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Students increasingly creating own majors

January 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
What's your major? It's been the big icebreaking question on college campuses for years. But now you'll find some of the answers may be a little bit different than ever before.

More and more students are now rejecting traditional programs and choosing to design their own majors instead.

Creating a study program just for you has several advantages, and one of them is the possibility of getting a great job offer after you graduate.

When Jennifer Chevinsky was trying to choose a major for her undergraduate studies, she couldn't find a single program that fit her needs. So she decided to create her own. She called it "bio-ethics in cross cultural perspectives," a mixture of science, philosophy and anthropology.

"My major in bio-ethics enabled me to study the stuff that I found really interesting and allowed me to take classes that I could be fully engaged in and not have to sit through other classes that didn't interest me as much," said Chevinsky.

Schools have seen a surge of interest in individualized majors. According to the College Board, today more than 900 four-year colleges and universities allow students to develop their own programs of study, up more than 5 percent from a few years ago.

"It's a great opportunity for students to focus on their own passion and develop an area of study that is truly tailored to their interests and plans," said Margaret Lamb, director of the individualized major program at the University of Connecticut.

So why the shift away from traditional majors? Debra Humphreys of the Association for American Colleges and Universities says in today's society, employers are looking for more well-rounded employees with a wide range of skills.

"I actually think that we're moving into a phase where the major itself and what it's called is far less important than the skills and abilities and experiences one actually has in one's education," said Humphreys.

However, it does take the right kind of student to excel.

"The individualized major program is not going to be such a good fit for students who aren't determined, for students who aren't good time managers," said Lamb.

But for the motivated student, says Lamb, this program will can be highly rewarding.

"Individualized majors get a really great response in the job market. They get lots of competitive interviews. Our current crop of graduates are getting great job offers," said Lamb.

Experts say not every idea for a major is a good one. And students must go through a rigorous review process with college advisors before getting their proposed majors approved.