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The Honors Program

The English Honors Program

The English Department offers two kinds of honors thesis: a creative thesis and a critical thesis.

Students wishing to write a creative thesis should consult the Creative Writing Program website at www.writing.upenn.edu for deadlines and information, or contact Julia Bloch.

The following information is for students wishing to write a critical thesis:

The deadline for applications from Juniors to the Honors Program for 2017-18 is Friday, March 31st, 2017. However, we urge you to begin formulating your thesis proposal and finding a faculty director well in advance of this deadline.

Our Honors Program provides majors with the chance to produce a substantial thesis, usually 25-30 pages. The program is prestigious and selective, usually admitting 12-15 students from the 20-30 applications received. Completing the program is the only way to earn "Honors" in English on graduation. To merit this distinction, theses must receive the enthusiastic approval of both the student's Faculty Director and the Director of the Honors Program.  In cases where these two readers disagree, the Undergraduate executive Committee will make the final determination.

Honors students in the fall of their senior year take English 311, the Honors Seminar, which functions primarily as a writing workshop. In it students read each other's work, share practical advice and intellectual support, and master the elements of critical writing. In the Spring, students will continue to work on their theses with the guidance of their Faculty Director; they may enroll in an English 299 (Independent Study) if they wish. Both English 311 and English 299 may count towards the required 13 courses for the major.

In general, the Faculty Director will be a member of the Standing Faculty, but Non-Standing Faculty members may also direct theses. Graduate students and recent PhDs from our department serving as Lecturers are not allowed to serve as Faculty Directors.

Applying

Undergraduate juniors majoring in English are eligible to apply to the Honors Program. All applicants must have a Faculty Director and an arresting, viable thesis proposal. Beyond this we recommend that applicants have at least a 3.6 GPA in the major.  

Completed applications to the English Honors Program should be submitted to the Undergraduate Office (Fisher-Bennett Hall, 127). They can be sent electronically if you wish to Loretta Williams <loretta@english.upenn.edu>. Applications should include a completed application form and the following materials:

Download Honors Application form

  • A Statement of 500 words describing the proposed project, the questions you're interested in exploring, and the arena in which you want to play. 
  • A Writing Sample.
  • A printout of your transcript, or a list of English courses completed and grades. 
  • Most important: In addition, the Faculty Director of the thesis must provide a short letter of support, which can be sent by email to the Undergraduate Chair and to Loretta Williams <loretta@english.upenn.edu>.

Applications will be reviewed by the Undergraduate Executive Committee, and will notify applicants by mid-April.

Students not admitted may still write theses—and, in fact, should! All you have to do is find faculty member willing to direct your thesis as an independent study. You'll fill out the independent study form (obtainable from Loretta Williams in the English Dept. Office) and have your director sign it, at which point you'll be registered for English 299 (Independent Study) with your director. You should title your course "Senior Thesis" and you're ready to go. Please note, though, that non-Honors thesis can only be one semester long, and only receive one credit.

Upon Admission

Upon admission to the Honors Program, students should set up meetings with the Honors Director (For 2016-17, Salamishah Tillet <stillet@english.upenn.edu> and their Faculty Thesis Director to develop a research plan for the summer. It's a good idea to do as much of your research as possible that summer before coming back to Penn in the fall. 

Timeline, Junior Year

  • December-March: You should find a Faculty Director willing and available to advise your thesis -- preferably a member of the standing faculty. 
  • End of March: Applications are due.
  • April: Successful applicants will be notified. These students will elect English 311 as one of their Fall courses. The Honors Director will schedule an introductory meeting as well as a workshop on research methods.  Students will be responsible for scheduling a preliminary meeting with their Faculty Directors as soon as possible.  Students interested in applying for research support should do so immediately.

Timeline, Senior year

  • Summer: Students research their projects.
  • Fall: Students take English 311 and progress on their theses; students may register for English 299 for the Spring if they wish.
  • January: Students present their work in progress to the departmental community in a Honors Research Conference.
  • Mid-March: Monday, March 13th a full draft of your thesis is due to your Faculty Director and to the Honors Director.
  • Mid-April: Monday, April 10th the final draft of your thesis is due to your Faculty Director and to the Honors Director.
  • Late April: All final decisions regarding the Honors distinction must be rendered.  At the Graduating Seniors Party, Honors distinctions, including the Best Thesis Prize, will be awarded.