Senior Capstones, Honors, and Synthesis Projects
As you plan for senior year, you may wish to work on an independent project to solidify the academic knowledge and other educational experiences acquired during your time at Stanford. Capstone Projects and Honors Theses can be a rewarding way to apply what you've learned and finish your Stanford career with a flourish.
Some programs require their majors to complete a senior capstone requirement, while others offer this option to interested students. Even when it is a requirement, the capstone project still provides students with considerable flexibility and independence.
A capstone project may allow for deeper engagement with a given major, in the form of an Honors Thesis, a senior paper or project, or an arts performance or exhibition. Alternatively, some capstone projects (often referred to as Senior Synthesis Projects) are more interdisciplinary in nature or involve community partnerships.
Usually, by “honors”, Stanford means departmental honors. For most majors (but not quite all), honors means a research honors thesis: a substantial project where you identify your own research topic, carry out the research, and write up your results. Arts programs provides additional paths for pursuing honors through performances or exhibitions. Just about every major offers an honors track, and in addition, several programs allow students from any major to participate in an interdisciplinary honors program.
Pursuing an honors thesis requires a high degree of initiative and dedication. It also requires significant amounts of time and energy. It can be one of the most challenging, and rewarding, experiences of your academic career. Your Academic Advisors are always happy to discuss your thoughts and considerations about pursuing honors with you .
You can start discussing the idea of a thesis with people as early as your first year at Stanford, and as you move through classes up through your junior year, think about what types of questions you might be interested in answering with a thesis. Your faculty are the best people to consult when thinking about honors, as having a mentor who can guide you in the project is essential.
Honors programs generally require an application, a minimum GPA, and some selected classes, as well as the thesis or capstone project. Most application deadlines are in the Winter Quarter of your junior year, but may range from sophomore spring to senior fall. Check the program website for the basics, look out for information sessions, and arrange to meet with program leaders for more information.
The top honors theses are recognized annually in an awards ceremony. You can find links to Stanford News stories of recent ceremonies (and get a sense of the range of possibilities) on the Medals Ceremony website.
For Departmental Honors, visit the department site or the majors site to see if your department offers an honors program. Majors Site
The current Interdisciplinary Honors programs are:
- Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity
- Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL)
- Ethics in Society
- Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
- International Security Studies (CISAC)
- Science, Technology, and Society
Here for the "other" Honors?
Please note that Stanford does not use Latin honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude), but does award Distinction (based on GPA) to graduating seniors. In addition, Stanford has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a nationwide honor society that recognizes students for the excellence and breadth of their undergraduate scholarly accomplishments.
At Stanford, we use the term "Senior Synthesis Project" to refer to a senior capstone project that does not readily fall within the category of a research or creative arts honors project. A senior synthesis project draws on your first three years of undergraduate experience, focusing on your academic work but perhaps also integrating your other interests. This is a capstone project that you envision will complement, build upon, or react to those recent experiences.
Senior synthesis projects emphasize reflection on your academic experiences at Stanford and ideas that go beyond what is required in departmental course offerings, with strong faculty mentorship. Check with your program whether such a project is supported, and what process you should follow.
- How do I pursue an independent project?
- Planning for Departmental Honors
- Working with a Faculty Honors Advisor
- How to begin a research, arts, or senior synthesis project