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Independent Study Proposal Guidelines

Designing an Independent Study

Independent study provides students with the opportunity to work one-on-one with an instructor on a particular topic or creative project. Designing an independent study is an important part of the project, and together the student and instructor should discuss the aims and content of the study. The independent study proposal should include the study’s title, theme, readings, work to be submitted, and syllabus. While plans for the independent study may be tentative at the time the proposal form is submitted, students should fill out the whole form and not leave parts blank or “to be decided on later.” The Gallatin Faculty Committee on Individualized Studies will not review incomplete forms from students. Projects often change but it is important to put the plan in writing at the beginning of the semester so that the student and professor have a clear understanding of the work involved.

As you begin to work on the Independent Study Proposal, please refer to the Student Checklist to ensure that you do not miss any important steps or deadlines.

Identifying an Appropriate Instructor

An instructor for a Gallatin Independent Study should be an NYU faculty member. In rare cases a professor from another university or college might be approved to instruct an Independent Study.

The Committee on Individualized Studies strongly urges students to locate NYU faculty to direct their independent study. In rare instances a student may seek to work with a professor at another institution. There is no guarantee that a non-NYU faculty member will be approved as an instructor of a Gallatin Independent Study. Students seeking to work with non-NYU faculty members must attach the professor’s curriculum vitae (CV) with the proposal form for review by the Faculty Committee on Individualized Studies.

Number of Credits and Meeting Hours

Generally, independent studies are two, three or four credits. Credit amounts outside that range require explicit justification and special approval. The number of credits is determined by the amount of work to be completed and should be comparable to that of a Gallatin classroom course. The number of credits also determine the meeting hours. While the days and times of the student’s meetings with the instructor are “to be arranged,” instructors and students meet for a minimum number of hours per semester: for a 4-credit Independent Study, the minimum number of contact hours is seven (7). In arranging contact hours, instructors and students may choose to meet every week for one-half hour, every other week for one hour, or less frequently, if appropriate, as long as they meet for a minimum of seven hours over the course of the semester. Contact hours for an Independent Study which is less than 4 credits should be prorated accordingly (e.g., a 2-credit independent study should meet for a minimum of 3.5 hours). As in any other course, the student should come prepared for these meetings by completing readings and written work on time.

Credit Limitations

While students are encouraged to engage in independent work with the University faculty, the Gallatin program is designed for a careful balance between independent and classroom experience. Graduate  students are permitted to earn a career maximum of 12 credits in individualized projects (any combination of independent study, internship, tutorial, or private lesson credits.)

Title of the Independent Study

If a student chooses, the title of an independent study will appear on his/her official transcript. Please check the “Title On Transcript” box to indicate this. It should be a useful, descriptive title that reflects the unifying theme and content of the study. It should not duplicate an existing NYU course. The words “Independent Study” will appear before the title on the transcript: for example, “Independent Study (The Plays of Arthur Miller).” The title is limited to 26 characters including spaces and punctuation.

Description of Study

Like the course description in a college catalog, this part of the proposal essay should describe the general theme and scope of the independent study. The theme may be stated as a problem to be investigated, an issue to be explored, or an argument to be defended. The essay might indicate where the student is starting out and where s/he would like to get in terms of answering a question, exploring a phenomenon, understanding a theory, building a skill or other goal. It should articulate the theme and strategy of the study as clearly as possible within 250 words.


The student must provide a reading list with authors and titles, even if tentative, along with the proposal. The list should be comparable to a similar classroom course list (e.g., interdisciplinary seminars often assign 6 – 10 books, depending on length and complexity.) Readings may change during the semester as the study evolves, but the preliminary list should be appropriate for the number of credits, and should indicate the kind of works to be read. Proposals for creative projects should include readings, as well.

Work to be evaluated by the Instructor

The proposal should indicate the kinds of work (response papers, research essays, creative works, etc.) which will be evaluated by the instructor. Assignments should be comparable in extent to a similar classroom course (e.g., interdisciplinary seminars typically assign about 25 pages of writing over the course of the semester. Provide details about the work, including the number, length and type of work to be submitted (e.g., two research papers, one 10 pages and the other 15; a portfolio of 20 exhibit-quality photographs plus four reading response papers of 2 pages each). Ultimately, it is up to the student and instructor to determine the specific format of the work to be evaluated by the instructor. The work for the study should be submitted according to the schedule of due dates agreed upon at the outset, and as with a classroom course, late work may be penalized.


The student must provide a schedule of meetings which includes the topics, the readings, and assignments to be covered during each session. Students can revise and adopt their syllabus with their instructor once the semester begins.

Approval Signatures

Both the instructor’s and adviser’s approval of the proposal are required. While the instructor may agree to supervise the student’s work, the student’s adviser determines whether it is appropriate for the student to undertake an independent study. After submitting the proposal form, the student should follow up with both their adviser and instructor to make sure their approvals have been sent to Gallatin’s Faculty Committee on Individualized Studies.

Once the independent study proposal has been submitted to and approved by the Faculty Committee on Individualized Studies, the chair/dean indicates final approval with their signature. Please note that submitting a proposal does not guarantee approval.

Proposal Submission and Deadlines

The completed independent study proposal consists of:

  • adviser’s approval
  • instructor’s approval
  • completed proposal form
  • description of the study
  • syllabus
  • booklist

Students must submit all of the above components by the appropriate semester deadlines.

Student Checklist

Students should follow the deadlines listed on the Student Checklist to ensure approval of their proposal.

Instructor Guidelines

Faculty who will be working with and grading a student's independent study should read the Instructor Guidelines.