Why You Might Consider Individualized Studies

Posted by Sam on January 17, 2017

Academic Success

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Did you know you that as a York U student, you have the option to construct a degree tailored to your specific needs? I’m not talking about simply adding a minor or second major to your existing degree, but about actually choosing specific elements and developing a degree to fulfill requirements set out by you in collaboration with a professor. I’m talking about Individualized Studies, available as a program both in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) on the Keele campus and at the bilingual Glendon campus.

What is Individualized Studies?

It’s probably wise to begin by distinguishing Individualized Studies from an Undeclared/Undecided Major, available in various Faculties. A student enrolling in Individualized Studies most often approaches university with the mind-set of, “you don’t have what I want and I’d like to tailor my own program,” while an Undeclared/Undecided Major’s mind-set is more along the lines of, “I’m not yet really sure what I want to study.” While different, the two do sometimes complement one another, however. Undeclared/Undecided Major students must choose a major after the completion of 24 credits, while to enter Individualized Studies as a program option, you must generally have completed at least 24 credits. If after completing 24 credits from a variety of different streams as an Undecided Major you now have an idea of what you want, but no existing programs cater to this interest, Individualized Studies is the next logical step.

The Fine Print

Before you begin drafting your proposal for a degree in Drake Discography, it’s important to know a few things. While students can tailor a unique program not otherwise offered by York, this new program must be proposed to and accepted by a coordinator. As a student proposing the program, you must have a specific reason for wanting to create your own degree, with specific courses you intend to use. The new program obviously cannot replicate or closely resemble an existing program already offered by York, and depending on the courses you choose to fulfill your new degree, permission must also be granted by the particular Faculties offering the courses you plan to use.

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Why would you want to enrol in Individualized Studies?

You’re at the dinner table, your distant cousin is sitting beside you, and she hits you with the dreaded “So what are you studying?”. The conversation at the table comes to a screeching halt, and all eyes shift to focus on your mouth as it formulates your response. You as an informed student know why you’ve decided on Individualized Studies — flexibility, better preparation for grad school and the like, but you know the second you utter the word “individualized”, you’ve committed yourself to at least a 10-minute discussion explaining your choice to create your own degree when you could just be joining an already established field of study, and the concomitant career options. So why Individualized Studies?

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One of the most common reasons someone would want to enrol in Individualized Studies is for reasons relating to future graduate school. For example, say you intend to go to law school after your undergraduate degree. Because there is no one designated program to prepare students for law school, students may not find existing undergraduate programs and their corresponding mandatory courses to be particularly relevant to what they eventually intend to pursue in law school. With Individualized Studies, on the other hand, you essentially have the opportunity to choose the courses you desire, ones much better suited to your hoped-for law school focus down the road. This same reasoning could be applied to students interested in medical school or other particularly specialized careers.

Individual Stories

There are, of course, more reasons to choose Individualized Studies. For a broader scope of possibility, read what led some real-life graduates from the program to their decision, as listed on the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies website:

James Gomez (2015), a dancer with an interest in technology and communications, did a study for Professor Patrick Alcedo, of the Dance Department, on instructional systems for teaching traditional Filipino dance to amateurs. He aims for a career on the communications side of business.

Devon MacPherson (2015) has an assistance dog named Barkley. She worked with Professor Cheryl VanDaalen-Smith, of Nursing and Humanities, to study the benefits of assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD, and her thesis also pondered the legal and social barriers to assistance animals. When Devon graduated, Barkley padded across the stage with her, in canine cap and gown, and everybody cheered. Devon went on to York’s graduate program in Disability Studies.

Alison Magpayo (2013) is a social activist interested in migration and labor. For Professor Philip Kelly, a geographer at the Centre for Asian Research, she wrote a thesis that took her to Israel, where she interviewed Filipino guest-workers and then turned those interviews into sociological fiction, for a website she designed. She then came back to York for a master’s degree with Professor Kelly and continued her research, with an activist eye.

As you can see, the possibilities are incredibly diverse. For a more extensive list of graduates, check out the graduate page on the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies website.

So next time it comes up, whether it’s at a family dinner, on the subway with a friend or on the phone with your curious grandma, straighten up, clear your throat and broadcast clearly and confidently the fruitful opportunities afforded by a degree in Individualized Studies. If you are a graduate of IS, or even a student currently enrolled in the program, please leave your experience below in the comments, or shoot us a tweet at @YorkUStudents.


Sam recently graduated with an Honours BA in Communications.

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