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Student-Designed Interdepartmental Major

A student-designed major crosses the traditional divisions of academic study by including courses in two or more departments, being unified by a methodology and culminating in a project that integrates the student's previous coursework.

The integrating project may be a Special Studies that results in an essay or other project, or a senior seminar paper or project. You should discuss the integrating project with your advisers.

Students beginning the second semester of their sophomore year are eligible to submit an application.

Planning Your Major

Your first step is to consult widely among faculty in the field in which you are interested and to speak to your dean.

Remember that in planning a cohesive and persuasive proposal:

  • breadth of study is as important as depth
  • narrowly defined majors in very specific areas of expertise will not be approved
  • majors that appear to be designed entirely to avoid departmental requirements are not approved

If your proposed self-designed major can be accommodated by coursework in two majors, or by combining a major with a minor or a certificate, it will not be approved.


Majors at Smith require between 10 and 14 courses.

Your plan should include:

  • 40–48 credits in related courses in two or more departments or programs, at least one of which offers a major
  • a minimum of 24 credits at the 200 level or higher
  • courses that ensure an in-depth knowledge of the methodology of at least one discipline, such as colloquia and methods courses
  • a minimum of 8 credits at the 300 level (one of these may be the integrating project)

The rule that you must earn 64 credits outside your major also applies to a student-designed major.


You need two advisers, one from each of the departments or programs. One of these advisers should be designated as the primary adviser.


You may apply for honors within your student-designed major. The same deadlines apply as for departmental honors. Your primary adviser acts as the director of honors and determines the relative pecentages for your thesis project, your oral exam and your GPA in the final determination of honors. (These percentages will be listed on your honors application.)

The thesis adviser may be one of your major advisers or another faculty member from one of your major departments. One of the advisers must be a Smith faculty member, the other may have an appointment at one of the Five Colleges. See Departmental Honors for more information.

How to Apply

Begin the process by speaking to potential advisers and then scheduling an appointment with the senior class dean.

Steps to get your application considered by the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs (SHIP) include:

  1. Fill out the Student-Designed Interdepartmental Major Application.
    (Word document)
  2. Explain the rationale for your proposed major (500 to 1,000 words). Explicitly define the problem, subject matter or method of approach that underlies the proposed major. Be sure to explain why your proposed major cannot be accomplished effectively through an existing major, program or combination of major and minor.
  3. List the courses in the proposed major with an explanation of how each course relates to your overall plan of the major. If you are including special studies courses, provide the title(s) and proposed instructor(s).
  4. Capstone Experience: A major requires a capstone project such as a senior seminar paper (offered in one of the departments that supports your student-designed major), an honors thesis or special studies.
  5. Make an Academic Plan: This lists all the courses you will take inside and outside your proposed major by semester and year for all four years. Include the three-letter department codes, course numbers and titles (for example, MTH 111, Calculus 1). If you are including special studies courses, provide the title (s) and proposed instructor(s).
    (Word document)
  6. Obtain letters of support from at least two advisers representing a minimum of two areas of study central to the major. At least one adviser must be a tenured member of the faculty and at least one department or program must itself offer a major. One of the advisers must be designated as the primary adviser. Each adviser should write a letter in support of the student-designed major topic and your capacity to undertake the plan of study delineated in the application.
  7. Get signatures from your advisers and the chairs of the departments in which they teach. Both chairs must sign and endorse the plan.

Bring your application and all signed supporting documents to the Class Deans office, College Hall 101 or email them to


The deadlines for consideration of student-designed majors are October 12, February 1 and March 15. If any of these deadlines falls on a weekend day (Saturday or Sunday) the due date will be on that Monday.  SHIP will inform you of its decision before course registration for the following semester.

If you miss one of the due dates, your proposal will be considered after the next due date. SHIP will review your application and notify you of its decision by email before registration for the following semester.

Changes to Course Plan

Once your interdepartmental major has been approved, you must inform the senior class dean of any later revisions of your course plan after you have consulted with your advisers and they have approved the change.

More Information

If you have questions, speak to the senior class dean.