Undergraduate Honors with Distinction


Three levels of distinction are possible: distinction, high distinction, and highest distinction. If you satisfy the basic criteria mentioned below, your application for distinction is forwarded to a faculty committee, which decides if you should graduate with distinction, and at what level. They consider your entire record. For example, they consider whether you achieved a high GPA by taking easy courses. So, meeting the minimum criteria listed below doesn't guarantee graduating with distinction.

You can obtain distinction or high distinction either with or without an honors thesis. (A thesis is required for highest distinction.) The criteria include meeting a minimum GPA. The required GPA depends on whether you write a thesis. Here's a table summarizing the minimum GPA required:

No Thesis Thesis
Distinction Cumulative GPA of 3.850 or above Cumulative GPA between 3.500 - 3.850
Student should receive at least a Good recommendation from the co-advisors based upon both the thesis and the comprehensive thesis examination. No student will be considered for distinction with a cumulative GPA below 3.500.
High Distinction Cumulative GPA of 3.920 or above Cumulative GPA between 3.850 - 3.920
Student should receive at least a Good recommendation from the co-advisors based upon both the thesis and the comprehensive thesis examination.
Highest Distinction Not possible Cumulative GPA of 3.920 or above
Student should receive an Excellent or Very Good recommendation from the co-advisors based upon both the thesis and the comprehensive thesis examination.

The thesis option also requires a comprehensive exam. Two faculty members will evaluate the thesis and administer the exam. One is the thesis director; you should discuss the exam with her or him when you ask her or him to direct the thesis.

How do I write an honors thesis?

An honors thesis is supposed to be of the scope of a masters thesis, but not as long. Writing one, then, takes a lot of work.

The first step is to pick an area you want to work in. When you've done that, you need to find a faculty member to direct your thesis. Ask the major advisors (or other faculty members) for help here. Primarily, you should look for someone who has enough knowledge in the area to help you. You should also try to find someone with whom you can work easily. You and the faculty member, then, can discuss in detail how you should go about your project. Generally, the more complete your idea is of your project, the more likely someone will agree to direct it. So think about what you want to do before you talk to the relevant faculty member. But don't hesitate to go with a vague idea; we'll be happy to help you make it clearer.

Students writing honors theses usually take at least one semester of Philosophy 399H, and may take more. Negotiate that with the faculty member directing your dissertation.

When should I start?

Applications for graduation with distinction usually must be turned in about the middle of the semester in which you will graduate. Since writing an honors thesis takes a long time, you need to have a reasonably complete draft before the beginning of that semester. You can then polish it.

This is a reasonable schedule:

One year before graduation: select a topic and find a faculty member willing to direct it

Two semesters before graduation: take Philosophy 399H and finish a good draft of the thesis

First half of semester of graduation: finish the thesis, submit it, and take the oral exam

Starting even earlier will be helpful; some students begin working on their project during their sophomore year.

What problems should I avoid?

The main problem is letting it go too long. If you don't have a good draft by the beginning of the semester in which you're graduating, you almost certainly won't finish it.

You should also stay in reasonably close contact with the thesis director. If you turn in a thesis at the last minute without staying in contact, you may find that the director won't accept it, and you won't have enough time to make the necessary revisions. Talk with your thesis director about this; you should turn in a draft early enough that you could make even substantial revisions. Ideally, you should discuss your ideas with the director as you develop them.

How can I get more information?

The Arts and Sciences Advising Center (on the 1st floor of Oldfather Hall) has a handout about graduating with distinction. The Undergraduate Catalog also discusses it, in the 'Arts and Sciences' section under 'Student Recognition'. The Philosophy Department Undergraduate Advisors will also be happy to talk with you about it.