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2013 Winter Issue 8 (March 8, 2013)

Is Carleton Too Strict About the Special Majors Policy?

March 10, 2013
By Marina Herrera-Heintz

As the time for members of the sophomore class to declare their majors, it seems likely that at least a few of them might not be satisfied with the present slate of options. So some of them might avail themselves of the option undertaken by few Carleton students: declaring a special major.

The process by which a student declares a special major was designed to be as simple as possible, while ensuring that Carleton’s advanced academic standards are still met.

Interested students usually first meet with their advisor, or another professor in the field they wish to major in. After receiving approval from faculty, students then prepare a petition that goes to the Academic Standing Committee for approval.

Chinese major Peter Brown ’14 recalls his experience as very straightforward. “Once I became aware of needing to declare a special major, I asked my advisor what the process was like. It turns out that he is actually part of the committee that approves everything so he is quite familiar with the whole deal.”

“Essentially, it works like this: you have chosen some new-fangled topic to study and COMPS on that doesn’t exist at Carleton. You select a title for your major, what classes are going to be involved, your schedule for taking those classes, and what your COMPS will be on,” he explains.

For Animal Behavior major Evia Zack ’14, the process was slightly more tedious. “Well, the process was a little crazy and drawn out for me, but I feel like that’s mostly my fault. You’re supposed to complete the petition by spring of your sophomore year, but I was going abroad that term. I finished the petition during fall term of this year, and then turned it in at the beginning of this term.

“Once I actually turned in the petition, it was super fast and easy - it was only about a month after that it got approved. First, after about a week after There are several established tracks for special majors. These include Chinese, Cognitive Science, and Japanese, but there are students with other special majors. Presently, there are seventeen students with special majors on campus.

Upon reflection, Zack offered downsides to her decision, but she felt the Committee does a good job considering them while hearing petitions. “I feel like the whole process is very fair. They have to maintain a certain level of discrimination in the petitions, because you do end up operating outside of any department. I lack the support network that comes from having a major (geo progressives, psych t shirts, student departmental advisors, that sort of thing), and I feel like that’s something the ASC considers when deciding whether or not to approve a petition.”

Baggot points out that students themselves are the most common reason petitions are not approved. “Denial isn’t as common as most things, including student desire to carry all the way through with a special major, are sorted out in the pre-petition or question phase. Other factors can be met through an existing major or insufficient courses offered.”

Brown, too, was very satisfied with the way the process unfolded. “I’m not sure what the numbers are like for students who would like to declare special majors but feel like they got pigeonholed. In my experience, it is easy without being too lax. Plus, I don’t think Carleton students are the type to declare frivolous majors anyway.”

Baggot also highlighted the possibilities for special majors that receive significant sustained interest and have the necessary faculty. “I think you could follow (or research) the path of ENTS as a concentration, special major, and now regularized major as an example.”

Zack is, for the most part, happy with the process. “Overall, I would say the process was not too difficult. I made it more difficult for myself than it needed to be, by dragging it out for so long, but I suppose as long as you’re on top of the deadlines, and pick advisors who are on campus and prompt about getting stuff like this done, you won’t have a problem with the process.”

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