Honors in the Major


Earning honors at GU-Q requires writing a thesis that the faculty recognizes as exceptional. The common framework for honors is designed to ensure that students in various majors achieve uniformly high standards, enjoy uniformly committed mentoring, and are subject to the same requirements and deadlines.

Events, issues, and outcomes not anticipated by this document will be resolved by the Faculty Chair in consultation with the Curricular Chairs of the three curricular groups in which the student is not majoring.

Steps to Earning Honors

Deadlines for Honors

  • Curricular Deans invite eligible students to apply
  • Students identify faculty mentor
  • Obtain human subject research approval if necessary
  • Develop research proposal with mentor
  • Meet regularly with mentor to discuss research
  • Present midterm review at end of fall semester
  • Submit final paper for honors consideration
  • If selected, present paper to honors committee
  • Final grade and/or honors awarded
  • Opportunity for appeal

Eligibility and Initial Steps

  • GPA eligibility in junior year: Honors applicants must have cumulative GPAs stipulated for their particular majors. Curricular deans will identify eligible students in the Spring semester of junior year.
  • Find Mentor: After receiving the curricular deans’ invitation to apply for honors, each prospective applicant must identify a faculty member willing to mentor their thesis. It is highly advisable to choose a mentor whose expertise is related to the applicant’s proposed research topic.
  • Develop Proposal: An applicant will only be considered if they have submitted a proposal signed by the mentor.
  • Obtain IRB approval if necessary: Georgetown University policy requires that all faculty, staff, and students whose projects involve human subjects obtain approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to the initiation of any human subject research activities.  Honor students pursuing projects that involve human subjects or identifiable private information have to obtain IRB approval prior to the initiation of any research activity. Details are provided at the end of this document.

The Proposal

Honors in the Major Application form

The honors thesis proposal must contain the following sections.

  • Brief introduction to set the scene for the topic. You may consider beginning with a relevant quote or anecdote. State your hypothesis clearly. Identify your faculty mentor.
  • Brief literature review to demonstrate that the student is familiar with scholarly literature in the field. Sum up what has already been done on your topic and explain your unique contribution.
  • A methods section in which you describe how you will conduct the research. Explain how you will test your hypothesis and specify the data or other resources you will use. Identify any problems you foresee in obtaining the necessary resources.
  • Acknowledgement of the requirement to obtain IRB approval or a statement that the project does not involve human subjects or identifiable private information.
  • If possible, include an analytical section in which you describe the potential implications of your results. You should begin to address the ‘so what’ question; i.e., why readers should be interested in your work.
  • Feasibility and limitations section in which you describe the courses and skills and skills (languages, statistical competence, etc.) that prepare you for carrying out the research and producing a convincing argument.
  • Preliminary bibliography which includes primary and secondary sources.

The Mentor

The honors thesis mentor is responsible for working with the student to help her/him develop the thesis proposal and to guide the student’s research and writing. This includes several steps and tasks.

Proposal and mentorship review and acceptance: At the beginning of the Spring semester of junior year, once a faculty member has been approached by a prospective honors applicant, and provided that the faculty member is inclined to accept the mentorship of the student, the prospective mentor gives feedback to the student on her/his thesis proposal and reviews the final proposal before committing to mentor the thesis. An honors thesis proposal needs to be signed by the mentor before it can move forward.

Meeting schedule and syllabus: A mentor has to meet regularly with the honors student during the senior year. The exact meaning of “regularly” will depend on the student, the mentor, and the type of mentoring relationship established between them. The latter will be spelled out in an “Honors Thesis Syllabus” that the mentor, in consultation with the student, will produce early on, i.e., soon after acceptance into the honors program has been communicated to the student and no later than the last day of exams scheduled for the spring semester. The syllabus has to spell out the mentor’s expectations of the student’s output as well as a timeline for submitting drafts of the sections/chapters of the thesis during the academic year. The syllabus is a “contract” binding the mentor and the student. Its level of specificity lies completely within the sphere of autonomy of the mentor. Although the mentor has leeway to determine the details, the following is to be noted:

  • A minimum of four meetings per semester is required.
  • The mentor is strongly advised to work in coordination with the Honors Seminar instructor during the Fall semester of the student’s senior year.
  • The mentor is expected to be present during the student’s mid-term honors presentation at the end of the Fall semester.

Assessing the Honors Research

Assessment Committees

The Honors Admissions Committee

After the pool of potential honors applicants has been identified, each curricular group will appoint an Honors Admissions Committee consisting of at least three faculty members to review the thesis proposals.

The Honors Admissions Committee will make decisions based on majority vote. Each proposal may be accepted, returned for revisions and resubmission, or rejected. Only one revision is allowed. Proposed mentors should recuse themselves from this vote. In case of a tie, at least one more member of the curricular group should be consulted and should vote.

The Chair of the curricular group will convey the Honors Admissions Committee’s decisions to the students and to the curricular dean in writing.

The Honors Review Committee

An Honors Review Committee is responsible for reviewing each thesis presented for honors and for determining whether the thesis is worthy of honors. Each thesis will be reviewed by a committee devoted to that work alone. The Honors Review Committees are formed by the curricular groups at the beginning of the academic year.

Each Honors Review Committee shall be composed of the curricular chair, at least two members of the faculty appointed by the curricular chair, and the thesis mentor. The thesis mentor is not eligible to vote on whether honors will be awarded to the thesis. Honors is awarded by majority vote of the Honors Review Committee.

At the end of the first semester of the Honors year, the student, in consultation with his/her mentor, will submit to a ‘Midterm Review’ conducted by the Honors Review Committee (see below for details).

The Honors Review Committee for every student will attend the ‘Thesis Presentations’ (see, Requirements of Thesis Presentation) in the second semester of the Honors year. Questions and comments offered by committee members will be discussed by the student and mentor so that – if necessary – the thesis can be revised in consideration of those questions or comments before the final draft is submitted.

Once the thesis is submitted, the relevant Honors Review Committee will evaluate it on the basis of the following six criteria: 1) well-explained, justified research question and methodology; 2) critical engagement with a relevant body of secondary literature, demonstrating an accurate and comprehensive understanding of its complexities; 3) primary sources/data sets relevant to the question, method and secondary literature; 4) sound interpretation, analysis and appraisal of the primary sources/data sets used; 5) coherent (focused, logical and structured) argumentation, reflecting the research question, methods and sources named, from introduction to conclusion; 6) technically proficient writing (including proper grammar, spelling, and citations). Members of the Honors Review Committees should use the thesis evaluation sheet at the end of this document to record their assessment of each of the criteria listed.  The evaluation sheets are important records and should be retained as official records by the relevant curricular field chair. The evaluation must be completed within 10 working days after the thesis submission deadline.

A majority vote of the Honors Review Committee will determine the outcome of the review in each case. It will be the responsibility of the curricular chair to notify the student and mentor of the Honors Review Committee’s decision, positive or negative, in writing with comments on the reasoning of the committee, within 3 working days of the Honors Review Committee’s decision.


The Midterm Review

The midterm review provides an opportunity for the student and his or her mentor to receive formal feedback from faculty colleagues and to ensure the thesis is high quality and is on track for completion by the spring semester deadline.

The midterm review consists of a written draft and a presentation given during the last two weeks of classes in the fall semester. The written draft and presentation are assessed by the Honors Review Committee and by the student’s mentor. The written draft should be as full a draft of the thesis as possible, with a special section outlining work to be done during spring semester.

The Honors Review Committee and the mentor will provide a written progress report to the student within five working days of the Midterm Review presentation.

The Honors Decision

The Course Grade:  The task of assigning the final grade for the second-semester honors course falls to the course instructor. The student must fulfill all the important benchmarks in the syllabus in order to qualify for a final grade.

The mentor must decide at least one week before the public presentations whether the honors project can proceed. In cases where the mentor determines the project cannot advance, a grade for the second-semester course must still be awarded.

The Thesis:  In terms of what constitutes an Honors-worthy thesis, each candidate must fulfill the criteria stipulated for each major in the areas such as: literature review, research methods, arguments and analysis, structure and style. All these are the essential components of an Honors-worthy thesis. The literature review must be thorough and demonstrate understanding of key issues and debates, as well as how the thesis contributes to scholarly discussion. The literature review goes beyond a summary of the literature and recounting of the genealogy of the issue; it must identify gaps and  contradictions in extant research. This aspect of the thesis must entail a substantial engagement with existing literature on a particular subject matter. The research methods must demonstrate that the method(s) used, whether qualitative and/or quantitative, is/are appropriate for the research question. The project is motivated by research question(s) and the thesis statement. The thesis must incorporate primary and/or secondary sources, and academic sources appropriate for the research questions. The writing must be clear, logical, and consistent with technical facts. The arguments in the thesis must be supported by evidence. The paper is approximately 50-70 pages in length and double-spaced. It must be organized with an introduction, literature review, and well-constructed sub-headings. The paper must use a consistent and correct style/citation format.

The final decision must be conveyed to the candidate in a timely manner and must note that there is an Appeals process in place at GU-Q.

The Appeals Process

An Honors Review Committee’s assessment of the thesis is final. No appeals will be heard on the basis of disagreements regarding the committee’s judgment of the content and / or quality of a thesis.

The only condition for appeal is procedural: that is, if it can be argued that a violation of procedure interfered with the student’s ability to submit her / his best work. For example, if an Honors Review Committee failed to submit a written appraisal for the Midterm Review, that could be grounds for an appeal. If the student had insufficient time for revisions between the final presentation and submission deadline for the thesis (i.e., fewer than 10 working days), that also could be grounds for an appeal.

A poor working relationship between the student and the mentor is not grounds for an appeal. Given the high stakes associated with pursuing honors in the major, it is in each student’s interest to ensure that the working relationship with the mentor is productive. If the student – mentor relationship breaks down, the student should confer as early as possible with the curricular field chair for advice. If the student – mentor relationship cannot be salvaged, then a replacement mentor should be sought; if one is not available, then the student’s pursuit of honors comes to an end. We cannot overstate the importance of choosing a topic and mentor carefully.

The student must appeal in writing no later than five working days after an adverse decision by the Honors Review Committee. The appeal should be delivered to the Faculty Chair, and it must contain a clear statement of the procedural violation(s) alleged.[1] If the Faculty Chair is the student’s mentor or was in any way involved in the assessment of the thesis, the appeal must be sent to the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

The Faculty Chair (or Associate Dean) will determine whether sufficient grounds for an appeal exist. If he / she determines that grounds for an appeal do exist, he / she will assign an Ad Hoc Appeal Committee, comprising three members of the senior core faculty – one from each of the three curricular groups in which the student is not majoring – to investigate the case. The findings of the Ad Hoc Appeal Committee will be forwarded to the Faculty Chair in writing within 10 working days, and he / she shall immediately inform the student of the verdict, positive or negative, with a copy of the Ad Hoc Appeal Committee’s report. The Ad Hoc Appeal Committee decision is final.

When an appeal is successful, the remedy shall permit a student to revise her / his thesis within a stipulated time period in order to overcome the deficiencies identified by the Honors Review Committee; the thesis will then have to be re-evaluated.  Such re-evaluation of the thesis will be conducted by a new committee comprised of the original Honors Review Committee plus the Ad Hoc Appeals Committee. If a majority of the combined committee finds the revisions adequate, the thesis will be passed.

It should be understood from the outset that, due to the time involved, any student appealing an adverse decision will not be recognized for honors during Tropaia and Commencement ceremonies.  However, if the appeal is successful and the thesis is ultimately passed, the student will have Honors recorded on their transcript.

IRB Approval

By September 30, each student must have attended an IRB training session or have submitted a statement to the IRB and to their mentor explaining why the research does not need IRB review.  The IRB office organizes student training in May, August, and September; specific dates are announced via email.

By October 15, each student whose project requires it must have applied for IRB review.  If a student whose project requires IRB approval does not attend an IRB training session and/or does not apply for IRB approval by this date, their participation in the honors program will be terminated.  As soon as IRB approval is granted the student must inform their mentor. IRB approval is required before data collection can begin.

CITI training and IRB approval require sustained effort.  Students and mentors should familiarize themselves with materials in the links below as early as possible. General information about the IRB is available at this link.

CITI training must be completed before applying for IRB review.

Requests for IRB review must be submitted electronically.  Templates for review requests and consent forms are available here.

Approximate time-lines for IRB processes:

  • CITI training and online IRB application: 1 week.
  • IRB review: 1 week.

For any IRB related queries, contact the IRB office at 4457 8472 or via email at sfsqirb@georgetown.edu.

Thesis Evaluation Sheet

Student Name:

Thesis Title:

Reviewed By:        

Research Question and Methodology     
Engagement with Secondary Literature     
Primary Sources / Data Set     


  • Poor
  • Fair
  • Good
  • Very Good
  • Outstanding

Pass = 18/30

[1] Note that this Faculty Chair is the chair of the GU-Q Faculty Council; it is not the Faculty Field Chair for the curricular group in which the student is seeking honors in the major.