Undergraduate Calendar 2006-2007

University of Waterloo

I N D E P E N D E N T   S T U D I E S

Independent Studies emphasizes individualized plans of study. Students have the opportunity to determine their academic goals and methods. Methods can take the form of independent library or laboratory research, group discussions, seminars, courses, and/or field placement. Areas of study can include any of the humanities, fine and performing arts, social sciences, environmental studies, health sciences, science, and mathematics, or applications of these areas where the University of Waterloo has faculty expertise to assist students.

Independent Studies students are encouraged to explore a variety of interests and develop a perspective beyond that of a single discipline. Similarly, students are encouraged to explore a number of methods which may provide a depth of perspective on a specific area.

Most courses offered at the University of Waterloo are available to Independent Studies students. However, students are encouraged to tailor their academic plans to their learning needs which for some may mean taking few if any courses.

The ability to ask a meaningful question, obtain information related to that question, synthesize that information, and communicate conclusions, are important life-long learning skills that are central to Independent Studies and are also valued by employers.


The Bachelor of Independent Studies (BIS) degree is a three year degree awarded by the University upon successful completion of the requirements described under the Independent Studies academic plan.


  1. General Requirements

    The admission requirements of Independent Studies are the same as the minimum General Admission Requirements of the University for full-time study. In addition to these requirements, students must have the academic potential and motivation to work independently.

    Admission is determined by an Admission Committee which interviews applicants.

    1. Academic Potential
      Students must be able to do academic work at university level. Evidence of academic ability may be demonstrated by one or more of the following:
      • The completion of the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) including a minimum of six Ontario Academic Courses (OAC), six Ontario Grade 12 U and/or M Courses or the equivalent (refer to the "Admissions" section for details on admission categories, requirements, and procedures);
      • The successful completion of some university-level courses;
      • Written information from a teacher or professor attesting to this;
      • Other evidence such as independent scholarly work.
    2. Motivation
      Students must be so motivated that they can pursue their academic work independently. The committee would like evidence that an applicant has worked on her/his own projects outside of regular work or studies (i.e., started own business, built own computer, prepared original reports). The two reference letters attesting to this motivation are important and should be specific, giving examples of projects undertaken.

  2. Advanced Standing

    If a student is transferring from another university or other post-secondary program or coming back to university as a mature student with some post-secondary academic background, prior course work obtained may reduce the time of enrollment required in Independent Studies (IS) to a minimum of four terms.

Independent Studies Academic Plan

The Independent Studies academic plan is divided into two phases: the Pre-Thesis Phase and the Thesis Phase.

  1. Pre-Thesis Phase

    New students in IS begin by developing a study plan with the assistance of advisors in IS. This study plan focuses on expectations and objectives of a student's academic activities and establishes the habit of setting specific goals which provide structure for independent study. Each student during each Pre-Thesis Phase term will meet at least five times with IS advisors to discuss her/his academic work.

    A study plan (Term Plan) is required of every student at the beginning of each term during the Pre-Thesis Phase. A complete record of academic work accomplished during each term (Term Report) must be submitted at the end of each term. These documents of work completed in the Pre-Thesis Phase provide the basis for review and evaluation.

    Students must spend at least two terms in this first phase if they have already completed two terms of university work, or at least four terms (of a possible six) if they have not previously attended university. While students in Pre-Thesis Phase may take regular university courses, they are expected to engage in a significant amount of independent study and are encouraged to develop a perspective beyond that of an individual discipline.

  2. Thesis Phase

    The Bachelor of Independent Studies degree (BIS) is recommended to Senate by the Academic Board of Independent Studies. The Board is composed of faculty members drawn from the disciplines represented on the University of Waterloo campus. The Board is assisted in its assessment of each degree candidate by a committee of supervisors, appointed by the Board to advise and evaluate the students during the Thesis Phase.

    Students may make application to the Academic Board for entry into the Thesis Phase of the Program (two terms of registration) after successfully completing a minimum of two terms in Independent Studies and at least four terms of post-secondary university work. Applicants must submit, in writing, a thesis proposal which details their post-secondary academic history, the proposed plan of research and study and a timetable for completion of the thesis. This document is prepared in consultation with the proposed thesis supervisors who must approve the thesis proposal before it is submitted to the Academic Board, and with advice from an IS advisor and Contact Person appointed from the Academic Board.

    The decision to accept an applicant for Thesis Phase is based on an assessment of (a) the applicant's general preparedness for BIS degree level studies and (b) the suitability of the degree studies proposal with respect to academic level and the University's capability to support such studies and examine the resulting work.

    On acceptance of a student's thesis proposal, the Board formally appoints two thesis supervisors including at least one member of the University of Waterloo's regular faculty. Over a period of at least eight months, the student meets regularly with the supervisors to carry out the approved plan. When the work is completed, the supervisors are required to submit written evaluation of the candidate's performance as a basis for recommending the awarding of the BIS degree.

Standing - Pre-thesis Phase

A student who has satisfactorily completed the work specified in the term plan and who has submitted a satisfactory term report will be allowed to proceed to the next term as long as the limit on the number of terms allowed in the Pre-Thesis Phase has not been reached.

A student who has not submitted either a term report or has not satisfactorily progressed in the work specified in the term plan will not be able to proceed.

A student may be granted conditional status. This indicates borderline performance in meeting term objectives. Performance must improve in the next term to remain in Independent Studies. In some instances, conditions may be specified for continuing in the next term.

Options and Minors

Students enrolled in Independent Studies may elect to complete the requirements for an interdisciplinary option or a minor. The option or minor will be designated on a student's diploma and transcript upon graduation.

BASc-BIS and BA-BIS Combined Degrees

Two joint degrees are available. A BASc in Engineering with a BIS in Independent Studies and an honours BA in Arts with a BIS in Independent Studies. The combined degrees are designed for students who excel academically and would benefit from non-traditional modes of instruction.

A student in a combined degree plan completes all requirements of the Engineering or Arts degree in which he/she is enrolled and also the requirements for a degree in Independent Studies. The combined academic plans require time in addition to that required for completion of the BASc or BA degrees. However, by doing additional academic work during academic terms and co-op work terms or off terms for regular students, it may be possible to complete the combined degree in the time frame required to complete the BASc or BA degree.

Admission to the combined degree plans is after year one of an Engineering or an honours Arts academic plan. Some clear indication of the student's ability to handle her/his academic plan at a high level of proficiency is required before admission is considered.

Graduate Opportunities

The responsibility that students in Independent Studies must assume for their studies ensures that graduates will possess a high level of organizational skills, self-discipline and motivation combined with their attested academic development. These capabilities have prepared them well for further endeavours and have proven advantageous in their search for employment.

Graduates have been remarkably successful in building upon their degree programs to further their formal education. A sizeable number have gained graduate degrees, many on scholarship, from Waterloo and other Canadian universities or universities in other countries. In addition many have completed professional training in law, education, medicine, business and other areas. Others have tailored their academic plans to prepare themselves to meet specific job requirements, or have started their own companies.

Further Information
Independent Studies Program Office, PAS 1055, (519) 888-4567, ext. 32345.
Independent Studies Website: www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/interdis/independent


The Undergraduate Calendar is published by the Office of the Registrar, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1 Canada

Contact Information: Need academic advisement help? If so, please direct your inquiry to the appropriate Undergraduate Faculty Advisor by visiting
the Undergraduate Faculty Advisors page on the Registrar's Office website for contact information.
If you are reporting technical problems and broken links in the calendar, send an email to roucal@uwaterloo.ca.
All other inquiries may be directed to: registrar@uwaterloo.ca.