BA Honors in English

The English Honors Program encourages innovative thinking. It is designed to allow strong English majors to engage in independent undergraduate research and writing projects as members of a vibrant intellectual community. Independent Honors project pose creative or critical interventions in the students' own senses of the world, and also stands to affect and critically challenges the prevailing opinions and attitudes of classmates and general readers. If you wish to explore a project that pursues and addresses aesthetic, ethical, social, and political questions, the English Honors Program can offer an exciting capstone to your undergraduate experience.

The program consists of a three-course sequence. The first course is taken in the Spring of junior year, and the last two courses are taken during senior year. English Honors students learn advanced research methodologies and develop individual research projects on issues, texts, and ideas that capture their intellects and imaginations. The program guides dedicated English majors like you through the process of developing independent work. In the Spring of junior year, students register for a small special topics seminar, consisting only of Honors students, to hone their research and writing skills. During senior year, students develop individual thesis projects, based on their own interests and independently researched and written over the Fall and Spring semesters. Throughout this process, they are part of a community of scholarly and creative writers who engage in a high level of intellectual exchange. 

What all English Honors theses have in common is a study of texts. But the term text can be broadly defined. How you might define the term and what you would select as your primary object of investigation can lead to a provocative and highly original thesis that, initially, could challenge common presuppositions about what literary and cultural studies entails. In recent years, some students have pursued projects that focused on innovative approaches to literary texts, such as an analysis of Reddit.com’s extension of literary coteries’ public spheres and an exploration of the early modern political function of the poetic epyllion. Other students have developed theses that focused on topics approached through the lens of cultural studies, such as an investigation of how illicit street art creates new public imaginaries and thus opens possibilities for newly politicized communities. Another recent cultural studies project studied the affective communities that center around contemporary celebrity culture and develop through video game v-logging on Youtube and reality television shows.

Successful completion of the program enhances any résumé if you are considering pursuing an English MA, MFA, or PhD or any of a number of post-graduate careers. If you are considering graduate or professional school in a field other than English Studies, the Honors Program can provide excellent preparation for that chosen path, too. The sophisticated questions and independent scholarship Honors students typically produce are attractive to admissions officers in many disciplines, including (but not limited to) law, journalism, art history, education, and library and information sciences.

Graduating with honors makes you more competitive to all kinds of employers. Your English Honors thesis will be proof of your advanced writing, thinking, and research skills. Non-academic fields often require larger projects of sustained research and critical writing that support evidence-based arguments. Such projects include: legal briefs; fundraising and grant writing efforts for nonprofit organizations; annual reports to boards of directors; business, marketing, and consumer reports; researched investigative assessments of other agencies (such as those written by the EPA); and government research on past or proposed legislation.

Employers recognize that today's society produces not only increasingly sophisticated products and services but also complex cultural meanings, ideas, and values. In addition to technical skills and knowledge, thoughtful living in the new global culture requires subtle and nuanced ways of thinking and understanding cultural and social meanings. The Honors thesis gives you room to pursue, with peer and faculty support, an independent course of study based on your own intellectual passions. It will help you carve out a meaningful and critical place for yourself in life beyond the University.

The Basics

The program consists of a sequence of three courses―English 399Z, 498, and 499―that will support your growth and sharpen your gifts as a writer and creative thinker. These classes will introduce you to the tools and strategies needed to complete an independent and original Honors thesis project, the culmination of your work in the program. An Honors thesis in English Studies is a critical essay or creative writing project, typically between 40 and 50 pages in length. Beginning in the fall of your senior year, the process of developing, researching, and writing that project is broken down into small steps. Throughout your senior year, you will work closely, one-on-one, with a faculty advisor who will help you hone your ideas, find key sources, and sharpen your independent project's argument and writing. (For more details about the Honors courses, click the link “View the Honors Handbook” above and scroll down to the “Sequence and Description” section.)

Eligibility

Applicants must be English majors. At the time of application, all students should have completed at least 12 credits in English, including English 205Z and 210. (Transfer students may apply once they have declared the major and enrolled in these core major courses.) In addition to the two aforementioned courses, if the applicants are in their junior year, they also should have completed or be enrolled in English 310 and English 305V. Applicants planning to do a creative writing project should also have had an upper level creative writing workshop (such as English 302W/302Z and/or 402Z) or be actively involved in another writing community, such as working as an editor on the undergraduate magazine Arch or interning on the graduate magazine Barzakh. If you have questions about your eligibility, contact the Honors Program Director to set up an informational meeting.

Applying

Admission to the English Honors Program is selective. Students usually apply to the program in the Spring of sophomore year. Applications submitted during the Fall semester of the junior year will also be considered. Transfers and other students who arrive later and are interested in the program should contact the Honors Program Director in order to learn more about exceptions to these usual admission criteria. Applications are reviewed by faculty members on the Honors Committee, whose review places particular emphasis on the strength and originality of applicants' writing samples. Students may apply, even if their grade point averages are slightly lower than the minimum required for an Honors degree. If one's writing sample and faculty recommendations are judged by the Honors Committee to be strong and evincing promise, the student might be admitted to the program and be permitted to take the courses in the Honors sequence. However, receiving a BA-English Honors degree depends entirely on meeting the University's GPA minimums at the time of graduation. (See "Good Standing in the Program and Graduating with Honors," below). If the Honors Committee desires more input about an application, it might request recommendations from the student's past or current English instructors, listed on the application. Please contact the Honors Program Director with any questions concerning your application.

Good Standing in the Program and Graduating with Honors

To receive an Honors Certificate in English (a Departmental designation), students must have successfully completed the Honors Program sequence, which includes the thesis. To receive a Bachelors of Arts with Honors Degree in English (a University designation), students must complete the three-course Honors sequence and also have minimum GPAs of 3.5 in English and 3.25 overall. (Students whose GPA does not meet these minimums should consult with the Honors Director and English Advisement about counting the English Honors courses toward the English major's usual credit distribution.) If at any point after admission a student demonstrates in the Honors sequence courses insurmountable difficulties with research and writing or with the expectations of all Honors students' conduct (including attendance and an ability to meet deadlines), she might not be permitted to continue in the program. During the thesis year, the Honors Director monitors each student's progress through regular meetings with her and through communications with her project advisor. The faculty member supervising the Honors thesis evaluates the project and, in consultation, with the Honors Director and the project's second reader (when applicable), assigns its final grade. Any student who either is dismissed or voluntarily withdraws from the program must meet the usual requirements of the English major (or must have met the major requirements of another department) in order to graduate.  

Click here to submit the online application for English Honors.

The application portal is now closed. It will reopen in September for Spring 2017 applications.


Breakdown of Honors Degree Requirements

Degree requirements for English Honors entail 37 credits that consist of the following:
  • 12 credits of major core courses: English 205Z, 210, 305V, and 310
  • 10 credits of required courses: English 399Z, 498, and 499**
  •   6 credits from literature surveys: English 261, 291, 292, 295, or 297
  •   6 credits specifically from 300- and/or 400-level English electives
  •   3 credits from another 200, 300, or 400-level English elective**

* With proper advisement from the Honors Director and permission of instructor, students who had studied abroad or who were accepted into the program in Spring of junior year can substitute, during senior year, English 399Z with a 500- or 600-level course relevant to their respective thesis topics. For University policies pertaining to undergraduate registration for graduate-level courses, click here to consult the Registrar's website.

** The three credits for this elective can be from an English course, or the student may count 3 credits of coursework from other departments that have already been approved substitutes for English Electives. To see the list of “Approved Courses for English Electives” in the Undergraduate Bulletin, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.