Graduating with Honors

Latin Honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude) are awarded to students with a high GPA (above 3.3) who complete and defend an independent honors thesis. ENVS students who aspire to graduate with Latin Honors can do so through the Arts & Sciences Honors Program by pursuing either 1) General Honors or 2) Departmental Honors. Information on Departmental Honors through the Environmental Studies Program follows below.

An honors thesis in the Environmental Studies Honors program is an opportunity to conduct independent primary scholarship working closely with a faculty advisor in the Environmental Studies department. The process of conducting an honors thesis project includes developing a research question, implementing rigorous methods of investigation and analysis, and producing a high quality written product.

There are many reasons to conduct an honors thesis. Doing so can be a good way to dive deep into a specific area of interest. It offers an opportunity to work closely with an ENVS faculty member. Many honors students develop new research skills and experience (e.g. in data collection and analysis). And the process can give students a taste of what it is like to conduct independent scholarship, which can be very useful in considering graduate school as a future option.

Honors Theses completed over the last few years by ENVS graduates are available for your perusal in the Environmental Studies department office in the SEEC building. Unfortunately, they are not available to be checked out. You can also access PDFs of most theses in the CU Scholar repository, and you can find more information on past theses here.

It is never too early in your undergraduate career to set your sights on conducting an honors thesis project. Honors thesis projects generally take more than two semesters and many students do much of the work in the summer between their junior and senior years. As such, we recommend committing to your honors thesis project as early as you can in your junior year. If you think you may be interested, these are the steps that you should follow. For all formal deadlines, refer to the Arts & Sciences Honors Program webpage.

  1. Read about the Arts & Sciences Honors Program (within which Departmental Honors in ENVS operates) to better understand what is involved in conducting an Honors thesis, including this list of Frequently Asked Questions and this advice on the basics and getting started.
  2. Let ENVS know you may be interested in pursuing Honors by getting in touch by email with the Lead ENVS Honors Representative, Dr. Cassandra Brooks ( If you have questions about the honors thesis process, or are unsure whether an honors thesis project is a good option for you, you can talk to your advisor and/or to Dr. Brooks.
  3. Think about what you want to get out of the honors thesis project experience. Perhaps there is a particular topic that you are interested in studying, or a particular research skill that you want to develop, or a particular faculty member you would like to work with. Determining your priorities can help you to identify an advisor and a project.
  4. Identify one or more possible primary advisors. You will eventually need a committee of three people (your primary advisor, an ENVS Honors Rep, and a third advisor who must be in a department other than ENVS). Your primary advisor is the most important of these, so look at the list of ENVS faculty and read about their research interests to identify 2-3 faculty who may be a good fit with your interests and with who you would like to work with as your primary honors thesis project advisor. These could be faculty members whose classes you have taken, but they do not need to be – it is completely normal to get in touch with a potential faculty advisor with whom you have not previously interacted. You should identify more than one faculty member as some may already be committed to other students. You should also be open-minded about the project idea that you will focus on, since you will develop your ideas in conjunction with your primary advisor.
  5. Contact potential faculty member advisors as soon as possible, to talk with them about being your advisor. Send them a brief email with a description of your interests, and why you would like to work with them for your honors thesis project.
  6. Complete the ENVS Honors Thesis Intent Form and email it to the Lead ENVS Honors Representative, Dr. Cassandra Brooks (, copying in your primary advisor. Do so as early as possible, and ideally by Spring Break (or Fall Break for a November defense) in the year before you intend to defend your thesis. Dr. Brooks will appoint an ENVS Honors Rep to be a member of your committee.
  7. Work with your primary advisor to a) develop a workplan and timeline for your honors thesis project, and b) identify the third member (the ‘Outside Reader’) of your committee.
  8. Enroll in the ENVS Honors credits and the ENVS Honors seminar class. See ‘Departmental Honors Requirements in Environmental Studies’ below.
  9. Conduct the work for your honors thesis project! The timeline and format of this work will vary greatly between projects and students. Your primary advisor and the rest of your committee will help to keep you on track to complete your thesis, including intermediary drafts. But the honors thesis project involves an emphasis on independent scholarship, so you will also need to take on substantial responsibility for your progress and success.
  10. Defend your honors thesis project. Thesis defenses take place in early April (for a Spring defense) and early November (for a Fall defense). You will schedule your defense in collaboration with your committee.

There are three levels of Honors Designation; from lowest to highest they are, cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. Graduating with any Honors designation means that you earned that designation by doing well in your courses and that you took on the extra work of researching and writing an Honors Thesis. In general, you initially qualify to have your thesis considered for Honors at a specific level based on GPA thresholds: 3.3 for cum laude, 3.5 for magna cum laude, and 3.8 for summa cum laude. Because grades alone are not always a reflection of a student’s capabilities, in most cases ENVS also allows students with a GPA of 3.0–3.299 to do an Honors Project. Regardless of what level of Honors you initially qualify for, after your defense, your committee will recommend (or on rare occasion, not recommend) that you be awarded a specific level of Honors based on your GPA, your thesis, and your oral defense, and the committee will write a letter to the Honors Council making that recommendation.

Although students can work through one of many departments and programs to develop and complete an Honors Project, Latin Honors at CU are actually awarded by the Honors Council. Each department and program has representatives on the council who, along with your faculty advisors, make the case to the Honors Council for each student who is nominated to receive Latin Honors. For more information on graduating with honors, please see the Honors Program website.

Specific requirements for graduating with departmental honors in Environmental Studies are described below.

  1. GPA requirement. In ENVS, you can do an honors thesis project if you have a GPA of 3.3 or above. If your GPA is below 3.3 but above 3.0, you can talk with the Lead ENVS Honors Representative about the possibility of pursuing Honors. Your Honors GPA (which is used to determine the level of Latin Honors awarded) is based on your transcript up to but not including the semester in which you defend your thesis.
  2. Course and credit options. First, in both of the two semesters immediately before you defend your honors thesis project (i.e. Fall and Spring, for an April defense; Spring and Fall, for a November defense) you can enroll in up to 3 credits for ENVS 4850, which are credits akin to an Independent Study (you receive credit for working on your honors thesis project, but there is no class involved). Second, in the Spring semester before you defend your honors thesis you should enroll in ENVS 4950, which is a 3-credit seminar class that will help you to complete your thesis and prepare for your defense. We also strongly encourage you to take ENVS 3020 Advanced Writing in Environmental Studies in your junior year.
  3. Committee requirement. You must form a committee of at least three CU Boulder faculty members: your primary advisor, an ENVS Honors Representative, and a third advisor (the ‘Outside Reader’) who must be in a department other than ENVS. You should meet with each committee member on a regular basis. Your primary advisor should be an ENVS faculty member. If you wish to have a primary advisor from another department, you must discuss this possibility with the Lead ENVS Honors Representative.
  4. Registration requirement. Prior to the semester in which you intend to defend your thesis, you must register with the Arts and Sciences Honors Program to declare that you are planning to defend a thesis. You can find the registration form and deadlines on the Arts and Sciences Honors Program webpage (
  5. Thesis requirement. You must write a thesis! Your topic and outline must have been approved by the Lead ENVS Honors Representative and by your committee.
  6. Thesis defense. During the semester in which you defend your thesis, you must prepare a presentation (e.g. using PowerPoint) and present your thesis orally to your committee. You may also invite non-faculty advisors, friends, family, or other faculty to your thesis defense. Your thesis and defense must be approved by your thesis committee, and then by the Honors Council of Arts and Sciences.
  7. Meeting requirement. You must meet regularly with your primary Honors thesis project advisor while working on your honors thesis project.

For more information, please contact Dr. Cassandra Brooks (