Self-Made Students: Exploring PC’s Individualized Major Program

by The Cowl Editor on November 14, 2019


by Sienna Strickland ’22

News Staff

Throughout our lives, we have repeatedly been asked the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” This has been asked by parents, school counselors, and even by the colleges we apply to when we are asked to declare a major. 

For Providence College students asked this question, they must consider over 50 major and minor programs before answering. Students are thus traditionally left with two options: either they can declare what resonates with them, or remain undeclared. 

However, what happens to that student stuck in the middle of these two choices? The student who possesses neither an enthusiasm to explore the official programs, nor the desire to enroll undeclared? What if they simply like something that is not offered here?

Luckily, students like these need not fear, stress, or transfer, as PC has a program designed to help accommodate them and their specialized interests. There exists a third option, a happy medium that allows them to attend PC while also studying what they want to—the individualized major program.

PC’s Make-a-Major program requires a specific procedure to be followed, as Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Wanda Ingram explains. First in their proposal, the student must “briefly explain why existing major programs within the College do not adequately meet their educational, professional, or personal goals. The student must then generally describe their proposed program and how it satisfies the College’s mission,” she states.

After the student has created the idea, all they need to come up with are the details. “The student must then separately list their major requirements and major electives, and briefly justify each selection by relating them to the major’s themes and goals. Finally, the student must make a calendar listing the courses they have taken or are planning to take each semester up until their projected graduation date.”

Students are not out of the woods just yet after completing these steps. After drafting a cohesive plan of their courses, curriculum, and schedule, they still must receive a stamp of approval, as Corrie Traverse ’20 describes. “In order to create your own major, students have to submit their Individualized Major proposal to Father Mark Nowel, O.P., in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate & Graduate Studies. Once submitted, the proposal is then considered by Fr. Nowel  and an executive subcommittee where they will either approve or deny your individualized major.”

Traverse successfully underwent this process and is now a communications and media studies major. She discusses her trajectory here at PC, and how this choice changed it for the better.

“After my freshman year, I was considering transferring to another school because I could not find a program of study that I was interested in. During the summer before my sophomore year, I met with Peter Palumbo who introduced me to the program, and I began the process right away. My major got approved by Fr. Nowel, O.P., in June following my sophomore year. The application process took me about a year in total. Creating my own major allowed me to really have control over my academic experience at PC. I was able to design my own field of study and really be specific about the courses I wanted to take and was interested in pursuing. The process taught me perseverance, determination, and to keep going despite rejection,” Traverse says.

In addition to general resistance students may face, they must also deal with the whole their-major-not-technically-existing-at-the-College-thing. This is especially true during the hectic registration season, as many individualized majors have explained.

As individualized majors, students do not get priority registration for several departments, including the business school, since they are not technically business majors. These students have to hope that the classes they have listed as requirements for graduation do not fill up before they can register; otherwise, they are out of luck. 

There is also the issue of planning when courses are offered, as many of the classes individualized majors put as requirements are only offered once a year and conflict with many other classes necessary to take for graduation.

Traverse, who also acknowledges the difficulty of participating in PC’s individualized major program, concedes that the hard work is worth it.

“Although my proposal was approved in the end, it definitely was not easy getting to that point. I was required to get approval signatures from many advisors, and department heads who were skeptical at times. However, despite this I’m thankful for the experiences and those a part of PC faculty and administration that showed me support throughout the process and helped me make the appropriate edits to create the best individualized major,” she says.

For those students who also find themselves in the middle, willing to take the path less traveled—PC has a plan for you—to pave one for yourself. And, if you are prepared to deal with the inevitable bumps along the way, it will make all the difference.

PC offers plenty of resources for students with questions regarding their individualized majors.
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