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Undergraduate Dean's Office
Eugenia Chase Guild Hall
Lower Level
101 N. Merion Ave.
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
Phone: (610)526-5375
Fax: (610)526-7560

Office Hours
9am - 5pm
Monday - Friday

Designing an Independent Major

The Independent Major Program is designed for students whose interests cannot be accommodated by an established major. An independent major is not just a loose version of a departmental major or an agglomeration of courses in several fields. Instead, it is a coherent, structured plan of study from introductory through advanced work in a recognizable field within the liberal arts. What is more, an independent major is constructed largely from courses offered at Bryn Mawr and Haverford.

Interested students should attend the informational teas and meet with the supervising dean, Dean Balthazar, in the fall of the sophomore year. In designing an independent major, students must enlist two faculty members to serve as sponsors. One, who acts as director of the program, must be a member of the Bryn Mawr faculty; the other may be a member of either the Bryn Mawr or Haverford faculty.


The application consists of a proposal, a proposed major work plan, letters of support from each of two faculty advisers and from the student’s dean, and the student’s transcript.  Completed applications must be received in the Dean’s Office according to the following deadlines:

  • the end of the first week of classes in the spring of the sophomore year (for students hoping to study abroad during one or two semesters of the junior year), or
  • the end of the fourth week of classes in the spring of the sophomore year (for students planning to remain at Bryn Mawr throughout the junior year), or
  • the end of the fourth week of classes in the fall of the junior year.

Each student must submit by the appropriate deadline

  • Seven copies of a proposal developed with the advice and support of the sponsors, describing the student's reasons for designing the major, explaining why her interests cannot be accommodated by an established major, identifying the key intellectual questions her major will address, and explaining how each proposed course contributes to the exploration of those questions.  The student’s name, student ID number and campus mailbox should be listed on first sheet of proposal, along with the names of her two advisers.
  • Seven copies of a major work plan of 11 to 14 courses, at least 7 of which must be taken at Bryn Mawr or Haverford Colleges. The plan will include up to two courses at the 100-level and at least four at the 300- or 400-level, including at least one semester of a senior project or thesis (403).  See below, “tips for designing a major work plan for the independent major.”

In addition, students must make sure that the following have been submitted by the deadline:

  • A supporting letter from each of the two faculty sponsors, discussing the academic merits of the major work plan and the student's ability to complete it.
  • A letter from the student's dean regarding the student's maturity and independence.

The Dean’s Office will supply a copy of the student’s transcript

The Independent Major Committee, comprised of three faculty members, two students, and one dean, evaluates each proposal. The Committee's decisions are final. The fact that a particular topic was approved in the past is no guarantee that it will be approved again. The Committee considers the following issues:

Is the proposed major appropriate within the context of a liberal arts college?

Could the proposed major be accommodated instead by an established major?


Does the proposal effectively articulate the intellectual issues  the major will investigate  and the role each course will play in this  inquiry?


Does the student possess the intellectual depth necessary to investigate those issues?


Are the proposed courses expected to be offered over the next two years?

Will the faculty members be available for good advising?

Does the student's record predict success in the proposed major?

If the Committee approves the major and its title, the student declares an independent major. The Committee continues to monitor the progress of students who have declared independent majors and must approve, along with the sponsors, any changes in the program. A grade of 2.0 or higher is required for all courses in the major. If this standard is not met, the student may be required to change immediately to a departmental major.

Honors in the Independent Major may be awarded for significant work in the field of the major. The criteria may be met by a 3.8 average for the courses in the major, or an outstanding senior project (3.7 or 4.0) as evaluated by a special committee and a 3.5 major average. The special committee consists of two thesis advisers and an outside reader.

Committee Members for 2008-2009 Academic Year

Judy Balthazar, Associate Dean, X5374

Frank Mallory, Chemistry

Mary Osirim, Sociology

Roberta Ricci, Italian
Alex Tisman, Class 0f 2009

Tips For Designing a Major Work Plan for the Independent Major

1. With the help of your advisor(s), identify courses you have already taken and courses that you plan to take towards the independent major

2. Provide a list that clearly includes the following information:

  • Semester you took the course or will take the course
  • The school offering the course
  • The department and the course number
  • The title of the course
  • What role this course will play in your program


General Programs H114B: Introduction to Semantics
Completed Spring 2004
Provided an introduction to the meaning of language and satisfied the “Semantics” requirement of the Swarthmore Linguistics Major

3. Make sure your list includes the following courses:

  • One or two introductory courses to provide breadth and foundation
  • Six or seven 200-level or mid-level courses, at least one of which explicitly deals with methodological issues
  • Two or three 300-level or senior-level seminars
  • One or two independent studies (403’s), one of which results in a thesis or other appropriate senior project