Ways to Study

Empire State College offers a rich array of learning opportunities from which to choose, including independent (individualized and guided) study, online courses, study groups and residency-based studies. Student also may choose offerings from other colleges and universities and include those in their study plan for the term.

Once you are ready to register, work with your mentor to define your study plan for the term and create your worksheet in the online registration system. There, you will find the term guide, which is a list of the study opportunities available to you for the upcoming term. You can view study or course listings by title, general subject areas, or mentor offering the study. Students enrolling in special programs choose from study or course offerings specifically for their program.

Remember that you will still need to register after you complete your worksheet.

To help you with longer-term planning, a complete list of opportunities for the upcoming year is available in the Course Catalog. Brief descriptions of some of the options are below to help you get started.

Undergraduate Study Options

As an undergraduate, you have a range of options for studying each term. You can choose from among guided independent study, online courses, study groups and residency-based studies, or blend a combination of approaches. You also may take courses at other colleges and universities, as long as the courses are determined to be relevant to your degree program plan.

See the descriptions below for more details on the study options available to you.

Independent Study

Depending on your goals, you can select a study from the term's offerings or work with a mentor to develop an individualized study. Either way, your mentor will guide you on the course goals and activities and how your performance will be evaluated.

Individualized Independent Study

  • Empire State College encourages undergraduate students to create individualized studies to match specific interests and educational goals. To design an individualized study, you will need to consult with your primary mentor before you register. Your mentor will arrange your individualized study and include it in your worksheet.

Guided Independent Study

  • You have the option of choosing a study from the term guide in a general subject area and working with the instructor to develop a learning contract that meets your needs. Through guided independent studies, you work with the mentor or tutor (instructor) to develop your learning contract or plan for the study based on your specific interests and educational goals. Contact the instructor before the start of term to discuss your learning contract.

In guided independent study you work one-to-one with a faculty member. You may meet periodically face-to-face at one of our many locations across the state, or you may work with your mentor online, by phone or by mail. During the term, you work independently on the learning activities you define and meet periodically with the instructor. The meetings may be face-to-face, at a distance via mail, phone and/or online, or a combination of both.

Online Courses

Through SUNY Empire Online, undergraduate students may take advantage of online courses, online independent study options, and online interaction with mentors and faculty. You can take a few courses or pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree at a time and place that is convenient to you. Students studying completely online can take advantage of 24/7 online access to all student and academic services of the college.

You may choose to take online courses from anywhere in the world. Most of the college's online courses are provided by SUNY Empire Online, though some are offered through faculty mentors at our New York state locations. If you wish, you can pursue your undergraduate degree entirely online through SUNY Empire Online.

The college's online courses provide you with the opportunity to interact with faculty and students, and to access a variety of online educational resources. Online courses generally consist of small groups of students and a mentor. The courses include discussion forums that enable you to benefit from interaction with other students without the need to be online on specific days or times.

Study Groups

Study groups provide an opportunity to learn from instructors, as well as other students, and provide the support and stimulation of working with your peers. They enable you to explore topics of common interest, engage in discussion and share independent reading and research.

Study groups are instructor led small group seminars offered at the college’s many locations. They generally meet face-to-face several times during the term and some meet on weekends. Students working independently on the same subject get together on a scheduled basis to discuss their findings with each other and a faculty member. Face-to-face exchanges with fellow students from diverse backgrounds and attitudes provides for new perspectives and ideas. Lists of study groups for the upcoming term are available.


Noncredit workshops are offered regularly to students, particularly in the areas of writing and degree program portfolio development. Check the "Workshops Calendar" to find out about workshops available to you.

Immersive Cloud Learning

Immersive Cloud Learning (ICL) combines state-of-the-art video technology with specially designed classrooms that encourage collaboration between faculty and students … no matter where in the world they are.

Residency-based Studies

Some programs or topics of study include residency-based studies. In these intensive instructor led seminars, you meet face-to-face with students from across the state to investigate subjects in depth in a group setting. These meetings typically take place over a weekend or several days. Before and after the residency, you study independently.

Many students participate in residencies to meet with fellow students, faculty and staff, to discuss and exchange ideas, analyze readings, listen to lectures or work in small groups. Most residencies are held on weekends at convenient locations across the state; some include travel within the United States or abroad. Please review the descriptions carefully before you register. Studies connected to residencies are included in the term guide and the annual learning opportunities inventory. Some residencies provide detailed information on their own websites.

Each year, the college sponsors a women’s studies residency and an environmental studies residency. Other residencies that are offered periodically cover topics such as the American Revolution, business, the Civil War, diversity, emergency management, the entertainment and music industry, Latin American film, and writing. More details on these opportunities are on the residencies website.

Collegewide Opportunities

Empire State College offers some learning opportunities collegewide. Students may register for these studies whether they are studying from any New York state location or through SUNY Empire Online. Please note that some of these opportunities may require attendance at group meetings or residency locations that are not near you. Please review the descriptions carefully before you register.

Some collegewide learning opportunities are open to graduate as well as undergraduate students. Graduate students wishing to take a graduate level version of a study should consult with their advisor and the course instructor before registering.

Cross Registration at Another College

Students looking for more classroom-style learning may cross register at another accredited college or university for classes, and receive credit from Empire State College. You work with your mentor to determine what fits into your educational plans and your mentor will include the cross registration section in your worksheet.

Undergraduate students may cross register for no more than 50 percent of their total learning contract credits, as specified in their degree program. Graduate students may transfer in no more than 12 credits, and a graduate degree may have no more than 15 credits from transfer and cross registration combined.

By enrolling in a course for academic credit at a college or university that is accredited, or a candidate for accreditation, by a recognized regional accrediting agency, you:

  • expand the variety of learning resources available
  • may take classes offered at other colleges and universities that meet your educational needs
  • may experience a more traditional classroom at other accredited colleges
  • may be able to complete your degree plan program requirements at Empire State College.

Please review the policy on cross registration.

Graduate Study Options

You complete your work in the School for Graduate Studies mainly through online courses, which provide you the opportunity to study at your convenience and still be able to interact with instructors, fellow students and your faculty advisor. You can access course resources and the fully online library, participate in discussion forums, conduct self-assessments and take advantage of other course enhancements, such as simulations and modeling.

The M.A. in adult learning, M.A. in learning and emerging technologies and the M.A. in community and economic development degree programs and the graduate certificate programs are fully online.

Residencies are required for some graduate programs. Residencies complement online courses by providing opportunities for you to network in person with faculty and students from across the state and country who share similar academic and professional interests.