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Honors Thesis FAQs for Faculty and Departmental Staff

How do students register for the Honors Thesis? Unlike other Tulane courses, students may not register themselves for the Honors Thesis through Gibson. Students register in their department office each semester (so a student writing a thesis in English would register through the English department). In order for the thesis to be approved, students must also submit a prospectus to Newcomb-Tulane College and adhere to scheduled deadlines throughout the academic year. 

Are there specific course numbers for the Honors Thesis? The Honors Thesis is a two-semester project. 4990 is the fall course number (3 credit hours) and 5000 (4 credit hours) is the course number for spring. A student writing for Political Science, for instance, should be registered for POLS 4990 during the fall semester, and POLS 5000 for the spring.

How does the grading for the thesis work across the two semesters? The thesis should be set up as a two-semester course with “IP” being the correct fall semester grade. (Please contact classschedule@tulane.edu for additional information on how to do this.) The thesis is not graded until the student has passed the oral defense and submitted the final thesis. The grade for the fall semester will show as “IP” (In Progress) until the final grade is submitted and applied to both semesters. No letter grade should be given at the close of the fall semester. 

Can an Honors Thesis be written for two majors? How does the credit registration work? Students may write an Honors Thesis in two majors. They will have a first reader from one major and a second reader from the other.  Each reader is, in effect, a co-director for the major they represent. Students who are writing theses in two major departments register for 4990 in one department and 5000 in the other. From the perspective of Newcomb-Tulane College, it does not matter in which order the credits are registered, but it’s recommended that students check with their major advisors. Please note that students will be working with both co-directors throughout the year, even though they are registered through one department for the fall and the other in the spring. The instructor of record for the spring semester will be responsible for assigning the final grade, which will be applied to both semesters. 

Who is the instructor of record? The first reader will be the instructor of record for the thesis, and responsible for assigning a grade (in consultation with the other readers).  Usually the first reader serves as director of the thesis committee. If the thesis is being written for two majors, the reader from the department that the thesis credits are registered for in the spring semester will assign the final grade for the thesis.

Are there deadlines for thesis credits to be enrolled Fall and Spring? Thesis course credits are unlike other course credits and do not adhere to the regular add/drop deadline. These credits can be scheduled more flexibly, not unlike independent study credits.

Can students write a thesis on a spring/fall schedule? Yes. Students should consult with the Director of Senior Programs about electing this option. 

Can students write the thesis in the third year if graduating early? Yes. Students should consult with the Director of Senior Programs about electing this option.

Can students that aren’t in the Honors Program still write a thesis? Is there a minimum GPA? Students do not need to be members of the Honors Program to write a thesis. The eligibility requirement for the Honors Thesis is an overall GPA of 3.4, and a GPA of 3.5 in the major for which the student is writing for honors.

How can I clear non-Honors students to register? If Gibson is restricting the thesis course registration of a Non-Honors student, that restriction can be cleared through the Banner SFASRPO screen, adding the course CRN to DEPARTMENT and PRE-REQ. It is not necessary for a department to get approval for the override from the Honors Program.

Can Non-Honors students take the Honors Thesis Bootcamp course? Yes, the Director of Senior Programs will clear non-Honors students for this course in the junior year if they have the eligible GPA to write a thesis. 

Is the Honors Thesis Bootcamp course required to write a thesis?  No. 

Are Honors students required to write an Honors Thesis?  No. The Honors Thesis is required in order to earn departmental honors in the major in which the thesis is written. 

Which faculty are eligible to serve on thesis committees? First and Second Readers must normally be full-time faculty members (Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, Professor of Practice) in the major department in which the student is writing the thesis.  Exceptions will be allowed for academically cogent reasons, with the permission of the chair of the relevant department and the approval of the Director of Senior Programs. The Third Reader must be a full-time faculty member who is not a member of the department or departments for which the student is writing the thesis. It is not necessary that the third reader be able to make a substantial contribution to the thesis, but only that they be able to report to the Director of Senior Programs about the process. Typically, visiting faculty, adjunct faculty, and administrative faculty may not serve on thesis committees. 

Can a faculty member from the Medical School serve on a thesis committee? Yes, with the permission of the chair of the relevant department and the approval of the Director of Senior Programs. Medical School faculty should not serve as instructor of record (first reader). For administrative purposes, they should be the second (or third) reader, and a faculty member representing the student’s major department should serve as first reader.

What is considered the passing grade for an Honors Thesis? A or A-.

If a student decides to stop writing their Honors Thesis or does not achieve satisfactory progress, what is the process for dropping the credits, or for converting the thesis credits to independent study credits? The Honors Thesis credits may be dropped at any time WITHOUT RECORD. The student should work with their NTC Academic Advisor and the Registrar’s Office to drop the credits officially from the transcript. With permission of the thesis director, independent study credits may then be added to the transcript for one or both semesters through the major department. This process is sometimes referred to as converting thesis credits to independent study but is in fact two separate steps—one through Academic Advising and the other through the department.

Does the Honors Thesis fulfill the second-tier writing requirement? Yes. 

Can the Honors Thesis fulfill the second-tier service requirement?  Yes, if the thesis constitutes an educational experience based upon a collaborative partnership between the university and the community. Students must submit a petition to the Center for Public Service. Visit https://cps.tulane.edu/about/graduation-requirement for more details. 


What are the standards or expectations for a successful Honors Thesis? We expect students to aim high in their research proposals.  We also expect that if they aim high enough, they will sometimes fall at least a little short of their aspirations.  (On the other hand, some students every year will produce work that meets, or exceeds, the standards for MA theses.)

The minimum passing grade for the thesis is normally “A-.”  A thesis that deserves a lower grade should not be considered a passing thesis.  (Any ambiguities in such situations should be discussed with the Director of Senior Programs.)  Similarly, if the student’s work in progress does not suggest an A- outcome, you should not signify your approval on the progress reports in November and January.

It is up to the faculty of departments and programs to determine what constitutes legitimate research in their majors.  (For instance, is research in this field defined by laboratory experiments?  Is field research required?  What are the norms for scholarly writing in this field?)

Students who write Honors Theses should have sufficient preparation through coursework or other experiences that they understand the scholarly terrain onto which they are venturing.  The thesis prospectus, for example, demands that students formulate a research question or hypothesis, and explain how the question or hypothesis has been addressed by scholars in the field.

Faculty are not obliged to take on students for honors theses.  If you think the student is not adequately prepared for a thesis, or for the particular project the student wants to propose, you should not sign on to the thesis.

How long must theses be? The length of the thesis will depend on the nature of the project and the expectations of the field in which the thesis is written. Students in the more discursive fields (History, for instance) should usually aim for around 60-75 pages. Theses in subjects where research is usually expressed in large part through formulas and figures (Math, for instance) tend to be shorter.

What sorts of credit and recognition do students receive for the thesis? Students who complete theses and meet the GPA requirements outlined above receive departmental honors in the major or majors for which they write the thesis; they graduate “with honors in” the major or majors.  The Honors Thesis counts as a writing intensive course in its second semester (5000).  The thesis fulfills the capstone requirement in many, but not all, majors. 

What are the roles of the three readers, and what is expected of them? The first reader, also referred to as the thesis director, is the instructor of record for the thesis course, and usually the student’s main advisor for the research.  The first reader assigns the grade for the thesis, in consultation with the second and third readers.  First readers should approach their responsibilities for thesis students the same way they would approach their responsibilities for students pursuing independent studies.  It is ultimately up to the student to maintain contact with the first reader and to submit work-in-progress in a timely fashion.  But faculty should set some sort of expectations for meetings or other ways for the student to report on progress during the thesis year.  And of course faculty who direct theses should plan to be available to thesis students on a fairly regular basis.

Readers, and first readers in particular, are obliged to evaluate students’ work-in-progress several times during the year: the first progress report (November); the second progress report (January); and the oral defense (April).

The second reader normally plays a supporting role.  But in some cases students work as much with a second reader as with a first one.  The second reader is also obliged to evaluate the work-in-progress through the progress reports and oral defense report.

In the case of a thesis written for two majors, the first and second readers serve, in effect, as joint first readers or co-directors, each representing their major department.  In this case, the first two readers should be equally involved in the evaluation of the thesis, from their different disciplinary perspectives, throughout the entire academic year.  

The third reader, who must be a full-time faculty member outside the major or majors for which the thesis is written, serves as an observer of the thesis process, in particular the oral defense, and reports to the Honors Program the outcome of the defense.  Sometimes third readers are able to advise students substantively on the thesis research, but that is not a general requirement. 

What do I do if a thesis is not working out? The answer depends on when you decide there is a problem.  If you are not satisfied with progress at the time of the first or second progress report, do not sign the progress report.  You might also let the Director of Senior Programs know that there is a problem, but we will follow up with the student anyway when he or she fails to submit a signed progress report.  Sometimes this evaluation itself can serve to get a student back on track, especially if it comes at the first progress report.

If in your judgment at any time it becomes necessary to discontinue the thesis (or the student decides not to continue it) there are several options.  If you judge that the student has done enough work to warrant it, you may allow the student to convert the thesis to one or even two semesters of independent study.  Because students sometimes depend on the thesis for other requirements (writing intensive, and capstone, for example), the earlier this determination is made the better.

The Honors Thesis courses can be dropped at any time, without record.

What are the requirements and expectations for a thesis in the fine arts (creative writing, art studio, theater, music performance)? The schedule, requirements, and expectations for thesis in the fine arts are essentially the same as for those in the laboratory sciences, humanities, and social sciences. As in other majors, students who propose theses in the fine arts should have experience of upper-level courses or other relevant instruction in their chosen fields and prior experience in the genre or medium of the proposed thesis.

Students without relevant experience should not expect faculty members to agree to advise them on honors theses. Furthermore, students should understand that fine arts theses, like theses in other subjects, are directed projects where faculty judgments as to the quality of work submitted for honors are not only helpful, but also authoritative. Theses in the fine arts, like theses in all other majors, are expected to demonstrate a high level of mastery in the relevant field.

Where the honors thesis prospectus asks students to frame their projects as questions or problems in terms of the state of relevant scholarship, students proposing theses in the fine arts should identify and discuss the main artistic problem or challenge in terms of how other authors or artists have confronted the same or similar problems.

The main body of the thesis should reflect the relevant form or medium of the field for which the student is completing the project: a collection of short stories, a portfolio of images, a musical score, etc. But whatever the main form or medium of the project, all theses in the fine arts must include a substantial analytical or critical discussion of the project as a problem or challenge in the student’s chosen field. (For example, a student writing a novella with a coming-of-age theme might introduce his or her work with a chapter analyzing several examples of that genre, as a way of introducing the student’s own distinctive approach to the creative challenges of the genre.)  The final thesis should include at least 20 pages of prose, in addition to the main focus of the thesis project.

In most cases it should be possible for students to coordinate thesis defenses with performance dates, exhibitions or other relevant events.  In cases where it seems to the readers best to hold such an event after the deadline for the thesis defense, please contact the Director of Senior Programs—or ask the student to contact the Director of Senior Programs—so that we know what is being planned.  Unless the adjustment to the schedule will cause some other problem, we will normally give the student an extension on the thesis defense.

How should the final thesis be formatted? Honors theses must be formatted according to the guidelines set by Newcomb-Tulane College.  Students must defer to these guidelines (which do not cover disciplinary-specific issues like citation styles) when there is a conflict between the thesis style and the usual practice of a given academic discipline.