Policy: Directed/Independent Study for Undergraduates

Policy on directed/independent study for undergraduates, including instruction guidelines, enrollment, plan of study, credits, and course numbers.

Directed/Independent Study for Undergraduates

Policy Number


Responsible Office

Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


University Policy


This policy defines minimum standards for directed/independent study at the undergraduate level.


  1. Common Values and Expectations

    Directed/independent study is a high-quality mentored learning experience that requires regular and substantive instructional contact between the instructor and the student. By their nature, these experiences are highly variable. The common expectations defined in this policy are minimum standards that ensure the integrity of the student experience across the breadth of the university’s offerings.

  2. Instructors for Directed/Independent Study

    Academic units determine who may be a directed/independent study instructor in their subject area(s). Instructors must have the appropriate academic credentials to direct the specific course and must hold a UW–Madison instructor appointment. Some departments may limit this role to tenured/tenure track faculty. Others may extend this role to appropriately credentialed instructional academic staff and emeritus faculty. Teaching assistants and others whose instructional roles assume faculty supervision are not eligible to supervise directed/independent study. Each department is obligated to establish criteria and maintain a list of instructors who oversee directed/independent study in their subject area(s).

  3. Responsibilities of the Directed/Independent Study Instructor

    The instructor directs the student’s learning experience and ensures that credit awarded is linked to instructional activity and to projects appropriate to the UW–Madison learning experience. Any instructor who is approached by a student with a request to mentor a directed/independent study course may accept or decline the request. If the instructor accepts, they are expected to establish the instructional contact and content for the credit awarded and approve the student’s projects and learning experience. The student will integrate this information into their plan of study (see section V). The instructor is responsible for assessing the student’s work and determining the final grade. These instructor responsibilities are not to be delegated to others.

  4. Enrollment Deadline

    The student is responsible for initiating the request to and developing arrangements with the instructor. The instructor may accept or decline the request. All arrangements must be made by the course add deadline.

    A student who seeks to enroll after the course add deadline must receive approval from the instructor and department administrator or designee. A student who seeks to enroll after the late add deadline must receive approval from the instructor, department administrator or designee, and an academic dean of the student’s school/college. Approval will be considered only when a student’s plan of study is appropriate for work that can be completed at the late date in the semester/term, recognizing that the work for the specified number of credits must fit into a compressed time frame.

    A student may not enroll for directed/independent study for a semester/term once the semester/term has ended.

  5. Plan of Study

    The student is responsible for preparing a written plan of study, in collaboration and agreement with the instructor, consistent with the responsibilities of the instructor. The plan of study must include expectations for learning and student work, the time and place for regular meetings, the number of credits to be earned upon successful completion, and any other issues related to the learning experience. Both the student and the instructor are to keep a copy of the agreement for reference. The instructor may be asked to make the agreement available for review by the dean’s office, especially if the instructor is the instructor for a large number of directed/independent study students (section IX) or if the student seeks to add the directed/independent study course late in the semester/term (section IV). Many schools/colleges have a standard form that is used to document the plan of study.

  6. Appropriate Level of Credits

    Directed/independent study encompasses a broad range of student learning experiences, e.g., laboratory work, research projects, creative productions, faculty-supervised peer-mentor experiences, and academically supervised internships. The credit value of a directed/independent study must be determined and justified in the plan of study and must be consistent with the following:

    • The definition of the credit hour; and
    • The standards of the discipline; and
    • Direct faculty instruction including meaningful interaction between the instructor and student throughout the semester/term of study; and
    • The learning and work expected of the student including graded papers, projects, or other activities.
  7. Appropriate Use of Course Numbers for Directed/Independent Study Courses

    Directed/independent study courses are identified by their number. Course numbers in which the middle digit is 9 are reserved for individual instruction (i.e., directed study, independent study, research, and thesis) and are not to be used for group instruction.

    Directed/independent study courses with a number x98 (e.g., 198 or 698) are offered on a credit/no credit basis. Courses numbered x99 are graded. An exception to the use of the middle digit of 9 for individual instruction is made for honors courses; honors individual instruction courses are to have a middle digit of 8. The “x” in these examples signifies the appropriate level of the course.

    For directed/independent study courses, 199 and 299 are appropriate for lower-level undergraduates. Courses numbered 399 are used at the intermediate level and by some units for special purposes (e.g., internships in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences). Courses numbered 699 are intended for upper-level undergraduates.

    This distinction is important as such credits may be used in some instances to waive graduate-level requirements. (By campus policy, courses numbered above 699 are reserved for graduate students.)

    Students must enroll in the level of directed/independent study that is appropriate for their level in school and prior preparation. Academic units that wish to provide directed/independent study opportunities for undergraduates must make a range of numbers available (e.g., 199 and 299 for elementary level, 399 for intermediate level, 699 for advanced level) so that they may appropriately serve students with a range of prior academic experience.

  8. Limit on Directed/Independent Study Courses

    Directed/independent study courses must not be used for group instruction. Directed/independent study courses are only to be used when a student pursues individually mentored learning experiences, working one-on-one or in small groups (2-5 students) with an instructor, and with no regular group instruction taking place. If an instructor meets with groups of students on a regularly scheduled basis, the instructor must arrange for the students to be enrolled in a group instruction course (lecture, seminar, discussion, lab) instead of directed/independent study course.

  9. Limit on Enrollment for Instructors

    Due to the expected amount of faculty effort to teach directed/independent study students, the number of undergraduates enrolled in directed/independent study with an instructor is limited to 40 student credit hours per instructor per term, e.g., 40 students enrolled for one credit each or 20 students enrolled for two credits each. The enrollment of more than 40 student credit hours for a single instructor may signal that students are not receiving sufficient levels of individual attention, or that directed/independent study is being used for group instruction. If an audit identifies an instructor who exceeds this threshold, the school/college and home department will be notified and will be asked to confirm that the instructor is meeting all the academic standards outlined in this policy and that the high levels of directed/independent study are approved.

    Directed/independent study courses with zero credit enrollments are sometimes used to document non-instructional, co-curricular activities. Zero credit enrollments are excluded from the limit on enrollment for instructors.

  10. Administrative Rules

    • Enrollment in an undergraduate course numbered x98, x99, x89, 681, 682, 691, or 692 will require instructor consent (indicated in the course catalog entry).
    • The course will not be provided a room assignment.
    • The course will not have a meeting pattern.
    • The component type will always be set to IND, independent.
    • Each section of a directed/independent study course will have no more than one instructor.

Related UW–Madison Documents, Web Pages, or Other Resources

Approval Authority

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Policy Manager

Vice Provost for Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


Associate Director, Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research -- Michelle Young, MEYOUNG@WISC.EDU, (608) 262-2143

Effective Date

Source: View policy UW-1006 in the UW-Madison Policy Library


Keywordsdirected, independent, study   Doc ID116395
OwnerMelissa S.GroupAcademic Planning
Created2022-02-01 09:37:59Updated2024-06-27 11:39:35
SitesAcademic Planning
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