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One curious question: How does the coursework phase of a small graduate program admitting only 1-2 students per year work?

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I saw in previous threads that some programs only admit one or two students per year. Suppose Ph.D Program X in Academic year Y admitted only Student Z. How is Z going to do his/her coursework given that Z is the only person for the class? Will Z take cross-listed classes not specifically designed for Z's program X such as upper division undergraduate classes? Or will Program X offer one-on-one classes for Z throughout the coursework phase of Program X? Any one has any idea?


Edited by historicallinguist
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Can you be vaguer? 

Seriously, the answer will depend on the structure of the program, the teaching needs and availability of instructors at a given time, the structure and size of the undergraduate program, etc. In small programs many courses are often cross-listed as graduate and undergraduate (with different requirements for the two groups). It's also likely that there will not be a set of "first-year" graduate courses that a student has to take, and probably few if any set "programs" as you call them. Students from different cohorts are likely to take courses together, and courses may only be offered every other year or so. There is likely to be flexibility in how the coursework phase can be satisfied, in a way that would ensure that it's actually possible for students to meet the requirements given the department's course offering. This flexibility can actually also be found in larger departments, as well (officially or unofficially). You can often design your own personal "program", possibly taking courses outside the department or the set track, depending on the needs and goals of a particular student. It's also possible that you might be able to replace some requirement with an independent study, again depending on context (and again both in large and small programs). 

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I'm going to be a part of two departments, and one of them is very small. I'm the only one in my cohort this year in this particular program, and I think the only one in the smaller department. They can't have a class if there's less than a certain amount of people registered for it, so I really need to keep that in mind when choosing courses between the two departments (since the other one is larger and doesn't have that issue at all). Also students from different cohorts take the same classes (like fuzzy said) so that helps. And not all courses are offered every year. I did wonder about it in the beginning, but I'm sure they know what they're doing. 

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Here's how it works at my school. Our school has strange naming systems, where we have departments for each field (e.g. "Geology") and these departments are grouped into administrative units, let's call them "Super-Departments". "Super-departments" usually administer between 3 to 10 departments.

Often, in my department, we only admit 0-2 students per year, although our typical cohort is 4 students. The "super-department" admits about 20 students in total. There are some courses that are required between ALL students in the "super-department", so the 0-2 students in our department have classmates.

There are also some courses that are required for more than 1 of the departments, so even though there may only be 1 student in our department, they will take a course that is also required by another department in our super-department.

And, finally, for the courses that are required by our department only, even in years with 1-2 students in the department, the classes still range from 5-10 people. Undergrads often take graduate classes here (they are allowed to take graduate classes starting in sophomore year). Other students within the "super-department" might take the class as well because although it may not be required for their core classes, they will take it as an elective (we have a number of elective courses we must take). And, due to interest from other super-departments, students from the other side of campus may choose to take the class. 

Once in a while, there is a class where the faculty to student ratio is 1:1 or 1:2, but it's rare. Often, the other seats in the class will be filled by undergrads or grads from other departments who are interested in the class. We never force our own students to take a class elsewhere because of low attendance. If it's a required class on our degree program, we run it even when there is only 1 student enrolled.

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