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Engaging Minds. Building Futures. 

Upper School Blog


Finding Passion - Personalized Electives

March 25, 2023
By Meredith Williams, Upper School Head

The SA Upper School values purposeful preparation for life after graduation. This blog is the third in a series highlighting the many ways the SA upper school’s design successfully launches students into their post-graduation plans.

At the SA Upper School, students have the space and support to design their own electives in their junior and senior years. Most students will use this opportunity to create a year-long course that unites several of their interests. Full texts, primary sources, interviews, site visits, internships, and apprenticeships provide the content for these courses while mentorship by an SA staff person offers guidance. Traditionally, students will demonstrate their learning through a culminating project that shows the breadth and complexity of their work.  

A Competitive Edge

The work students curate in their portfolios from these personalized courses give admissions officers, scholarship committees, and future employers an understanding of the students’ personal drive, depth of interest, as well as their academic and social agility.  

Not only do personal electives give students a competitive edge in obtaining their future goals, but they prepare them to embrace personalized learning opportunities they may find with increasing prevalence in higher education.

Create Your Own Major

Many colleges and universities now offer students the opportunity to create their own major. Most of these programs are referred to as interdisciplinary, individualized, or "design your own majors.”  

Emory University clearly embraces personalized courses and majors explaining: “Gone are the days of only traditional majors. Here, we foster creativity, curiosity, and the freedom that enables a vision for change. That’s why Emory students can create their own academic paths, combine seemingly unrelated studies, and hone in on how they can make the world better through their passions.”

Find additional examples of universities with design your own majors here:

Cornell University - individualized majors are all about you and your passions.

Johns Hopkins University - allows students to combine disciplines in Krieger School of Arts and Sciences to build toward a rich exploration of a clear set of principles or questions.

James Madison University - for students whose interests cross-cut traditional disciplinary boundaries and who are seeking control over their academic career.

University of Washington - allows highly motivated and self-directed students to pursue the questions about which they are most passionate.

Open Curriculum

Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of personalized academic exploration is provided by Brown University’s Open Curriculum model. Brown explains their approach this way:

“At Brown, our students develop a personalized course of study — they have greater freedom to study what they choose and the flexibility to discover what they love…as the architect of their own education, Brown students are responsible for their own intellectual and creative development.”

Brown’s Dean Rashid Zia states, “Our goal is a high one — that each and every one of our students is engaged, empowered and transformed by their education. What’s unique about Brown is that we elevate the role of students in achieving that goal as active participants in framing their own education.”  

The personalized learning made possible through the Salisbury Academy Upper School distinguishes our model similarly to Brown. Personalized electives elevate the role of the student and, consequently, equipped our graduates for lifelong learning and lifelong success.