Independent Study

An independent study is a special project that an advanced student proposes to complete within a single semester to fulfill an elective course credit. Students usually are not eligible to propose an independent study unless they have completed at least eight courses in the government program. The tuition for an independent study is the regular tuition for a single course for the term in question. Students enrolled in an independent study are exempt from the two symposia requirement for the term in question.

Most independent studies involve a student working one-on-one with a regular faculty member (although a student may propose working with a faculty member outside the program). The project must follow a plan of study and end with a final paper. The project must not duplicate any course being offered in the government program. Because we encourage and emphasize the importance of classroom interaction, we only grant a few independent studies per semester. In other words, there must be a compelling reason for why a student is granted an independent study instead of enrolling in one of the program’s course offerings.

Proposals for an independent study should be directed to Dr. Kathy Wagner Hill, the Program Director ( at least 30 days before the start of the semester (exceptions can be made for last minute exigencies). Students interested in an independent study should first consult a faculty member to discuss the project and make sure they are willing to participate should an independent study be approved. Proposals must provide details of the project, reasons for why the project is necessary, the name of the instructor, and a plan of study.

Evaluation Criteria:

While the Program Director will remain flexible enough to consider unusual or pressing circumstances, the following criteria will guide the evaluation of independent study proposals:

  1. The current standing and success of the student: Students usually have completed  eight required courses by the beginning of the target semester for the independent study. Priority will be given to students for whom the independent study will be the final course before taking Research and Thesis. Other factors to be considered include a student’s grades, faculty input, academic performance, including attendance records from other classes, and overall goals of the independent study.
  2. The nature and value of the project attempted: The project’s workload must match that of a regular class, and the proposed project should not duplicate the material of a course offering in the program. For example, a student should not propose an independent study on interest group politics that covers similar material from a course offered on that same subject. If a course that duplicates the material of a proposed independent study is not offered during the current semester, the student should inquire when it will be offered again. Students seek independent studies for academic reasons, not personal or financial convenience. However, exceptional situations will be considered.
  3. The quality and detail of the proposal: Proposals should be clear and explain the project, what the student hopes to gain, and why the student deserves approval. Proposals should include a tentative schedule for proposed meetings, the number and titles of books or articles to be read, the number of papers to be written, and other research that will be conducted. The student should also discuss both his or her long-term and short-term goals and how this independent study will help the student meet those goals. If a proposal is rejected and the student wants to apply again, the student must re-submit the entire proposal before the next term. A student may include faculty recommendations, but it is not necessary.


Students should strongly consider registering for a regular course in the event that their proposal is rejected. If a proposal is approved, the registration will be transferred to the independent study. If a proposal is rejected, the student will then not have to miss out on a course because of filled sections. Proposal decisions may take up to one month.

If Your Proposal is Approved:

You will be notified and given registration instructions; your instructor will be sent a contract. You and the instructor should consult on a plan for the term, and you should regularly interact throughout the semester, either in person, by phone/fax/email, or by any combination.

At the end of the term, you must submit a copy of all writing or other work completed to the program director. Meanwhile, the instructor submits a final grade for the student on the usual grade form. The instructor also submits to the program director a brief report evaluating the student’s performance and the work accomplished during the term. The instructor cannot be paid until the final grade, student portfolio, and instructor evaluation are submitted. The program director, who must certify that the independent study merits course credit, may seek additional work or reports, if necessary, to certify that the project meets program standards.