The Liberal Arts and Self-Designed Majors

December 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today, I got a promising, thick letter in the mail, sent from the Registrar’s Office – it could be one thing and one thing alone: the decision in regard to my petition to the Committee on Academic Review for my self-designed major.

Understandably excited, I ripped the envelope open. At the bottom of the intricate form I’d filled out was the typed response from the Committee: Approved self-designed major in Creative Writing for Contemporary Media. Please submit the enclosed Junior Major Form including approval signatures to the Registrar’s Office before winter break.

Fair enough! Two years of worrying between a creative writing major and a media studies major, two weeks of hunting through all five of the Claremont College’s course schedules to find appropriate classes, running between my major adviser’s office and my Scripps faculty adviser’s office for signatures, approvals, and general advice, and writing, editing, and re-writing the petition letter itself had finally paid off. After running into all kinds of roadblocks, I was one step closer to my goal: designing a major I love, and one that will be useful once I step outside of the beautiful walls of Scripps College.

As a progressive liberal arts college, Scripps is open to students designing a major themselves, whether it’s because they want to tweak a major that’s in existence or fuse fields of study. In general, self-designed majors at Scripps are across the board. Here’s a sampling of just a few: Motion Sciences, Chinese-American Studies, Creative Writing, and Writing for Media Marketing. There are many more, and the numbers are growing as students realize they do not have to choose from the pre-selected fields of study offered by Scripps. As a lot of students I’ve talked to have expressed, self-designing a major is a way to explore yourself more deeply and explore the possibilities higher education offers along the way. Rather than pigeonholing yourself into a single field of study, you are allowed to design what you want, and pick from the wealth of courses offered at both Scripps and the Claremont Colleges in general.

During my college hunt, I narrowed down my list of possible schools to institutions who either had creative writing programs and majors or those who at least offered a fair breadth of writing courses. In fact, Kenyon College was my first choice school for a long time, simply because of their outstanding program, the Kenyon Review, and the popularity of the program – that is, until I set foot onto Scripps’ campus. Even after studying at the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, which included living on Kenyon’s campus for two weeks and studying under professors of literature and writing, its position as my first choice school was snatched away by Scripps’ beauty, charm, and thriving nature. I felt that elusive touch of something that college students always talk about when asked why they love their school: this just feels like home. I didn’t want to leave the campus. My parents literally had to drag me away to a dinner commitment. Besides, they said, it’s a women’s college, and since when have you wanted to study at a women’s college?

I never thought I did, and if you had asked me a few years before (or a year before, or a month before), I probably would have laughed in your face. But Scripps captured me, and when I found out that there were opportunities for writing including classes, literary magazines, scholarships, and more, I was convinced. Scripps College isn’t nationally known for its writing program. Creative writing isn’t a formal major here (though it is a very popular self-designed major). However, it was made quite clear to me that I could self-design a major that would fit what I wanted to study. I could take away from Scripps what I felt would best help me in the real world. The doors were open for me, and I ran through them headlong.

Originally, I was only planning on majoring in creative writing, with a focus on fiction writing, and minoring in digital media studies. Several talks with professors and advisers eventually convinced me that, while a major in creative writing is really great and all, it didn’t particularly lend itself to a lot of professions. It was clear that I loved writing and media in similar ways – and I had always been telling myself that I could write my novels while working a normal 9-5 job for quite a long time, anyway. Why not merge the two and enjoy the best of both worlds? The great part of my fusion of media studies and creative writing is that the writing aspect of the major has broadened considerably: I will be taking classes in pure creative classes such as poetry, fiction, and short story writing, as well as non-fiction classes such as arts and culture review, memoir writing, journalism, and a grant writing for non-profit class. Surprisingly enough, I will be studying a larger breadth of writing techniques by stepping away from the pure creative writing major.

Has it been easy? Not necessarily. Self-designing a major is a complicated process; the steps aren’t laid out for you like normal majors. You must choose precisely what you want to study, every single course for every single semester, every single year. No four-year plan is laid at your feet. You are expected to build your own education and, most importantly, prove its worth. You must argue to the Committee on Academic Review that your major is cohesive, well-rounded, intriguing, helpful, and hefty enough to earn a Scripps degree at the end of four long years. You must prove that it will be helpful in getting you a job in the Real World. Most of this must happen before the end of sophomore year, when most other students are wavering between majors, or just beginning to follow the college’s four year plan for their chosen major.

Is it daunting? Of course it is. But it is also undeniably worth it. Not only am I student of a school I absolutely love, I can honestly say that I love what I am studying. School has never been more exciting.

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