Design Your Own Major Q&A

My name is Leah Ward, and I am a student in JWU’s Interdisciplinary Studies: Design Your Own Major  (IDST:DYO) program. I transferred to JWU in the fall of 2020 and switched to this major after hearing about it in the middle of the semester. Changing my major to IDST:DYO was one of the best decisions I’ve made here at JWU. I enjoy the major because it gives me the flexibility to study in multiple fields rather than just one.  

Should you apply to the major? Here, my professor Wendy Wagner and I answer common questions so you will know whether or not the program is right for you. 

When was the Design Your Own Major Program founded? 

Wagner: The IDST:DYO major first began running in Fall 2020. The recurring trend I have noticed so far is that students in IDST:DYO are passionate about their self-designed majors and how these majors relate to their career goals. This major provides opportunities for students to be inquisitive and creative in planning for their future in and beyond college. 

Photo of a student working in Gaebe Commons with JWU gate in foreground 

Are there required courses for this program? 

Ward: Yes, as an IDST:DYO major student, you have three required interdisciplinary studies classes. These classes are Intro to Interdisciplinary Studies, Interdisciplinary Project Development, and Interdisciplinary Studies: DYO Capstone Project. These courses have you plan out and work towards completing your major while also teaching you what it means to be interdisciplinary. Other courses you are required to take in this program are a research-based course and a career management course. There is a specific research-based course you can take, but, if you find one in a major of your interest, you can choose to take that instead. For example, if part of your major connects with media & communication studies, your research class can be media research. Additionally, as a JWU student you have to take required JWU graduation requirements/Gen Ed courses. You can view these courses in JWU’s catalog.  

What classes can you take as a part of the Design Your Own Major Program? 

Ward: One of my favorite aspects of this program is that there are virtually no limitations to what you can do with your major. As a Design Your Own Major student, most of your courses are basically free electives (besides required courses). I say basically because technically they are not what the university considers “free electives” but, you are choosing to take the courses of your choice so they might as well be. In most other majors, there's about 10 courses that you must take no matter what. Then you also have to take another 10 major courses that are considered electives. You have some flexibility with those courses, but you can only choose from a specific list of courses. In the DYOM program, you have a lot more flexibility where you can choose to take the classes that interest you.  

Image of students working in a classroom

How does designing your own major work? 

Wagner: All IDST:DYO students take IDST 1001: Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies to work directly with a faculty advisor to create and design a major that helps them explore their interests. Students identify a question, problem or theme they want to explore through the connection of different disciplines. By the end of the semester, their self-designed major is reviewed and approved by a faculty committee. The exciting thing about the IDST:DYO major is that it draws from already existing courses at JWU and connects them in new ways.  

Why Design Your Own Major? 

Ward: There are many reasons one might want to design their own major. One reason to join the program is because there may be a specific type of job you want when you graduate that requires you to have knowledge in multiple areas. An example of this is if you wanted to start your own graphic T-shirt company. You may take classes in Entrepreneurship, Graphic Design, and Fashion Merchandising. With the IDST:DYO major you can do that with very few limitations.   

Student creating JWU Design logo

What’s a major that someone created that stood out to you? 

Wagner: All the student-designed majors have been fascinating, but I have to admit that one (currently in progress) does stand out. I have a student who wants to combine the Cyber Threat Intelligence and Defense major with the Psychology major into a new interdisciplinary major. The opportunity to connect the technical skills of the Cyber Threat Intelligence and Defense classes with the exploration of human motivation, personality, and social behavior is incredibly exciting and, I think, much needed in defense against cyberterrorism. This is why JWU’s IDST:DYO major is so great. It allows students to connect their education across different disciplines and different colleges, combining the best of what JWU offers.  

Can I transfer into this major after I have been at JWU for a while? 

Wagner: It depends on what you want your major to be and how many more credits you have left to complete. Switching to a new major always involves some risk that you might need to stay at JWU longer than eight semesters. Furthermore, the IDST:DYO major involves thinking about the different disciplines in your self-designed major and how they work together to address a particular idea, problem or theme. That is not something that can be designed after the fact. However, students who have already taken some classes and realized they are making connections among different disciplines do successfully transfer to the IDST:DYO major. Often it works best for first-year students and sophomores.  

How can I get into the Design Your Own Major Program? 

Ward: If you are an incoming freshman and want to join the Design Your Own Major program, you can do so by going to If you are a JWU student looking to transfer into the program I recommend talking to your advisor as well as Wagner to help get you started in the program. Design Your Own Major is always looking for new and ambitious students with out-of-the box ideas.  

 Closeup image of student taking notes on their iPad