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What is an honors thesis?

A thesis is a sustained, scholarly investigation of an important question or substantive problem. It deals with its topic in greater length, depth and detail than a term paper.

A thesis in Political Science can be written on a wide array of topics, ranging from a close rereading of a classical text in political theory to conducting survey research on a contemporary policy. It may be based on field work or research conducted at Northwestern.

You will write your thesis with the assistance of a faculty advisor. It is recommended that you meet with your advisor approximately once a week. With his or her guidance, you will be responsible for selecting a topic, compiling a bibliography, designing a research plan, and following through with research and writing. A Political Science thesis is generally between 60 and 100 pages long.

What are the pre-requisites for signing up for an honors thesis?

You must be a Political Science major, and have a GPA in the major and college of at least 3.5. Priority is given to students who have completed the department’s methods and 395 requirements. Entrance is competitive, and the quality of the proposal is important.

What exactly do I need to do to sign up for an honors thesis?

These are the steps you should follow to apply to the honors program:

  • Discuss pursuing honors with a political science faculty member you know. The decision to pursue honors is a weighty one; it will affect the entire experience of your senior year of college. You should discuss this decision with an advisor, and you should discuss potential research topics.
  • You should begin conversations about a potential topic no later than the winter quarter of your junior year. It is a good idea to think about possible topics that might interest you before you meet with a faculty advisor. Better yet, take a stab at formulating a paragraph about a possible thesis topic. Students studying abroad are encouraged to start talking about potential topics before they depart for study abroad. 
  • Develop a proposal for a thesis topic in consultation with a faculty member. Admissions to the program will be based on the quality of the thesis proposal. In general, the proposal involves framing a question that can serve as the basis of a thesis project. Expertise in the topic is not required at the proposal stage.
  • Complete the cover sheet of the application and the top portion of a recommendation form. Give your recommendation writer a copy of the cover sheet and the recommendation form with the top half already completed. The recommender also needs a copy of the proposal.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute! The recommendation form is designed to be completed quickly. Still, you need to give a faculty member advanced warning and time to discuss your proposal with you and to complete the form. You may complete the recommendation form electronically as indicated on the form.
  • Include a current transcript of your studies, verifying that your GPA in the major (political science) and college is 3.5 or higher. Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.
  • Submit all materials electronically as a PDF including the Cover Sheet, unofficial transcript and 2-3 page project proposal (with topic title) to the Undergraduate Program Assistant, Pamela Straw (Pamela.hines@northwestern.edu).  Applications are typically due at the beginning of the Spring quarter.

How do I find a thesis advisor?

If you are admitted to the honors program, the Director of Honors will assign you an advisor.  The department strongly recommends that you work with your proposal with a political science faculty member, and preferably with the faculty member you hope might become your advisor.

Is it possible to write honors theses in two majors?

The department discourages students from pursuing honors in two majors. Instead, we encourage double majors to pursue the option of an interdisciplinary honors project. Students doing interdisciplinary honors theses will normally be expected to register for and to complete successfully the honors sequences in both departments.  Information about interdisciplinary honors is available at the Weinberg Advising page.

What should I do if I want to sign up for an honors thesis, but I am spending my junior year abroad (winter quarter included)?

You can sign up from abroad, but you must still complete all the steps and meet all of the deadlines. You should also still work with a faculty member on your proposal, either a Northwestern member or a faculty member abroad.

You will need to be in correspondence with a Northwestern faculty member regarding your recommendation form and a letter of recommendation. You may also work with a faculty member on your proposal via e-mail.

Both the Department of Political Science and Northwestern have funds available to conduct research, and you should explore applying for these funds to begin research on your topic while abroad.

For most field based research, you will need to apply for Institutional Review Board approval.

I missed the application deadline. What do I do?

Normally only students who submit an application on time will be admitted to the program. Late applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis, but the bar for entry is higher, and late applications will be accepted in exceptional cases only.

Study abroad is not considered an exceptional reason unless the student is spending the winter quarter of their junior year in an area of the world with no electricity or internet connections. We encourage students to anticipate a situation that may lead to a late application, and talk to the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Honors Director in advance.

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