independent study

How To Make the Most Out of Your Independent Study

Ready to get credit for studying something you really love? Here's a few things that you should know beforehand.
April 13, 2021
8 mins read

There are many reasons to take an independent study. Some students want to explore topics that are outside of their program or that are simply not offered at their high school or university. Others want to pursue personal goals such as completing a novel or working on a book translation in the student’s target language. If the student stays on track and works diligently, independent studies can be incredibly rewarding as they can help students pursue interests that they might not have time for otherwise. Whatever the reason for choosing this path, knowing how to make the most out of one’s course is necessary.

How Do Independent Studies Work?

The first step to any independent study is to figure out how to apply. Each high school or college has policies in place to help guide the student through what can be a formative experience, but many of these policies might be specific to the school. A good idea for a student wanting to succeed is to find information about how independent study works in their program. After figuring out the process, it is necessary for the student to know what they want to study and have a calendar set up for when content needs to be turned in. The student will likely work to develop their own calendar as a part of the application process.

The next step is to bring the idea to the professor. Generally, there is a form that the student may fill out that requires a detailed explanation of the student’s intent. Students should also be aware that many colleges do not provide financial compensation for professors who undertake extra work through independent study. Because of this, some professors will not be as eager to take on the extra tasks, especially those who may have many other students requesting independent studies. As a result of this lack of financial compensation, some students may find the application process for such a program competitive. It is therefore necessary for the student to have a clear idea of their goals for the study before bringing their idea to a professor. If the professor does choose to work with the student, they will then create a new course listing to go onto the students’ transcript.

Tips for Success

Set a calendar and stay on track: Not only do most programs require that a student create a calendar as a basic requirement for an independent study, but scholars at Oxford University also note that “time management of different tasks is critical to your academic success, so it’s important that you formulate a timeline, compartmentalize your tasks and prioritize. Set yourself enough that you are productive and challenged, but don’t be too ambitious, or you’ll start to flag.”  Establishing these clear goals can help students determine where to start and how much time to allot for each task. This will chart a clear direction through the program and prevent procrastination, hopefully without overworking the student.

Create a study space: Creating a space for oneself can be an essential part of one’s success. To boost productivity, it is necessary to separate the working environment from the relaxing environment. Many students find motivating themselves difficult at home, due to the vast number of distractions. While this is normal, there are ways to construct the perfect study space at home to promote productivity. Remember that one of the most important aspects of a study space is that it is only used for completing work. If this space is also used for playing video games, making fun phone calls and doing other leisure activities, it is more difficult to train one’s brain to focus when in this setting. Students who are unable to construct this space at home may consider going to a library, bookstore or even treating themselves to coffee if funds allow.

Pacing oneself is important: Experiencing burnout is never fun, and it can take a long time to recover from depending on the person’s endurance and the severity of the burnout. Because of this, an article on PrepScholar explains that “Education experts recommend that students spend no more than 50 minutes on independent study at a time, and no more than four hours of total independent study time a day. While four hours might sound like a lot less time than you spend studying in a regular school day, keep in mind that the independent learning you do at school is limited too.” Especially when studying remotely, many students find it difficult to separate work and home. Setting aside designated study hours and staying on a regular sleeping and eating pattern is essential for success.

Know that motivation might be an issue: Motivation and distraction can be two of the biggest adversaries for independent learners; however, there are many strategies that a student can employ to get around this. According to PrepScholar, one might “consider finding an accountability partner that checks in with you to make sure you’re doing your work.” Additionally, breaking the task down into manageable sections is a great way to make sure the tasks do not become too monstrous to even start. This technique is naturally more effective toward the beginning of the semester, as it is meant to help prevent procrastination.

Another way to keep activities interesting is to vary one’s method of studying. An article on the SkillsYouNeed website provides a list of what this might look like: “Options include reading over your notes, writing a mind map or drawing pictures, making up songs or poems to help you remember facts, doing practice questions, or even teaching something to your friends, and having them teach you something you find difficult. Meeting as a group to share and discuss exam answers prepared by each person can give you a helpful critique of your own answer, and also help you think of other ideas.”

Beth Jordan, Aquinas College

Writer Profile

Beth Jordan

Aquinas College
English Literature

I’m an aspiring author who enjoys long walks and good coffee. I enjoy reading sci-fi/fantasy novels, and I’ve been working on a series of my own for a number of years now.

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