Why A Self-Designed Major May Be For You

By some stroke of fate, I entered college knowing exactly what I wanted to do: study English, get a dream internship at a major publisher, and become an editor, or publicist, or something else totally along the lines of the average book-lover’s ideal life. The first step, being an English major, started off exactly as I had planned. I read classic novels, over-wrote papers on topics like metafiction in contemporary poetry, and actually wore a genuine smile when people asked me if I was enjoying my first year of college. But by the time I had gotten halfway through the fall semester of my sophomore year, suddenly my predetermined plan wasn’t as fulfilling as it had once been. I definitely wanted to continue studying English, but I also wanted more out of my undergraduate education.

I know what you’re thinking: what about adding a minor or two? Flipping through course catalogues and reading about minors became something of a full-time hobby for me between paper-writing and novel-reading back in 2012. Yet as I looked at the stiff structure of the five-course minor options I would maybe enjoy, I felt like there had to be a better option for my diverse interests. I wanted to take courses that would prepare me for a future in publishing, not just to sharpen my literary skills. Having just a marketing minor or just a communications minor wasn’t going to give me the flexibility that I wanted out of my education, so I decided to make my education flex for me. That’s how I came to self-design my second major.

The decision to take on a second major didn’t scare me, but deciding to essentially create a new major out of thin air didn’t have me jumping for joy either. But when my advisor told me that I met the requirements and could present my proposal to the board at the end of the semester, I leapt at the opportunity. For the first time I would get to decide the requirements, not some course catalogue or dean I’d never meet. Plus, my classes would actually start to reflect the kind of work I would find in the publishing industry. There was going to be no limitations, expectations, or restrictions on my studies, and for the second time in my post-high school life, I was excited to be a student again.

The process of self-designing a major isn’t as daunting as it may seem. While I appreciate the ease of referring to a list of English courses to plan my schedules, the opportunity to enroll in classes in fields outside of the humanities was more gratifying than simply checking another met-requirement off my list. With the help of my advisor, I came up with twelve courses and an ideal internship that I believed would give me a well-rounded taste of what working in publishing would be like. Fortunately, a student two years ahead of me had developed a similar major, so I was also able to use his proposal as a kind of guidepost in deciding what kinds of classes to take. I added management and marketing courses, media communications classes, sociology and anthropology courses, and a statistics class (which, tbh, I wasn’t crazy about). Though these classes seem totally unrelated to publishing, I chose them to develop my business and people skills, skills I wouldn’t be able to sharpen in an English class alone. Once I gathered my list, I presented my major proposal to the self-design major committee, got it approved, and started taking my new classes the following semester.

An added benefit of self-designing your major is employers’ appreciation of the dedication you show towards your field of study. Upon interviewing for my last internship with Penguin Random House in NYC, I spent half of my time with my future supervisor talking about my decision to create my own major in publishing. I had been the first intern they had accepted with a publishing major, and that was definitely the most unique characteristic of both my resume and my application.

So whether you’re not completely satisfied with a predetermined major or you’re looking to compliment an existing program of study, self-designed majors allow you the flexibility of controlling your education without having to sacrifice the traditional four-year college experience. I like to believe that education in college should be about studying what you love along with what you’ll use in your intended career. So why not make your major work for you?

Mackenzie Hickey

Contributor, The College of New Jersey Major: English, Writing & Publishing Her heart belongs to: Ray Ban sunglasses, J. Crew sales, Ditch Plains Beach, and her black lab Harley Her guilty pleasures: Boy Meets World, Disney's Magic Kingdom, and buying (hoarding) pretty journals

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