Definition and Declaration of Majors and Minors

Definition of Major

At Berea College, the term “major” describes one of the three parts of each student’s undergraduate curriculum (the other two parts being the General Education curriculum and the student’s self-selected elective courses). The major is a set of courses selected to provide an opportunity for a student to undertake in-depth study. The College offers majors in discipline-specific departments, interdisciplinary departments (which draw upon a variety of departmental courses), and student-designed independent majors. A major field of study has these aspects:

  • a central core of method, theory, and content;
  • a formal integration of the diversity of topics and analytical tools within the field of study;
  • an intellectual sequence of study that moves to increasingly complex and sophisticated understandings; and
  • opportunities for students to demonstrate some mastery of the field of study's nature, tools, central questions, arguments, history, philosophical presuppositions, limits, etc.

It also is understood that a curriculum that represents a major cannot provide full coverage of all of that field of study, and that the major's size will be limited to respect the traditional eight-term duration of undergraduate study. Unless approved by Faculty action for exceptional reasons, a major consists of 8 to 12 course credits from a particular departmental rubric. Majors often require some additional collateral courses, with the sum of department offerings and collateral courses being no more than 16 course credits, unless additional course credits are approved by Faculty action. A student-designed Independent Major (see “Independent Major” in this publication) would be guided by the same principles.

Designating an Exploratory Major

In the Spring term of their first year, students will engage in a process to designate an Exploratory Major. This is a required procedure and is intended to promote reflection upon emerging disciplinary interests and to help prepare the student for the Declaration of Major (Note: The designation of an Exploratory Major is not an official declaration of major. For information on this process, refer to “Declaration of Primary Major”). After the student has identified an Exploratory Major, a new advisor in that field of study will be assigned, unless their current first-year advisor is already in that major and available to provide service in the student’s second year.

Declaration of Primary Major

Students are expected to declare their major in the spring of their second year. Transfer students (students who were degree-seeking students at a different institution prior to enrolling in Berea), who are credited with 2 or more transfer terms are expected to declare their major in the spring of their first year. Transfer students who are credited with less than 2 transfer terms are expected to declare their major in the spring of their second year. 

Once the student has requested acceptance to a major, academic departments will either 1) accept, 2) not accept, or 3) conditionally accept with specific conditions that can be met by the end of the next term. 

Students who are accepted or conditionally accepted must submit a curriculum plan to the Registrar’s Office in order to complete the Declaration of Major process. Failure to submit a curriculum plan will result in a hold being applied disallowing confirmation or registration until a curriculum plan has been submitted. If the student needs more than eight (8) regular terms (or the equivalent for transfer students) to complete the selected major, the student must request an Extension of Terms.

Students who are not accepted to a major and students conditionally accepted who do not meet the conditions for their acceptance to the major must complete the Declaration of Major process in the next regular term (Fall of the 3rd year, generally). Students who are not accepted into a major in this second attempt are subject to suspension.


Retention in Major

Students who do not maintain a Major GPA of 2.0 or higher may be subject to removal from the major at the discretion of the major department. Students who are not retained in their major must make progress toward being accepted into a different major prior to the beginning of the next term. Students who do not meet this expectation will be subject to suspension following a review by the Office of Academic Affairs and/or the Student Admissions and Academic Standing (SAAS) Committee.

Independent Major

An Independent Major is an option available to students who wish to pursue a field of study that cannot be met through an established Berea College major program. Students are free to propose majors, provided they meet the criteria in the Catalog's Definition of a Major. While this list is not exhaustive, some examples of previously approved independent majors are: Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Community Development.

At least one term prior to when they plan to declare the major and submit their proposal, students interested in an Independent Major should talk with the Teaching Faculty members they would like to have as their primary and secondary Independent Major advisors. (Each advisor must be above the rank of instructor and a member of the Teaching Faculty from one of the departments with significant course work included in the proposed major curriculum. Normally, the primary advisor would be from the academic department in which the greatest number of courses would be taken. The secondary advisor should be chosen to provide the student with guidance in an area related to the field of study.).

To propose an Independent Major, students develop a rationale outlining and explaining their goals (career, educational, etc.) for the proposed Independent Major and why none of the existing majors (alone or in conjunction with other majors and minors) in the Berea College Catalog will meet their specific goals. Students explore the Independent Major by looking at other accredited four-year institutions of higher education and finding approved undergraduate majors in the student’s proposed field of study. These majors will be used as the model for the Berea College Independent Major. Using the list of courses/experiences required at each of the other schools, and in consultation with the primary and secondary Independent Major advisors, a tentative curriculum is developed based on offerings available to Berea students. Students then prepare a comparison chart for the other school’s program and their proposed Independent Major at Berea. Students should prepare a narrative to go with the charts and, wherever the proposed plan deviates from the program being used as a model, students must explain their reasoning for the change(s).

Using the latest information available concerning when courses next will be offered in the set of Course Sequencing Tables, students prepare a Curriculum Plan showing how the degree will be completed in their current and remaining terms. This Curriculum Plan must be reviewed and approved by the Independent Major advisors. Additional approvals for the curriculum itself and the title of the Independent Major must be obtained from the coordinator of all departments in which two or more courses in the major are required (including core, capstone, and collateral courses). The student then meets with a College reference librarian to assess available resources for the Independent Major curriculum. The student also will prepare a list of other resources (people, centers, institutions, museums, etc.) available to the student to support the proposed major. The student and Independent Major advisors all must sign the cover sheet after careful review of the completed proposal.

Completed proposals with all required signatures are submitted by the deadline each regular term to the Associate Provost (located in Suite 320 Lincoln Hall), liaison to the Academic Program Council. The Council and/or Associate Provost may accept, reject, or request that the student modify and resubmit the proposal. If approved, copies of the final version are sent to the student and the Independent Major advisors and the original is kept in the student’s file in the Office of the Registrar.

Proposals are subject to the following guidelines:

  1. For students declaring an Independent major as their primary degree program, the online declaration of major and the completed Independent Major proposal must be submitted by the regular-term deadlines set by the Office of the Registrar.

    Note: Preparation of a completed proposal can take months and should begin in the regular term prior to when the student intends to declare the Independent Major.

  2. For second majors or those wishing to change their primary major, proposals must be submitted by the regular-term deadline set by the Office of the Registrar.
  3. The student must obtain approval from the Office of Academic Affairs if the proposed Independent Major will require that the student’s College career be more than eight regular terms (including transfer terms). To obtain approval for an extension, the student must complete the Request for an Extension of Terms paperwork explaining the need for additional terms in the proposal materials and submit it along with the Independent Major proposal.
  4. The Associate Provost will serve as the Department Chair for all Independent Majors.

Double Majors

Students may graduate with two majors (or three in rare circumstances). Approvals for second majors may be requested at the time of declaring a primary major or after. The student must have an overall minimum GPA of 3.00 at the time of application. A Curriculum Plan incorporating all courses required for both majors, must be submitted at the time of application. Students with double majors are expected to complete degree requirements within eight regular terms. To receive the degrees in both majors, the student must meet the curriculum requirements of both and earn a minimum GPA of 2.00 in each major.


Berea College offers minors in 38 fields of study that allow students to broaden and deepen their particular areas of expertise. A minor program is a program with a minimum of five course credits and a maximum of seven course credits. Independent minors are not permitted. Application for a minor may be made at any time after 15 course credits are earned. To be eligible for a minor, the student must have earned a minimum GPA of 2.00 at the time of application. A Curriculum Plan that includes both the major and minor, as well as remaining General Education course work, must be submitted at the time of application. Students undertaking a minor are expected to complete degree requirements within eight (8) regular terms. A minimum GPA of 2.00 must be earned in order to complete the minor. A Minor Checklist for each minor is made available to students and advisors via a link from this posted publication, but the description in the Academic Departments and Courses section in the online Catalog  remains the official source for information concerning the minor.

Minor Programs Offered at Berea