Individualized Studies at the University of Washington - College of Arts and Sciences

Individualized Studies - Design Your Own Major - Overview

An Individualized Studies major is a special interdisciplinary major designed by an individual student. Each Individualized Studies program is unique.


A university education is about learning to ask and answer complex questions. The Individualized Studies program allows highly motivated and self-directed students to pursue the questions about which they are most passionate when those questions cannot be pursued in current UW programs. Individualized Studies students epitomize the intentional intellectual engagement at the core of a great liberal education: focused, rigorous, disciplinary learning, even when integrating multiple disciplines.

The Individualized Studies program is not a means to vocational or applied versions of existing degrees; nor does it provide a secondary alternative to (or a “light” version of) existing majors. It is, instead, a place for intellectually curious, reflective, and highly self-directed students who embrace learning for its own sake. This program is not a place to “get a degree”; this is a place to pursue deep learning.

Applying to the Major

Pursuing Individualized Studies is a major commitment, and that commitment is reflected in the application process. To apply, you must construct an Individualized Learning Plan articulating the rationale, learning goals, and coursework, and a plan for assessing your learning. None of these things are easy for students to articulate on their own, precisely because this is the work faculty do on students’ behalf. And that is what becoming an Individualized Studies student means: taking on the work normally done by faculty. In many ways, this is the hardest major on campus.

The Individualized Learning Plan

The heart of the application is your Individualized Learning Plan. The learning plan articulates, very specifically, what you want to learn, why those things are worth learning, how you are going to learn them, and how you are going to demonstrate that you have learned them. These goals constitute the most important part of the learning plan, and the most important factor in determining whether you are admitted to the program.

The learning plan must include all of the following. More details are included in the separate Learning Plan Guide. Incomplete plans will not be considered.

  1. Statement of purpose. This is the rationale for your program. In broad terms, what do you want to learn, and why? Why can’t you learn this in an existing UW program?
  2. Learning goals. This is the heart of the learning plan. Here you must translate your broad interests into specific learning goals. Everything in Individualized Studies centers around these goals. You must also identify a clear plan to assess your learning – which you cannot do without clear goals.
  3. Annotated course plan. This is where you explain how you will meet your learning goals, including a brief discussion of how each proposed class connects to your learning goals. These are not course descriptions (which you should also include as an appendix; see below); this is your explanation of how each course will help you meet specific learning goals. This section will also include a tentative quarterly plan.
  4. Additional appendices.
    • Catalog course descriptions (from the UW catalog).
    • Your “Plan B.” You must explicitly address what major you will study if you are not admitted to Individualized Studies.
    • Signed faculty agreement form; must be a regular, full-time (tenure-track or permanent lecturer) UW Seattle faculty member.
    • Approval by key departments, where appropriate.

See the Learning Plan Guide for more details on the above elements.

If this sounds like too much work, then Individualized Studies is not the right major for you, because this is what it means to be explicit and intentional about your own learning; this is the work of Individualized Studies. In most majors, this is the work that the faculty does for you. Being an Individualized Studies major means doing that work on your own.

Timeline and Criteria

The deadline for applications is the second Friday of the quarter. The committee will review the applications and notify applicants before registration begins for the following quarter. The review will result in one of three outcomes:

  1. Approval. The plan is approved and you are admitted to the Individualized Studies program. The learning plan becomes the graduation plan; all elements must be completed in order to graduate, in addition to the general graduation requirements (see below).
  2. Denial. The plan does not meet the goals of the Individualized Studies program.
  3. Conditional approval. The committee may offer a revised plan. You may choose to accept this plan (and be admitted to Individualized Studies), or choose a different major.

Note that there is no reapplication. If your learning plan is not approved, Individualized Studies is no longer an option. You should proceed to your “plan B” major. We do not allow students to reapply because the timeline does not allow it; we cannot allow students to continue indefinitely without a clear academic plan.

For similar reasons, students may not double major with Individualized Studies, and we do not admit students with more than 135 credits.

Graduation Requirements

Students admitted to the Individualized Studies program will, in addition to completing their learning plans, complete the following:

  • Completion of all approved courses; minimum 2.0 in each course.
  • Completion of a learning portfolio demonstrating that all learning goals have been met.
  • Completion of the senior study (INDIV 493).
  • Complete the General Education Requirements for the College of Arts and Sciences.