Student Designed Major Program - Guidelines

Guidelines for the Student Designed Major

General Guidelines
How to put together a proposal
If you are interested in a major which Saint Mary's does not offer, first look at current programs to see if you can fulfill your goals with a combination of existing majors and minors. In setting up the Student Designed Major, the planning committee agreed that it should be used only to achieve goals which could not be attained through existing structures. If after looking at current programs, you wish to pursue a SDM, please give careful consideration to these guidelines.


A Student Designed Major must be interdisciplinary, and must fit into a B.A. or a B.S. degree.

You must select courses from at least two departments or programs; many students use courses from a larger number of disciplines. The SDM committee has regularly looked for advanced courses in more than one discipline as an indication that the planned program is really inter-disciplinary, not just one discipline with token representation of others.

You must have an intellectual rationale for your SDM proposal.

This means two things: (1) an explanation of the educational objectives which have led you to propose this major and why you cannot achieve your goals through existing programs; and (2) an explanation of why this particular set of courses constitutes an interdisciplinary major, i.e., a coherent body of knowledge. You may have very good reasons for wanting to take a certain set of courses (prerequisites for a graduate program, for example), but unless you can explain how these courses fit together, why you can put a name on them and call the combination a major, your SDM will not be approved. Simply wanting to take them is not sufficient. Most students, in planning their SDMs, arrange courses in categories. Your rationale should explain those categories.

You need to submit your proposal at mid-semester in the spring of your sophomore year, or if you are on a study abroad program, by October 1 of your junior year if you have already declared another major by the end of your sophomore year.

If the SDM is your only major, your proposal is still due by mid-semester in the spring of your sophomore year even if you are abroad.

These deadlines were chosen so the SDM would be forward-looking, not a “renaming” of courses already taken. Exceptions have not been made to these deadlines.

You need a 3.3 cumulative GPA.


Consult with faculty in the disciplines you plan to include in your proposed major to see if it looks like a reasonable project.

You need to choose two faculty advisers from different departments who can help you with your proposal and with the completion of your SDM if it is approved. These faculty should be chosen from departments from which you will include courses. Discuss your ideas with these advisers and ask their help with the entire project. They can help you relate the different parts of the proposal to each other. Don’t ask one faculty member only about courses in his or her area; be sure that both are familiar with everything you are doing.

Articulate a rationale for your inter-disciplinary major.

Draw up a plan which includes at least 30 semester hours of credit, including at least 8 courses at a 300 or 400 level, and from at least two departments. (You may have to take some prerequisites for those courses.) You need to show in at least one of your courses or in an independent study that you will be studying whatever theory or methodology is appropriate to the field you have chosen. No more than two courses may be independent studies and not more than 6 credits may come from internships. You may include courses from other institutions if they are not offered at Saint Mary's, but at least half your coursework must come from Saint Mary's. In your plan indicate with an asterisk courses already taken or ones in progress.

• Structure your program using categories appropriate to what you are studying (such as theory, method, subject areas, themes).

Assign your courses to these categories and indicate how many courses you will choose from each. Be sure that each category has more courses than you actually plan to take, in case some are not available. You are encouraged to speak with the faculty teaching these courses to be sure you are making good choices. Titles and bulletin descriptions do not always convey the real focus of a course, its level, and sometimes the background expected. Speaking with faculty will also give you information about the availability of the courses you want.

• Convert your structure into a semester-by-semester plan

Show that you have a realistic project, that you have some idea of what courses will be offered at what times, and that you have options in case something does not work perfectly (e.g., courses offered at the same time, faculty members going on sabbatical, etc.).

When you have worked out your plan you need to submit it to your SDM committee

Each student has a separate committee), composed of your two advisers, the Associate Dean of Faculty, and the Assistant Dean of Academic Advising. Your submission must include:

1) A title page signed by you and your two advisers
2) Your intellectual rationale
3) Your plan of study
4) A transcript (unofficial will work)
5) Two letters of recommendation from faculty other than your advisers. These
faculty should discuss your ability to work and think independently.

The SDM committee will discuss the proposal and can approve it as is, suggest revisions, or reject it.

Once the proposal is approved, it is sent to the College Curriculum Committee for final approval.


Once a SDM is approved, any course substitutions must be approved by your SDM committee, and any significant programmatic changes by the Curriculum Committee.

During the spring of your junior year you must submit to your SDM committee a preliminary proposal for your senior comprehensive and advanced writing portfolio, unless you are completing theses requirements in a different major. The final comprehensive proposal is due by October 1 of the senior year, with final completion deadlines determined by the SDM committee.