Honors in English

We encourage dedicated English majors who can be expected to graduate with a 3.65 average or better, particularly those considering graduate school in literature, to pursue departmental Honors in English. Many of our Honors graduates have pursued Ph.D.'s in the most prestigious graduate programs in literary study; others have pursued post-graduate work in Teach for America, elite MFA programs, and highly ranked law schools, divinity programs, and other professional schools.   To be admitted into the Honors program, which spans both semesters of the senior year, students must demonstrate their readiness not only as evidenced by the high grades they have earned in coursework for the major but also by having taken challenging courses in a range of subject areas.

English Honors students take, in addition to fulfilling the major requirements, two sequential Honors seminars (L14 399: Senior Research Seminars I and II), one of which can count as an upper-level elective towards the major. This intensive seminar aims to cultivate the intellectual skills and habits required for a successful honors degree, and is taken in both the fall and spring of the senior year. Students also enroll in an independent study course (L14 5001:Honors Thesis Tutorial) with their thesis advisor's signature.  Throughout the senior year students must maintain a 3.65 average in their English classes as well as a 3.65 undergraduate average overall in order to receive final Honors in English.

To apply for Honors candidacy, students submit an application form and a writing sample (an essay of no fewer than eight pages written for a previous English literature course). Students must also arrange to have two English literature instructors write brief recommendations on their behalf, which should be emailed directly to the Academic Coordinator in English. All application materials must be submitted by May 15th before the student's senior year, but students are encouraged to apply earlier if they can. Students will be notified of the outcome by June 15.  Given this schedule, prospective Honors candidates who will study abroad during one or both semesters of their junior year are encouraged to consult the Director of English Honors, Professor Guinn Batten, before departure.

Student Testimonials

Andie Berry (B.A. '17), Ph.D. student of English Literature at Yale University

"Unlike other college essays, writing an honors thesis is a huge undertaking. However, it was also one of the most rewarding aspects of college for me. I learned how to stay committed to a project over the span of a year. The writing experience taught me how to structure a long piece so that it makes sense to a variety of people. The length of the research and writing process allowed me to repeatedly refine my argument until it became a persuasive and thorough thesis. Through the process, I learned how to conduct solid scholarly research and I discovered my own writing style which are two valuable things that I will carry forth into graduate school. Ultimately, writing an honors thesis showed me what a luxury it is to have the time, resources, support, and space to investigate something that interests me as a scholar but also as a person."

Jonathan Karp (B.A. '15), current Ph.D. student in American Studies at Harvard University

"The English Honors program felt like a culmination of my time at Wash U in all the best ways. In the course, I learned how to research and develop arguments that would not have fit in the seminar papers I was used to writing. Surrounded by a supportive group of classmates and advisors, I also learned what it means to be a part of an intellectual community. We taught each other about our areas of interest, generously critiqued each others' work, and even hung out outside of class. Now that I'm in graduate school, I find myself calling on those ideas of community as often as the methods of research I learned while writing my thesis."

Aparna Sundaram (B.A. '17)

"Writing a thesis improved both the way I engaged with primary texts and the way I approached using secondary sources in my analysis. The process of revising my writing gave me the chance to work on the weaknesses in my prose, and it made me a much better writer. In addition to improving my skills as an English student, working on the thesis helped me connect more with the English department."

Sherri Gardner (B.A. '17), currently an Associate Editor at TripSavvy

"Over the year that I was in the English honor thesis cohort I learned a lot about how to balance my coursework while continuing my thesis research. I had to learn how to think through difficult research problems and write and rewrite my arguments as they evolved. Working with a cohort of my peers was great because they asked excellent, probing questions that challenged my work in a good way."

Rachel Cheng (B.A. '17), current law student at the University of Chicago

"Participating in the thesis cohort definitely improved my writing by forcing me to practice, and constantly be exposed to peer and professor feedback on the stylistics and grammar/flow of my writing. While I have no plans to pursue a degree in English, I'm going to law school, where I know that good solid writing will be of utmost importance. I think that I will be better prepared to face the essays and even possibly journal writing competitions that I may participate in next year. My biggest takeaway from this experience is that you should always take an opportunity to challenge yourself (within healthy bounds), especially as a student when many resources are available to you--including the resources of a young and flexible mind! I really saw how much my confidence was built up through this process of writing and completing the thesis, a massive document which, just a year ago seemed so so far out of reach. It was something to be very proud of, and a skill-building exercise in persistence, patience with myself, and self-confidence."

General Information

Honors by Thesis

In April of their junior year, students wishing to undertake a sustained research must first find a potential thesis advisor and then, in consultation with the advisor, develop a thesis proposal (two pages) in which they describe the nature of the project. Sample proposals may be requested from the Academic Coordinator. Proposals should be submitted with the other application materials by May 15th. The director's signature on the application form will be taken to indicate his or her support for the project and willingness to undertake its supervision. Students whose applications to the program have been successful should begin their reading and research over the summer, and will enroll during each semester of their senior year for one unit of L14 5001, Honors Thesis Tutorial (this is in addition to the course requirement noted above). They will work with their thesis advisor towards the successful completion of a 50-70 page thesis by the last day of the third week in March of the senior year. If, in the course of the fall semester, the thesis director is unable to predict with confidence that the thesis will satisfactorily be completed, the project may be terminated at the end of the fall semester with the possible award of three units in recognition of the work accomplished during the fall. A completed draft of the thesis must be submitted to the thesis advisor by the end of January, and three copies of the completed thesis must be submitted to the Academic Coordinator by 4 p.m. on the last day of the third week in March. An oral examination based primarily on the thesis will be taken after the thesis has been submitted (normally within a few weeks), with an examining committee of three faculty members, including the thesis director.

Please consult The Path Towards Honors: A General Roadmap for approximate deadlines.

Determination of Level of Honors

There are three types of academic recognition that a student majoring in English may receive upon graduation: College Honors, Latin Honors, and/or English honors.

College Honors: This designation is noted on a student's transcript and is automatically awarded to all Arts & Sciences students who graduate with an 8th-semester, overall GPA of 3.65 or higher and who have not participated in a department's Latin Honors program. In other words, it is not possible for a student to receive both the College Honors designation and (any level of) Latin Honors.

Latin Honors:  There are three different levels for this designation – cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude – all awarded for undergraduate work that deserves special recognition. Latin Honors are awarded by the College of Arts & Sciences and are, therefore, attached to the degree, not to the major. These honors are printed on the diploma and on the transcript. The College of Arts & Sciences requires a recommendation from the student's major department as part of the decision to award Latin Honors, and each department sets its own requirements for making such a recommendation. For English majors to receive this recommendation, they must apply for and successfully complete the department’s Honors program. Beginning with the Class of 2015: upon certification by the English Department of completion of the Honors program, your A.B. cum laude level will be awarded according to the following proportions: the top 15 percent in overall grade point average of Latin honors candidates will receive summa cum laude, the next 35 percent magna cum laude, and the remaining 50 percent cum laude.

English Honors: This designation also has three levels – Distinction in English, High Distinction in English, and Highest Distinction in English – and is awarded at the English Department's discretion. English Honors are not tied to GPA or the level of Latin Honors, but are intended to serve as an acknowledgment of the quality of a student’s work towards the thesis and the quality of the thesis itself, as determined by the thesis committee. This notation will appear on the transcript, but not the diploma.

Path Towards Honors

  • Sophomores interested in pursuing honors and interested in studying abroad for both semesters of Junior year should contact the Director of Honors
  • Junior year, must have a 3.65 GPA in English (3.65 overall)
  • Senior year, must complete all requirements for the English Major—and in addition complete Senior Research Seminar (two-semester sequence, 5 hours)
  • Spring of Junior year
    • Application process
      • Locate a potential thesis advisor and develop a thesis proposal to be submitted with the application
      • Writing sample (8-page minimum) from a paper written in a previous English literature course
      • Letters of recommendation from two English literature instructors (one may be the thesis advisor)
      • Submit application packet to department (through Academic Coordinator) by May 15th
      • Notification of department’s decision—mid-June
  • Summer between Junior-Senior years (if accepted to English Honors)
    • Begin research, reading, and writing the thesis
  • Fall of Senior year
    • Be sure you register for the following
      • L14 5001 xx (using section number for thesis director) Honors Thesis Tutorial (1 unit)
      • L14 3991 01 Senior Research Seminar I with Director of Honors (3 units), a workshop experience in which honors students engage in collaborative learning, which includes conversations about readings in theory and methodology and the productive reading of each others' drafts; assignments in the seminar are designed to ensure successful research in individual fields and progress towards completing the Honors thesis
    • In November, register for the following 
      • L14 3992 01 Senior Research Seminar II (2 units)  
      • L14 5001 xx Honors Thesis Tutorial (1 unit)  
  • Winter of Senior year
    • Continue with Senior Research Seminar which ends prior to Spring Break, when all theses have been submitted
    • Schedule regular tutorial meetings with your Honors advisor
    • Not later than the end of February, two additional faculty members will be chosen to participate in defense
      • When thesis has been read and approved by the director, send as a pdf to the Academic Coordinator by 4 p.m. on the last day of the third week in March. 
      • The Academic Coordinator will print three copies of thesis (one for each committee member) and distribute accordingly, at the same time coordinating with readers and Honors student the date for the oral exam. 
      • The thesis defense, which will last around one hour, will be held no later than April 10 of the Spring semester.


Please contact Professor Guinn Batten, the department's Director of Honors, if you have any questions. She can also provide you with samples of successful Honors proposals.

Email Professor Batten