Major Ideas and Proposals

Exploring Your Idea and Writing Your Proposal

Here are some tips on exploring your idea for an independent major and writing your proposal.

The exploration phase:

Explore the offerings on Bryn Mawr and Haverford department websites, on Swarthmore department websites, and the UPenn department websites to see what courses connect with your interests. If you are looking at Penn departments, keep in mind that you can only take undergraduate courses (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. 

Talk to faculty members about your ideas early in the process, 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, think hard about the commute. 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 X, be sure to mention if you are especially interested in Y or Z. 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.

The proposal should be followed by your list of courses. This will include 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. Your course list should explain how each course will contribute to your major.