BYU Independent Study

BYU Independent Study is kind of adorable.  As far as I can tell, it’s been around in some form or another since the 1920s. You can take a huge variety of accredited college and/or high school classes and you don’t have to be accepted to BYU (though you can be if you want), and there’s no need to apply. Plus, it’s cheap.

I found myself in a bind several months ago, needing to finish some pre-requisites for a graduate program I was applying to while also not wanting to go over my ‘this will forever give you non-resident’ status limit at that university. One of my friends suggested I do BYU independent study. I said,’there’s no way I could get a bishop’s endorsement.’ And he said, ‘dude.’ (he calls me dude even though I am ambivalent about caucasians) ‘these are classes for girls who got married but didn’t finish their degrees! you don’t need an endorsement! or even be accepted to BYU! you just pay the money!’ Which is funny because of all the people taking a BYU independent study course, the women that went to BYU but didn’t finish I bet are the good, nice people who still qualify for a bishop’s endorsement. He was right, though. I paid 450 bucks for a fully accredited college anatomy (and online lab!) course.

So I signed up, bought the book, bought BYU’s lab manual and DVDs and then they sent me a packet.


(she’s cute right? she reminds me 0f a BYUified SB2)

Included in the packet are info about the course and lab, homework assignments for every section, lab assignments, these things called ‘Speedback Assignments’ (it’s trademarked, don’t try using that name for anything, don’t try), and scantron sheets. I ordered the online as opposed to print version of the course, so the scantrons were kind of adorable, but it turns out I was really pleased with that packet. It made me write down definitions, label things, answer questions, take quizzes. The pen to paper action made me remember more and do more work than I probably would have done otherwise. It was printed on remarkably thin paper and doubled-sided, so you know, props to BYU for making it as eco-friendly as possible. It was also full of spelling mistakes which kind of made me feel superior every time I noted one. I kind of liked that too. And if it weren’t BYU, I would have sworn it was a template designed by the dude who loves caucasians, little space for long answers, lots of space for short answers, weird alignments, misnumbering and mislabeling.  I can only assume someone was high on fun.  It’s unprofessional look might be off-putting for some people but I didn’t mind it at all. I’m not kidding. That poorly put together packet made me learn anatomy better than if it were just me and a book.

I found a Meridian article about BYU independent study (I’d link to it, but somebody told me it causes cancer) which noted that 75% of students who take these distance courses are not members and that through these courses BYU “is able to extend a positive influence among non-members”.  And, adorably, they try to be a positive influence with questions like “David slew Goliath by hitting him in the forehead with a stone. What area of the skull did the stone enter in Goliath’s head?” (answer: frontal sinus) and in lab, they showed a vein that stays the same but changes names and the little lab assistant on my lab DVDs says, “the best way to remember this is to think of this vein like Saul/Paul. Same person, different name.”  Then the lab assistant told the story of Saul/Paul. Did he seize a teaching moment? Yes, yes he did. Plus they spend a long time and many pages emphasizing birth defects caused by alcohol (a lot! don’t drink while pregnant!).

I do have a couple of complaints and they’re both having to do with that fact that they won’t let you take exams online. It was not their fault, but I misunderstood that when I signed up for the online class, so there I was in motor-vehicle-inaccessible, unreliable-postal-service Iquitos Peru being told that they could only mail (mail!) my exams to an authorized, unknown to me, English-speaking proctor of my choice. I spent a lot of time on the phone with very polite people trying to explain that while I understood their hard-copy exam/mailing policy, surely Iquitos was weird and we could work something out. No. No. No. Very politely no. What if their approved proctor received a soft copy of the exam and proctored it for me? No.  C’mon BYU! This is 2009! Every online class I’ve ever taken has exams online. There are lots of ways to get around people cheating! You can have proctors, you can have time limits, you can have open book tests (which people still fail if they don’t study)! This behind-the-times-ness is even more annoying to me than short-sleeved white button-up dress shirts. Use the internet! I know it’s evil. But also, it’s your friend! You can harness its powers for good!

The other complaint is that you have to wait a long time for your results, since once you take the exam, it must be mailed in, then graded, then the results are mailed back to you. And you never get to look at your graded exam. They tell you how many questions per section you missed but because they want to recycle questions, you have no idea really what you missed. Also, there’s no one to argue with over your scores or the wording of a question but that might be okay because usually being able to argue those things makes us annoying people.

So that’s it. My review of BYU independent study. Overall, even though I’ve been calling it adorable which it was, I liked it. It saved me a lot of money and I felt like I learned as much as I would have in a regular class (though probably not with a regular lab, it’s different watching a DVD than dealing with a real-life cadaver). You have to be motivated to do get it done, you have to live in a place with a reliable mail service, and you have to not mind typos, but if you’re in a bind and you then BYU independent study is for you!


  1. In the early 90’s I was thinking about taking some BYU independent study classes after I saw a brochure on a bulletin board at church. I wrote in for some materials and read a bit about the program. They emphasized the four areas that a general studies degree emphasized; one was “Man and Beauty.” The others were all along the same theme: “Man and…”

    Even then in my most faithful days, I decided that since I’m not a man, this wasn’t a good fit.

  2. “(she’s cute right? she reminds me 0f a BYUified SB2)”

    What’s an SB2?

    Or do I not want to know that?

  3. Mephibosheth says:

    I would also like to bear testimony of BYU Independent Study. When I needed a particular general ed requirement to graduate and couldn’t fit anything halfway interesting into my schedule I bought the Philosophy 101 course and polished it off in five days.

    My packet was not riddled with typographical errors, though. I got the impression that each course was designed and run by a particular professor, so the anatomy professor probably didn’t care about spelling and whatnot.

  4. @Ann–but “Man and Beauty” sounds like such a fascinating course!

    @Zongle SB2 is a person (miss you!) she’s looks vaguely like a non-BYU version of the girl on my packet.

    @Mephibosheth, I’m sure you’re right. There’s a little testimony at the beginning by the professor who oversees the class. I assume the typos etc are actually his TAs’ fault.

  5. I took a bunch of independent study courses while finishing my BS/BA. It’s the only way I could take 21 hours my last semester to finish both degrees. I also took a class while away on an internship and one the summer before my mission.

    (Off the top of my head, Math 121, HistofCiv 122, and two Spanish lit classes. HistofCiv was the best one.)

  6. My only real encounter with BYU was that I realized _after_ I graduated from college that I forget to take college math, which was a prereq for professional school. If I remember correctly, a few hundred bucks, about 10 hours of scribbling on sheets of paper, and I had completed a year of math for credit. Best fake, silly hoop I ever jumped through.
    Good for you on the anatomy front.
    (PS there’s a hilarious SNL skit recently about online degrees)

  7. > (she’s cute right? she reminds me 0f a BYUified SB2)

    LOL! Oh, Amri. I’m not sure if I should be happy or sad that I don’t already look “BYUified.”

  8. happy Cynthia. You should be happy.

  9. though, I dunno, have you ever worn jean culottes before? that’s what it looks like she’s wearing.

    another not SMB brother of mine told me that BYU independent study gets regularly recommended to Harvard grad students who have to finish pre-reqs-jump through hoops.

  10. Serious question: Does the honor code now allow women to wear jeans on campus?

  11. Mark- I was there 2003-2008 and everyone was wearing jeans.

  12. Mark, yes. I believe it was 1980 when they were first allowed to.

  13. When I was a BYU student I spent eight months working for Independent Study as a ‘Quality Control Web Course Tester.’ Basically, I went through their courses and fixed typos and formatting. If you get around to taking the high school math courses, those should be all proofread and such.

  14. Stephanie says:

    I took a BYU Independent Study Course while I was at BYU. For some reason, I couldn’t get the hang of Humanities. I failed a couple of tests and dropped it on the last day you could drop with a “W”. So, I took the Independent Course and barely eeked out a B (for someone with nearly a 4.0 GPA, this was a humbling experience).

  15. merrybits says:

    I took their trigonometry course at home about 100 years ago – it was really a great experience. I then ended up taking calculus at BYU and my professor was the one who had graded my trig stuff! Good times!

  16. esodhiambo says:

    LOL. I’ve always wondered what SB2 looked like.

    Amri–that’s really bad about BYU not recognizing your special situation; even the New York State Teacher Certification Board took my word for it that I couldn’t get a masters while I lived in rural Kenya and gave me an extension. BYU seems to have a blind-spot for “special circumstances.”

  17. @esodhiambo yeah I think the rule was ‘there is no circumstance ever that could make us just the by-mail testing system’ so it didn’t really matter what I said, no matter what creative problem solving (cuz, cmon–I’m creative!) I suggested, the answer was no. I just had to study over the summer and start taking the tests as soon as I got back to States. It still aggravates me.

    @Stephanie–see, BYU I.S. is good right! I’m glad it saved you from Humanities horror.

    and @L–I’m glad you didn’t get to Anatomy. It was kind of fun. They spelled prostate as prostrate several times (but not all the time) and it made me laugh every time.

  18. While at BYU, I took most of my religion classes through IS. And Fitness for Life.

  19. Natalie B. says:

    You know, I thought she looked like SB2 when I saw that picture, too. I consider that a compliment!

  20. This post is adorable.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    Amri no. 17, I was wondering why the last time I had a prostate exam the doctor made me lay stomach down on the floor.

  22. Left Field says:

    “SB2 is a person (miss you!) she’s looks vaguely like a non-BYU version of the girl on my packet.”

    I’m afraid I still can’t parse that explanation. I can only assume this is some kind of popular culture reference that I’m not up on? So “SB2” is the name of a specific person? A model or actress or something? Google was no help. Senate Bill 2? The SB2 engine? The Second International Meeting on Synthetic Biology?

  23. On the subject of pants for women, you might be interested in how the oil shortage gained for BYU women what negotiation could not.

    Although women students won the right to wear jeans in 1981 (pants or slacks were permitted earlier but not jeans),
    women FACULTY at that time were asked not to wear slacks or pants of any kind, let alone jeans. But as the nation-wide oil shortage continued, BYU patriotically lowered temperatures in campus buildings. At that point, some faculty women who did not particularly advocate equal rights re clothing suddenly discovered that their derrieres were very chilly, and they appealed for the warmth of slacks.

    They were granted what I came to call the Studded Snow Tire Rule. (In Utah, you must remove studded snow tires once the snow is gone.) Faculty women could wear slacks during the cold months. But come April (the “cruelest month”), a notice came in the faculty bulletin: “Sisters, it is now time to exchange your slacks for skirts.”

    However, the barn door had been opened. Many faculty women never looked back, but wore slacks year round thereafter. Having been retired 15 years now, I have no idea whether faculty women can wear jeans per se while teaching. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

  24. Left Field: SB2 = “Sister Blah 2” = Cynthia L (who posts on bcc)

  25. I’m a Thunderwood man.

  26. John Mansfield says:

    My friend Peter was taking BYU’s American Heritage by Independent Study to fulfill our high school’s U.S. Civics credit. The end of the school year was coming, and Peter had run out of time to arrange to have his final exam administered in Las Vegas before graduation. I don’t know how long this had been on Peter’s mind, but I heard it about that day, and as his closest friend who was a Mormon, and also one who would be attending BYU in the fall, I drove with him that night to Provo. We stopped for a late meal at his family’s restaurant between the airport and the Strip, drove out of town around midnight, and arrived in Provo around sunrise. It felt rather adventuresome to be a couple of teenagers driving out of state on our own, before a school day no less, though it was but a taste of the independent lives we would be leading in only a few months.

    After showering at a KOA near Utah Lake and finding breakfast, we headed for campus, which we judged would be somewhere below that Y on the mountain. We headed east on Center Street and kept going, repeating the same mistake Spencer Kimball had seven decades earlier; the buildings of the Utah State Mental Hospital looked institutional, but not quite what we hoped for in a modern university. Going back down Center Street, we came upon University Avenue, which sounded promising, and indeed did lead to the campus and visitor parking. Peter reviewed in the library for his exam, then went up to the glass-walled Continuing Education building to take it, while I wandered the campus that would become so large a part of my young adult life. All the smiling and niceness of Provo wore on Peter a bit—gave him, as he said, a desire to swear at everyone; as Amri Brown mentioned a number of times, BYU Independent Study is adorable and cute and all that.

  27. StillConfused says:

    I found University of Indiana to have better independent study but I really preferred Excelsior College’s ACTPEPs (like CLEPS) I remember for $45 (back then in 1990) I received 6 credit hours for Anatomy and Physiology with just a 3 hour exam. That was sweet. That is really the way to go for cheap accredited credit hours.

  28. SB2 = Superbly benevolent to the second power.

  29. to the second power at least.

    Now, I’m mad I didn’t take my BYU religion classes through I.S. That’s a genius idea Norbert.

    John Mansfield, you are one dedicated friend.

  30. If “prostrate” is good enough for Detective Sipowics, it’s good enough for me.

  31. Fairchild says:

    I also worked at Independent Study in the early 90s as a proofreader/editor. I can tell you that the professors write a “course manual” on how to take the course which may contain lesson material depending on the subject. Then, part-time student slaves format and proofread those manuals numerous times until they shine. There are always 3 different sets of eyes looking at those manuals so the typos should not have been that bad! I majored in zoology and was assigned to work on English department manuals. An English major worked on the science manuals. Go figure!

  32. Amri ~ This behind-the-times-ness is even more annoying to me than short-sleeved white button-up dress shirts.

    This line was brilliant.

    #26 John Mansfield ~ All the smiling and niceness of Provo wore on Peter a bit—gave him, as he said, a desire to swear at everyone;

    This completely accounts for my present habit of swearing.

    @ the topic ~ I had one class to take through Independent Study, History 221 (second half of American history), to complete my second minor in history. But my August 2005 graduation date came around, I’d already been accepted to an MA program in American history and I figured no one would care about an aborted minor once I finished my master’s, so I said screw it and quit trying to finish the course. Makes me sad now.

    I never did a religion course through Independent Study, though that probably would be an easy route to go if you have the extra cash to throw at IS courses. I did Doctrine & Covenants as my final religion course at the Orem Institute of Religion because my honors Book of Mormon course at BYU had actually been really hard, and I wanted an easy A.

    And yes, female faculty members can wear jeans now.

  33. On occasion I instruct one of the BYU Independent Study classes (one of the largest, I believe), and I am always surprised by the student demographics. In my experience the vast majority are members of the Church, but a surprising number are High School students, and an equally surprising percentage (if not number) are currently enrolled on-campus students, simply trying to fit in another class on a modified calendar schedule. Most seem to enjoy the class thoroughly, but that may be partially due to sycophantism…

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