Honors Program

The honors program in English is designed to promote intellectual exchange and community among able English majors and to prepare them to do independent work.

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 projects 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. 

Honors Handbook

About the Honors Program
The Basics
  • Program consists of three courses: English 399Z, 498 and 499.
  • The classes 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.
  • Applicants must be English majors.
  • At the time of application, all students should have completed or will complete by the end of that semester at least 12 credits that count toward the English major, 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 305V.
  • In order to remain in good standing if accepted into the program students need to maintain a 3.25 overall and 3.5 major GPA.
  • 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.

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 emphasis on the strength and originality of applicants' writing samples. When appropriate for individual cases, they may waive any of the entry requirements.

All applicants must submit a critical writing sample. If interested in pursuing a creative thesis, an applicant is encouraged also to submit a creative writing sample (in the form and genre of his or her choosing).

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(s) 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.

Submit your online application for English Honors.

Applications for Spring 2022 will be accepted through the online application through November 5, 2021.

Be sure additionally to email your writing sample to Professor Richard Barney at [email protected].

Good Standing in the Program and Graduating with Honors

While each student is registered for the Honors sequence courses, the Honors Director monitors her progress through regular meetings with the students and, during the thesis year, 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, assigns a final grade (A-E) for the project and English 499. That grade evaluates the end product of the thesis research, while also considering other variables in the year-long project, such as: the student's intellectual development, the student's self-motivated performance in an independent study scenario, the student's regular and timely consultation with supervisors, and the student's public presentations or publication of project-related research and writing. 

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. Similarly, if a student's performance in her other English courses suffers, she might be dismissed from the program so as to be able to remediate this situation and be better able to graduate successfully. 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.  

All students who successfully complete the Honors Program sequence, including the thesis, will receive an Honors Certificate in English (a Departmental designation). 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.)

Breakdown of Honors Degree Requirements

Degree requirements for English Honors entail 37 credits that consist of the following*:

  • 9 credits of major core courses: English 205Z, 210, and 305V
  • 10 credits of required courses: English 399Z**, 498, and 499***
  • 6 credits from literature surveys: English 261, 291, 292, 295, or 297
  • 3 credits from another 200-, 300-, or 400-level English elective****
  • 9 credits specifically from 300- and/or 400-level English electives

* NOTE: Only English Honors students who matriculated into the University before Fall 2015 must complete the following course distribution:

  • 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
  • 3 credits from another 200, 300, or 400-level English elective 
  • 6 credits specifically from 300- and/or 400-level English electives

** With proper advisement from the Honors Director and English Advisement, any student who studies abroad during junior year or who is accepted into the program in Spring of junior year can substitute, during senior year, English 399Z with a 400-level English seminar. If possible, the topic of that course should be relevant to the student's thesis topic. 

*** Honors students who are accepted into and enroll in the English BA/MA Program can complete the Honors sequence by substituting English 499 (Honors Thesis II, an independent study) with English 694 (MA Directed Reading, for 4 credits with the Honors thesis advisor as instructor of record). The substitution must be approved by both the Honors Director and the MA Director. AENG 694 should be registered for as four credits counting toward the MA. The course would be taken during the overlapping year when the student is enrolled in both the BA and MA programs. It is understood that the student's Honors thesis will be a substantially different project from his or her future MA thesis.

**** 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.

What all English Honors theses have in common is a study of texts. But the term "text" can be broadly defined. How you define the term and what you select as your primary object of investigation could lead to a provocative and highly original thesis that could challenge common presuppositions about what literary and cultural studies entail. In recent years, some students have pursued projects that focused on innovative approaches to literary texts, such as: an analysis of African American author James Baldwin's relationship to black evangelical institutions and their influence on his antiracist political activism; an investigation 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 analysis of the relationship between truth and rhetoric in the campaign of President Trump; an investigation of how illicit street art creates new public imaginaries and thus opens possibilities for newly politicized communities; a cultural literacy study that investigates how children's educational literature and entertainment films introduce young audiences to prejudicial ideologies about disability; and 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 problem statements that Honors students investigate typically result in high quality independent scholarship that is attractive to admissions officers in many disciplines, including (but not limited to) law, journalism, art history, education, nonprofit administration, 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. Work on an Honors thesis will give you the opportunity 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.