Independent Concentration

Students with academic interests that cannot be pursued adequately within an existing departmental concentration, certificate or interdisciplinary program may apply to the Independent Concentration Program. An applicant must have a strong overall academic record (including a 3.0 GPA) and is expected to develop a rigorous and coherent program of studies with the support of at least two members, at least one of whom is a member of the regular faculty.

Step 1: If you are interested in pursuing an independent concentration, you should first schedule a meeting with your residential college dean. Independent concentrators must successfully demonstrate that their proposed plan of study cannot reasonably be completed within the structures of an existing academic department and/or in conjunction with an established certificate program – given the extraordinary resources of Princeton’s existing curriculum, only a handful of proposals will meet this high standard. For this reason, an early conversation with your college dean is essential for gauging whether or not your ideas are a good fit for the program. Princeton’s existing departments often contain avenues of study that students may not have considered, and so this early conversation can help you discover how a particular interest or approach could be most fruitfully explored within the structure of a department or alongside other students with similar interests in an interdisciplinary certificate program. 

Here are a few factors you should keep in mind:

  • In light of Princeton’s substantial independent work requirements, all independent concentrators must define a methodological approach to their project even as they successfully conceptualize the interdisciplinary benefits of the proposed concentration.
  • Proposals that seek primarily to “major” in a certificate, build a concentration around a senior thesis topic, or help a student avoid less appealing requirements in an existing department are strongly discouraged.
  • A successful independent concentration depends heavily upon a student’s self-motivation, resilience and initiative, and so these features, along with the coherence and substance of the proposed independent concentration topic, are also considered when evaluating proposals.
  • To ensure that a student can effectively complete an independent concentration, the applicant must also demonstrate that ample faculty and curricular resources exist to support the proposed plan of study. From time to time, the Committee on Course of Study has declined to approve otherwise outstanding proposals, because ample courses did not exist to support the student’s program, or because essential faculty members would be unavailable during the student’s junior or senior year.

Step 2: If your college dean believes your idea for independent concentration would meet these criteria, the next step will be to find supportive faculty members to help develop your ideas and your program. Independent concentrations should be interdisciplinary in nature, and so you will likely want to speak with faculty members in one or more departments to sound out your ideas. Eventually, you will ask two faculty members to serve as your advisers and to write in support of your application. These faculty members are crucial, and must be willing and available to oversee your entire program of study and assist you in making any needed revisions or amendments. For this reason, at least one of the supporting faculty must be a member of the regular faculty – not lecturers or part-time instructors. Moreover, the faculty members should not plan to be on leave during your junior and senior years. The two faculty members who sponsor your application typically serve as the advisers for your two semesters of independent work in your junior year; you may elect to work with a different adviser for your senior thesis, if such a move is in keeping with your research focus and is approved by your original faculty advisers. You have the flexibility, in consultation with your residential college dean, to identify additional faculty mentors as your program evolves.

Step 3: The final stage of the proposal process requires you to submit a formal application. The independent concentration application is available here.

Applications for the independent concentration program are due on December 15 of your sophomore year, with decisions typically rendered by the start of the spring semester.

Proposals are reviewed first by the deputy dean of the college, and then by a subcommittee of the Committee on Course of Study and the Committee on Examinations and Standing for consideration for final approval. Students will be notified of the subcommittee’s decision no later than February 1.

If approved for an independent concentration, you must complete at least eight upper-level courses (300- or 400-level, with 200-level and graduate courses ineligible), including the methodological preparation that will be essential for your four required semesters of independent work (two junior papers and a senior thesis). In lieu of a departmental comprehensive examination, you will have an oral defense of your senior thesis — a discussion of the conclusions, methods and implications of the thesis research—with your two faculty advisers. In addition, you must fulfill the University writing, foreign language and distribution requirements.

Your residential college dean acts as the departmental representative for independent concentrators, so you will need to meet with your dean regularly to discuss your program.

You are eligible to earn honors as an independent concentrator, based on your departmental courses, your junior independent work, your senior thesis and your oral defense. The deputy dean of the college and your residential college dean will work with your faculty advisers and their departments to establish fair criteria for awarding honors.

Examples of some recently completed independent concentrations include Linguistics, Cultural and Media Studies, and Epistemology, Cognition, and Intelligent Systems. However, due to the highly individualized nature of independent concentration proposals, students should not assume that their proposal will be accepted merely because another similar proposal was approved in a previous year.