The Degree with Honors

Due to the special demands of this interdisciplinary major, the only route to honors in Political Economy is the thesis. Seniors may pursue the honors thesis course (Political Economy 493-W31) during the fall semester and winter study period. The third course contributing to such an honors program would normally be an elective in Political Science or Economics taken during the junior year. This course, which may be one of the required electives, must be closely related, indeed must prepare the ground for the honors thesis.

Juniors in the Political Economy major with at least a 3.5 GPA in the program may apply for the honors thesis program by means of a written proposal submitted to the chair by the second Wednesday after spring break. A memo on the honors program is sent to all junior Political Economy majors near the beginning of spring semester of junior year — a copy of the memo can also be found here. The proposal should have been discussed with at least two faculty members, and at least one faculty advisor from each discipline must be solicited by the student prior to submission of the proposal.

Final decisions about admission to the honors program will be made in late May after spring grades become available. To achieve the degree with honors in Political Economy, the thesis must be completed by the end of winter study period and be judged of honors quality by a committee consisting of the two advisors and a third reader. A thesis judged to be of particular distinction will qualify its author for the degree with highest honors.


To graduate with honors in Political Economy requires the following.

1. A minimum of 3.5 in courses counting toward the major at the end of the senior year, and a 3.5 at the end of the junior year in order to apply.

2. A minimum thesis grade of 3.5 for “Honors” and 3.75 for “Highest Honors.” This thesis grade is the mean of the grades submitted by the thesis committee, composed of two advisors and a third reader. Moreover, to merit highest honors, two of the three readers must give the thesis a grade of 3.75 or higher.

3. Theses are due the last day of Winter Study period.

4. Candidates make a public presentation and defense of their thesis early in the spring semester.

The thesis course in Political Economy, POEC 493-W031, runs through the fall semester and Winter Study period. Students who anticipate pursuing honors should also take a course during the junior year that gives them the necessary background for the thesis topic. For example, in preparation for a thesis on welfare reform in Massachusetts, the student would complete PSCI 209, Poverty in America or ECON 205, Public Economics; a thesis on forest conservation in Costa Rica would follow ECON 213, Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resources Economics, PSCI 301, Environmental Politics and Policy, or ECON 386, Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management. A summer internship might also provide adequate grounding.

Your application (4 pages maximum) should include a brief description of the proposed thesis. Include the topic, how you will investigate it, what kind of materials you think you will collect when doing so, and your preparation (prior courses and experiences) for undertaking the project. A short bibliography will help us see your orientation and suggest additional sources. Name your proposed advisors, ordinarily, one from Economics and one from Political Science–after ascertaining that they are willing and available to serve.

Beyond the formal requirements, your most important concern should be that your chosen topic interests you enough to motivate your consistent, self-initiated effort. In general, the sooner you focus on the purpose of the inquiry and the theoretical aim of the thesis, the better. An early and strong working relationship with the advisors is very helpful here. In judging the final product of these labors, the work will be judged by the following criteria.

1. It should make a case. It states a thesis (an argument, a theoretical statement, a hypothesis, a critique) that is then developed and defended according to the best standards of the particular area of the thesis topic. It should be more than just a description or compilation, no matter how thorough, of research in the field. Such material will form part of the thesis, but as background and evidence for the argument.

2. On some topics, your own empirical research will be a big part of the evidence.

3. In its independence, creativity, curiosity, or synthesis, it should show your personal involvement. This is part of what distinguishes a thesis from a term paper. While this does not mean you have to do graduate-level work, it does mean that if you do not look forward to this as an opportunity to do your own thinking, maybe you should not undertake it.

4. The topic should be concerned with political economy. Narrative history, literary critique, or microeconomic analysis would be more appropriate for another department.

5. The conclusion should show what the thesis has done and what its contribution is. It should be able to stand on its own.

6. The work should be double-spaced (except footnotes and indented material), in 10 or 12 point type, between 50 and 70 pages long.

7. It should have a bibliography showing that you consulted the most important literature on the topic.