You won’t see Weinberg first-year Nina Kronengold’s major listed on Northwestern's undergraduate admissions page. She plans to graduate from Northwestern with a degree in art, technology and the business of innovation, a major of her own creation.
Beyond Northwestern’s 133 majors, minors and certificates, students can graduate with self-created, or ad hoc, majors. Ad hoc majors are often in specialized areas that branch across multiple disciplines. Weinberg generally has anywhere from zero to three ad hoc majors per graduating class, according to Weinberg Assistant Dean for Curriculum and Assessment Laura Panko.
The Weinberg ad hoc major approval process centers around presenting an explanation of the intended major and a course curriculum fulfills the student’s major requirements. The student completes these elements with the help of an adviser, often a professor in a related field.
The student then submits an application with their reason for pursuing their ad hoc major, why their major should be permitted and what sets it apart from offered majors. Members of the curriculum board review the proposal and decide whether to approve it.
Panko reviews ad hoc majors and advises students throughout their major progress. She explains that ad hoc majors are tailored for a select few motivated students who have a specific path in mind.
“It's not a simple thing to think about what constitutes something equivalent to the standing majors and really make the case and not only create a list of classes, but alternatives,” Panko says.
Two summers ago, she helped develop a startup centered around teenage addiction and social culture, which introduced her to entrepreneurship as a career. She wanted to combine this with the passion for art that she fostered throughout high school.
Kronengold entered college undecided but knew she wanted to do so much more than Northwestern’s major options would allow.
“I started feeling a little stuck, to be quite honest,” she says. “To make sure I was doing something I'm passionate about, I started looking at ad hoc majors at Northwestern.”
Kronengold hopes to take more classes that bridge the gap between entrepreneurship and the arts. Thus far, she has taken the "Design, Thinking and Doing" class at the Segal Design Institute and "Backable," a Northwestern class partnering with The Second City to teach improvisational skills to future entrepreneurs.
Weinberg third-year Julia Mencher is pursuing history and an environmental policy and culture (EPC) major. While the EPC department offers a minor, students have designed EPC majors as an ad hoc.
“Currently at Northwestern there's no program that fits the core ideas that I wanted in the EPC major, weighing science, humanities and social sciences equally,” she says.
Mencher’s interest in the environment stems from her hometown of Washington, D.C., and her desire to protect its natural beauty. Mencher explained that D.C., a hub of political action, also fostered her interest in examining the social, political and human sides of environmental issues.
Weinberg fourth-year Alex Chang’s major in critical race and ethnic studies was approved last spring. Like Kronengold and Mencher, she appreciates the flexibility of an ad hoc major.
“Being able to make an ad hoc major as an undergrad really allowed me to develop my own academic interests in a way that I wouldn't be able to do if I were stuck to one of the programs or departments here,” Chang says.
She says that pursuing an ad hoc major has ensured that she only takes classes she is genuinely interested in.
“I think that making sure that students know that this program exists has the potential to change the academic culture at this school,” Chang says.