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Majors and Minors

A major is an extended study of one academic area, usually within one department of the University. Your major consists of at least 50 credits and makes up about one-third of your bachelor’s degree program. 

Many students are undecided about their majors when they enter college — and many who think they have decided will change their minds more than once before they graduate. There is a lot to choose from at a university of this size, and there are many factors to think about as you consider potential majors. 

When should I choose a major?

The experience of choosing a major will be different for everyone; it is good to remember, though, that it is a process, one that may take several quarters. For some students, taking an introductory course in the subject will tell them what they need to know, while others will seek additional experience in the field as a research or teaching assistant. No matter what your process looks like, advisers can talk to you about your progress every step of the way.

For the first few quarters of your college career, it's perfectly okay not to know what your major will be, but you should be taking steps to find out. As early as your freshman year, one or two of your courses each quarter should be a subject you're considering as a major, or a prerequisite of your intended major. Most students run through several potential majors before they find the subject they enjoy most. Give yourself time to do this by starting to investigate potential majors early in your academic career. 

How soon can I declare a major?

Some UW majors are open to all students. You can be admitted into these open majors at any time, even as a freshman. Other majors have minimum admissions requirements: you can be admitted after you complete the prerequisite courses with the required grades. Finally, some majors have competitive admission, which require prerequisite courses, a minimum GPA, and other application requirements such as letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a writing test, and/or a portfolio. Completion of the admission requirements does not guarantee admission to a competitive major. 

Although you must complete General Education requirements (English Composition, Areas of Knowledge, etc.), it is not a good idea to concentrate exclusively on these requirements at first and postpone thinking about a major. Many majors require more than 50 credits and some have extensive prerequisites. Additionally, some UW majors take four years to complete from the time you begin the prerequisite courses. For example, engineering majors take four years from the time you start calculus; biological majors take at least three years from the time you start general chemistry; foreign language majors take four years if you start at the beginning of a new language. 

Creating a course plan

We recommend that you rough out a four-year plan, and modify it frequently. You can use MyPlan for this.

You might think this would be easy once you choose your major but it's harder than you might think to put such a plan together; some programs (e.g., ROTC, Veterans Affairs) require such plans, and in these cases advisers will do their best to accommodate you. However, for most majors there is no way you can plan now exactly what you will take every quarter. Although most UW majors require certain courses for admission, other courses are taken from a broad range of options, and others are totally open electives. Some majors include a lot of flexibility and up to a third of your degree might be electives. Some majors are much more structured.

As you work on your course plan, keep in mind that your plan will probably change a bit quarter to quarter as different courses become available, as your interests evolve, as you participate in experiential learning, as you add a minor, etc. Read through the information in the General Catalog about the majors you are considering and make lists of the courses you'll need to take. The descriptions of those courses in the online Course Descriptions will help you determine the necessary prerequisites and sequencing of courses. 

The 105-credit rule

You must declare a major by the time you have accumulated 105 credits, which is about one quarter into your junior year. If you are not able to declare your intended major by that time, you must make another choice or seek a pre-major extension from a general or departmental adviser. Pre-major extensions are usually granted if you have a reasonable chance of being accepted into your intended major.

To request a premajor extension, you must meet with an adviser either in our office, OMA&D Academic Counseling Services, or in the department to which you hope to gain admission. The conversation is meant to be sure you have a major in mind, you’ve made good plans, and you’re taking the appropriate steps to prepare for that major. If the major is competitive, part of the conversation will be about developing alternative plans in the event you are not accepted into your desired major. In some cases you may be required to choose another major and start working on its requirements as you work toward application or reapplication to your desired competitive major.

How to declare a major

When and how you can declare your major at the UW varies in several ways. Some majors accept students year-round, some only once a quarter, and some once a year. Some can be declared upon entry as a freshman, some require UW credits be taken first, and some require junior standing. Some require prerequisite courses, while others can be entered with no background in the area. Here's how to proceed:

Find out the admission requirements, if any

All majors fall into one of three categories:

  • Open majors can be declared at any time by any student in good standing (not on academic probation).
  • Minimum requirement majors can be declared as soon as the prerequisites are completed. For example, before you can declare the Political Science B.A. major, you must have completed 15 credits of introductory Political Science courses, all with grades of at least 2.0.
  • Competitive majors require specific prerequisite courses and usually a minimum GPA, but meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission. In each application cycle a limited number of places are available, and the competitiveness of the major depends on how many students apply. These majors have application forms and application deadlines; some of them require standardized tests, recommendations, and/or interviews. Some competitive majors admit students only once per year.

Contact department advisers if you have questions. 

If there are admission requirements, complete them

This is sometimes easier said than done. For open majors, you can skip right to the application phase. For others, you may spend several quarters to more than a year at this step. This is the time to continue to explore your interests, work with advisers, and do everything you can to make yourself into the best possible candidate for the major or majors you are considering.

Apply to your major

Some majors, like Anthropology, allow you to declare any time of year. Some majors, like Psychology, accept applications only once per quarter, and not in the summer. And some, like Construction Management, accept applications only once a year.

Whenever the time comes to apply to your intended major, be ready, get the application early, and take your time filling it out. If there is a personal statement, take it to a writing center, have a friend read it, let it sit for a while and read it again; a good personal statement can really make your application stand out in a competitive application process.

If you are accepted, fill out any necessary paperwork

Depending on the competitiveness of your major, you may have to wait for several weeks to find out if you  have been accepted. Even open and minimum requirements majors often ask you to fill out an application, and they often require that you meet with a department adviser to talk about your plans and fill out the paperwork.

You will officially declare your major with a Change of Major form. Sometimes this is done behind the scenes, sometimes there will be a group orientation, and sometimes your new adviser will fill it out individually with you.  The Change of Major form is then sent to the Graduation and Academic Records office where your major code is changed in the system.

If you complete the requirements of two majors, you will earn either a bachelor's degree with two majors ("double major") or two bachelor's degrees ("double degree"). Which of these you are awarded depends on the name of the degree(s). See below.

Double majors and double degrees

If you complete the requirements of two majors, you will earn either a bachelor's degree with two majors ("double major") or two bachelor's degrees ("double degree"). Which of these you are awarded depends on the name of the degree(s).

  • You will earn a double major when both majors lead to the same degree name (e.g., B.A., B.S., B.F.A.), even if the two majors are in different colleges or schools. For example, if you complete the requirements for the B.A. degree with a major in American Ethnic Studies (College of Arts and Sciences) and the B.A. degree with a major in Architectural Studies (College of Built Environments), you will earn a single B.A. degree with a double major. You cannot earn a double degree when the two majors lead to the same degree name.
  • You will earn a double degree when the two majors lead to differently-named degrees (e.g., B.A. vs. B.S.). For example, if you complete the requirements for the B.A. degree with a major in Geography and the B.S. degree with a major in Earth and Space Sciences, you will earn a double degree. Another example: if you complete the requirements for the B.A. in Business Administration degree and the B.A. degree with a major in Political Science, you will earn a double degree. Although these are both Bachelors of Arts, the Business Administration major is a named degree and so does not have the same degree name as the Political Science degree.

Credits required

  • Double majors require a minimum of 180 credits, which is the minimum number of credits required for a degree at the UW. It may, however, take you more than 180 credits to complete all of the requirements for the two majors, depending on the requirements themselves and how efficient you are in taking them.
  • Double degrees require a minimum of 225 credits (i.e., 180 for the first degree plus 45 for the second degree). Technically, the rule is that you must complete 45 credits more than the number required for the degree that requires the fewer credits. Normally this means that two degrees require 225 credits, because at least one of the degrees almost always requires 180 credits.

Degree names

Both majors of a double major must have the same degree name, and majors in a double degree must have different degree names. The easiest way to discern the degree name is to look for the word "degree" in the name. Everything to the left of the word "degree" is the degree name. For example:

  • In "Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Communication", the degree name is "Bachelor of Arts." This major can be combined with any other "Bachelor of Arts" major to form a double major.
  • In "Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration degree", the degree name is "Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration." This major cannot be part of a double major, but it could be part of a double degree. Degrees like this, with such specific names, are sometimes called named degrees.

Overlap between majors

Overlap between the core requirements of two majors is allowed to the extent that the major departments involved allow it. Consult departmental advisers.

Overlap with General Education/Areas of Knowledge requirements

When both of your majors or degrees are in the same college, you must complete the General Education requirements for that college.

When the majors/degrees are in different colleges, you have to complete both sets of requirements. However, in most pairs of general education requirements, one set is a subset of the other. To the extent that the requirements do not overlap, you must complete the requirements for both colleges. In many cases, the only difference will be the foreign language requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education, and the School of Social Work.

As usual, if at least one of your majors/degrees is in the College of Arts and Sciences, you may count no more than 15 credits from one major department toward the Areas of Knowledge requirement. However, when you double major/degree, courses from the second major may count toward the Areas of Knowledge requirement without restriction. You choose which major is the one with only 15 credits of overlap allowed.

Declaring a double major or double degree

Both majors do not have to be declared at the same time, although they may be. Visit declaring a major for more information on this process.

Matriculation and residence requirements

To earn a single UW degree (single or double major), a student must complete at least 45 UW credits as a matriculated student. To earn two UW degrees, simultaneous or sequential, a student must complete at least 90 UW credits as a matriculated student.

A student earning two simultaneous UW degrees is allowed a maximum of 15 non-residence credits in the final 60 credits. In other words, 45 of the student's final 60 credits must be UW residence credits. The student is not allowed 15 non-residence credits for each degree. UW distance learning courses do not count as residence credit.

Doubling within one department

Double majoring in the same department is allowed only in multi-major departments. For example, a French major may double with Spanish, even though both majors are within the Romance Languages Department. Whether you are allowed to complete both the B.A. and B.S. programs in one department, such as Biology, either as a double major or a double degree, is a decision made by the department involved. In general it is not allowed, although some departments allow a student with an earlier B.A. to return as a postbaccalaureate student to complete a B.S.

Applying to graduate

If you want to complete two majors or degrees, you should plan to graduate in the two programs simultaneously. If you graduate with one degree and not the other, you would have to apply for readmission to the University as a postbaccalaureate student to complete a second degree, and it is very difficult to be admitted as a postbaccalaureate student. Contact the Office of Admissions for more on postbaccalaureate status.

You'll work with both of your departments to apply to graduate since both of them need to submit a graduation application. This is the case regardless of whether it's a double major or a double degree. There is a place on the application for the adviser to indicate whether it's a double major or degree.

Double degrees and the 180-credit policy

If you are pursuing a double degree, you are allowed 30 credits beyond what is required for your degrees. Since the minimum number of credits required for a double degree is 225, you  may continue to enroll through the quarter in which you reach 255 credits. 

Transcripts and diplomas

A double major will read on the transcript, for example: "Bachelor of Arts (English; Political Science)" You will receive one diploma that says "Bachelor of Arts." In general, majors are not posted on diplomas.

A double degree will read, for example: "Bachelor of Arts (English)" and "Bachelor of Science (Biology)." You will receive two diplomas. 

Honors

You may complete a double major or double degree in which just one of the majors is honors, and may use the Honors Core Curriculum requirements for both.

Transcript notation

The honors major is identified on your transcript at graduation. In the case of a double major with English as the honors department, for example, the transcript will read, "Bachelor of Arts (English; Political Science), With Honors in English" or, "Bachelor of Arts (English; Political Science), With College Honors in English," depending on whether the student completes departmental honors or college honors. If the student completes the Honors Core Curriculum, but not Departmental Honors, s/he will earn Interdisciplinary Honors and the transcript will read, ""Bachelor of Arts (English; Political Science), With Interdisciplinary Honors"

Diploma notation

Majors are listed on the diploma only if awarded with honors. The diploma for the student in the above example would read "Bachelor of Arts, With Honors in English" or "Bachelor of Arts, With College Honors in English."