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Emphasis areas allow students to acquire specialized knowledge within the broader field. With emphasis areas, students focus their studies in a defined area of an existing degree programs.

Only degree-seeking students can choose an emphasis area. Individual academic units may stipulate course prerequisites or GPA requirements for emphasis areas. The emphasis area will be noted only on a student’s transcript, not the diploma. The emphasis area and the degree must be awarded simultaneously.

An emphasis area is formally approved and transcripted and should not be confused with a “concentration” or “focus,” which are informal definitions used by departments to denote a coursework grouping. A concentration or focus is not formally recognized or transcripted.

Emphasis area proposals must contain common, coherent elements within the degree program that all students in the degree complete. Ideally, there is a common set of courses. If not, at least some common objectives and learning outcomes must be articulated. In addition, the uniqueness of the emphasis areas proposed (i.e., how the emphasis area branches off from the common area of study) must be spelled out (i.e., separate and unique set of course work or outcomes).


The process for establishing an emphasis area begins with the academic program curriculum committee and requires the approval of the appropriate divisional approval body (if applicable), the involved dean(s), the Graduate Faculty Senate, and the Dean of the Graduate School, prior to the approval by both the Provost and the Chancellor.

The “academic program committee” can be based in a department, a formal interdepartmental program faculty, or an intercollegiate program faculty. The appropriate divisional approval body can be at either the collegiate level or, in the case of intercollegiate programs, the Graduate Faculty Senate itself. Once approved by the Provost and the Chancellor, the paperwork will be forwarded to the UM System Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs for approval and transmittal to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE).

Proposals should include (1) rationale for the addition of the emphasis area – general statement of need in the form of a cover letter, (2) curriculum before changes are made, (3) curriculum after changes are made (the core curriculum must remain the same with a significant percentage of difference between each emphasis area in order to justify the additions), (4) a demonstration that the courses will be offered regularly enough to allow students to complete the emphasis area in a timely fashion, (5) a list of and rationale for any additional course prerequisites or admissions requirements, (6) an account of the advising and support services that will be provided to students pursuing the emphasis area and the program director responsible for these services, and (7) the endorsement of any academic units likely to be affected by the creation of the emphasis area.

Once the dean of the academic unit has approved the emphasis area request, send the completed proposal c/o Anita Cowan to the Graduate School, 210 Jesse Hall.

For more information on the creation of emphasis areas, see the Policy for the Review of Academic Program Proposals on the Coordinating Board for Higher Education website.