Independent Study

An Independent Study is a course in which students complete a writing project under the supervision of a professor. The writing project often takes the form of a scholarly paper, but can take other forms as well, such as an amicus brief, white paper, or other substantial written work involving research and original analysis. The FAQs below should provide you with all the information you need to decide whether an Independent Study is right for you.

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  • How many credits is an Independent Study?

    It’s up to you. You can take the course for 1 credit, 2 credits or 3 credits. The amount of work required will be commensurate with the credits taken. Generally speaking, each credit requires 4,000 words of work product, not including footnotes. Thus, a 3-credit Independent Study will generally require a 12,000-word paper, not including footnotes. Finally, keep in mind, under the J.D. Degree Requirements, you can only count a maximum of three Independent Study credits towards your J.D. Degree.

  • Can I satisfy the ULWR with an Independent Study?

    Yes, provided that (1) you take the Independent Study for 2 or 3 credits, and (2) your work pursuant to the Independent Study also satisfies the requirements for an Upper Level Writing course, which are:

    1. Pre-drafting requirements, including a written topic proposal and detailed outline.
    2. At least one full draft, on which the professor provides individualized feedback (e.g., one-on-one conferences, extensive written comments, etc.) that addresses both student writing and analysis.
    3. A completed paper.
  • Who should take an Independent Study?

    Independent Studies are a good fit for any student who (1) is interested in writing on a topic that would not fit within a seminar and (2) is well organized and motivated. This means that if you want to write on a paper on corporate governance, you should normally enroll in Corporate Governance (which is an ULWR course) rather than take an independent study. If you’d rather write on international monetary policy, however, an independent study would be a good fit—provided that you are well-organized and motivated. This last point is important because, unlike regularly scheduled seminars, Independent Study students will be responsible for managing the vast majority of their time. Students will meet with their supervising professor, of course, but students should not expect the same level of regular supervision and contact as in a seminar course.

  • Can I use an Independent Study to satisfy a journal requirement?

    That’s up to your journal.  If you are on a journal that requires a 25-page case comment, and you plan to write a 25-page case comment for an Independent Study course, ask your journal whether it will accept the Independent Study comment. Keep in mind that the deadlines for your journal obligations and your Independent Study may not coincide. If your journal requires you to submit a final paper by November 1, and your supervising professor has set a deadline of December 1, you will need to either ask your journal for more time or ask your supervising professor to expedite your work. Please note that some professors may unwilling or unable to accommodate schedule changes like this, though other professors may welcome such changes.

  • How are Independent Studies graded?

    Independent Studies are graded on an Honors/Pass/Fail basis. This means that the grade you receive will appear on your transcript, and the credits you earn (provided you earn an Honors or Pass) will count towards your degree, but your performance in the class will not affect your GPA.

  • How do I enroll in an Independent Study?

    There are 5 steps:

    1. First, determine what you want to write about. As noted above, Independent Study courses are for students who already have good sense of what they want to write about. For example, if you know you want to write about criminal law but don’t yet have a particular topic in mind, you are not ready to enroll in an Independent Study. In contrast, if you want to write about whether federal criminal laws apply to foreign corporations doing business abroad with American companies, you are probably ready to move to the next step. 
    2. Second, find a professor to be your supervisor. The professor should be someone who teaches or writes in the general field in which you plan to write. You can figure which professor might be a good match for you by looking at faculty bios online, or simply by asking around. Keep in mind that professors will sometime decline to supervise an Independent Studies for reasons having nothing to do with you or your topic. The professor might have already committed to 2 or 3 other Independent Studies, or may have taken on additional administrative work that semester. The more serious you are about working with a particular professor, the earlier you should contact that professor. 
    3. Third, work out a plan with the professor that specifies at least the following: (1) the date when a 1 or 2-page statement of the topic is due, (2) the date when a detailed outline is due, (3) the date when your first rough draft is due, (4) the date when subsequent drafts (if any) are due, and (5) the date when your final paper is due. 
    4. Fourth, fill out an Independent Study application. You can obtain the application from the Dean’s Office or by emailing Sharon Krol. You may apply as soon as registration opens for the semester in which you plan to take the Independent Study, but you must apply by 5 p.m. on Friday of the first week of classes.  You may submit the application by hand or by emailing it to Sharon Krol. This deadline is strict. Please note that the application requires the signature of your supervising professor, so do not leave it until the last minute.
    5. Stay tuned for approval of your application and enrollment. The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs will approve your application if it is submitted on time, is fully completed, and proposes a topic that that could not be addressed in a seminar available during that academic year. Once the application is approved, Sharon Krol in the Dean’s Office will add the Independent Study course to your schedule.  
  • How do the add/drop rules apply to Independent Studies?

    These rules apply to Independent Studies in the same way as they apply to other classes, except that you cannot add an Independent Study after the first week of classes. This is because the application must be submitted by end of the first week of classes. Thus, while you can drop an Independent Study within the first two weeks of classes (the ordinary drop deadline), you can only add the course within the first week of classes.