Alternative/Directed Studies and Pursuits

The three-term academic calendar provides a structure conducive to enriching elective opportunities for juniors and seniors. In the English, History and Social Science, Visual and Performing Arts, and Philosophy and Religious Studies Departments, where many upper-level courses run for two terms rather than three, a wide range of spring electives is available to students. Descriptions of spring electives are available in January as part of the Course Catalog.
In addition to electives, students have the opportunity to study off campus through a variety of U.S.-based, international, and summer programs.
There are also a number of opportunities for alternate study–by filling out the forms for a Directed Study and Alternate Study–that allow students to further broaden their perspectives by participating in special projects.  In addition to the opportunities below (which take the place of academics), a co-curricular alternative allows students to pursue projects in the visual and performing arts instead of playing a sport. Projects of merit that do not fall under the categories of visual and performing arts (such as writing or film projects) may also be approved for a co-curricular alternative.

Alternate Study for Seniors

Many seniors find the intellectual challenge of taking new electives in the spring to be an exciting way of completing their Deerfield careers. Others find an Alternate Study Project the most satisfying way to finish up their time at Deerfield.
Plans must be made early if the project is to succeed, and proposals must be submitted by mid-January. Submitted proposals must be approved by your faculty advisor, college advisor, and project sponsor. Because a project may involve extra costs to your parents or guardians, it is vital that you discuss it with them prior to submitting the proposal.
Off-campus projects take place entirely off campus. On-campus projects may take place off-campus during part of the school day, but you would continue to reside at Deerfield and take 3 or 4 academic courses.

Eligibility & Requirements

  • Seniors in good academic standing are eligible for both on-campus and off-campus alternate study projects.
  • One-year seniors or postgraduates, seniors with a prior commitment to the Big Brother/Big Sister program, and potential Division I or II college athletes cannot undertake off-campus projects.
  • Your term- or course-end grades must be 75% or above in all of your courses at the end of the winter term. (Final proposals will not be accepted in January if you have any mid-winter grades below 75%.)
  • You must not be on restrictions due to excess accountability points at the end of the term.


  • Alternate study projects are graded Pass/Fail.
  • You cannot raise money, earn money, or put yourself in risky situations without adult supervision.
  • All costs of the program must be borne by you, including transportation.
  • Generally, all three-term courses must be completed. Only rarely can other arrangements be made, and you should take this into account when putting together your intended project.
  • On-campus projects take place during class periods each day. Course periods are made available for Alternate Study Projects according to the following sequence:
    1. All two-term courses that end in the winter term
    2. Three- and four-year seniors may elect not to take a spring term English elective, though athletes planning to play Division I or Division II athletics at college must take English in spring term
    3. To create a block of available time during a specific part of the day, students occasionally are permitted to switch sections of the same subject. This option is suggested and orchestrated by the Associate Academic Dean only
  • The Alternate Study Committee is the final arbiter in the process. Any questions you may have should be directed to one of the Committee members.

Submit a Proposal

Students may submit an Alternate Study Proposal online.
Some examples of on-campus Alternate Study projects include:

  • internship with local orthopedic surgeon
  • internship at Bement or Eaglebrook Schools
  • write a short story
  • publish a magazine

Some examples of off-campus Alternative Study projects include:

  • internship with the American Red Cross
  • congressional internship in Washington, DC
  • television internship

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Directed Study Program for Seniors

If you are interested in studying academic material not covered by any of the classes in our Course Catalog, then you can work with a teacher to design your own course and submit the online Directed Study Proposal. A directed study falls under the auspices of an academic department, must be set up with a faculty member, and must be approved by the Department Chair and the Associate Academic Dean. The directed study takes the place of one spring term elective and is graded numerically, as with any other academic course. You may not drop any continuing course to do a directed study. No faculty member may take on more than two directed study projects. The decision on which two are chosen (should the demand be higher) will be based on the comparative merits of the proposals.
If you want to pursue a directed study project, you are required to meet with Associate Academic Dean Lydia Hemphill prior to submitting your proposal.
Directed Study Proposal

Pursuit of Excellence

To be eligible to petition for pursuit of excellence, students must:

  • Remain in good academic standing;
  • Maintain solid citizenship;
  • Demonstrate extraordinary accomplishment in their areas of excellence;
  • Receive invitations to pursue extraordinary opportunities.

In petitioning, students must establish:

  • In what ways an event furthers their development of excellence;
  • What they have done to qualify for the opportunity;
  • That the opportunity has resulted from a rigorous selection process;
  • That there is no way to engage in the opportunity without missing school.

Interested students should petition by filling out the Pursuit of Excellence form on their DAinfo page. The form should be completed as soon as an opportunity arises: at least three (3) days in advance and, ideally, ten (10) days prior to the event. The Curriculum Committee reviews all petitions. The Office of the Academic Dean notifies students of decisions and, when petitions are approved, notifies classroom teachers. Students are expected to make up all missed work without requesting extra help from teachers.
Exceptions to the above may be granted at the discretion of the Curriculum Committee.