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The Honors Program

The English Honors Program provides majors with the opportunity to develop a substantial scholarly inquiry in close consultation with a faculty member. Selected students will explore cutting-edge research, workshop their drafts with fellow thesis writers, and present their scholarship to the Department. The final product is a 25-30 page thesis.

The deadline for applications to the Honors Program for 2022-23 is April of your junior year. The specific date will be announced early in the Spring semester.

If you are accepted into the program, you will take the Honors seminar (ENGL 4097) in the Fall of your senior year. The class is primarily a writing workshop. You will read each other's work, sharing advice and intellectual support as you master the elements of critical writing.

Honors students usually continue working on the thesis in the Spring under the guidance of their faculty director. They may enroll in an English independent study (ENGL 4098). Both English 4097 and English 4098 may count toward the required 13 courses for the major -- both as elective seminars.

Completing the program is the only way to earn "Honors" in English upon graduation. To merit this distinction, theses must receive the enthusiastic approval of both the 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.

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.

 

Applying to the program

Juniors majoring in English are eligible to apply. We recommend that applicants have at least a 3.6 GPA in the major.  

Timeline, Junior Year

  • November-February: Discuss possible topics with your English advisor, the current director of the Honors program and/or the Undergraduate Chair. You must also speak with the faculty member whom you would like to direct the thesis.
  • Janurary-April: find a faculty director willing to advise your thesis, preferably a member of the standing faculty. Non-standing faculty may direct theses, but graduate students and recent PhDs may not. Check with the Undergraduate Chair if you have questions about your potential advisor. As a rule, the faculty director must be willing and available to advise for the duration of the development and completion of the thesis (summer preceding your senior year, and senior year).

Download Honors Application form

Applications should include a completed application form and the following materials:

  • A statement of 500 words describing your project, the questions you're interested in exploring, and the research you'd like to conduct. You must have a faculty director and an arresting, viable thesis proposal.
  • A writing sample, accompanied by a short description.
  • A list of your completed English courses with grades received. 
  • Most important: a short letter of support from your faculty director. This letter can be emailed to the Undergraduate Chair.

Completed applications should be submitted electronically as attachments to Loretta M. Witham Turner at loretta@english.upenn.edu.

Applications will be reviewed by the Undergraduate Executive Committee. You will be notified by mid-May. As you register for the fall semester of your senior year, you should block out the time of the Honors Seminar (ENGL 4097) on your roster. If you plan to apply for research support, you should do so as soon as possible.

 

Upon Admission

Upon admission to the Honors Program, you should meet with the Honors Director (for 2022–23, Professor Zachary Lesser zlesser@english.upenn.edu) and your faculty director to develop a research plan. It's a good idea to do as much of your research as possible that summer before your senior year.

Timeline, Senior year

  • Summer: research your project as planned
  • Fall: Take English 4097 and begin drafting your thesis. You may register for English 4098 in the Spring if necessary.
  • December or January: You will present your work-in-progress to the departmental community in an Honors Research Conference.
  • Early-March: You will turn in a full draft of your thesis to your faculty director and to the Honors director.
  • Early-April: The final draft of your thesis is due to your faculty director and to the Honors director.
  • Mid-to-Late April: Final decisions on the Honors distinction will be made. At the Graduating Seniors Party, Honors distinctions, including the Best Thesis Prize, will be awarded.

Note that students not admitted may still write theses as an independent study. You will need to find a faculty member willing to direct your project. You should fill out the independent study form (obtainable from Loretta M. Witham Turner) to be enrolled in ENGL 0999. You should title your course "Senior Thesis," but you may ask to have a more specific title added later. Please note that a non-Honors thesis can only be one semester long, and only receive one credit.