How Many Hours Of Independent Study Should You Do At University?

how many hours of independent study at university
how many hours of independent study at university

Independent study is a form of educational activity done by an individual student with little to no supervision. A student and their faculty will generally agree upon a topic for the student to research with minimal instruction and guidance from the professor for an agreed-upon number of academic credits.

Independent study provides a way for students to pursue a topic of interest that does not necessarily fit into a traditional academic curriculum. They are a way for students to learn specialized material or gain research experience.

Determining the ideal number of hours for independent study at the university is a crucial question for every student. Striking the right balance between classroom learning and self-guided exploration can significantly impact academic success.

In this article, we’ll explore factors influencing independent study and offer guidance for optimizing your study hours.

What is an independent study?

Independent study is an alternative education program that addresses individual student needs and learning styles. The model allows students to complete their academics outside the traditional classroom setting.

An independent study means that you design your syllabus of academic readings and writing assignments, and persuade a faculty member to agree to meet regularly with you and evaluate your work, typically for one credit.

You can normally receive 1-4 credits for your independent study class, depending on how much work is required, how many books are required, and the policies of the institution.

Each institution establishes a cap on the amount of credits that can be earned through this kind of instruction. The way you obtain grades in conventional college courses will apply here as well.

Most colleges allow undergraduate and graduate students to take independent study courses. Undergraduates usually need a certain number of credits under their belt before pursuing this type of study. Graduate students may find independent study particularly helpful, as it can allow them to take a deep dive into a topic related to their research and thesis or dissertation.

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What are the benefits of independent study?

While independent study requires a bit of extra determination and willpower, this unique learning opportunity also offers you the chance to demonstrate your take-charge attitude and learn about a subject you find challenging and exciting.

Depending on a school’s guidelines, you may also be able to explore a subject relevant to your dissertation or thesis.

Independent study offers several benefits to students, making it a valuable learning approach in various educational settings.

Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Customized Learning: Independent study allows students to tailor their educational experience to their individual needs, interests, and goals. They can choose topics and materials that align with their passions and career aspirations.
  • Flexibility: Students have the flexibility to create their study schedule, which can be particularly beneficial for those with busy lifestyles, part-time jobs, or other commitments. It enables them to balance their education with other responsibilities.
  • Self-Direction: Independent study encourages self-motivation and self-discipline. Students learn to manage their time effectively and take ownership of their learning, which are valuable skills for life beyond academics.
  • Deeper Learning: With the freedom to explore topics at their own pace, students can delve deeper into subjects that interest them. They can engage in in-depth research, critical thinking, and problem-solving, leading to a more profound understanding of the subject matter.
  • Improved Research Skills: Independent study often involves extensive research, which helps students develop strong research skills, including information retrieval, evaluation, and synthesis. These skills are transferable to many fields and professions.
  • Enhanced Critical Thinking: Independent study encourages students to think critically and analyze information independently. They learn to question assumptions, form their own opinions, and develop the ability to make informed decisions.
  • Self-Assessment: Students engaged in independent study often need to assess their progress and adjust their approach as needed. This self-assessment fosters a growth mindset and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

How does independent study work?

An independent study means that you design your syllabus of academic readings and writing assignments, and persuade a faculty member to agree to meet regularly with you and evaluate your work, typically for one credit. 

Every independent study course must be instructed by a teacher who is certified in the relevant subject area. Additionally, they must adhere to the district’s adopted curriculum, and their work is supervised by a written contract that they, their supervising teacher, and their parents have all signed.

An independent study does not measure attendance by “seat time,” the number of instructional minutes per day, week, and year that students are required to be at school.

It is also a great chance to explore modes of learning that might differ from the established culture of traditional classroom learning.

An independent study should ideally complement and add to the existing curriculum of your program. Because some courses may only be offered every other year or even less frequently, some professors will also allow you to use an independent study to study a subject that doesn’t fit into your schedule.

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How do you plan your independent study program?

Independent study requires early preparation. When considering potential topics, talk with your faculty advisor to make sure the subject you’re interested in isn’t already covered in your college’s curriculum.

While school policies differ, the following are common steps you need to take when planning for independent study:

Get an instructor

Get the instructor you want to work with to say “yes.”. Contact your teacher early to go through the material, readings, syllabus, and written work that will be evaluated. You can do this by email or in person during office hours.

Create a study plan

Create a study plan or a proposal. A strong proposal is essential to an independent study’s success. You should write a statement of purpose for it that outlines the particular subject you will be studying, its substance, and how it relates to your academic objectives.

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Create a syllabus with learning objectives

For an effective independent study program, you need to create a syllabus with learning objectives, required writing and reading assignments, due dates, methods of assessment, and earned credits. Finally, make sure you prepare a schedule of face-to-face meetings with your instructor.

Get approval from the faculty

The last step is to get written approval from both your faculty advisor and resident dean. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to start your independent study.

What are your responsibilities for independent study?

Independent study takes place outside of the planned class hours. Make sure you have the time before applying for a course of this nature. In general, professors set a weekly work requirement for their students based on the number of credits they will award.

For instance, as a general guideline, a three-credit course corresponds to three hours of lecture and two hours of homework for each credit each week (i.e., you can anticipate spending about nine hours each week during the semester on a three-credit independent study class).

Faculty members expect students to remain organized, self-directed, and self-motivated during their independent study class. Just like regular classes, you must meet all assignment deadlines.

Normal meeting frequency is decided by instructors. Others would prefer to meet only once a month, while some might demand weekly sessions. Before beginning, ascertain their expectations. Keep a good balance between work, life, and school in mind when you choose your independent study topics and college class schedule.

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What are the requirements for independent study?

Independent study programs can vary widely depending on the institution, level of education, and specific goals of the student. However, there are some common requirements and considerations for independent study:

  • Specific Academic Level or Number of Credits: Some schools require students to finish their first and second years of college before pursuing independent study. Other schools require a certain number of completed credits.
  • Minimum Cumulative GPA: Cumulative GPA requirements range from 2.0 to 3.0.
  • Major or Minor Credit: Independent study courses usually apply to your major or your minor, but not toward general education requirements.
  • An Advisor: Instructors take on independent study courses at university besides their regular classes and research commitments and are often busy. Finding a faculty member to sponsor you may take time. Remember that the advisor you choose must be an expert in the area you’d like to study.
  • Approval: You also need the approval of a faculty advisor, resident dean, and/or program director.

Most educational institutions place a ceiling on the number of independent study courses a student may enroll in; other institutions limit this number to one or two every semester. To learn more, talk to your academic advisor; they may assist you in deciding whether independent study is the best option for you.

How many hours of independent study should you do at university?

The number of hours of independent study required at university can vary significantly depending on several factors, including your major, course load, institution, and personal study habits.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some general guidelines to consider:

Credit Hours

A common guideline used in higher education is the “2:1 rule.” For every credit hour you take in a course, you should spend approximately 2-3 hours on independent study per week. For example, if you are taking a 3-credit course, you might spend 6-9 hours per week on independent study for that course.

Course Difficulty

The number of hours needed for independent study at the university can also vary based on the difficulty and complexity of the course. More challenging courses typically require more time for reading, research, and problem-solving.

Course Load

Your overall course load for a semester or quarter also impacts the amount of independent study required. Taking on a heavier course load may necessitate more independent study hours to keep up with coursework.

Major or Program

Different majors and programs have varying expectations for independent study. For instance, students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields may need more independent study time for problem-solving and laboratory work compared to students in the humanities or social sciences.

Learning Style

Your learning style and study habits play a role. Some students may need more time to understand and master course material, while others may be more efficient in their study methods.

Academic Goals

Your academic goals can also influence the amount of independent study you choose to undertake. If you aim for high grades, research opportunities, or graduate school, you might invest more time in independent study.

How much interaction and instruction do students receive under independent study?

Some student activists contend that medically fragile kids should have the same access to a live remote program as students in a classroom. It would be unlikely for most districts to impose a duplicative structure quickly, especially since many districts are already having trouble finding teachers for in-person education.

The wording of AB 130 is broad on purpose to reflect the fact that younger pupils engaged in independent study require more teacher involvement than older students.

Every day synchronous or live education is required for pupils in transitional kindergarten through third grade. There must be “an opportunity” for daily interaction and live instruction once a week for children in grades four through eight. There must be some kind of synchronous instruction for high school students.

FAQs on Independent Study at University

What is independent study?

Independent study is a self-directed approach to learning where students take responsibility for planning, organizing, and completing their coursework without regular in-person class meetings.

What resources are available for independent study?

Resources for independent study can include books, research materials, online courses, academic databases, software, and access to experts in your field of study.

How many hours of independent study should I do per week?

The number of hours of independent study can vary widely depending on factors like course load, course difficulty, and personal study habits. A general guideline is to spend 2-3 hours of independent study per credit hour per week.

What are some challenges of independent study?

The challenges of independent study can include staying disciplined and motivated, managing time effectively, and ensuring access to necessary resources.


The specific details and requirements of independent study at a university can vary by institution and program, so it’s essential to consult with your academic advisors or institution’s guidelines for the most accurate information regarding independent study opportunities.



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