Learning Opportunities

SUNY Empire State College offers a rich array of learning opportunities from which to create your study plan each term. Students choose from guided independent study, online courses, study groups and residency-based studies. Students also may review offerings from other colleges and universities and include those in their study plan for the term. Students in special programs may have study or course offerings specifically for their program.

The college strongly encourages student initiative and collaboration between student and mentor in designing studies that meet individual student goals. Students work with their primary mentor to identify and define the purpose of customized studies and then with the study mentor to fully develop the learning contract. The primary mentor can add a uniquely titled study to a student’s worksheet.

SUNY Empire State College integrates online learning into many aspects of its instruction, and is a leader in the development of online courses. Faculty across the college may use online resources to enhance and support student learning. Some of our special programs and thematic residencies include both face-to-face and online studies.

As the registration advising and study preparation periods begin for each term, the college presents the relevant term guide online. Students and mentors are able to review the many possible study opportunities, discuss how they fit with the student’s goals and create a study plan for that term. You can search the term guide by location, area of study, subject or mentor. You can view the term guide for the upcoming term through MyESC. In MyESC, click on the registration tab to get to the term guide.

Guided Independent Study

In guided independent study you work one-to-one with a faculty member on a study. You may periodically meet face to face with a faculty instructor at one of our many locations across the state or work with a faculty instructor at a distance – by mail, phone, email or online.

Depending on your goals, you may work with your mentor to create and define Totally Individualized Study (TIS) or you may select a study from the term guide. Students are strongly encouraged to individualize their studies when appropriate. It allows you to take a major role in designing a study and to take charge of your own learning. To do so, you work with your mentor to determine the learning goals, outcomes and learning activities you will undertake to achieve those goals and how your mentor will evaluate your learning. Your mentor formalizes your goals, learning outcomes, and activities and evaluation criteria in a learning contract.


Students often incorporate internships and/or field study into their degree programs. You may apply for formal internship programs established by state, local and national governments, as well as by corporations, nonprofit institutions, and colleges or universities. Alternatively, with the help of your mentor, you may arrange for a special internship designed around your learning goals. You and your mentor create a learning contract for the internship just as you would for other individualized studies.

Online Courses

Our online courses offer you the opportunity to interact with other students as well as the instructor, in discussions of the course material and group projects. Online courses are generally small groups (15-20) of students and a mentor. Courses leading to degrees in all of the college’s 12 areas of study are available online. Online courses allow you to communicate with your instructor and other members of the course at times that are convenient to you.

Online courses are prestructured and designed for groups. Your course guides you through the goals and learning outcomes of the course, the learning activities and defines evaluation criteria.

Study Groups

Study groups are 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. Study groups allow students to explore diverse perspectives on topics of common interest and present the results of their studies to others. During your meetings, you discuss common learning activities and share independent reading and research. Between group meetings, you will continue to engage in a good deal of independent study.

Study groups provide an opportunity to learn from other students, as well as the instructor. Frequently, mentors and students use new and interdisciplinary approaches to learning. This may entail field study, skills practice, problem solving, reading, and library or internet research. You may work on group or joint projects. Students find that study groups provide the support and stimulation of working with other students while maintaining the intimacy of student-centered learning.

Students in study groups may have a common learning contract or each student may have his or her own individualized learning contract.

Residency-Based Studies

You may choose to participate in a residency-based study that allows students to take credit bearing studies using a blended model that combines online learning or independent study with periodic on-site meetings. The studies offered at residencies focus on a specific area of study or topic and include academic and professional enrichment opportunities and experiential learning.

Taking Courses at Other Institutions (Cross Registration)

You may find it advantageous to take a course at another college or university from time to time to complete your degree requirements at SUNY Empire State College. You may enroll 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. By doing so, you expand the variety of learning resources available. Please review the policy on cross registration.

Other Courses

Some programs, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Apprentice Program at The Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies, have established classroom-based courses. These listings will be available to students within those programs.