The option of petitioning for a special concentration is for the serious student whose academic interests cross departmental lines. Special Concentrations offers a student the opportunity to design his or her own program of concentration with the advice and consent of the various members of the faculty and administration. This option addresses special educational objectives not accommodated by existing concentrations.
Special Concentrations is not for everyone. It is not for students who wish to avoid particular departmental requirements or to create a broad, unfocused concentration that could be described as “general studies.” Nor is it for students who do not know precisely what they want to study and who have trouble narrowing their interests to a single field. Rather, it is an opportunity for students who know quite clearly what they wish to investigate, although it requires integrating courses and research from more than one area. In all cases, students should begin to consult with faculty members who are expert in their areas of interest to determine what direction would be best to follow.
The Standing Committee on Special Concentrations, which is composed of faculty from a wide range of disciplines, sets the general policies and educational guidelines for the program and considers individually each petition submitted. The detailed administration of each student’s program is supervised by his or her faculty adviser and by the director of undergraduate studies.
Although most special concentration proposals include a full tutorial program culminating in a senior thesis for honors candidates, Special Concentrations is also open to students who prefer a basic course of study. The standing committee must be convinced not only of the quality, rigor, and legitimacy of the topic, but also of the applicant’s high level of self-motivation, perseverance, and conscientiousness, since the success of each Special Concentration depends more than in a regular departmental concentration on the drive and determination of the student. Each approved Special Concentration exists as a small committee within our program. Plans of Study for the individual concentrations are unique, but all are interdisciplinary. For example, several current programs deal with health and public policy, combining coursework from history and science, economics, sociology, and government. A burgeoning interest in urban studies lately has produced several Special Concentrations, some emphasizing city planning, others leaning toward government or economics. Theater and performance studies continue to be the focus of many Special Concentrations in recent years.
Special Concentrations represents a small but significant portion of undergraduate concentrators. It seems best for those students who have not only an unusual interest, but who also have a clear grasp of the direction in which they are heading. Although there are exceptions, most successful Special Concentrations applications have been submitted by upperclassmen who have spent one or two terms studying in one of the College’s established concentrations.