The Honors Program

What is the English Honors Program?

Challenging & Distinguished: An opportunity for you to study intensively with a full-time faculty member in a senior seminar over two semesters, and to graduate with departmental honors after completing the honors exam

Collaborative: Work closely with a small group of dedicated fellow students over the course of a year and present your work together at a college-wide conference in the spring

Self-guided: You’ll get the chance to develop an original research project on a topic that you design with the help of your professor

The best part of the honors seminar has to be your fellow students! I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by brilliant, kind, creative people who always introduced me to ideas that I had not thought of myself.

The best part of the honors seminar has to be your fellow students! I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by brilliant, kind, creative people who always introduced me to ideas that I had not thought of myself.

— Cara, honors program alum

Next year’s seminar


Scenes of Instruction: Learning in Literature

Prof. William Orchard

Sign up now by contacting program chair Prof. Annmarie Drury.

Tip: get started as early as you can in your English major and plan ahead!

Students must apply by their junior year, but are encouraged to apply as early as possible. Eligible majors must have at least a 3.3 GPA. Prof. Drury will advise prospective students about courses they may take to prepare them for the program. Registration forms (see below) for the program should be submitted to Prof. Drury by email.

Note: Students MUST sign up for the first (fall) half of the honors seminar during the spring semester of their junior year. No student will be admitted to the second (spring) semester of the honors seminar who has not completed the work of the preceding semester. There will be two sections of the seminar each semester, one during the day and one during the evening. Taking these will serve as a replacement for the English major’s required senior seminar and one of its electives.

→ Registration form

Features of the Honors Program include:

  • Two-semester (eight-credit) seminar during your senior year
  • Independent research paper (the honors essay)
  • Honors exam
  • Honors conference

Over the course of the year, your work as an honors student will look like this:

Fall semester

Weekly seminar reading and discussion: Analysis of literary works focusing on a common theme—for example, “Conversion / Identity” or “Humor as a Form of Inquiry”—and a selection of scholarly essays. Some of the texts for the fall semester are announced the preceding spring.

Research project: You will create an independent research project related to the theme of the seminar, developed through a series of conversations with your professor and completed in stages (for example: a proposal, annotated bibliography, draft, and revision). Your research topic is subject to the approval of your professor.

Guest faculty: Your seminar may invite faculty with special expertise in the works you are studying to lead or participate in class discussions.

Class blog: Much of the work of the seminar is shared on a class blog or other digital platform, allowing for ongoing interaction between you and your professor and among your fellow students. You can see blogs from previous years’ seminars here: “The Observed Life: Gossip, Secrecy, and the Circulation of Social Knowledge” and “Adaptation of Narrative across Media.”

Exam list: Late in the semester, your seminar will collaboratively choose ten works from your fall syllabus to go onto the reading list for the honors exam in the spring. (Soon after that, faculty members on the honors committee create the other half of the list and share that with your professor, who will share it with you.)

Spring semester

Seminar work focuses on three tasks:

Completing your research paper: With help from your professor, and from your classmates in peer review, you’ll complete the paper you began in the fall. The final paper of 5000-7000 words (20-24 pages) is due midway through the spring semester.

Studying in groups for the honors exam: Your professor will guide you through exam preparations, which include class discussions and practice with past exams. The essay-based exam, usually held in April, centers on the reading list and has three parts: an essay in literary history/historical context; an essay in genre; and an essay focused on theory. This mirrors the structure of the methodology courses in the English major (the 240s).

Designing, organizing, and presenting at an academic conference: The culminating event of the honors seminar, the conference is based on your and your classmates’ research projects. You’ll present your work to an audience of faculty, students, family, and friends. Finally, you’ll get to work with your professor to create a website documenting the conference and your experience as an honors student.

Honors students who meet the standards of the program will graduate with Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors. Each student’s honors designation is based on four criteria: final GPA; final GPA in English; achievement in the research paper; and performance on the honors exam. Two members of the faculty Honors Committee grade the paper; additional members grade the exam. Grading is done anonymously. All faculty graders vote on each student’s honors designation, which will appear on your transcript.

If you’re a prospective English honors student and you would like to know more about what it’s like to be part of the honors program–its perks and pressures alike–check out this Q&A compiled by students of the 2019-2020 seminar.

This is the class where I felt I had the most control over what I could focus on and dedicate time to, both in my own personal work as well as during class.

— Emily, honors program alum