BSM Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment (ISA)

Experience Based Learning 

The Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment (ISA) Essay Submission Process

The University of San Francisco recognizes that learning is a lifelong journey that can take place in a variety of settings.

In support of this principle, the University has developed a process that allows Bachelor of Science in Management (BSM) students to earn up to 21 general elective credits for learning acquired outside the traditional classroom.

You may write essays for credit in any area of learning listed in Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment: Essay Submissions Handbook. A content expert will evaluate each essay to determine if you will be awarded credit for that essay. Please note that ISA essay submissions are eligible to earn general elective credit only; submissions do not earn University Core credit.

You begin to prepare your essays during writing workshops that comprise part of the curriculum for INTD 310 “Interdisciplinary Research and Writing,” the first course you encounter in your undergraduate degree completion program.

This course will assist you in preparing the experience-based learning research essays and also help you to develop the critical reasoning and writing skills you need to successfully complete your bachelor’s degree.


  • All Fall semester admits: September 15th of the following year

FAQs - INTD 310 and the ISA Essay Submission Process

This course serves many purposes. It has been designed in part to give students the tools to express themselves appropriately in an academic environment. Some of the topics covered in this course include: how to write essays and construct arguments using a variety of writing strategies; how to research a topic and integrate that research into an essay; how to uncover and pursue a thesis for papers on a variety of subjects; and how to properly format and document research for a formal essay. Students will address many writing issues, including grammar, structure, and editing, and the use of voice as a rhetorical strategy. In addition, this course will guide students through the creation of their Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment (ISA). The ISA is a collection of formalized accounts in essay form of experiences adult students have had throughout the course of their lives that yield knowledge equivalent to college-level course work.

The ISA Handbook contains learning outcomes for a variety of academic disciplines. Students make selections based on past experience judged to be substantial enough to meet the learning outcomes of assignments in this book and to satisfy their individual degree requirements. Experience alone does not earn credits. The student must demonstrate the ability to explain the experience in a research-based critical essay.

ISA essays are collections of formalized accounts in essay form of experiences adult students have had throughout the course of their lives that yield knowledge equivalent to college-level course work.

Experience-based essay credit (ISA) comes from several components. The key elements include describing personal experience with the subject and integrating scholarly resource material appropriate for college-level learning with that personal experience in an analytical fashion. Essays that describe the student’s experiences but fail to analyze them will not receive credit. Nor will students receive credit for essays that relate theory but do not apply it to the student’s own experiences. The successful essay describes, then analyzes. An essay must do both–credits cannot be awarded to an essay that does only one or the other.

The essays should both tell the story of personal experience and analyze that experience based on the chosen academic resources, in some cases exploring other options and opinions to provide a balanced analysis. The personal experience and analysis need to be integrated throughout the essay, with frequent reference to cited material that supports the analysis. Essays that primarily relate personal narratives without academic analysis, or that are weak in integrating resources with the personal experience will not receive credit. Essays with no substantial personal experience with the subject or those without scholarly resources on the subject will receive no credit.

Essays may only be written in content areas identified in the ISA Handbook. Students may have many profound experiences from their life prior to being USF students but the ISA Handbook may not have course equivalents for many of these experiences. The ISA Handbook is not intended to be comprehensive of life experience, but representative of the kinds of experiences that match curriculum offerings at USF.

A thoughtful and extended look at the handbook may reveal surprising opportunities to write an essay. For example, a student who became a patient advocate after watching his parent die from cancer cannot write an essay that gives him biology or health science credit, but he can incorporate his experience as shaped by the disease into an essay for theology/religious studies: Death and Dying. Part of the role of your instructor is to help students creatively explore the options offered in the ISA Handbook, but with the caveat that the experience must be authentic.

To possess sufficient experience to write an ISA essay a student is not restricted to first hand experiences. We believe that this may limit opportunities and not be in the spirit of the ISA process. For a wider interpretation of experience, we believe that if the student has had a strong, personal, and engaged relationship with someone, then he or she may write about that person as part of an experience-based essay process.

For example, if one had grandparents whom one knew well and from whom one acquired stories of World War II, then that would be acceptable experience for writing a History essay, even if the student wasn't in the war him/herself. Reading about WW II without any personal connection is not acceptable. Likewise, if one had an immediate family member, partner, or close friend who suffered disease or addiction and can document one's experience with that person's ordeal, then that is acceptable, too.

Students must document by some description the depth and quality of the relationship as sufficient to make the experience personal as opposed to personally having the experience. A close and personal relationship that influences deeply the life of a student does qualify as personal experience to which a student can apply his or her ability to explain the experience in a research-based critical essay.

Writing instructors are responsible for leading in-class writing workshops that prepare students to compose ISA essays. In these workshops students will identify content areas likely for development, build thesis statements that combine observation about their experience with a critical interpretation of that experience, research appropriate and helpful sources, and outline their paper plans. Writing instructors evaluate student work for their literary and stylistic content, including correct usage and documentation of sources; writing instructors do not assess essays for ISA credit. Assessing essays for their eventual success in earning credits through the evaluation process is not the purview of the writing instructor. The writing instructor is grading the essay for its success as a composition; the evaluator is determining the student’s knowledge and experience in the subject.

Furthermore, instructors are not responsible for suggesting essay topics for students. Essay topic selection is the responsibility of each individual student who alone is the best judge of his/her competence to meet learning outcomes in a specific content area. Only the student has the necessary knowledge to assess his/her experience. The responsibility to demonstrate learning lies with the student, not the writing instructor or the evaluator.

The University has provided for the ongoing development of ISA essays (which may be submitted anytime up to the stated deadline—see “When do I submit my essays?” below) by making available to BSM students the services of a writing tutor. After the conclusion of INTD 310, you will be invited to BSM 000 – ISA Essay Online Tutorial where you can find detailed information on the ISA Essay submission process, writing help, citation assistance, as well as deadlines and due dates. You will also find the evaluation rubric for the ISA essays there, which gives you insight into how the evaluators will be evaluating your submitted work.

Once you accept your Canvas invitation to the ISA Essay Online Tutorial, you will have access to the ISA Essay Tutor, Dr. Kathy Garlick. Dr. Garlick can help ensure you are communicating effectively and deploying your prior learning experience to the best advantage to show its equivalency to traditional classroom learning. But like your INTD 310 writing instructor, the tutor cannot assess essays for their eventual success in earning credits through the ISA evaluation, nor can she proofread or edit your papers. To minimize scheduling difficulties, all tutoring is done online through the Canvas site or by email communication. In-person appointments with the tutor are not available. The ISA Essay Tutor reviews an essay only at the student’s request and essays must be submitted to the tutor by the student.

You're welcome to visit the ISA Essay Canvas classroom and browse through the information there without any obligation to use the tutoring services. If you find you need help with proofreading or editing your papers beyond the services of the ISA Essay tutor, you also have access to the USF Learning Writing Center.

Experience-based essays submitted for ISA credit must be 3,000-4,000 words (excluding the title page, bibliography, and appendices). Papers should be composed and submitted in MS Word. Students should number the pages and put their name in a header to appear on each page. When citing sources, students should use either the MLA or APA style (both of which will be covered in INTD 310). Which of these a student should choose for a particular discipline is indicated in the upper right hand corner of the page in question. Students are also advised to submit their papers for analysis through Turnitin to insure academic integrity. Any essay submission may be submitted to Turnitin at the discretion of an ISA evaluator. (Please see Appendix E: USF Academic Honor Code on page 126 in the ISA Handbook.) Students are required to draw on at least three substantive academic sources to receive credit.

Students requiring help finding relevant source material should consult a USF reference librarian. For all essays students are required to integrate at least three academic sources from the relevant disciplinary field into the essay. Sources may not be merely cosmetic. They must come from and meaningfully engage relevant authorities in the field in which the essay is written. Wikipedia, for example, is a helpful place to start your research and may point you in the general direction of appropriate academic sources to consult. But Wikipedia itself is not an acceptable source. As a general rule, no more than 10% of your paper should be direct quotes.

A rubric that evaluators use to assess your ISA essays is included in the ISA Handbook. We encourage students to consult this rubric as a final checklist to make sure they have met all the necessary requirements to receive prior learning credit. Also provided are samples of the ISA evaluation form that you will receive in the event that you do not receive credit for your essay. These forms will explain why the evaluator did not award you credit for the essay.

Students who need few or no credits through the essay submission process need turn in only the number of essays that address their individual needs and the class requirements.

An Academic Success Coach will advise you throughout the completion of your degree program and will explain what options are available to you for completing your degree requirements. The Academic Success Coach for BSM students is Denise Mostowfi. You can reach her at or (415) 422-5786.

You may earn a maximum of twenty-one (21) credits. Students may write up to seven (7) course equivalent essays that will earn three (3) credits each for meeting course equivalent standards; otherwise students receive no credit. Essays are worth three credits based on the number of credits students can earn through a CLEP exam or transfer credit. ISA essay submissions earn  general elective credit only and are not eligible to earn University Core credit. Please consult your Academic Success Coach for additional information on options to meet graduation requirements.

Yes, you may write essays on more than one topic in a given discipline, but you may not write on the same topic twice. For example, you may write several essays in Theology or Communication. You may not, however, write more than one essay in a given topic (only one Religion/Spiritual Autobiography, for example).

After completing INTD 310 you may submit your essays at any time up to the stated deadline. Fall semester admits have a deadline of September 15th of the following year. For example, students admitted in Fall 2020 who successfully complete INTD 310 during that semester have until 11:59 pm on September 15, 2021 to submit essays. (Students must achieve a grade of C- or better to successfully complete INTD 310.)

Essays are submitted electronically. Instructions can be found in the ISA Handbook (Appendix A: ISA Essay Submission Instructions).

Essays are evaluated by academics in relevant fields. The credits earned through your essays are entered on your USF transcript. These earned credits are un-graded and do not affect your USF grade point average but will satisfy general elective credits. On average, BSM students experience an 85% success rate at having their essays evaluated as meriting 3 credits for prior learning.

Students will receive an evaluation report when essays receive no credit. The student may submit a new essay on the same topic that satisfies the missing rubric standards as identified by the evaluator’s report. A student may not resubmit an essay on the same topic if the inadequacy identified by the evaluator was

Students will receive an evaluation report when essays receive no credit. The student may submit a new essay on the same topic that satisfies the missing rubric standards as identified by the evaluator’s report. A student may not resubmit an essay on the same topic if the inadequacy identified by the evaluator was insufficient experience. Then there can be no resubmission because there never should have been one in the first place. Essays that receive no credit because the evaluator cited a lack of personal experience cannot be revised on the same topic.

But if the evaluator indicates that an essay was awarded no credit because of other rubric measures that were inadequately met (word count, inadequate or insufficient sources), then the student may write an essay on the same topic. It is assumed, however, that it is a new essay because it was written to meet all the rubric criteria that were absent in the first essay.

For example, Jane Doe loves the theatre and wants to write an essay on Theatre Production and Performance. The essay is returned by the evaluator with no credit because Jane had never actually participated in the production of a theatre performance. Jane, however, is a theatre aficionado and very much wants to write about her experience. So she can use some of what she produced for her original essay, describing aspects of theatre design and production and possibly her research, but this time she is writing an essay for Theatre Arts Appreciation, where her experience as a season ticket holder for 20 years at Berkeley Rep gives her the experience to write authoritatively about her knowledge and love of the theatre. This new essay, which may have elements used in the original essay, may then earn 3 credits on evaluation. Or maybe the essay still has deficiencies; Jane neglected to include three sources and wrote 5,000 words instead of 4,000. The essay would again be returned by the evaluator with no credit, but in this case what needed to be corrected was not the valid documentation of experience but an inattention to detail and essay requirements. Jane may finally produce an essay that uses elements of the deficient essay but adds the missing elements and eventually earn 3 credits.

Students who do not wish to develop an essay on the same topic may write on another topic for course equivalent credit. Any essay that is rewritten must be submitted during the designated submission period described above. Students are encouraged to begin the submission process as soon as possible to allow an opportunity for resubmission if necessary.

Generally, this takes about twelve weeks.

Only the writing instructor and the evaluator read essays. Instructors do not discuss personal material from the essays with anyone. In rare cases, if an evaluator’s decision is appealed, the Director of Interdisciplinary Studies may read the essay. This only occurs at the student’s request.

You must receive a C- or higher to successfully complete INTD 310. Those who do not meet the minimum grade requirement must repeat the course and may be placed on academic probation. Students must successfully pass INTD 310 to submit ISA essays for evaluation.