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Undergraduate Degrees & Programs: The Major

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The Major

The primary purpose of the major is to encourage each student to explore a subject area in considerable depth. This in-depth study complements the breadth of study promoted by the General Education Requirements and, in many cases, by a student's choice of electives. Work in depth permits practice in critical analysis and the solving of problems. Because of its depth, such study also provides a sense of how knowledge grows and is shaped by time and circumstances.

The structure of a major should be a coherent reflection of the logic of the discipline it represents. Ideally, the student should be introduced to the subject area through a course providing a general overview, and upper-division courses should build upon lower-division courses. The course of study should, if feasible, give the student the opportunity and responsibility of doing original, creative work in the major subject. Benefits of the major program are greatest when it includes a culminating and synthesizing experience such as a senior seminar, an undergraduate thesis, or a senior project.

Degree Requirements

Undergraduates must select a major by the end of their sophomore year. All undergraduate major programs listed in this policy, except for certain honors degree programs that require application and admission in advance, are open to all students. Students may use Axess to declare, drop, or change a major. In some departments or programs, though, a late change could easily result in extending the period of undergraduate study. Students requiring assistance should contact the Student Services Center. For general academic advising regarding majors, students should consult the office of Academic Advising, under the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE). For specific advising within the major, students should consult with the Student Services Officer or another representative from that academic department/program.

Check individual department or program for the undergraduate degrees offered and for specific major requirements. If an area of study has no baccalaureate degree, that discipline is not available as a regular undergraduate major.

Faculty set the minimum requirements for the major in each department. These requirements usually allow latitude for tailoring a major program to a student's specific educational goals. The responsibility for developing a major program within department or program requirements lies ultimately with the individual student working in consultation with the major adviser.

Limits of the Major

In order to achieve the values of study in depth, a well-structured major should constitute at least one-third of a student's program (55-65 units). To ensure the values of breadth, a major should comprise no more than two-thirds of a student's program (115-125 units); and, to avoid intellectual parochialism, a major program should not require a student to take more than about one-third of his or her courses from within a single department.

Major requirements in cognate subjects essential to the structure of a given major should be counted as part of the major program in applying these guidelines. Department or school requirements designed to provide extra disciplinary breadth should not be counted.

For a limited number of qualified students, many departments and programs offer special programs leading to degrees with honors. A student may apply to the major department or program for acceptance into the honors program. Demands on the student may vary, but all honors programs encourage creative, independent work at an advanced level in addition to the major requirements.

The guidelines set forth here are deliberately general; implementation must take into account the specific needs of a student's program and the nature of the discipline or disciplines involved. The exercise of responsibility in achieving the desired educational balance belongs first with the student, who, after all, has the strongest interest in the value of his or her education. It belongs secondarily to departments and major programs, which must set the requirements of competence in the many majors offered.

Multiple Majors

Although most students declare only one major, a student may formally declare more than one major within a single bachelor's degree (B.A., B.S., or B.A.S.) program. The student may do that either at the time of initial major declaration or, as may be more advisable given the planning required to complete more than one major, by amending the original declaration. The student's major departments or programs have access routinely to all information pertinent to that student's academic record (for example, course and grade information), and each is expected to provide advising and other assistance. To be awarded a bachelor's degree with multiple majors, the student must fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Formally declare all majors through Axess to the Office of the University Registrar.
  2. Satisfy the requirements of each major without applying any course towards the requirements of more than one major or any minor unless:
    1. overlapping courses constitute introductory skill requirements (for example, introductory math or a foreign language);
    2. overlapping courses enable the student to meet school requirements (for example, for two majors within the School of Engineering). Currently, only the School of Engineering has school requirements for its undergraduate majors.

If the pursuit of multiple majors (or joint majors or secondary majors, or minors) unduly delays an undergraduate's progress through Stanford, the University reserves the right to limit a student to a single major, and/or to confer a degree on a student who has completed all of the requirements for a degree even though the student has not applied to graduate; such an individual would then be subject to the University's usual rules and restrictions regarding future enrollment or registration.

When students cannot meet the requirements of multiple majors without overlaps, the secondary major, may be relevant.

Secondary Major

In some cases, students may complete course requirements for more than one major, but they may not meet the requirements outlined for the multiple major option. For example, the student may develop a course plan in which courses requisite for one major overlap with requirements for another. In these cases, the student may declare a secondary major which results in the transcript bearing an annotation that the course requirements for that major have also been met. Secondary majors are not listed on the diploma. Students declare secondary majors through Axess.

Foreign Language Proficiency

The notation "proficiency in (language)" appears on the official transcripts of those students whose levels of achievement are found by procedures established by the Language Center to be roughly equivalent to knowledge an excellent student can be expected to demonstrate late in the third quarter of the third year of study in that language.