Graduation with Distinction

Participating in the Philosophy Department’s Graduation with Distinction program involves writing, submitting, and defending an honors thesis. An honors thesis for a Philosophy major is a substantial research project on an important topic in Philosophy. 


To be eligible for graduation with distinction, you must have at least a 3.5 GPA in the Philosophy major. Before the end of the junior year, you must secure the consent of a faculty member to direct the writing of the honors thesis. The Director of Undergraduate Studies will be informed of this before the beginning of the senior year.


You must research and write an honors thesis and present your work before a committee with at least two members from the Department, including the director of your thesis.

Evaluative procedure

Your thesis director and at least one other member of the Department will evaluate your thesis and conduct an oral examination.

Levels of distinction

The committee’s evaluation of “pass,” “high pass,” or “highest pass” will result in the awarding of Distinction, High Distinction, or Highest Distinction, respectively.


If you are interested in writing an honors thesis, we encourage you to contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) in Philosophy as early as possible in your junior year. An honors thesis is a major undertaking that requires careful planning. It is a rewarding intellectual enterprise, but it should be undertaken only if you are willing to devote a substantial part of the senior year to working on it. If you are pursuing a double major, and especially if you are planning to write an honors thesis for another program as well, you should carefully discuss the feasibility with the Philosophy DUS and your potential thesis director.


You are urged to take a two-semester independent study with your director while writing the thesis. Two terms are not required, but this length of commitment is to your advantage and may be required by your director.


An honors thesis is more than just a long term paper or a collection of term papers. The thesis must be a coherent sustained study with an original analysis. The length of the thesis is expected to be around 40 to 60 double-spaced pages. Although the final draft of the thesis may incorporate revised versions of a paper or papers written for past courses, at least half of the thesis should be new material, prepared exclusively for the Philosophy honors thesis.

You are responsible for making sure that the project develops in a timely fashion as outlined below and for keeping your director informed about the status of your work.

A complete draft of the thesis will be due on the first weekday of April of your final semester unless an extension is granted by your director and your other committee members. This deadline is set so that the committee members have the time to read the thesis and to request revisions if necessary.


  • During the spring semester of junior year, it is suggested that you express your interest in writing an honors thesis to the Philosophy DUS. Before you approach other faculty members to ask about writing an honors thesis, consult the DUS to determine whether you are eligible to write a thesis. After determining your eligibility, the DUS can advise you concerning potential thesis advisors to consult on the theme, purpose, and methodology of a research project.
  • Before the end of the spring semester of your junior year, you must create a reading list (or a research plan) and obtain consent of the faculty director to do an Independent Study (thesis tutorial) with that faculty director during the following fall.
  • Note that a faculty director’s consent to supervise an Independent Study does not mean that your plan to submit an honors thesis has been formally accepted. The final approval is obtained only upon the completion of at least one chapter of the thesis by the end of the fall semester of your senior year.


  • Begin the research, work on the reading list.


  • You are required to enroll in an Independent Study with your advisor for the fall semester, and it is advised, though not required, that you also enroll in an Independent Study with that person during the spring semester. Your research timetable should be organized in consultation with your thesis director. 
  • By the end of the second week of the semester, you should submit a preliminary proposal of your thesis, which should include a clear statement of your theme, purpose, and methodology, as well as a tentative bibliography.
  • By the end of the sixth week of the semester, you should submit a formal proposal of your project (a polished-up version of your preliminary proposal), a chapter-by-chapter outline of your thesis, and a detailed time table of completion.
  • Before the end of the semester, you should submit a 10-to-20-page paper designed to be a chapter of your thesis. Upon reviewing this paper, the thesis director will decide whether your research project should be turned into an honors thesis.
  • Your honors thesis committee will be composed of your thesis director or pair of directors and one or two other faculty members of the Philosophy department or from another department, if approved by your thesis director. It is the responsibility of you and your director(s) to arrange for these other faculty members to create a three-member committee. Immediately upon receiving the approval of your director(s) to write the honors thesis, you should work with your director(s) to request faculty member(s) with relevant expertise or interests to be on your thesis committee.


  • Continue working on your thesis with your director(s) according to your schedule, with the option of enrolling in an Independent Study.
  • Throughout the spring semester you should also maintain regular contact with the members of your committee and give progress reports.
  • Schedule a thesis examination in April. It is strongly advised that you schedule the date and time as early as possible.
  • Submit a complete draft of your honors thesis to your committee by the first weekday of April, unless granted an extension by your thesis director and committee.
  • Prepare a 10-15 minute summary of your thesis to present at the beginning of your thesis examination. The remainder of your examination will consist of questions and discussions with your committee.
  • Your honors thesis committee will evaluate whether your thesis merits distinction and will also recommend the appropriate distinction level, based on the quality of your thesis and on your performance in the major program. The three levels of distinction are: Distinction, High Distinction, and Highest Distinction.