My liberal arts college does not offer many courses that are considered required by many CS PhD programs.

Our college offers an independent study option where I can propose the topic I want to study and study it kind of one-on-one with a faculty member or with one other student. How are graduate schools gonna look at courses completed in this way? Are they gonna show less credibility towards them by thinking "Well.. it wasn't a regular course, it's not too important..." or are they gonna treat independent study in the same fashion as regular courses.

In other words, does it hurt/help PhD admissions in any way? I have taken two independent study courses already. Should I do another one, in say, "Programming Languages" (which is considered required by many programs) or should I just take another regular Math course (Statistical Computing in R) that is not a req. course by grad schools but can be considered as a potential CS elective

Edit: Independent Study classes do carry a grade.They are NOT P/F classes

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    Usually these classes will just be "Independent Study" on your transcript, you don't get to give it a title. Do you in your university? Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 2:08

3 Answers 3


The short answer is: it depends.

Before you decide to endure a independent study with a the professor, you need to create a statement of purpose of what you attempt to research, discover, review, analyze, and find that is creative and truly exceptional.

Dependent on the discipline, if you can be published in a major research journal, as part of your independent study, this will be very impressive to any graduate admissions office.

Usually the professor will name the course commensurate with your study.

For example, I completed a independent study as an undergraduate, and on my transcript it does not state “independent study“ but conversely it states “Theories in Literary Theory

It is always important to find out how your institution presents your independent study on your transcript.

Also, if your work is truly pioneering, the professor will most likely write you a very favorable letter of recommendation whose value is profoundly important.


I suspect that different people will look at such things differently, of course, but I would, generally, approve of them, given some constraints.

But it would depend on the course. If it is something that seemed more advanced than other options, or, better, more advanced than what occurs in most curricula, then it would be a plus.

This assumes, that the course is graded as usual, rather than just pass/fail, where it is harder to get a sense of accomplishment.

If a professor is willing to take the extra time to guide such a course, they would likely (not necessarily) be indicating respect for that student.

A professor who guides such a course might also be a good person to consider for letters of recommendation.

Lots of "regular" courses are designed for mainstream ideas. If you want to go beyond that you need to learn to work independently. Getting some guidance in it is a good way to start.


It really depends on other people, but if there's one thing I know is that it most likely won't hurt you in any way IF you complete regular courses along with one on one courses as you said. If I saw a student take these courses, I would most likely consider that as a positive.

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