academic probation. Yet in either case, students can start the process of defining and describing their proposed major and seeking out appropriate courses, and meeting with a CAAS/ CIS advisor for advice and feedback.

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