FAQ: Graduation with Honors


The thesis:

Research and writing:

The thesis advisor and committee:

The defense:

Latin honors designations:

Am I qualified to graduate with Latin honors?

Students wishing to graduate with Latin honors should be working toward a bachelor's degree at CU-Boulder and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.3 for Departmental Honors and a 3.5 for General Honors. In addition, each department has its own criteria for their students - which can include GPA, seminars, labs, etc. - and you must be familiar with your department's requirements before registering to graduate with honors.

Students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado or any other institution should contact the Honors Program Office for eligibility approval before beginning the honors project.

Students on a BA/MA degree plan must complete all honors requirements, including the thesis defense, during the BA portion of their program. Latin honors will be affixed to the BA portion of the degree when the BA/MA is awarded.

Why should I write an honors thesis?

In a self-study of the Honors Program, we learned that the process of graduating with Latin honors at CU-Boulder is among the most intensive in the nation among peer institutes. Many universities award Latin honors solely based on GPA - by choosing to write and defend an honors thesis to earn Latin honors, you are going above and beyond many of your peers not only at CU-Boulder but nationwide.

The thesis and defense are modeled directly after a Master's thesis. However, future schools you apply to may not be aware of the rigor of CU-Boulder's thesis experience, so we recommend that you have your thesis advisor write a letter of recommendation for you that describes the process.

Are there advantages to doing a General Honors thesis over a Departmental Honors thesis?

There is an important difference between General Honors and Departmental Honors theses, and which type of thesis looks "better" is debatable.

The Departmental Honors thesis is designed to demonstrate a student’s ability to conduct original creative research within the boundaries of the student's discipline.

General Honors research is designed to demonstrate the student's ability to either conduct research of a broad interdisciplinary nature or to allow a student to conduct cross-disciplinary research beyond the bounds of the major.

Which path you take is largely dependent on the topic of your research. As we live in an increasingly specialized world, the vast majority of students pursuing honors choose to demonstrate their command of a particular subject area within their discipline, which means they choose Departmental Honors. But if your topic makes strong connections across disciplines, you may wish to consider General Honors.

Can I graduate with Latin honors without writing a thesis?

Not within the College of Arts and Sciences (other schools and colleges on campus may differ). You may be able to graduate with Distinction which, unlike Latin honors, is entirely based on GPA. Students who are graduating with Distinction receive an email notification from the Dean's Office during the last month of the semester.

What are the GPA requirements for graduating with a certain level of Latin honors?

There are GPA requirements, but grades do not singularly determine the levels of Latin honors awarded.

• A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.3 qualifies a student to be considered for honors, cum laude;

• A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.5 qualifies a student to be considered for honors, magna cum laude;

• A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.8 qualifies a student to be considered for honors, summa cum laude.

While these guidelines qualify a student for consideration for a given level of honors, the level earned is based on the quality of your thesis and thesis defense. If warranted by the quality of the thesis and thesis defense, a committee may recommend an honors designation other than what the guidelines suggest.

If I complete the thesis process, am I guaranteed to graduate with honors?

Very rarely, candidates who write and defend a thesis do not graduate with honors. These candidates usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Students who did not have the minimum GPA required to earn Latin honors but were encouraged to write a thesis purely for the learning experience;
  • Students who had the GPA requirement but did poorly in their defense/thesis.

The writing of a thesis is a serious undertaking, and in all cases the thesis must be of very high quality to warrant honors.

I am a Distributed Studies student. Can I write an honors thesis?

Students graduating with a Distributed Studies degree may pursue General Honors or they may select an appropriate topic in one of their participating departments (contingent on departmental approval). The honors designation would be attached to the Distributed Studies degree.

How long are honors theses?

Anywhere between 10 and 150 pages long – it really varies that much. What's important is the content, not the length.

May I write an honors thesis in a minor?

To pursue honors in a minor, the Honors Council representatives from BOTH your major and minor departments must email honors@colorado.edu to give their approval.

Please note that Latin honors earned in a minor do not appear on a student's diploma, only the transcript.

I am a double major/double degree student. Can I submit the same thesis for both degrees?

No. In addition, students with more than one major or degree in progress must complete the honors process (including defending the thesis) by the time their first major and first degree is awarded. Sometimes students who are double majors write two theses in order to graduate with honors in both disciplines.

What is the difference between the defense copy and the final copy?

The defense copy of your thesis is just that - the version of the thesis you're defending, and the version that will determine your level of honors. Generally, thesis committees will suggest changes or revisions, and you'll incorporate those into the final (archival) copy.

What are the format requirements for honors theses?

While we leave most of those decisions up to your discipline, there are still a few things we require.

Where can I find out more about copyright and fair use?

The Scholarly Communications page on the Libraries' website is a good place to start. They also point to the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University, where there are a number of tools that can help you navigate what is and is not fair use.

Can I get funding for my research/creative work?

We encourage all students writing honors theses to inquire about the possibility of funding through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

Can I graduate with honors in the summer?

Yes, but you must finish your thesis and defense according to the deadlines from the spring semester before. The Honors Council does not meet in the summer; if you do not defend by the spring deadline, they will not be able to vote on your honors designation until the following December.

If you do meet the deadlines for your semester but are graduating later, please let our office know so that we can honor you at the correct time.

Can I look at past theses in my field?

Absolutely - the best place to start is the Honors Thesis Repository on CU Scholar. Some departments may keep their own collections as well.

What do I do if I need to defer/no longer want to defend my thesis?

Let us know! No matter where you are in the process, please tell us if you've decided to defer or not defend your thesis. There are no penalties if you choose not to defend your thesis; we understand that graduating students have a lot going on.

How do I find a thesis advisor?

In order to be a thesis advisor or serve on a thesis committee, one must be a regular full-time faculty member or a multi-year contract instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder. In terms of rank, this means Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, Senior Instructor or Instructor. Anyone who does not fit one of these roles has to be approved by the Honors Program.

There are three good signs that a professor would make a good thesis advisor for you:

  • that you’ve taken or are taking a course/multiple courses/a lab with them and are doing well;
  • that they are well-versed in the particular field of study you wish to investigate;
  • that you like them as a person and would be excited to work with them.

When you meet with faculty, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Some common questions include:

  • "Will you have time this semester to work with me if that means meeting two or more times a week?"
  • "I would like to be able to give you drafts as I go, will you have time to possibly edit and critique these drafts?"

What role should my advisor play in my thesis project?

Your advisor should help you find focus for your thesis.

Use them to make sure that you are staying focused on your topic, to strengthen weak areas of your thesis, and for general advice. Are you writing this thesis to publish your research, refine your skills, demonstrate your knowledge of a particular subject or to more deeply study a topic or concept? They should be able to help you define your goals in writing an honors thesis and help you to achieve those goals.

When should I set up my committee?

Ideally, as soon as you start working on your thesis. Your committee members should be faculty members with an interest in or knowledge of your topic. While they may not be able to put in as much time as your thesis advisor, they might also be able to give you some guidance. Failing that, your defense committee should be set up as soon as possible.

No matter when you set up your committee, you'll also need to:

  • set up and confirm with each member a specific time and date for your defense;
  • find out how much time they will require to review your thesis. Most committees will require a copy of your thesis at least one to three weeks before your defense.

Two notes on thesis defenses: 1. Don't wait too long to schedule your defense, you and your committee members are all busy people who will get busier as the semester goes on. 2. Try not to schedule your defense on the very last day to defend, as we all know that Colorado's weather can be unpredictable.

How should I choose faculty to be on my committee?

Start with contacting any professors you have had that have an interest in your thesis subject area. You should also talk to your thesis advisor to see if they know of anyone that they can recommend.

In order to be a thesis advisor or serve on a thesis committee a faculty member must be a regular full-time faculty member or a multi-year contract instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder. In terms of rank, this means Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, Senior Instructor or Instructor. Graduate students cannot sit on honors thesis committees. Anyone who does not neatly fit one of the roles listed above has to be approved by the Honors Program.

Who needs to be on my committee?

You must have at least three faculty members from the University of Colorado Boulder on your committee:

After you meet these requirements, you can have any additional members you want.

In order to be a thesis advisor or serve on a thesis committee a faculty member must be a regular full-time faculty member or a multi-year contract instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder. In terms of rank, this means Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, Senior Instructor or Instructor. Anyone who does not fit one of these roles has to be approved by the Honors Program.

If you are writing a General Honors thesis, you must have at least one member of the General Honors faculty on your committee. If you do not have a specific person in mind, the Honors Program Director will assign someone to you. This person will also function as a co-advisor, whose main job will be to make sure you are doing a strongly interdisciplinary thesis.

How do I schedule my defense?

Departmental Honors candidates should work with their department to schedule a room. General Honors candidates can work with the Honors Program Office to schedule one of our classrooms. Norlin Library also has a selection of rooms appropriate for defenses. 

What do committees look for in the defense?

Each committee is different, but things that are often commented upon are:

  • Your ability to make connections between your thesis and situations posed by committee members;
  • How thoroughly you understand and how comfortable you are with your topic;
  • That you take your subject seriously and that you can demonstrate that you've learned something along the way.

What is the Honors Council?

The Honors Council is a body of faculty representatives from each department that participates in the Honors Program. Every thesis committee must include a representative from the Honors Council. The Honors Council meets in the fall and spring semesters to recommend Latin honors designations.

How are honors designations decided?

There are several different variables that determine the level of honors (if any) a candidate will receive.

  1. You, the candidate, should have a CU-Boulder cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher (3.5 for General Honors).
  2. You must write and successfully defend a high-quality honors thesis before a faculty committee.
  3. Your committee will make a recommendation to the Honors Council, who will consider the recommendation and award Latin honors designations if applicable.

Please be aware that while you may turn in an archival copy of your thesis with any recommended corrections, to the Honors Program Office after you defend, the copy of the thesis that the committee sees on your defense day – the defense copy – is the copy on which they will base their recommendation.

How are honors notated on the diploma and transcript?

For Departmental Honors in a major and General Honors: Latin honors in a major or in General Honors are included on the diploma and will also appear with the graduation data in the Degrees, Certificates and Licensure section of the transcript (only available after degrees are posted).

For Departmental Honors in a minor: these honors are not included on the diploma, but will appear with all other graduation data in the Degrees, Certificates and Licensure section of the transcript (only available after degrees are posted).