The Honors Thesis is a distinguished way to complete the B.A. degree. It also provides excellent preparation for those who plan to go on to graduate or professional schools. The completed thesis is a solid statement of your status as a trained philosopher. Note, also, that at Washington University the only way to earn Latin Honors in Arts & Sciences is by successfully completing an Honors Thesis.
Typically, an Honors Thesis will consist of several chapters totaling 40-60 pages. Alternatively, in consultation with your thesis advisor, you may elect to write an article-length essay that aims at the standards of professional philosophy journals. This second option can be particularly useful for those applying to graduate school in philosophy, since it can serve as the required writing sample. Whatever form it takes, your thesis is expected to undergo multiple revisions.
To be eligible to write an Honors Thesis, you must have the agreement of a faculty member to serve as a thesis advisor. This agreement will depend on his or her assessment of the viability of your project, your preparation to carry out the project, and his or her availability during the semesters in question. In addition, you must have, at the end of the junior year, at least a 3.65 GPA in Philosophy, a 3.65 GPA in advanced philosophy courses (300-level and above), and a 3.65 overall GPA. It is strongly recommended that you complete three of the required core courses and one 400-level course by the end of your junior year.
You must submit an application for Honors by the last day of classes of the junior year. Forms are available in the Philosophy Department office. A one-paragraph description of the project is required at this point. This description should be prepared in consultation with your thesis advisor.
Note that if you will be studying abroad during your junior year, it is imperative to plan ahead carefully. If possible, you should secure the agreement of a thesis advisor prior to your departure.
The Final Product
On the basis of the completed written thesis, the oral thesis defense, and your overall grade point average, the thesis committee will determine: (a) your grade for Phil 499 for the spring semester; (b) whether you will receive Latin Honors in Philosophy; (c) the level of Latin Honors you will receive (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude); and (d) a grade for both the written thesis and the oral defense.
Honors Thesis Timetable
FALL SEMESTER, JUNIOR YEAR
Students interested in pursuing Honors should begin preparation in the Fall semester of their junior year, especially by taking advanced courses in their special areas of interest, taught by prospective faculty advisors.
SPRING SEMESTER, JUNIOR YEAR
The department surveys the majors to determine who is considering writing an Honors Thesis and with which faculty members. This helps the department match students eligible for Honors with a suitable faculty advisor. Students should begin to formulate a thesis topic, in consultation with their prospective faculty advisor. Students who are abroad should be in regular contact with the faculty member with whom they wish to work.
Last day of classes, Spring semester: Students intending to pursue Honors must submit to the department an application for Honors, including a brief summary of the thesis topic and an indication of the agreement of the faculty advisor. Students should register for L30 499 for the following fall semester (please see the department secretary for the section number of your faculty advisor).
End of May: On the basis of spring semester grades and faculty assessments, initial approval of applications for Honors will be sent to students and thesis advisors.
FALL SEMESTER, SENIOR YEAR
September 15th: Two hard copies of the thesis agreement and thesis prospectus are due to your thesis advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The thesis prospectus should be approximately 500 words in length and should include a description of the thesis topic and how it will be approached.
By September 30th: The Director of Undergraduate Studies assigns thesis committee members.
Late November-early December: Students will submit a detailed written report about their progress to their faculty adviser. Reports should be approximately 500 words.
Late-December: The faculty thesis advisor, in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, will reach a verdict about the viability of the honors project by the end of finals of Fall semester, at which time the student will be approved to continue with the Honors thesis or be advised to enroll in the Capstone course for the Spring semester. Students continuing with honors should re-enroll for L30 499 for Spring semester. If the thesis is discontinued, the Fall semester section of L30 499 will be converted to L30 500 (the number for ordinary independent studies). The faculty advisor will then assign a grade for Phil 500.
SPRING SEMESTER, SENIOR YEAR
February 15th: A full penultimate draft of the Honors Thesis, including all chapters, is due to the thesis committee. The committee is encouraged to return the material to the student as soon as possible with final comments. The thesis defense should be scheduled at this time.
March 15th: Final versions of the Honors Thesis are due to members of the thesis committee.
End of March: The oral thesis defense takes place, lasting approximately one hour. At the conclusion, the candidate leaves the room, and the thesis committee determines a grade for both the written and oral component of the thesis along with a recommendation for the level of any Latin Honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude). The student is then informed of the result, and the relevant form is completed and submitted to the College office.
April 15th: Students must submit an electronic as well as one hard copy of the corrected, final thesis to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Students are encouraged to have at least the departmental hard copy be spiral-bound and double-sided.
May 1st: The faculty advisor will submit a written report about the quality of the written thesis and the oral exam to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. This report should include a grade for both the written and oral component as well as note the level of Latin honors.
Awarding of Honors
The College of Arts & Sciences recommends the following cut-offs, based on the cumulative GPA:
Upon certification by the department that the Honors program has been satisfactorily completed, the student may be awarded the A.B. cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude according to the following proportions: the top 15 percent in overall grade point average of Latin honors candidates who complete the necessary requirements of their major departments or programs in the College of Arts & Sciences will graduate summa cum laude; the next 35 percent magna cum laude; the next 50 percent cum laude.
In deciding the level of Latin Honors awarded, each thesis committee may assign a level of Honors above or below these recommended ranges, on the basis of three further considerations:
(1) The quality of the Honors Thesis
(2) The student's performance in the oral thesis defense
(3) The student's cumulative GPA in advanced courses in the Major at that time
For example, beginning in 2015, by itself, neither a 3.8 G.P.A. nor an A on the written and oral components of the thesis guarantees the awarding of summa cum laude.
*Please note that the Class of 2014 follows previous Latin Honors levels: cum laude 3.5-3.65, magna cum laude 3.65-3.8, summa cum laude 3.8-4.0.