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Honors in English

The English Honors program allows outstanding students to undertake an intensive, year-long project in the study of literature under the supervision of a faculty advisor.  English Honors involves five phases of work, which begin in the fall of your junior year:

Application to the Honors Program

Due October 8 of junior year, the online application consists of a short form asking you to outline possible topics for study and a copy of your transcript.  The applications will be read by the English Department’s Honors Committee.  We will also solicit a few words of feedback from departmental faculty about your work in their classes.

Application for Junior Honors Program

Also send a PDF of your transcript (the student view is acceptable), via email to the Honors Director, Melanie Dawson, at, with the subject line “Honors Application Transcript.”

Enrollment in the Honors Thesis Proposal Writing Workshop

This one-credit class takes place during the last five weeks of the fall term of your junior year.  The class will culminate in a thesis proposal, which will be read by the English Honors Committee.  Working with the Honors Director in conjunction with a faculty member who agrees to advise your thesis project, you will prepare your Thesis Proposal, which is a multi-faceted document that covers the goals, sources, and methods of your project.  Those projects that are approved will be eligible to apply for Charles Center funding for summer research early in the spring term. The submission of a more extended proposal will be due to the English Honors Program on April 1.

The proposed topic, key texts, and advisor are expected to remain in place, once they are approved in the fall term, so the April 1 proposal constitutes an elongation and refinement of the proposal submitted in December. 

Applications for Charles Center Honors Fellowships can be found here.  

Submission of the Proposal

The Thesis Proposal is a document that outlines the materials, methods, and scholarly preparation for your project.  Proposals often include an explanation of the overarching issues framing the inquiry, textual details, a short overview of relevant scholarship, and even sample analyses. Both simple and annotated bibliographies are required.   

Information about the thesis proposal can be found here.


Writing the Senior Thesis  

While the groundwork for your thesis will take place during your junior year, the drafting of the project usually occurs in the fall of your senior year, while spring allows for the finalizing and polishing of your project.  Realize that writing the thesis is an incremental process that involves researching, drafting, revising, and reorganizing your writing in regular consultation with your thesis advisor.  Expect that you may spend as much time on revision and reorganization as on the initial writing, so that quantity of writing (the production of pages) will matter less than the polished quality of your final thesis.

You will receive credit for your senior Honors work when you register for ENGL 495 (fall) and 496 (spring), each of which is a 3-credit class. You and your advisor will construct a work plan, or syllabus, that you register with the departmental Honors Director.  Your adherence to this plan is in part what helps your thesis advisor determine your grade for the fall.  In the spring, you will complete the 40-70 page thesis, which is turned in to your examination committee members on or around April 15 (see the Charles Center or the English Honors Director for the official completion date, which changes slightly with the calendar.)

Information on the thesis format can be found here. 

The Oral Defense 

At the conclusion of the spring term, you will defend your thesis to an examination committee, which is composed of two faculty members from the English department and one from another department or program. Examinations will be held during the last week of classes or the first week of exams, depending upon faculty schedules.

The composition of the examining committee is determined by the Honors Director and the thesis advisor, in conjunction with student input.  Expect that the Honors Director will ask for your preferences as the committee is assembled. You will be responsible for arranging a time for the oral defense and will coordinate the room scheduling with Jeanne Smith, administrator in the English Department, once committee members have confirmed their availability.

Taking into account the quality of the written thesis and the oral defense, the examining committee determines whether the thesis receives Honors and assigns a grade for ENGL 496.  The thesis advisor assigns a grade for ENGL 495.  If the thesis does not receive the Honors designation, the student’s transcript will show two sections of ENGL 480, Independent Study, in lieu of ENGL 495 and ENGL 496, or the two semesters of Honors work.  A student who receives Honors must deposit a digital copy of the final version of the thesis, prepared and formatted in accordance with standards established by the Charles Center, in the William and Mary Digital Archive.

How to Begin 

Successful Honors projects build upon a foundation of knowledge, methodology, and critical insight acquired in one or more college classes or in an independent study course. You may want to pursue more deeply the ideas you have encountered, expand your study of a text or author, or trace a pattern across multiple texts. Whatever your interest, your project should demonstrate the kind of sophisticated methodologies and textual interpretation that your college education has provided you.  Projects that are based on favorite childhood books or texts you have never studied in a classroom may be less likely to yield a strong project.

As you consider the Honors program, it is a good idea to begin by reaching out to faculty whose courses interested you, or where you encountered the works that are the most likely candidates for an extended project.

Click here for English Honors FAQ's