Here are some tips on exploring your idea for an independent major and writing your proposal.
The exploration phase:
Explore the offerings on the Tri-Co course guide and the offerings at Penn to see what courses connect with your interests. If you’re looking at Penn departments, keep in mind that you can only take undergraduate courses offered by the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Liberal and Professional Studies. Undergraduate courses at Penn are courses numbered under 499.
When you find courses that connect with your idea for a major, cut and paste the course descriptions into a document, as this will be an important reference for you.
Keep in mind that an independent major consists of 11-14 courses, at least 7 of which should be at Bryn Mawr or Haverford. There should be a trajectory to those courses from introductory level (no more than 2), to intermediate (200-level), to advanced (300- or 400-level). There should be a culminating focus with seminar-type classes that will prepare you for your thesis. In short, the independent major must consist of a coherent group of courses that provide a foundation and then move towards an advanced consideration of an intellectual concern.
You will need two faculty advisers, and one of them has to be a BMC faculty member. The other may be a Haverford professor. If you haven’t already talked with a faculty member about your idea, be sure to do so before you invest a lot of time and effort into this project. Talking with a faculty member will help you refine your thinking.
Be honest with yourself. If your idea for an independent major involves courses at Swarthmore or Penn but you don’t like the commute, you should consider majoring in an established department at Bryn Mawr or Haverford. If you want to do two minors in an addition to an independent major, now is the time to think about your priorities. Independent majors involve a lot of time and effort. What is more, if you do an independent major, you will not have a cohort of other students doing the same major to turn to for support. In short, be sure that the independent major makes sense for you.
The writing phase:
A successful proposal often begins with a reflective section that comments on how and when you became excited about a particular subject. Perhaps a life experience made you realize you want to study certain issues. Perhaps you took a course that ignited interest in a field. Whatever was the starting point for your idea, begin your proposal with a brief section that explains how you became seized with an idea to the extent that you are now proposing an independent major.
Be specific when presenting the intellectual concerns at the heart of your proposal. For instance, if you are interested in studying public health, be sure to mention if you are especially interested in public health issues in developing countries or in those issues faced by women and children. You might mention ideas for a thesis, although no one on the committee would expect you to be certain about a thesis topic at this point. But we do want to see how your mind is working and what specific issues you want to study.
Briefly discuss courses you have already taken which you would use towards your proposed major. Explain why an established major in the department that offered those courses would not be of interest to you. Since an independent major is interdisciplinary, you will need to convince us that your idea for an independent major crosses department lines and cannot be accommodated by a combination of an established major and minor.
A good proposal can be three pages long. The proposal should be followed by a section in which you list the courses you have already taken as well as those you plan to take for your proposed major. For each course, write a sentence or two to explain in your own words why this course is a building block of your major.
After you have completed a draft of your proposal, send it to your advisers to get their feedback. They will no doubt have suggestions for how you might develop your ideas further. It’s important for you to be in dialogue with them. You’re going to work closely with your advisers for the rest of your time here, so you want to establish a good working relationship from the beginning of the process.
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