Sometimes, college can feel like this never-ending list of pre-determined boxes to check, with no room for creativity or personalization. Sure, you choose and (hopefully) like your major, but within that, what can you do?
As it turns out, you can do a lot, and most of it you can do on your own.
1. Join School Organizations
This is probably the most well-known way of customizing your college experience, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Joining clubs, organizations, societies, sports, or Greek life can be incredibly rewarding and make every aspect of your college life feel more personal. And the more involved you can get, the more you’ll feel like you have control over your experience (of course you have more room to personalize your experience if you’re the president of the club rather than just a participant).
2. Get to Know Your Course Options
If you really look at your general education and degree tracks, you’ll likely find a couple different options of courses to take. Spend some time reading the course descriptions, looking at professors who teach them, and taking the time to compare what you’ll learn in each course to what you want to do in the future. A literature requirement can usually be fulfilled by multiple courses, but maybe you’ll get way more out of American Women Writers than English Literature.
The same goes for different professors. You’ll like your classes more if you’re taking them with professors who are rated highly on Rate My Professors and more closely aligned with your interests. Just taking this time can make a world of difference in how your degree feels, even if you’re staying in the Common Core version of it.
3. Take a Minor (or a few)
If you have the room — which, if you’re attending all four years of college, you do — I highly recommend taking at least one minor. This is easily achievable if you do some planning. It means you get to focus on your interests more specifically, and it looks impressive on your resume.
Declaring a minor is normally as easy as submitting an online form, and then taking the appropriate courses (usually four or so).
4. Double Major
Another option, which is gaining in popularity as job competition also grows, is to double major. This can take a lot of planning, and can be difficult to do if you’re a transfer student, but it’s really impressive and gives you an in-depth look at two subjects, which can be as similar or as different as you want.
You won't be able to do this completely on your own — you’ll likely need to discuss the double major with your academic advisor — but the more preparation you do ahead of time, the better. Look up both major tracks, figure out if there’s any overlap in prerequisites (which will help you get them done faster), and figure out your reasoning behind wanting to do a double major (which you often have to explain to get approved).
5. Take an Internship Class, or Design a Directed Study or Project
An internship class can be a great option if you’re looking to get specialization and real-world experience for your post-graduate path.
Most colleges will also let you design a directed study or directed project where you work with a professor to create an individualized course of study to learn or do something that wouldn’t otherwise exist at your school. Directed Studies often take quite a bit of planning, and you definitely need to coordinate with the professor you’ll be working with (they have to approve it before the department does), so start thinking about them early.
Both internships and directed studies are often available as part of your upper-division degree requirements, and can serve as great options for a capstone or thesis class. And, if you’re applying for jobs or graduate school, they show that you have direction and know what you want to be doing with your life.
6. Create Your Own Major
More and more colleges are offering this ability to create your own interdisciplinary major. You’ll probably have to plan out your proposed degree track, explain why this degree is different from others the school already has, detail your motivation for creating a specific degree, and follow a few college-wide requirements, like how many upper division courses you need to have.
This requires a huge amount of planning, and most schools require you to submit the proposal before a certain point in your degree (for me, it was before the end of my sophomore year). But you can actually do a lot of the work on your own and with the help of the website your college probably has for the DIY-major program. And the more work you do on your own, the more your dedication to the major will show through, and the more actual feedback you’ll be able to receive from your advisors.
7. Find What is Enough for You
In the end, your college experience should be something that works for you. If you’re happy with your degree as it’s already laid out for you, don’t feel pressured to do all the extra things — just focus on doing your degree well. But, if you don’t feel like it’s a perfect fit, you don’t have to feel hopeless and stuck; there’s a lot you can do to customize your degree and make it work for you.