Make Classes for You: Writing a Directed Study by Melaney Mitchell (painting ’13)


You have probably heard through your time at KCAI about something called a Directed Study. A Directed Study is a student designed class that is then directed by a faculty member. Directed Studies seem really daunting because of the amount of work it takes on the part of the student. There are a few really good reasons to take on the burden of creating a directed study, and it really can benefit your overall experience of KCAI.

Internships: Yes, sometimes internships can morph into a directed study. I did far more than the limit for internships (you can only receive credit for four) while I was in school, so I turned one of them into a directed study. This can also be beneficial if you come across an internship that has other hurdles that keep it from getting you KCAI credit. At times, something as simple insurance clause at your internship site can be a roadblock beyond your control, but a directed study will help you still gain experience and credit.

Fill a confusing credit: The four-degree requirements students put off till senior year most frequently are Philosophy, History, Social Science, Literature. Why? KCAI has a very small liberal arts department, so often the course selection isn’t what you desire. You can also run into the problem where a course you have been waiting to see reappear on mykcai fills in 30 seconds or just isn’t being taught anymore. In both of these cases, creating a directed study can help you fill the gap and get something out of the credit instead of spending senior year taking classes you hate!

Get college credit for your extensive personal research: This one is tricky, but honestly makes for creating the easiest directed study. We’re all encouraged to research as a part of our studio practice, and often that research goes off the beaten path. For me, I was immersed in researching how artists are interacting with the Internet. There weren’t classes being offered specifically on that topic but I had -no exaggeration- hundreds of pages highlighted from printouts of articles, books, etc. sitting in my studio. I turned that into one of the most fun and rewarding classes I took at KCAI because it was so self motivated.

Refine writing or research: Often we find ourselves writing only for classes. However, as artists, refining our writing skill is extremely important. We need to be sure that we can convey to a curator, collector, or our general audience what our work is about. We need to know how to write grants, and things like cover letters in order to progress in the professional world. Using a directed study to write things you enjoy, helps you hone a craft that you’ll end up relying on more and more as you move forward. Plus, it will make writing papers less of a foot dragging exercise from hell and turn it into a serious walk in the park.

How to “Make it Happen”
Now that you know some good reasons to do it, here’s what it takes. You have to write a curriculum. That process itself takes a lot of work on your part, and you have to commit to that. It ended up helping me learn about teaching before I ever tried to lead a classroom.  You will also have a ton of paperwork to sign, different offices to run around to, and sometimes you will get frustrated.


Remember, in order to make the school work for you, some effort needs to be put in. If you don’t like dealing with this kind of stuff, ask an organized friend to help you write your application and pay them generously with Chipotle and/or pizza.

The Form:

You can download it on mykcai. Here’s how.





Under Academic Applications, Forms, Guides & Policies you need to click on Directed Study information & application.

The Requirements

  • You need to be enrolled the semester before you try to create a directed study (sorry freshman and transfers, you need to wait)
  • You must have a minimum GPA of 3.0. This takes big commitment, they need to trust that you won’t fail!
  • Student must be in good academic standing. This is in section 4.16 of the student handbook. Again, this is a huge trust thing.
  • Student must be a sophomore, junior, or senior.
  • Student may not exceed 12 credit hours of directed study. You cant do more than 4.
  • Student must write a proposal following the guidelines on the attached form, and obtain signatures of appropriate faculty and staff.

Actually Making it Happen
This is essentially where you see, you must create a syllabus for your class! I went to my studio professor first for help with how to do this part. Keep in mind though, you are creating a syllabus for a class and you will need a faculty member to advise and teach this class. Make sure before you go through with writing the proposal that you have approached and talked to a faculty member that would be appropriate to work with you and that they have time! Adjunct professors do not get paid to do directed studies with students, so typically they will say no unless you can prove that you will put in the work necessary to make it beneficial for both parties.  Finally, faculty can only commit to one directed study per semester, so be mindful that the teacher you want to work with may not be available until next year.

For my first directed study, I worked with a teacher who already knew me as a former student and also knew how personally motivated I was about the subject matter. For my second directed study, I approached a teacher who taught a class that wasn’t being offered on the subject matter. After a few conversations and reviewing my proposal the faculty member agreed to work with me.

My Guidelines and Format
You’ll be able to see all of this information on the directed study form, but take a look at any of your class syllabi and you will realize that this is following almost the exact same format. Format your document like this is a syllabus. (Even put it in the same Garamond font that KCAI uses and tag on the rules and regulations.  When it comes to getting signatures, this shows that you took one step further to prove this is a class worthy of college credit)

  • Class Title
  • Faculty Name
  • # of Credit hours
  • Synopsis (include how often you’ll  meet)

Then follow answering the prompts, keeping it in the format of a syllabus. Give as much sound reasoning as possible.

  • Course Objectives and Goals
  • Course Description
  • Why is this project necessary for your major? Why can’t the goals be met through the regular curriculum?
  • How does the project fit into your short and long term goals as an artist?
  • How will the outcome of this project impact your educational development? What new skills will you acquire? (Use bullet points for explanations.  Looks good and gets the point across)
  • Assignment timeline (this isn’t required, but breaking down what you will do week by week will not only put you at ease but it will help your faculty sponsor and emphasize again that this is a class worth college credit)
  • Assessment
  • Required Texts
  • Attendance Policy

Recap & Good Luck!
Now you can see what work goes into a directed study, but hopefully you can also see the benefit it can have. This entire process was a headache the first time I did it, and a breeze there after. An important parallel to note, I spent the entire summer and fall after graduating applying for grants. This directed study application is almost identical to my grant applications with the kind of questions it asks. The only thing really missing is a budget! That’s experience worth having.


Best of luck to you on your directed study applications! Hard work pays off!

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