Honors in English Literature
The honors program in English literature consists of a two-quarter honors sequence offered in fall and winter of the senior year. The sequence provides a select group of majors with the opportunity to work on extended projects of their own design. Building on the skills developed in English 397, honors students engage in intensive independent research under the guidance of a faculty honors coordinator and an individual faculty advisor whose expertise is appropriate to the student’s chosen topic. Honors students hone their skills in posing ambitious and promising research questions, exploring the state of the scholarly and critical conversation, framing a good prospectus that enters into that conversation, and producing a powerfully argued, clearly written final project.
Applying for the Honors Program
The Application Process
Junior literature majors who wish to participate in the honors program must complete a formal application. Successful applicants generally have a GPA in the major of 3.75 or higher. In addition, applicants must define a proposed research area, a tentative topic, and a potential faculty advisor. This process can take some time, so please start early! It’s not uncommon for honors applicants to have multiple conversations with multiple potential advisors as they hone their topics. Once you have identified an advisor, he or she must sign off on the application before it is submitted. Finally, applicants must also submit a clean copy of one of the best academic papers they have written for an English Department class (or for a class outside the department taught by an English Department faculty member), with no grade or comments but with the course number and the professor's name clearly specified.
Advice on Selecting a Topic and Advisor
An honors project is a hefty undertaking, so you should choose a topic that promises to hold your attention and reward your time and effort. Take time to think about what interests you. Have issues or problems arisen in previous classes that you would like to pursue? Can you synthesize problems or materials gathered from several different classes to pose a larger question? Have you written a course paper that you would like to develop into a more ambitious project?
Just as important, are there particular professors with whom you have good working relationships, and with whom you would like to work more closely? In choosing an honors advisor, think about intellectual compatibility. Does your topic fall within a professor’s established area of expertise? Is the professor known for a particular methodological approach? Do not forget, however, to consider more mundane forms of compatibility. Is the professor hands-on or hands-off? Does he or she respond to email promptly and return student work in a timely manner? Does he or she comment constructively on student papers, pushing you to sharpen your arguments and deepen your analysis? Bear in mind that faculty schedules are complicated, and your first- or even second-choice faculty member might not be available. If you start by talking to a trusted faculty member, however, he or she will be able to guide you through the process of selecting an honors advisor. It can also be helpful to consult with the DUS early in the process.
By the time you submit your honors application, your proposed topic will probably reflect a series of conversations with different faculty members. That’s a good thing! These conversations will help you to move from a general area of interest to a focused and manageable honors project. They also represent the beginning of the year-long series of conversations you’ll be having about your honors thesis. While it’s important to choose a topic that will hold your interest, it’s equally important to choose an advisor with whom you can have fruitful conversations.
Notification and Planning for Fall
Admitted students will be contacted by e-mail. The incoming honors coordinator will arrange an introductory meeting for the incoming class in May, and the program assistant will arrange advance registration for the first part of the honors sequence.
Timeline for the Senior Year
By reading week of fall quarter, each honors student must submit a five-page prospectus, based on an annotated bibliography, to the honors coordinator and the faculty advisor. By reading week of winter quarter, each student must submit a polished draft of his or her honors essay. These drafts will be returned with comments in the first week of the spring quarter, and each student should meet as early as possible with the honors coordinator and his or her advisor to discuss necessary revisions. The final draft of the honors thesis is due in early May. Note that because the honors thesis is year-long project, students receive temporary “K” grades in their honors sequence courses at the end of fall and winter quarters. These grades will be changed to letter grades once the final essays have been read and evaluated.
Evaluation of the Honors Theses
An essay deserving of honors is expected to be: approximately thirty-five pages in length, excluding notes and bibliography; based on a significant body of literature; conversant with relevant critical and contextual scholarship; original in its argument; and written in grammatical prose that is clear, concise, and precise. Honors essays are generally expected to follow MLA style.
Honors essays are read by the faculty advisor, the honors coordinator, and an additional English department faculty member with expertise in the student’s chosen field. Each reader submits a 1-2 page written evaluation of the thesis, including a recommended letter grade and a recommendation for or against honors. The honors coordinator collates these reports and assigns grades for the two quarters of the honors sequence; students must receive grades of A or A- in the honors sequence and be recommended for honors by at least two of three readers to be nominated by the department for graduation with honors. Note that while the English department nominates students for graduation with honors, the WCAS Committee on Superior Students and Honors makes the final decision. Note, too, that admission to the honors seminar and completion of a senior essay do not assure departmental nomination for honors.
Nontraditional Route to Honors
There are occasionally exceptional cases in which a student was not invited into (or was not able to participate in) the honors program in English but nevertheless has an outstanding record of achievement through a series of English 399 enrollments during the senior year. Such students can be nominated for honors should the quality and quantity of their work be at least as high as is expected for our traditional honors students, including completion of a major research project and an extended essay reporting on that project. As in the traditional honors program, the final essay must be evaluated by the faculty advisor, the honors coordinator, and an additional faculty reader in an appropriate field. Also as in the traditional honors program, the final decision to award honors rests with the WCAS Committee on Superior Students and Honors, which must be satisfied that the case represents no deviation from the department's and the College's high standards for honors.