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The Skinny on Individualized Degrees | Undergrad Success
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The Skinny on Individualized Degrees

The Skinny on Individualized Degrees

I can just see it now. I will be in an interview with the Whatever Director and Head of Something when they stop short as they run down my résumé. They will come to my education and see that my major is Multimedia Communications for Artistic, Entertainment, and Expository Purposes. Though I have answered all their questions about my experience and what-if scenarios to the best of my ability and with just the right touch of humility and sense of humor, I cannot guess how they will feel about my individualized major.

“Your multimedia communications major,” one will begin saying. “This is offered by Metro State?”

Yes, and no?

“Silly question,” the interviewer will continue. “Obviously, you have this degree, but I’ve never heard of this major before. ‘Artistic, Entertainment, and Expository Purposes’…”

He will look to me for explanation. I will begin with a strong voice and smile because, if I do not, any sign that I may be unsure of myself will rip my credibility to shreds.

“Yes! I’m glad you asked. Through Metro State, I had the opportunity to design my own major, catered to my strengths and interests, so that I may utilize my abilities for not just any field, but the roles to which I can be of greatest use. Hand picking my classes gave me great insight into what I have to offer and, of course, I know my major inside and out, the how’s and why’s of the whole thing. The title of my major encompasses the areas in which I am competent.”

Mere seconds will feel like hours as my interviewers will consider my response and weigh it against what they know, what they are accustomed to, and even how they feel about their own degrees. We may discuss it for several minutes as they quiz me on my knowledge of my major, asking questions like, Well, what specific roles do you imagine for yourself? Tell us, then, about the classes you chose and why. What makes your major different or more suitable than, say, a Communications, Journalism, or English major?

Without knowing the interviewers’ personal views on education, every answer will feel like a hurdle. My interviewers may be traditionalist and simply not like the idea of a create-your-own major. It may sound like as good of an idea as a name-your-price paycheck. My advantage is that everything I tell them about my major is utterly honest.

I do know my degree like the back of my hand, ruminated over which classes to write into my focus area—even had to write an essay to the university about my choices. Every decision I made with the greatest attention to a course’s application and ties with the collection as a whole. Areas of weakness received attention and I capitalized on my strengths.

Moreover, I have considered just how to sell myself and my major based on the thought I put into designing it, so I already know the answers to their questions because I have asked myself the very same ones in the process of assembling my degree plan. I believe in my education because of the design process I underwent. The challenge I face is to convince others to believe in it, and me, too.

The Latest Adaptation to Higher Education

Today, individualized degrees are available all over the US. They are gaining in popularity and most four-year colleges (even Ivy League schools) have adopted some form of these degree programs for Bachelor’s and, in some cases, even Master’s Programs. Seventy-six Wisconsin colleges and ninety-two Minnesota colleges offer individualized Bachelor’s Degrees. Individualized Master’s degrees are available at University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Minnesota, just to name a few.

The programs come in different forms by numerous names depending on the school. Colleges most commonly refer to them as individualized, inter-college, interdepartmental, interdisciplinary, or multidisciplinary plans. Any combination of similar prefixes and suffixes, really.

There are slight differences between them, yet based on the same idea that you compose your education plan, General Education Requirements aside. Programs generally consist of two focus areas, three focus areas, or thematic course selections. Check with your school to see which type they offer and visit the University of Minnesota Inter-College Program page for helpful examples of each program type.

A Process of Self-Discovery

I can only speak with complete assuredness about the process of creating my degree. However, while the procedures vary, the approval requirements are relatively consistent. The outcome is an education crafted with your dream in mind, which—let us be honest—could be coasting through college with the most vague and widely applicable degree possible, or a vision of doing something you love that is useful in the world.

At Metro State, a course entitled Perspectives: Educational Philosophy and Planning is required to submit a degree plan proposal. In this class, students examine ancient and modern writings to challenge students to reconsider their idea of education. A central theme asks whether a degree is just a golden ticket to opportunity or representative of exposure to ideas, a certain amount of acquired wisdom, and “this much” awareness.

Spoiler Alert! The twelve-week long answer is that it is up to you to decide what your degree is going to mean. Your academic advisor and/or professor will counsel you in narrowing your focus and direct you to suitable course selections. He or she will also help you create a strong education plan application and degree title.

The application is likely to consist of an essay explaining your course selections in terms of your goal and a semester-by-semester strategy toward fulfilling all graduation requirements. A plan must also include a capstone course or senior project near graduation that embodies your degree. If the college rejects a plan, a student may submit a revised proposal that meets the suggested changes without retaking the course.

To What End?

Hey, we have already established that is up to you. In seriousness, though, an individualized major is for anybody with a vision, vague or specific, that a traditional major does not satisfy. It is also ideal for working adults who never finished a degree but have lots of work experience. Numerous colleges give credits for “experiential learning” toward a degree if a person can prove the value of his or her experience. Doing so can save a person a significant amount of time and money.

If you are unsure, examine a course catalog. Look specifically at the courses required for majors you are considering and the courses you would like to take. Do the courses you really want follow some kind of theme, but they come from a variety of departments (e.g. math, communications, anthropology, etc.)? If so, you may do well to give an individualized degree consideration.

As a result, you would have the freedom to construct your own education from the pieces a credible institution offers. The comprehension and insight into what you will be able to offer upon graduation will be priceless. Finally, you will know precisely how and why each part of your degree is a major asset to you instead of adopting the standards of a traditional degree.


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