Honors Program

Kelly Anne McCullagh, '14, first discovered the poetry of W.B. Yeats in her grandfather's love letters.  For her senior thesis, she traced the Irish poet's literary evolution by studying his manuscripts.


The Department of English and Creative Writing offers one path to honors, the completion of significant independent work culminating in a thesis. A thesis can be a memorable intellectual experience if you choose your topic well and can sustain the motivation to work on your own for the two semesters involved. If you are both eligible and interested in applying for honors in English, you should submit an application to the English Department Chair

All seniors who wish to write a thesis apply for English 360 (Senior Thesis Research) to be taken in the fall semester. The second semester is registered as 370 (Senior Thesis).

The decision to award honors is made after the thesis, and an oral examination, are complete, and is based on both the thesis and the examination. In addition, progress on the thesis is evaluated at a mid-year meeting in December; at this mid-year point, students are expected to have completed roughly the equivalent of a chapter of the thesis.

Eligible students planning an honors thesis are expected to apply in the spring of junior year by the deadline given below. Students studying abroad in the spring who would like to pursue an honors thesis but are unable to meet with potential advisors may be permitted to submit a proposal by the end of the first week of classes in the fall, but those students are expected to be in contact with a potential advisor via email before the spring deadline. Under certain very limited circumstances, a qualified student may be permitted to submit a proposal by the end of the first week of classes in the fall, but please keep in mind that finding a thesis advisor in the fall of senior year is often not possible because faculty schedules have already filled up.

Written notification will follow.

Although the deadline for proposals will be the same, there will be a separate application process for creative writing theses. Creative writing proposals will be evaluated by a special committee, and will be considered only during the spring application cycle; the number of students selected will be limited. Proposals for creative writing theses should be accompanied by a writing sample not to exceed 15 pages. If you would like additional information on the creative writing thesis process, please contact Marilyn Sides, Creative Writing Director.

If your proposal is accepted, your name will be included on an official list of students doing honors work that the English Department sends to the Registrar's Office at the time of registration. Students are enrolled by the Department in honors work; they do not register themselves.

1.  Eligibility

College legislation requires that a student should have earned at least a 3.5 average in all work above 100-level in the major field in order to be eligible for the Honors Program.  Exceptions to the GPA requirement are made only in rare instances, following a departmental recommendation and a formal appeal to the Curriculum Committee of the College. Except in special circumstances, it is expected that students applying for honors will have completed five courses in the major, at least four of which must be taken in the English department at Wellesley. NOTE:  Independent work (350, 360, or 370) does not count toward the minimum requirement of two 300-level courses or the 10 courses required for the major.

2.  Preparation

Students interested in pursuing an honors project should have appropriate background in the area of research.  This might mean prior courses in the field of study; course work in related fields; and/or some unconventional form of preparation (e.g., a long-standing interest in an author or subject, pursued outside course work).  We strongly recommend prior course work related to the field of study.

3.  Advisor

Students may seek out advisors on their own, or come to the Chair for advice about choosing an advisor.  This should be done before applications are due.  If the student has not found an advisor, then acceptance of the application is contingent upon finding one.  Students should make sure that they are eligible for honors before seeking advisors for their projects.

An advisor should be someone who knows your work and with whom you have taken at least one course in a subject area related to your proposed thesis.  Most faculty members decline to accept students whom they have not taught in the classroom.  Please be aware that faculty members on academic or personal leave cannot supervise honors work.

4. Thesis Proposal

Your thesis proposal should take the form of a short essay (2-3 pages) in which you define the topic you plan to explore, the significance of that topic in terms understandable to the non-specialist, and describe the sources and methods you plan to use.  It is not necessary to know exactly what the project will reveal, or exactly how it will be shaped.  But you should try to describe as fully as possible what your interests are, what questions you plan to investigate, what texts you will read, and so on. 

You should explain how work in the major (and/or outside it) has led the student toward your proposed project.  Related courses should be named and any relevant intellectual work should be described. You should include a short bibliography identifying the most important primary and secondary sources you have discovered thus far. This proposal should be prepared in close consultation with your advisor and must be approved by the department.

Proposals for creative writing theses also must be accompanied by a writing sample, not to exceed 15 pages.

5.  Application Materials

For the 2020-2021 academic year, eligible students should submit the following materials to Lisa Easley in the English Department, FND 103, by Friday, April 10, 2020, at noon:

  • a cover sheet, signed by your faculty advisor (see here)
  • your thesis proposal and bibliography
  • an unofficial copy of your transcript.

The Chair of the Department and other department faculty read the application in order to assess the student's fitness to do an independent project.  In the case of creative writing proposals, the application is evaluated by a special committee.  It is thus important that the proposal represent the student well -- that it be thoughtful and well-written.  Students should get to work on their applications early enough to receive the assistance that they need.  Pay close attention to the relevant deadlines.

The Registrar will not permit students to sign themselves up for honors, or to be signed up by a member of the faculty other than the Chair. The English Department will send the Registrar's Office an official list of approved students to be registered for an honors project; students do not need -- nor will they be able -- to register themselves for honors work. If you are permitted to apply after the spring deadline to write a critical thesis, you may not be able officially to add English 360 until a second list is submitted in the fall.

6.  Mid-Year Meeting

Each student working on an honors project will have a mid-December meeting with the advisor and two other members of the department, at which she will present the work she has done (roughly one chapter or the equivalent) and discuss her plans for completing the project.  If these faculty members judge that progress on the thesis has been satisfactory and that the project is likely to be successfully completed, they will approve the student's second semester of honors work.  If the student is writing a thesis, she will then be registered (by the Department) for English 370.  If the faculty members judge that the thesis is not likely to be successfully completed, the student's name will be withdrawn from the official list of students doing honors work in the spring, and she will not be registered for English 370. In such cases, credit and a grade are then given for the semester of 360 work already completed.


The English Department and the College have a number of ways to help fund student research projects. You might consider applying for one of the following:

Tezak Fund for English Department Honors Students: this fund supports a limited amount of research-related and photocopying costs. Speak directly to Lisa Easley about getting reimbursement for expenses through the Tezak.

The Jerome A. Schiff Fellowship: Schiff Fellowships are merit-based awards available to students currently registered in 360 Senior Thesis Research and to students intending to enroll in a 360 in Spring 2011. Awards range from $2,000 to 3,000 and students from all departments and programs are eligible to apply. For further information about the application process and deadlines, click here.

Student Research Grants: The Office of the Dean of the College administers a number of grants to support student research and travel. The maximum award is $750. For more information, click here.

Pamela Daniels '59 Fellowship: the Pamela Daniels Fellowship is offered annually in the fall to support an original senior project. One or two fellowships, in the amount of $3000, will be awarded for the academic year 2011-2012. Seniors in good standing are eligible to apply. Completed fellowship applications are due in early October. Finalists will be interviewed by the Selection Committee in the last week of October. (N.B. A recipient of the Daniels Fellowship is not eligible also to receive a Schiff Fellowship.) For more information and specific application deadline, click here.

For information about Honors at Wellesley, click here.

The Wellesley libraries have carrels available for honors students. Sign up online or contact the Clapp Library service desk at x2166.