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Global Independent Study

A Global Independent Study offers students the ability to design a global social work opportunity in a foreign country while earning 1-3 elective credits. Projects are student-initiated and might include service learning, research, or other activities. Students must find a clinical-track or tenure-track faculty member to serve as the faculty instructor who will provide academic guidance as well as grade the course. Students and the faculty instructor determine the course content, goals, and assignments before the student travels abroad.


MSW students from all pathways and curriculum tracks are eligible. Additionally, students from all program types are eligible and encouraged to apply for a Global Independent Study, including those in any of our part-time or online programs. Preference will be given to students who have not previously traveled internationally.

To be eligible to receive funding from OGA, students are required to be abroad for a minimum of 2 weeks. In addition, students are only eligible to receive funding from OGA for a Global Independent Study once.

In conjunction with the Global Independent Study Grant, the Office of Global Activities is offering a Passport Grant of $165 per person to incoming MSW students who have never held a passport before. Students are automatically considered for the Passport Grant once they've completed the Global Independent Study Grant.

In addition, the Office of Global Activities will not fund a Global Independent Study that focuses on volunteering in an orphanage. This is due to concerns around the rise of orphan tourism and voluntourism.

Course Work

Global Independent Study uses the course number SW 528. Credit hours received for SW 528 are determined by the student and faculty instructor. Credits range from 1-3 elective credits and are based on academic content rather than the duration of travel. The course can include volunteering, research or other academic activities. Those pursuing research may require Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Please refer to the IRB Tips for Student Researchers. For more information, visit the IRB Health Sciences and Behavioral Sciences web page.

Travel Dates

12-month (Advanced Standing, MasterTrack MSW, or UM Sociology & SW) and 16-month students typically travel for 2-4 weeks after the spring/summer term before the fall term. 20-month students travel anytime between the end of winter term and the beginning of the fall term. Students cannot schedule international travel to conflict with scheduled classes. Please consult the academic calendar to ensure your proposed dates do not conflict with classes. As a reminder, to be eligible to receive funding from OGA, students are required to be abroad for a minimum of 2 weeks.

Travel Destinations

Students can travel to any country with a few exceptions. The University of Michigan restricts or warns students from traveling in select destinations. If you plan to travel to a country or region included on the list additional approval is required.

Faculty Instructor

During the fall term, students should develop a plan for their Global Independent Study and ask a SSW faculty member to serve as the faculty instructor. Faculty instructors must be clinical/research or tenure-track faculty (please note LEO lecturers cannot serve as faculty instructors). Students should meet with their faculty instructor regularly to develop learning goals and assignments. Students who need help finding a faculty instructor can contact the Office of Global Activities (OGA).

U-M faculty experts are great sources of information about specific countries/regions (although cannot serve as Global Independent Study instructors). A list of faculty experts can be found on the Global Michigan website.


The cost of Global Independent Study depends on multiple factors including the length of the trip, the cost of airfare, room/board, visa fees, transportation, food, travel insurance and vaccinations.

Accepted students receive up to $2,500 to help cover costs and are responsible for funding remaining trip costs. Also, students may apply for additional funding resources.

It is not required to apply for funding through OGA. Students can plan to self-fund their trip or find alternative funding. In these cases, students do not need to submit a Global Independent Study application, but must secure a faculty instructor to receive independent study credit.

Program Providers and U-M Projects

Students can arrange a Global Independent Study through a program provider. Students need to research and vet these organizations themselves.

Some potential programs affiliated with U-M include:

Application Requirements

  • Detailed budget (template provided in the application system)
  • Completed Global Independent Study Instructor Signature Form
  • Five (5) short essays (maximum of 2000 characters each) which should be discussed with the faculty instructor for the Global Independent Study project:

    • Please describe your proposed global independent study project (e.g. what will you be doing? With whom or what organization will you be working? How will you carry out your project? Etc.).
    • How does this independent study project fit into your overall educational and professional goals?
    • What knowledge, skills and abilities do you hope to gain as they relate to social work competencies? (Please refer to the CSWE competencies and/or the specific pathway competencies)
    • How does the proposed global independent study project address issues related to social justice and/or well-being of individuals and/or communities? Explain how you will address issues related to social justice and provide some context about the issue(s). In addition, if you are going through a program provider, please include how the provider addresses these issues.
    • What academic assignments/products will you produce as a part of this Global Independent Study? Examples include literature review, research paper, presentation, journal article, etc. The academic product should be determined in conversation with the faculty instructor of your project. Remember that credit cannot be given only for the time abroad.


For information on setting up a Global Independent Study, please review the Global Independent Study To Do List.

If you have questions, please contact OGA at (734) 615-0012 or [email protected].

Apply for Global Independent Study »

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