Stepping out of the box to find the perfect major

CHICAGO – Northwestern University had everything Nick Shultz wanted – except the right degree.

So he designed his own.

Now, the 20-year-old junior is on his way to graduating with a degree in “Criminalistics,” a curriculum he mapped out to study law, political science, physical chemistry and psychology.

What does he propose to do with his one-of-a-kind degree?

“I want to do investigative fieldwork for national-security purposes, high-profile crime cases, especially at the FBI,” he says. “They investigate all the national crimes such as serial killers.”

Shultz is among a growing number of students who design degrees that stretch convention and by turn, predict emerging cultural trends.

Ten years ago, only 410 interdisciplinary programs – which include “individualized major programs” (IMP), or designer degrees – existed, says William Newell, executive director of the Association for Integrative Studies.

Today, he says, that number has nearly tripled.

The growth in such majors is an acknowledgment of “the increased need for people to solve problems using more than one discipline, especially complex social issues,” says Stuart Henry, director of the School of Public Administration and Urban Studies at San Diego State University.