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 programs, interdisciplinary programs (which draw upon a variety of program 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 program rubric. Majors often require some additional collateral courses, with the sum of program 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

During the regular term in which a student is expected to complete fifteen (15) course credits, s/he will be notified by the Office of the Registrar that it is time to declare a primary major. The student will be provided with instructions to engage the process electronically by entering their myBerea web portal, clicking on “Academics,” and then clicking on “Academic Pathways.” A drop down box will provide choices of majors from which the student may choose. Once a major has been selected, the student should submit their choice and exit the system. If the student wishes to double major, the process must be repeated a second time to select the second major. The student will be given a window of opportunity early in the term to submit the choice(s) of major after which the Program will be given time to deliberate regarding the student’s choice. Once a decision has been reached, the Program Chair will submit a decision to the online portal indicating acceptance by the assignment of an advisor within the program or communication to the student indicating reason for denying acceptance. Denial can be either temporary or permanent depending on the reason(s) submitted by the Program Chair. (See Academic Programs and Courses in this Catalog & in the Student Handbook for admission to the major requirements and recommendations, if any, for Berea’s current majors and minors.)

Students admitted to the major will complete a Curriculum Plan for the remaining terms of enrollment with the assistance of the newly assigned major advisor. (Students proposing an Independent Major should follow instructions provided under “Independent Major” in this publication.) The Curriculum Plan provides a guide for the most efficient use of a student’s time in meeting the College’s graduation requirements within the guideline of the Eight-Term Rule (see “Graduation Requirements” in this Catalog & Student Handbook).

If the student needs more than eight (8) regular terms (or the equivalent for transfer students whose previous college coursework caused them to be credited with one or more terms) to complete the selected major, s/he must complete a Request for Extension of Terms form (with a curriculum plan attached), which must be submitted to the Office of Academic Services along with a letter explaining why the program cannot be completed within eight (8) regular terms. Failure to follow an approved Curriculum Plan will not be considered a valid reason for an extension of terms beyond the normal eight. Requests will be reviewed by the Director of Academic Services and/or the Student Admissions and Academic Standing (SAAS) Committee. (See “Eight-Term Rule and Extensions of Terms” in this publication.)

Students for whom admission to a major is not approved will be notified in the next regular term that they must reapply. These students and advisors may choose to develop a Curriculum Plan that can be retained by the student and the advisor and submitted later if the student is admitted to the major.

Students who fail to complete the Declaration of Major process by the end of the term in which they will accumulate 15 course credits, or who do not meet the minimum requirements for admission to the major, have one regular term to meet the minimum requirements. Failure to complete the process by the end of the next regular term may result in suspension from the College for two regular terms.

See “Academic Difficulty” in the Academic Performance Standards section for penalties associated with failing to declare a primary major within the time allowed by the College to do so.

  1. E-mail notification to student that it is time to declare a major
  2. Student accesses myberea portal (Click on “Academics” tab and then “Academic Pathways” link to choose the major.) If a student desires to choose more than one major, the process must be completed again to propose a second major
  3. Student window closes and Program Chair window opens
  4. Program Chairs are notified that it is time to begin review of proposals
  5. Program Chair window closes and student window opens
  6. Students are notified that it is time to check the response from the program (go to myBerea portal to check status)
  7. If student is approved, he/she will be assigned an advisor and will work with that advisor to develop a curriculum plan before the deadline for the process to end
  8. If the student is denied, he/she will be notified again in the subsequent term to complete the process in the same manner in the following term.

NOTE: If a student is beyond their 5th term and has not successfully declared their major, they are subject to suspension from the College for two regular terms.

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 & Student Handbook ’s Definition of a Major. While this list is not exhaustive, some examples of previously approved independent majors are: Appalachian Studies, Classical Studies or Classical Civilizations, Peace and Social Justice 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 programs with significant course work included in the proposed major curriculum. Normally, the primary advisor would be from the academic program 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 & Student Handbook 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 (online Catalog & Student Handbook, program coordinators, advisor’s information, etc.), 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 programs 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 the Dean of Curriculum and Student Learning (located in Suite 320 Lincoln Hall), liaison to the Academic Program Council. The Council and/or Dean of Curriculum and Student Learning 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. Students who are required to declare a major will receive notification early in the Fall or Spring term in which the student will accumulate fifteen (15) course credits.

    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 Director of Academic Services 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 (available in the Self Serve Room, 101 Lincoln Hall) explaining the need for additional terms in the proposal materials and submit it along with the Independent Major proposal. (The Office of Academic Services will coordinate the approval of both the major and the extension.)
  4. The Dean of Curriculum and Student Leaning will serve as the Program Coordinator for all Independent Majors.

Double Majors

Students may graduate with two majors. Approvals for second majors may be requested after 15 course credits are earned. The student must have earned an overall minimum GPA of 3.00 at the time of application. A Curriculum Plan must be submitted, including all courses required for both majors, 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 34 fields of study that allow students to broaden and deepen their particular areas of expertise. A minor program will be 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 Programs and Courses section in the online Catalog & Student Handbook remains the official source for information concerning the minor.

Minor Programs Offered at Berea