What happens if you can't find a school that offers a PhD that aligns with your research interests? In many colleges and universities, graduate students have the option to create their own PhD programs if there is no established program on the books that meets their research interests. In fact, the individualized plan is growing, not just among graduate students, but also among undergrads, with about 900 colleges and universities offering individualized majors, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Decide what field you would like your PhD to be in. Write a list of goals for the degree and subjects you feel you would need to study, as well as a proposed dissertation topic. For instance, if you want a PhD in 16th century American women's history, you might note that you hope to have a master understanding of the social, cultural and historical issues facing women of the time period. You may want to study subjects like dress and fashion or literature, and you may propose to research political events in which women had a direct hand.

Create a list of schools you would like to attend. Don't simply list Ivy League or big-name schools, but examine the faculty and PhD programs at each individual school. Find schools where faculty specialize in your research interests or schools that house faculty members whose books you noted with special distinction. Write a list of at least 10 schools, as not all of them will be willing to allow you to create your own PhD program.

Carefully examine the PhD program offerings to make sure no program corresponds with your research interests. In some cases, you may be able to choose a broader program and specialize through the courses you take and your dissertation.

Check to see whether the university of your choice offers an individualized PhD program. If so, read the rules for applying; then submit an application. For instance, the University of Washington requires that individuals complete a Master's Degree or be current University of Washington graduate students who have almost finished their programs to apply. Non-University of Washington graduate students also must pay an application fee.

Meet with an adviser to determine your course. Work with a qualified adviser in your field to plan your program. You and the adviser will determine whether the university can offer your program, plan your courses and discuss possible dissertations.


If the school you are interested in attending does not offer an individualized PhD program, you can still set up a meeting with faculty members with whom you would like to work. Discuss your ideas with them, and they may be able to create a program for you or fit you in under an existing program.


According to the University of Washington, an individualized PhD program is not intended to allow students who did not qualify for an existing program to establish their own. If you are not admitted to a PhD program, try applying later or to a different school.

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