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I've been talking to one of my professors at a Master's program about enrolling in an independent study course under his supervision.

(An independent study course is a course in which a student engages in guided study on some topic under the direction of a faculty member. Students formally enroll in such a course as part of a degree program, just as they would for a traditional course, and it appears in the students' transcripts, academic records, etc.)

However, it's not clear to me whether independent study courses work the same way as regular courses with respect to tuition and credit accounting:

Tuition: Am I expected to still pay tuition for independent studies?

Credits: With traditional courses, there's typically some quantitative relationship between the number of credits a course is "worth" and the contact hours it involves. For example, a 4-credit course involves a certain amount of class time.

With independent study courses, where there are no fixed contact hours, is it common for institutions to have some expectation of how much time a student is supposed to spend on the course, per credit hour? For instance, that a 1-credit course expects about N hours a week from the student.

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Since you ask about 1 or 2-credits, I'm assuming you're talking about doing an independent study course with the professor and not creating your own independent study track.

Independent studies (also called independent readings, directed research, tutorials, etc.) are essentially micro-classes of one or two students. You come up with your own reading lists, discussion topics, or projects -- subject to the approval of the professor. Whether to list it as 1 or 2 credit hours (or in my university 3 or 4 credit hours) is up to you. In general, you should plan on spending as much (or more) time in your independent study as you would with any other class.

From the registrar's perspective, it's just another class that you are taking. If you pay a flat fee for up to 5 classes a semester, then it can be one of those 5 classes. If you pay a fee for each credit-hour, then it would count as one of those paid credit hours.

I do independent readings with the undergraduate seniors, master's students, and PhD students when they come to me with topics that are of interest to me, but aren't in the regular course catalog. Since faculty do not get paid to teach independent study courses (we don't get any more money for doing this, nor do we get course releases for it), we're essentially do them out of the good of our hearts or because the topic is particularly of interest to us and/or we'd like the interaction with advanced students.

  • This scheme seems perfect for the university, they get tuition at no cost! – Davidmh Jul 17 '14 at 7:26
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    @Davidmh except for the cost of the time the Professor spends teaching/supervising the student (and the cost of any lab space or equipment). – StrongBad Jul 17 '14 at 10:39
  • @RoboKaren, thank you for your helpful response. So I guess from your experience, it is not common for there to be some kind of time limit on how much a student can an independent study? – cgeorge Jul 17 '14 at 17:32
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    You should generally spend as much time as in any intensive seminar or lab. If more, you should ask for more credit hours. However, the general assumption is that independent studies are student-driven and that you WANT to be doing it. I read hesitation in your statements. If you don't want to do it, don't do it. Your prof will be the first to thank you for not wasting his time. – RoboKaren Jul 17 '14 at 18:01
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Although there are several differences between a traditional course and an independent study course, for tuition and credit accounting, they are considered to be the same. If you receive credit for the course, you will also be expected to pay tuition for the course.

In my experience as a student who did an independent study (as an undergrad, it may be different in higher level courses), I designed the course and decided on the number of credit hours based on the amount of time I expected to spend on it. For example, a 1-credit course is expected to meet for one hour per week, plus 2-4 hours of homework/study out of class, for a total of approximately 4 hours per week. A student is therefore expected to put in approximately 12 hours per week for a 3-credit course. Tuition is then based in the credit hours that the student and instructor together have assigned to the independent study course.

With independent study courses, where there are no fixed contact hours, is it common for institutions to have some expectation of how much time a student is supposed to spend on the course, per credit hour? For instance, that a 1-credit course expects about N hours a week from the student.

Yes, as I indicated above, there are usually some expectations as to how much time you are expected to put in to earn a certain number of credit hours. However, as we all know, not all students need to put in the 2-4 hours of out-of-class study time to learn the same amount of material. In an independent study, this is also true. If a student in motivated to pursue an independent study, I will expect that you are also motivated to put in the number of hours needed to achieve your objectives for the course. I will also expect that you will put in more hours than you might in a traditional course because of your enthusiasm and desire to learn.

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