Cornell University

Office of Student Services

101 Ives Hall, 607-255-2223 or 607-255-1515

Independent and Directed Study

ILR students talking in front of Ives Hall


ILR 4990 Independent Study

What is "Independent Study"?

In your Junior or Senior year, you may decide to follow up on an interest or a question that intrigues you in an Independent Study. Proposing an independent study (ILR 4990) begins with a statement of an issue or question of interest, then discussing this topic with a faculty member, and writing a proposal for credit. Students must write a description of their project, how the study will be conducted and with what level of faculty supervision, a tentative bibliography, and an indication of how the work will be evaluated. The proposal is then reviewed by the supervising faculty member and the Academic Standards and Scholarships Committee in ILR. Forms to be completed may be downloaded here (PDF), completed, and submitted to OSS, 101 Ives Hall. (Forms are also available in the OSS.)

What if I want to do a project with some classmates?

A project involving one or more students supervised by a professor is similar to an Independent Study, but is called Directed Study and is handled slightly differently.

How do I get started on a proposal?

In most cases, undergraduates begin with an idea, consult with a faculty member who may agree to supervise the study, focus the proposal, develop a preliminary bibliography, and submit it to the supervising faculty member and then to the Committee on Academic Standards.

Who will review my proposal?

The Committee reviews your academic record, which should give reason for confidence that you can complete a self-initiated and self-determined study, and the scope of the topic (to be sure that you have identified a manageable amount of material).

When do I begin my independent study or directed study?

Most 4990's are proposed at the end of a term (for the next semester) or at the very beginning of a term (within the first week).

How many credits will I receive?

Depending on the amount of work involved, and in agreement with the faculty member, you may request one, two or three credit hours for the study, and it may be ILR elective or general elective credit. If you and the faculty supervisor believe that you will be doing more work than one might expect for a three credit course, then you may request four credits and the faculty member will be asked to justify that fourth hour in a memo to the Academic Standards Committee.

How will I be graded?

An ILR 4990 is graded as you and the supervisor have agreed. In most cases, students meet on a regular basis with the supervising faculty member, discuss the reading or research completed, determine the next steps and consult on the "product" (customarily, but not necessarily, a paper). At the end of the semester, the instructor submits a letter grade for the 4990.

ILR 4990 Directed Study

In your Senior year, and perhaps in your Junior year, you and a group of classmates may be able to follow up on an interest or a question that intrigues you in a Directed Study. Registering for an "ILR 499" (a directed research project) begins with a proposal that states the issue or question that you want to study, how you will approach it, and how your work will be evaluated. Please see information on independent study, which follows the same process. Forms to be completed, covering those items, may be downloaded here (PDF), completed, and submitted to OSS, 101 Ives Hall. (Forms are also available in the OSS.)

Out of College Independent Study

You may request that a non-ILR professor supervise an Independent Study. The proposal must include

  • description of the topic
  • the methodology and resources to be used
  • the amount of academic credit to be awarded upon successful completion of the project

Forms need to be filed with the faculty member's College Registrar; for example, if you are doing an independent study in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, you need to submit their independent study form and file a copy with the ILR Registrar in 101 Ives Hall.

You also need to print out and submit a Permission Request form (PDF) to the OSS.

Out of College Directed Study

Two or more students may request that a professor outside of ILR supervise a "Directed Study" (ILR 4990), a research project for which a proposal is developed jointly among the students and the professor, then approved by the Committee on Academic Standards and Scholarships. The proposal must include

  • description of the topic
  • the methodology and resources to be used
  • the division of work among the students
  • the amount of academic credit to be awarded to each upon successful completion of the project

Forms need to be filed with the College Registrar; for example, if you are doing a directed study in the Agriculture and Life Science college, you need to submit their directed study form and file a copy with the ILR Registrar in 101 Ives Hall. (ALS forms are available in 140 Roberts Hall; Arts and Science forms are available in 61 Goldwin Smith Hall.)

You also need to print out and submit a Permission Request form (PDF) to the OSS, 101 Ives Hall.

Note: Some documents available on this page are in Adobe PDF format, which requires a free reader.