Departmental Honors are conferred on students who distinguish themselves through performance in coursework and by completing a two-semester honors thesis course, which is organized as a one-on-one course with a faculty member, culminating in the completion of an honors thesis.
A student wishing to pursue Departmental Honors should plan their academic career carefully and meet with their advisor regularly, in order to ensure that they are on track to complete the necessary coursework. During the semester proceeding a student's last year at the University (usually spring of junior year), students must complete the application process for Departmental Honors:
- Meet with the Academic Advisor to determine eligibility.
- Find a faculty member who is willing to serve as the thesis advisor for the year-long honors thesis. The students should already have an idea of who this will be.
- Complete the honors program application form with the thesis advisor. Download Thesis Application (PDF, 84K).
- Return the completed form to the Academic Advisor. The faculty Honors Director will then review the application.
- Once the application has reached final approval, the Academic Advisor will authorize the student to register for PHL 679HA and notify the student via Secure Academic Note. It is the student's responsbility to register themselves for the course.
Applications should be submitted by the first class day of the semester in which the student seeks to be enrolled in the honors course in order to allow time for the Honors Director to review and approve the course. Applications may be declined if they are not turned by the first class day. No applications for the honors program will be considered after the eighth class day.
Departmental Honors Requirements:
Students must also meet the following requirement to graduate with Departmental Honors:
- completion of Philosophy 371H or 375M, with a grade of at least B;
- completion of Honors Tutorial Courses, 679HA and 679HB, with a grade of at least B in both;
- satisfactory performance on an oral examination for thesis completed in Philosophy 679H;
- University grade point average of at least 3.00;
- a grade point average of at least 3.50 in the coursework required for the major and for honors;
- completion in residence at the University of at least sixty semester hours of coursework.
Note that Philosophy 679H is taken in addition to the requirements of the major, i.e., these courses do not count toward the required upper-division elective philosophy hours required for the major; however, Philosophy 371H or 375M may be counted toward the requirements of the major.
Requirements for All Honors Thesis
Both the thesis advisor and a second reader must approve the honors thesis. The final grade for the final semester of the thesis will not be issued until (1) the thesis advisor and the second reader have approved the thesis and (2) the student has successfully completed the oral defense. As a courtesy, students should ask both faculty advisors if they would like a bound or PDF copy of the thesis for their personal records. Liberal Arts Honors has published a helpful guide for theses, including style and formatting, available here.
Guidelines for Honors Thesis
The department does not provide rules for the length of the thesis, but theses are often 40 to 60 pages. Individual faculty should explain their expectation for the scope of the student’s written work. The first half of the Honors Tutorial Course, PHL 679HA, is often used as a research semester and the second half, PHL 679HB, is often treated as the writing semester. However, students will be assessed a grade at the end of each semester, and it is often useful for this purpose to complete a writing project for the first semester. Also, such writing projects will help students to determine what the writing expectations of the faculty member will be during the subsequent semester.
Departmental Honors FAQ
What are the performance expectations are for an honors thesis?
All faculty thesis advisors will expect students in an honors thesis course to do a significant amount of reading. Students will generally be expected to engage with the scholarly tradition. In other words, if a student wants to write a thesis on Plato, she will not only need to read a great deal of Plato’s dialogues (and read them carefully); she would also need to read the scholarly literature that has been written about Plato.
Advisors will have different expectations about how long a thesis should be. You should discuss this with a prospective advisor before formally agreeing to work with them. The average advisor will expect your thesis to be in the range of 40 to 60 pages; some will expect less, others more.
Likewise, advisors will have different expectations about what you achieve with your thesis. Again, you should discuss this with an advisor before agreeing to work with them, as some advisors will demand more than you may feel capable of achieving. All advisors will expect you to produce a thesis that is much more ambitious than anything you would turn in for an undergraduate class.
Why is the honors thesis course two semesters long?
The first semester of the honors thesis course is generally treated as a “research semester,” in which you will do much of the background research that will prepare you to begin writing the thesis. However, most advisors will require that you produce some written work during the first semester. Such work may be as little as an outline and a bibliography, but some advisors will expect you to begin the thesis during the first semester. It is highly recommended that you produce some written work during the first semester. Students will be assessed a grade at the end of each semester, and it is often useful for this purpose to complete a writing project for the first semester. Also, such writing projects will help students to determine what the writing expectations of the faculty member will be during the subsequent semester.
Why should I write an honors thesis?
The best reason to write an honors thesis is because you feel like it would be a rewarding experience. Writing an honors thesis is hard work, but it is a unique experience to work one on one with a faculty member and to produce advanced writing on a subject of your choosing.
For students intent on applying to graduate school in philosophy, completing an honors thesis and earning Departmental Honors will make you a more competitive candidate for admission to a graduate program. It may also yield a writing sample for your graduate applications.
For students planning to apply to law school, it is unclear how much impact the thesis and the distinction of Departmental Honors will have on you chances for admission to a law school. However, these certainly cannot hurt your chances and ought to demonstrate your commitment and work ethic, and, moreover, the experience in completing a thesis will improve many skills that will be important in law school.
Even students entering the workforce after graduation may find a thesis helpful on the job market. Completion of an honors thesis is one of the most signficant academic accomplishments available to an undergraduate and demonstrates a sustained commitment to an independent project over the course of two semesters.
Who should my advisor be?
An honors thesis advisor should be someone with competency in the topic of your thesis. How do you know who has competency in that area? Look on the department website at the faculty page, where the faculty’s specializations are listed.
Ideally, a thesis advisor should be someone you have taken a class with already, so that you have a sense of what they are like as a teacher and they have a sense of you as a student. This is one reason it is important to try to get to know your instructors early on in your academic career. Some faculty may be reluctant to work with a student with whom they have had no previous interactions.
How do I ask someone to be my advisor?
You should approach a prospective thesis advisor with a thesis topic in mind. You should be able to present the topic idea clearly and with reference to work you have already done. Instructors are less likely to sign on as advisor, if you come to them looking unprepared or completely ignorant about the subject. However, don’t try to B.S. your way through such a meeting, as that will look worse; you don’t need to sound like you know everything, but you should know enough to present a coherent thesis proposal. It’s permissible to present more than one thesis idea to a prospective advisor, but not too many, as that will make you sound indecisive.
You should approach a prospective thesis advisor no later than the end of the semester proceeding the one in which you plan to start your thesis. In other words, if you plan to start your thesis next fall, you should talk to a prospective advisor by the end of this spring.