Why not design your own major?

A student at Hendrix College in Arkansas has started a website, UnCollege, where aspiring students can substitute their undergraduate degree with an at-home independent course of study.

While students who have grown tired of the red tape surrounding college enrollment and costs might find this appealing, four-year universities already offer plenty of independent study opportunities.

UCLA's Honors Program offers students a chance to develop their own majors and do independent research. Unfortunately, few students are aware of or bother to take advantage of the program.
Here's what you need to know about the Individual Major program:

The program is run through the Honors Programs but is available to all UCLA students.

Only about 10 students per year design their own majors, so there's plenty of room for growth.

You need a minimum GPA of 3.4 and a minimum of 45 units.

A senior thesis is required as well as the guidance of at least two faculty advisers.

Requests for individual majors must be approved by the Honors Programs.

SOURCE: UCLA Honors Programs
Compiled by Carly Cody, Daily Bruin columnist.

“I have never let school interfere with my education.” Mark Twain said it more than a hundred years ago, and it has been echoed in too-cool-for-school sentiments ever since.

And now it is the motto that appears on the home page of UnCollege, a website launched this year intended to offer guidance to students wishing to pursue homeschooling at the college level as opposed to earning a traditional college degree.

While the debate about the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling at the K-12 level is a tired one, the opportunity to study independently at the higher education level is a relevant one, especially considering the growing opinion that the value of a University of California degree is decreasing while the cost is increasing.

Proposals for alternative forms of education, independent study and individualized paths of research are welcome ideas, but I’m not convinced that UnCollege offers any more specialized opportunities than UCLA.

Dale Stephens, a first-year student at Hendrix College, a small private liberal arts college in Arkansas, created the site in the belief that a college degree no longer guarantees success in the job market.

The attempt to create an alternative form of education that emphasizes the importance of self-motivation and independent thought is respectable, but the concept of UnCollege is ultimately unrealistic and is not a substitute for the invaluable opportunities offered at a university.

It’s a sad fact that many UCLA students are probably not even aware of some of the opportunities for an individualized approach to a degree that are available at UCLA.

For example, students have the opportunity to design their own majors through the Honors Programs, an option that provides an alternative for those seeking interdisciplinary interests rather than a traditional degree. Yet only about 10 students per year opt to propose individualized majors.

A university education gives students the chance to incorporate independent study and research in a liberal-arts setting where the exchange of ideas is facilitated by discussion with peers and faculty members.

There is a reason why participation in discussion sections is included in undergraduate courses: to ensure that students are benefiting from having their ideas shared as well as challenged as a result of intellectual interaction.

College is about an active experience, not just the accumulation of more knowledge.

Even though it’s true that knowledge can be attained simply by reading books, it has little value in a solitary vacuum. The potential for innovation and creativity lies in the engagement of academic material with a social environment.

The individual freedom and flexibility allowed by the concept of UnCollege does sound appealing, especially for students who feel constricted by university or major requirements. But what makes the university such a beneficial environment to attain a degree is it allows for a balance of individual freedom with structure and peer interaction.

And let’s face it. There is no way that studying at home affords the same resources for networking, career planning, counseling, research and socializing that studying at a university does.

Your bedroom is certainly not comparable to the microcosm of UCLA.

Think studying at home would be productive?
E-mail Cody at ccody@media.ucla.edu.
Send general comments to opinion@media.ucla.edu.