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Planning for an Honors Program

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Honors is a designation offered by academic programs to recognize outstanding independent student work that has met the highest scholarly standards for the relevant discipline. It usually involves good grades, a sequence of upper-division coursework, and the completion of an honors project. Stanford offers a variety of honors programs. Some are designed for majors and others allow students to work outside their major field.

Considerations for Pursuing Honors

Advantages to Pursuing Honors

Pursuing Honors as an undergraduate offers many academic and personal benefits.  It allows you to do the following:

  • Initiate in-depth research in a field you may continue to pursue in graduate school or throughout your career
  • Demonstrate to postgraduate programs or future employers that you can do independent, creative work
  • Participate in advanced original research in close, one-on-one consultation with a faculty member
  • Contribute to the knowledge of the world and perhaps discover your life’s intellectual passion
  • Develop skills that will be useful throughout life, in many different settings, such as:
    • Mental discipline
    • Intellectual judgment and independence
    • Capacity to pursue an area in depth
    • Self confidence
    • Mastery of the material
    • The ability to plan and implement a project and see it to its end
    • The ability to meet a challenge and succeed

Additional Considerations

Many qualified students decide not to pursue honors. Stanford students engage in a host of academic and extracurricular activities (public service, athletics, student government) that require serious time commitments. It’s simply not possible to do everything. Incidentally, pursuing honors is not the only means to engage deeply in a field of study that interests you.

You can take advantage of a variety of opportunities to involve yourself in research before you decide to participate in an honors program. These can involve close collaboration with a faculty member or graduate student. Read more about getting started in research, and check out the Undergraduate Research website to learn more.

Departmental Honors vs Interdisciplinary Honors

Many students will choose to apply to the Honors program within their major department.  But Stanford also offers several interdisciplinary programs that allow students to do an honors project in that field regardless of their major.  The current Interdisciplinary Honors programs are:

Like departmental honors programs, Interdisciplinary 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 junior winter, 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.

Typical 4 year plan for Honors

Frosh or Sophomore Year

  • Undertake a significant research experience through a class, internship or other opportunity that interests or excites you.
  • As you consider declaring a major, investigate the requirements for honors in your field and related fields.
  • In addition, explore Interdisciplinary Majors programs that might allow you to engage in an honors project outside your major.
  • If your project is in the humanities or qualitative social sciences, consider applying for a Chappell-Lougee grant as a sophomore to start doing research in your field.

Junior Year

  • Find a Faculty Advisor, develop a research methodology and research plan.
  • Apply to the honors program in your department, or to an Interdisciplinary Honors program.  Note that different programs have different application deadlines, so check ahead of time!
  • Start honors work or research.
  • In Spring quarter, plan to take a seminar within your honors program.
  • Consider writing a Major Grant proposal and applying for funding to support you while you do research on your topic over the summer between junior and senior years.
  • Apply for Bing Honors College.

Summer between Junior and Senior Year

  • Conduct honors work or research.
  • In September, participate in Bing Honors College during the three weeks before Fall Quarter starts.

Senior Year

  • Complete your research
  • Draft and write your honors thesis in close consultation with your Honors Advisor.

Choosing an Honors Thesis Topic

You do not necessarily need to have a topic already in mind when you decide to pursue honors. There are many different ways to help you decide upon an honors thesis topic.

  • Identify and reach out to a faculty member you'd like to work with. (See our tips for connecting with faculty here.)  Faculty are often very open to helping you brainstorm thesis ideas, especially when they build on that professor’s area of expertise.
  • It's also possible to develop a topic on your own, before selecting a Faculty Honors Advisor. Think back to any final papers or projects in past classes that you particularly enjoyed.  They could be the seed of an excellent honors thesis!  
  • Brainstorm ideas with tutors affiliated with the Honors Writing Program at the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking.
  • Have a conversation with your Academic Advisor about your academic interests and goals.

Working with a Faculty Honors Advisor

Choosing a Faculty Honors Advisor and establishing a strong working relationship with that person is essential to having a positive experience in an honors program. Find more detailed advice about working with your Faculty Honors Advisor here.

See also

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