What Is Independent Study?

Independent study is a learning technique where you can be both the teacher and the student. Get information about how these programs work and the skills needed to succeed using this method.

How Does Independent Study Work?

Independent study is offered through most colleges and universities, as well as various organizations, such as museums and government agencies. Schools typically offer independent study as credit-bearing courses, many of which are transferable to other colleges. Some schools feature lists of independent study courses that already have curricula in place, while others will allow you to create your own class, especially if what you're seeking to learn about isn't taught at the college. For example, if you wanted to study 17th-century British life, and no class was available, you could work with a professor to choose appropriate materials and assignments for an individualized curriculum.

Additionally, some organizations offer independent study programs that are comparable to internships. For instance, an independent study program offered through an art museum might involve creating a piece of art or working to put together an exhibition.

Course Format Curriculum for the class is dictated by the enrolled student and supervising professor
Learning Environment Traditional classroom and online courses are available
Key Skills Attention to detail, self-motivated, organized, clear communication

Can I Do it Online?

If you're working with a professor to create an independent study course, you might be able to design it to be taken over the Web. Additionally, many pre-existing independent study programs feature online modules and readings. These often require completion of an online test, and some might mandate on-site observation. For example, if you're taking an independent study course in gun safety, you might be able to complete readings and tests at home, but you'll likely have to go to a shooting range for an additional observation test. This will show your instructor that you were able to internalize the information that you studied online.

Is it Right for Me?

In order to do independent study, you must possess a number of skills. First, you must be organized and self-driven. Since you'll be working alone, it's important that you can make and keep a schedule that will help you complete your study in a timely manner. You also must be a good reader and be able to understand what you're studying, although an instructor typically is only an e-mail or phone call away if you need help.

Independent study courses also might be right for you if you need to take a semester off from your regular college schedule but would still like to earn a few credits. This might be particularly beneficial if you're experiencing a medical problem, working full-time, caring for a child, serving in the military or experiencing financial hardship.

If you've already graduated and entered the workforce, independent study courses can provide a chance to improve your skills or gain special certification on a flexible schedule. In many cases, independent study can begin at any time of the year, not just the beginning of a semester. You also might have the opportunity to complete your study in a lengthier time than the 4-5 months that a semester typically runs.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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