Designing Your Own Major at the University of Maryland
I firmly believe that when you’re doing something you want to be doing you have nearly unlimited energy. This was how I wanted to feel about my courses. I wanted to wake up everyday and look forward to class instead of counting down the minutes until they ended.
It’s for that reason I am studying Product Design & Software Innovation — a major that I designed. I had the opportunity to design my own major through the Individual Studies Program (IVSP) that is offered through UMD’s Office of Undergraduate Studies.
IVSP works with students to help them design an academic program that they would not otherwise be able to take with the standard majors and minors offered at UMD. A simplified overview of this process looks something like this:
- Define your major and create a course list 📝
- Find a faculty mentor 👩🏫
- Write a proposal 📔
- Present your proposal to the IVSP review board 🗣
- Update your resume to match your new major 🎉
This process takes some time, but it is entirely worth the effort if you are not satisfied with your current academic program. I was previously a Computer Science major, but was leaning towards a career in digital product design (you can see some of my work here) and I wanted to be in an academic program that aligned more with my professional interests.
Picking a Course List that Reflects Your Goals
IVSP requires you take courses across at least 3 academic concentrations. This aligned well with my professional interests. Digital product design requires knowledge across domains like design, technology, and business. I translated these domains into three concentrations:
- Design Thinking
- Software Development
- Business and Entrepreneurship
My design thinking concentration focuses on finding problems worth solving and creating user-centric solutions. This course list consists of art, psychology, and philosophy.
My software development concentration focuses on establishing a foundational technical knowledge in computer science. This course list consists of the courses in the computer science minor offered at UMD (however, I don’t qualify for the minor because of overlapping credit logistics).
My business and entrepreneurship concentration focuses on finding market opportunities, assessing the financial viability of solutions, and knowing how to grow solutions into businesses. This course list consists of economics and marketing.
Advisors and Mentors that Care
I had a few especially bad experiences with academic advisors before IVSP. So, when I first met the IVSP advising team, I was totally blown away by the encouragement and personal attention they gave me. The IVSP team will work with you to develop your academic plan and proposal, and will then continue to work with you after you are accepted.
The IVSP program also requires that you find a faculty mentor. In order to find my mentor, I reached out to professors from different departments on campus. I ultimately decided on a professor in the business school because I felt like her knowledge best complemented my own (and we also hit it off in our first meeting). She’s been incredible at keeping me on track with my academic program and encouraging me to learn outside of class.
Should You Design Your Own Major?
Designing your own major is not for everyone. It’s a serious time investment to create a course list, write your proposal, and find a faculty mentor. If this doesn’t scare you off and you are considering, here are some questions to ask before getting started:
- Am I eligible?
- Why am I unhappy with my current academic program?
- How will designing my own major effect my after-college goals?
After answering these questions, I’d recommend setting up an appointment with someone on the IVSP team to talk further about if IVSP is right for you.