skip to content

The Major

The primary purpose of the major is to encourage each student to explore a subject area in considerable depth. This in-depth study complements the breadth of study promoted by the General Education Requirements and, in many cases, by a student's choice of electives. Work in depth permits practice in critical analysis and the solving of problems. Because of its depth, such study also provides a sense of how knowledge grows and is shaped by time and circumstances.

The structure of a major should be a coherent reflection of the logic of the discipline it represents. Ideally, the student should be introduced to the subject area through a course providing a general overview, and upper-division courses should build upon lower-division courses. The course of study should, if feasible, give the student the opportunity and responsibility of doing original, creative work in the major subject. Benefits of the major program are greatest when it includes a culminating and synthesizing experience such as a senior seminar, an undergraduate thesis, or a senior project.


Undergraduates must select a major by the end of their sophomore year. All undergraduate major programs listed in this bulletin, except for certain honors degree programs that require application and admission in advance, are open to all students. Students may use Axess to declare, drop, or exchange a major at any time. In some departments or programs, though, a late change could easily result in extending the period of undergraduate study. Students who have applied to graduate, or who wish to declare an individually designed major, and coterminal students must use printed forms to select or change a major. Students requiring assistance should contact the Student Services Center. For academic advising regarding majors, students should consult the Undergraduate Academic Life Office (UAL).

Check individual department or program listings in this bulletin for the undergraduate degrees offered and for specific major requirements. If an area of study has no baccalaureate degree, that discipline is not available as a regular undergraduate major.

Faculty set the minimum requirements for the major in each department. These requirements usually allow latitude for tailoring a major program to a student's specific educational goals. The responsibility for developing a major program within department or program requirements lies ultimately with the individual student working in consultation with the major adviser.

Limits of the Major

In order to achieve the values of study in depth, a well-structured major should constitute at least one-third of a student's program (55-65 units). To ensure the values of breadth, a major should comprise no more than two-thirds of a student's program (115-125 units); and, to avoid intellectual parochialism, a major program should not require a student to take more than about one-third of his or her courses from within a single department.

Major requirements in cognate subjects essential to the structure of a given major should be counted as part of the major program in applying these guidelines. Department or school requirements designed to provide extra disciplinary breadth should not be counted.

For a limited number of qualified students, many departments and programs offer special programs leading to degrees with honors. A student may apply to the major department or program for acceptance into the honors program. Demands on the student may vary, but all honors programs encourage creative, independent work at an advanced level in addition to the major requirements.

The guidelines set forth here are deliberately general; implementation must take into account the specific needs of a student's program and the nature of the discipline or disciplines involved. The exercise of responsibility in achieving the desired educational balance belongs first with the student, who, after all, has the strongest interest in the value of his or her education. It belongs secondarily to departments and major programs, which must set the requirements of competence in the many majors offered.

Copyright ©2011 Stanford University | Office of the University Registrar | Academic Year 2011-12 | Terms of Use | Copyright Complaints | Report a Problem with this site.