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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 areas 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 area (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 proposal 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).

The process of proposing a new academic program or requesting a change to an existing program will move online utilizing the Curriculum Inventory Management (CIM) academic proposal system. This online form will guide proposers through the collection of all required information. The automated workflow approval process collects all of the required sign-offs, and the system provides up-to-date information on the status of any proposal. All requests must be submitted using this CIM programs automated process.

For information on graduate emphasis area program proposals, consult Academic Program Approval and Change Processes.

To propose a new emphasis area, complete a New Program Proposal using the CIM Programs system.

To propose a change to an existing emphasis area, complete a change proposal (edit proposal) using the CIM Programs system.

The online form in CIM Programs will guide you through the information required to submit your proposal.

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.