THE MAJOR REQUIREMENT
Liberal education seeks to develop the student’s awareness and understanding of the individual and of the world’s physical and social environments. If one essential object in the design of education at Amherst is breadth of understanding, another purpose, equally important, is mastery of one or more areas of knowledge in depth. Upperclassmen are required to concentrate their studies—to select and pursue a major—in order to deepen their understanding: to gain specific knowledge of a field and its special concerns, and to master and appreciate the skills needed in that disciplined effort.
A major normally consists of at least eight courses pursued under the direction of a department or special group. A major may begin in either the first or second year and must be declared by the end of the second year. Students may change their majors at any time, provided that they will be able to complete the new program before graduation.
The major program can be devised in accordance with either of two plans:
Students may complete the requirement of at least eight courses within one department. They must complete at least six courses within one department and the remaining two courses in related fields approved by the department.
Some Amherst students may wish to declare a major in more than one department or program. This curricular option is available, although it entails special responsibilities. At Amherst, departments are solely responsible for defining the content and structure of an acceptable program of study for majors. Students who elect a double major must present the signatures of both academic advisors when registering for each semester’s courses and they must, of course, fulfill the graduation requirements and comprehensive examinations established by two academic programs. In addition, double majors may not credit courses approved for either major toward the other without the explicit consent of an announced departmental policy or the signature of a departmental chairperson. In their senior year, students with a double major must verify their approved courses with both academic advisors before registering for their last semester at the College.
Students with special needs who desire to construct an interdisciplinary major will submit a proposed program, endorsed by one or more professors from each of the departments concerned, to the Committee on Academic Standing and Special Majors. Under ordinary circumstances, the proposal will be submitted during the first semester of the junior year and not under any circumstances later than the eighth week of the second junior semester. The program will include a minimum of six upper-level courses and a thesis plan. Upon approval of the program by the Committee on Academic Standing and Special Majors, an ad hoc advisory committee of three professors appointed by the Committee will have all further responsibility for approving any possible modifications in the program, administering an appropriate comprehensive examination, reviewing the thesis and making recommendations for the degree with or without Honors. Information on preparation, form, and submission of proposed interdisciplinary programs is available in the Office of Student Affairs.
A part of the major requirement in every department is an evaluation of the student’s comprehension in his or her major field of study. This evaluation may be based on a special written examination or upon any other performance deemed appropriate by each department. The mode of the evaluation need not be the same for all the majors within a department, and, indeed, may be designed individually to test the skills each student has developed.
The evaluation should be completed by the seventh week of the second semester of the senior year. Any student whose comprehension is judged to be inadequate will have two opportunities for reevaluation: one not later than the last day of classes of the second semester of the senior year, and the other during the next college year.