Why an Individualized Major Was Right for Me

by Rikki Rosenthal on November 27, 2019

Why an Individualized Major Was Right for Me

by Rikki Rosenthal on November 27, 2019

I have never been one of those people who have their entire future planned out. I never dreamed of being a teacher or firefighter. I’ve always flown by the seat of my pants when it comes to my future. That is a big reason why I took a semester off after high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I really didn’t want to waste money trying to figure it out.

Erica sitting writing in a notebook outside the library.

During my time off, I fell back in love with reading and decided that I wanted to go to school for creative writing. I always had a knack for storytelling and figured I would give community college a try. I discovered that I love writing and am good at it, but I also felt like I wanted to do more with my life. I had to take a lab science class to get my associate degree and decided to take Environmental Science, since everyone told me it was an easy A. 

It was there that I learned I was passionate about the environment and truly terrified for the future of the Earth. I couldn’t understand why no one was concerned about the climate crisis. But I cared a lot, and that was enough for me to consider changing my major. 

Upon transferring, I decided to follow my passion for environmental science and see what a Biology degree would be like. Halfway through my first semester, I discovered that I am not well suited to be a Biology major—and that is okay. I went into the program knowing this might happen. After seeking advice from professors and friends alike, I have decided that pursuing an individualized major in Environmental Journalism is the best option for me. 

It may sound like an easy process, but you have to really want it—even I had a moment of hesitation where I asked, ‘Is this what I really want to do?’

- Erica Rosenthal

An individualized major is a unique option Arcadia offers for students who are passionate about or strong in multiple fields. Essentially, you create your own major. It may sound like an easy process, but you have to really want it—even I had a moment of hesitation where I asked, “Is this what I really want to do?” 

Here’s how I did it:

  1. Pick up the correct form from the Registrar’s Office.
  2. Meet with the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Bruce Keller. He will ask you some questions about why you want to change your major and give you advice on things to research to ensure the petition you create gets approved. 
  3. Make an academic plan that includes all of your major classes for the entirety of your time at Arcadia. This means going through classes on Self Service, becoming familiar with the requirements of the majors you are interested in, and truly understanding the ins and outs of the classes for your major. 
  4. Plan your Senior Capstone project. I know this sounds daunting, but in most cases you need to create your own project anyway, which will have to be approved by your department. I decided to combine the Media and Communications and Biology Capstone requirements. 
  5. Write a personal statement about why you want to create your own major. Be sure to include research from other schools, potential jobs in your field, and how this major will be helpful in your career, as opposed to majors that are already offered. 
  6. Meet with your adviser to share your plan and why you want to change your major. You will need their approval, so make sure they understand why an individualized path is right for you.
  7. Get approval from the department chairs of your field of study. For me, it was the Biology and Media and Communication departments. I sent the chairs an email asking to meet to discuss and get approval for my individualized major. They were very nice and excited to hear about my plans. 
  8. Finally, hand in your complete form and personal statement to Bruce Keller. He will review it, then pass it along to the Chair of the Academics Committee for approval. You will receive an email within the next few weeks stating whether or not it was approved.
2 female students working on computers in the Media and Communications lab

Scenes from the Media and Communication Department.

And here are a few tips to improve your chances of getting approved: 

  • Make sure the major you are seeking is unique. If there are similar programs offered, they may deny it.
  • Do your research! Check if other schools offer a similar program and include results in your personal essay. Look to see what positions are needed in desired field. For me, I found that environmental journalists with experience in both writing and ecology are in demand.
  • Don't worry about meeting with Bruce Keller multiple times, especially when making your academic plan. It is his job to know the ins and outs of the classes offered, so use his knowledge to your advantage. He will steer you in the right direction when planning your courses. 
  • Aim for an equal amount of classes in each field. If your petition has too many courses in one field of study, it could be denied. You should aim for an equal spread of classes to ensure this major is a unique experience that Arcadia hasn’t already established. 
  • Keep in mind that your petition may be denied. Every person you meet with for approval wants you to be successful. If they deny your petition, don’t take it personally. You don’t need to have it all figured out right away. Take your time, do your research, take to heart their feedback, and prepare to fight for it.