In the English Department, your thesis might come in one of many forms. It might be fifty to seventy five pages of critical writing, usually organized into chapters. Or it might comprise a collection of essays or poems or stories, a mixture of forms, or some other kind of exploration, so long as this work is accompanied by a written essay that reflects on the process of creating the visual artifact, and discusses the project’s influences and its orientation in a broader field of related work, or how the work engages a set of critical or theoretical ideas.
Yet another thesis possibility involves the substantial revision of essays done earlier in your Amherst career with an introduction linking them together, thus comprising a writing portfolio in the truest sense. Have you, for instance, discovered that you keep returning to a set of themes in your writing across classes? If you could go back to that first paper in light of what you think now several years later, how would you frame your argument differently? A writing portfolio is your opportunity to develop a capstone experience based on your own previous work.
To be considered for honors a student must apply to enroll in English 498 and English 499, the Fall and Spring honors tutorial courses. Please click here to learn more about 498/499 and the thesis proposal.
Why Do a Thesis?
What differentiates an honors project from an independent study is that the honors project requires you to fulfill a series of requirements in addition to the pursuit of your actual project, and that in so doing you are made a candidate for Latin honors. These additional requirements attached to the honors process will align your pursuit with the kinds of activities endemic to academia and to professional writing more generally-- from the proposal stage on through the thesis conversation at the end of the academic year. If you are interested in graduate study or in becoming a journalist, for instance, the honors process will help introduce you to the skills and discipline you need to succeed in those endeavors.
This is not to say, however, that writing a thesis will increase your chances for admission into graduate school. Most graduate schools, frankly, care little for the Latin honors system, especially since there is no standardization of honors across undergraduate programs-- one school's magna is another school's summa, and so on. And the samples you will use in your applications, be they for a creative or critical program, will be far shorter than your thesis will likely be.
In other words, the purpose of composing an honors project is not to produce a text with a use-value that you can carry over into the next stage of your professional or academic career per se. Rather, you are instead being given the opportunity to contribute to the broader world of arts and scholarship-- to join the always growing number of fellow student-scholars whose work is archived in the library, to be referenced and revered by their peers for years to come--, and in your experience of doing so you will also acquire a skillset that should help underwrite your later success therein.
In general, if you are interested in a capstone creative or scholarly experience in your senior year, you can pursue a variety of options-- a one or two semester special topics course, one or two 400-level English courses particularly suited to your interests, or the composition of a senior honors project.