Special Majors Give Free Choice

News Feature

Justin M. Levitt '95 came to Harvard intending to major in engineering. But halfway through his first year, he changed his mind.

"Essentially, I was flipping through Fields of Concentration and didn't find anything I fell in love with," he says. "I did a 180 degree turn halfway through freshman year."

So Levitt decided to make his own concentration, in Visual Propaganda. He studies topics such as campaign art and commercials.

"I knew I was interested in politics. I had recently become interested in art, and was deeply interested in psychology," he says. "This seemed a good way to blend the three."

For Levitt and about 35 other students, Harvard's special concentrations option is a godsend. It allows them the freedom to craft a field of study outside the Faculty's 41 concentrations, with their rigid requirements and narrow specialties.

But Levitt and other students say the University seems to do all it can to make it difficult for undergraduates to create special concentrations.

"It was a nightmare," says Haile N. Adamson '96 of the application process. "Trying to find somebody to support my ideas was the hardest thing.

"I almost said 'forget it' several times," she says. "But once you get approved and you are doing what you want it is worth it."

Freedom to Choose

Special concentrators say they like the freedom offered by the independent fields of study.

"You make up your own reading list, your own requirements for the course, the things you are going to talk about each day," Levitt says. "You are really controlling what you are learning."

The requirements for a special concentration are not easy. For a non-honors concentration, a student must take 14 half courses. An honors degree requires 17, plus a thesis or an equivalent final project.

With non-honors requirements, a concentrator takes two or three semesters of self-designed tutorial with a self-selected tutor. For honors, a student must take tutorial every year.

But students say the work is worth it. In special concentrations, they can get the interdisciplinary studies most standard departments can't offer.

For example, Chuck J. Adomanis '95 is concentrating in theater architecture. For his senior thesis, he is redesigning the theater in Lowell House's basement.