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Interdepartmental Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of courses create an individualized major or minor?

The major is intended to fit your interests within a unified plan of study. Ten courses that you like do not necessarily add up to a major. Instead the major should lead to a connected body of knowledge in a field of study.

Interdepartmental programs are for students whose interests do not fit inside a single department. Some proposals are turned down because students have unwittingly constructed a “watered-down” version of a major, one which appears to circumvent a few required courses in an existing major.

Your faculty advisors, as well as advisors in the Multidisciplinary Studies Center (MSC), will help you talk over these issues. Strive for models of coherence and cohesiveness.

Do I need to create a major or minor just like one that has been approved in the past?

No. This is a major or minor that you create yourself. Creating a major or minor with the same courses that have been approved in the past does not necessarily mean that your program will be approved. Your essays and faculty recommendations are read carefully by the committee, and are weighted heavily.

Can I take courses outside the College or transfer courses to an individualized major or minor?

Yes. For an interdepartmental major, students historically have been permitted to use up to two courses outside Arts, Sciences & Engineering (AS&E) as part of their core course list. Your program should be in the spirit of a liberal arts education and should be centered on work in AS&E.   

For an interdepartmental minor, no more than one course may come from outside AS&E. All courses for an interdepartmental minor must come from within the University of Rochester.

What levels of courses can I use?

You may use some 100-level courses, but the major or minor consists primarily of upper-level work. Normally, language courses at the intermediate level or above may be included.

Can I have an individualized major and another major or minor?

Yes. Up to two courses used to fulfill requirements in another major may be used toward the core of an interdepartmental major. No courses for an interdepartmental minor may overlap with courses from another major or minor.

How do I choose faculty advisors?

One common way students choose their advisor is by asking a faculty member whose courses helped inspire their individualized major or minor. An advisor in the Multidisciplinary Studies Center can brainstorm other possibilities with you. 

Two faculty members must agree to serve as major advisors and will assist you in the development of your proposal. At least one of the advisors must hold the rank of assistant professor or higher. Faculty advisors should in some way have a connection to the proposal. 

For interdepartmental majors, faculty advisors should come from different academic departments. An interdepartmental minor requires only one faculty advisor.

How do I write the essays?

Here are things to think about as you construct your proposal essays:

  • How does your proposal constitute a significant departure from a program that currently exists in AS&E?
  • What makes your proposal different from the existing program and in what ways?
  • How does your proposal allow you to understand the theme in a way that simply taking a variety of courses in different departments does not allow?

Discuss how each of the courses relates to one another, and to the major or minor as a whole.

Can an interdepartmental major or minor fulfill a divisional requirement?

Yes, provided that your proposal clearly defines one of the divisions: humanities, natural sciences, social sciences. If the majority of your proposed courses fall within the social sciences, for example, you may ask to have your major or minor fall within the social sciences division. You will then choose clusters in the other two areas.

What is the time frame for declaring an individualized major or minor?

You’re expected to have an officially declared major by the time you have earned 64 credit hours, normally by the end of the sophomore year. Proposals are carefully reviewed and evaluated by the CIIP once a semester, in April and November.

The deadlines for submitting a completed proposal are March 30 and November 1 of the first semester of senior year. All interdepartmental majors, minors, and clusters must be approved by the end of the first semester of senior year.

How do I fulfill the upper-level writing requirement?

The University requires all students to take two upper-level writing courses for their major. Each upper-level writing experience must generate at least 25 pages of expository prose, with substantial feedback on content and form, and revision of the work.

Courses designated as fulfilling the writing requirements of other departments, as well as individualized upper-level writing courses, may be used. You may also designate an independent study course in the major as partial fulfillment of the requirement.

For the purposes of interdepartmental programs, upper-level writing courses may not be shared between an interdepartmental major and another major.

Are changes permitted to an interdepartmental major or minor after it’s been approved?

Yes. If you need to make changes to your proposal after it has been approved by the committee, you’ll need to bring a description of the desired changes on a form available in the Multidisciplinary Studies Center, signed by your faculty advisor(s). The form and the requested changes are reviewed and a determination is made.

When will I meet with my faculty advisors?

It varies from student to student, but you will meet with your advisor(s) at least once a semester. Remember, they are interested in your academic progress and intellectual development.

Can students with individualized interdepartmental majors graduate with honors?

Yes. The bachelor’s degree with honors is awarded according to three criteria:

  1. Successful completion of 12 credits of honors coursework: two four-credit independent study courses in your senior year (one devoted to honors research in the fall, and another devoted to the thesis writing in the spring) and one four-credit advanced-level course or seminar
  2. Completion of a senior thesis
  3. An oral defense of the thesis

See the interdepartmental honors page for more information.

Note: Your major must be approved no later than the spring semester of your junior year in order to be eligible to apply for honors.

What are the criteria for graduation with distinction?

The bachelor’s degree with distinction is awarded to students with a sufficiently high grade point average within the major: 3.4 with distinction, 3.6 for high distinction, and 3.8 for highest distinction. Only core courses, not supplemental courses, are counted.

It is possible for students to earn the degree with both distinction and honors.