Curricular Resource Center

Independent Studies

An Independent Study (IS) is a credit-bearing course designed by a student or a group of students on any academic topic. The IS program enables students to turn their passions into student-led academic courses.

Independent Study Advising Goals

The learning goals of our program are:

  • To connect the Independent Studies with the broader CRC and Open Curriculum mission and into our practice of mentorship.
  • To help students create/navigate their educational path.

All Independent Studies involve working with faculty to develop a credit-bearing course that is not a regular Brown offering. This means that participating students are responsible for researching the course topic, constructing a syllabus, and planning and conducting the academic coursework.

Independent Study Resources

Questions? Contact our Independent Studies coordinators at, CRC Director & Associate Dean of the College, Peggy Chang, or visit us at the CRC.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • A course idea which does not share much in common with any existing Brown course
  • A faculty sponsor
  • It is designed by students – everything from the course description to the syllabus and evaluation is created by students (of course, they receive support from the CRC and faculty).
  • It is about some topics not covered by an existing Brown course.
  • It sometimes, but not necessarily, includes innovative coursework: plays, music compositions, building furniture – anything you can think of.
  • The learning style of the GISP is collaborative and co-facilitated by all students in the course.
  • The faculty sponsor is not necessarily the content expert! They sometimes attend all class sessions and must attend a minimum of five.

Between 2 and 20. If more than 20 students are interested, you can put up to 5 students on a waitlist.

A (G)ISP is designed to be as rigorous as a regular Brown course (if not more). The standard workload is between 150 and 200 pages of reading per week or the equivalent for the course type, and it includes a midterm and final. That said, the workload of a (G)ISP varies according to the type of class being proposed, and there is plenty of room for creativity. (G)ISPs should meet as a group for at least 2 hours 30 minutes a week, with or without the Faculty Sponsor. The total number of hours of effort for the course must be at least 180 hours for a full-credit class.

Most definitely. (G)ISPs (and the open curriculum) exist today as a result of the coursework from Brown’s first ever GISP, back in the ‘60s.We encourage you to incorporate creative methods of evaluation and project work.

GISPs must meet on campus during their designated weekly class time(s). Classroom spaces can be requested through the University Scheduling Office/Registrar or by checking for availability in your faculty sponsor's department building. Classrooms are conditional upon availability. Students can also set up spaces directly through the department sponsoring their independent study. This information must be provided to the Registrar within the first week of the semester.

Like any other class at Brown, (G)ISPs can be taken for a letter grade or S/NC, but this grade option must be chosen at the time of application.

Your proposal is discussed by the Independent Studies subcommittee of the College Curriculum Council, which consists of students, deans, and faculty. They may reach one of three conclusions: Approval, Provisional Approval (with minor changes needed), Revisions Required (more than minor revisions for one more review by the IS Dean in the CRC), Significant Revisions, or Not Approved.

Yes! Students are allowed to shop (G)ISPs. However, the GISP student coordinator and faculty sponsor must submit a petition to add students to the course by the end of Shopping Period.

This is possible per our guidelines, but whether or not a graduate student can enroll in the GISP must be determined by the student's graduate advisor.

A language (G)ISP is created in conjunction with the CRC and the Center for Language Studies (CLS). Faculty sponsors or a co-sponsor should be fluent in the language that you want to study. If you want to do a (G)ISP at an introductory language level, open education resources (e.g. UT Austin's COERIL) can provide a great starting point for designing your class. Language textbooks usually contain mission/teaching statements that can help you navigate the curriculum and structure your course.

Introductory language (G)ISPs should meet 3-4 times a week, with at least three of those times involving face-to-face interaction. They should have daily homework. Students interested in doing a language (G)ISP should reach out to the CLS for help in finding additional materials and shaping language pedagogy.

This is up to your concentration advisor or department chair, but it is definitely possible.

Unfortunately, we cannot make exceptions if the submission deadline has passed. However, we encourage students to look into DISPs as an alternative.

(G)ISPs and AIs requiring funding to compensate instructors or for essential course activities (such as labs) will not be approved. However, a small amount of funding is available for course enhancement and activities beyond the planned syllabus. Faculty sponsors may apply for funds through the College's Salomon Curricular Mini-Grant proposal in UFunds.

We are fortunate to be at a place where professors tend to specialize in almost every area of study, so they are often the best resource. Ask them to lead you to people if they cannot help themselves. You can also look at syllabi from other universities or library books. Finally, consult with the Brown University Library Subject Specialists for help.

Related Information

An Independent Study Project (ISP) is a course you create in which you are the only student in the course.
Departmental Independent Study Projects (DISPs) allow individual students to initiate, design, and execute a credit-bearing course with the help of a faculty advisor.
An Academic Internship (AI) is a part-time, unpaid internship that is supplemented with some coursework on an academic topic related to the internship experience.
Global Independent Studies (GLISPs) are Independent Study Projects or Group Independent Study Projects but for students abroad. Students have the option of creating a Global Independent Study while studying abroad.