Independent Study Courses

Instructor: Carrie Soucy
Students interested in independent study will find courses offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at many schools. Read on to learn about independent study courses, how they work, and how students may best prepare to ace them.

About Independent Study Courses

Many colleges, universities and community colleges offer independent study courses for students who wish to study a subject or area not covered in existing courses or conduct an independent research project. Some schools offer independent study courses via distance learning opportunities such as coursework at another school, internships, or even studying while traveling.

How to Take an Independent Study Course

As you begin to consider taking an independent study course, check the policies of your school or department. Many colleges limit the number of credits you may receive through independent study courses within a semester or degree program. Next, you will typically need to find an appropriate instructor to supervise your course and receive approval from the dean or department head. To do so, you will need to fully understand and be able to articulate your learning goals by creating a proposed syllabus or plan. Also, keep in mind that not all independent study courses need to be designed for just one student. If you have peers or classmates who are similarly interested in your proposed independent study subject, you may consider working jointly to propose an independent study course to an instructor.

Resources for Creating a Proposed Syllabus

Creating a proposed syllabus that comprises appropriate learning tools for your independent study may seem daunting, but there are many resources available. Consider including research opportunities, readings and textbooks, writing projects, other courses, or internship opportunities. To help you build your syllabus and successfully achieve your goals, offers a variety of resources, which include:

  • Textbook substitutes and self-paced online courses in dozens of subjects, including business, math, social science, science, humanities, history, English, computer science, psychology, and foreign languages. Check out the college courses available to discover appropriate resources for your independent study.
  • If your proposed independent study course includes an internship, this course on How to Get an Internship may be a helpful tool. In it, you will learn about the benefits of internships and different types that are available, along with how to apply, interview for, and make the most of your internship.

Typical Requirements for Independent Study

Along with needing an instructor and approval for your proposed independent study, keep in mind that:

  • You may be required to dedicate a certain number of hours each week to your independent study coursework, and meet with your instructor at specified intervals.
  • An independent study course may not be approved if it covers the same subject as an existing course that is offered at your school.
  • Independent study courses are not usually applicable to a degree program's general education requirements.

Tips for Those Interested in Independent Study

To be successful in an independent study course, a student needs to be proactive and self-motivated. To ensure that you receive appropriate approval and earn credit for your course, make sure you:

  • Start planning early. You may expect the approval process alone to take as many as eight weeks at some schools.
  • Have excellent organizational and time management skills in order to independently complete your studies and illustrate progress to your instructor throughout the term of the course. For help, check out this College Success course, which includes lessons on time management, staying motivated, stress management, setting goals, and improving study skills.

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.