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The Department of Philosophy, in conjunction with the Honors Program, recognizes outstanding accomplishment among philosophy majors by recommending that their degrees be awarded with honors (cum laudemagna cum laude, or summa cum laude). The Honors Program’s awards are based on four factors: a student’s overall GPA; GPA in the student’s major subject (philosophy); a senior honors thesis; and a thesis defense. The thesis is written in close conjunction with an advisor from the student’s major department. It should demonstrate abilities in research and in critical thinking, and it should reveal acquaintance with and understanding of the relevant work in philosophy (and, when the topic of the thesis is interdisciplinary, of relevant work of other disciplines). The thesis must be well-written in terms of grammar, organization, and literary skill. The committee must judge it to be at least the equivalent of an “A” paper in an advanced philosophy course.

If you are interested in pursuing an honors degree, you will need to register at the start of your second-to-last semester. The registration deadlines are generally in early October for Spring graduation and in early April for Fall graduation. Thus, if, for instance, you are graduating in Spring 2023, you will need to register in September or earlier October of the previous semester, Fall 2022.

The thesis will be assessed by a committee that usually consists of three people: the student’s advisor, the Departmental Honors Council Representative, and a professor at another department (external reader). (In rare cases, a fourth faculty member may be added to the committee.)  The same committee conducts the thesis defense. The department Honors Council Representative is Professor Brian Talbot, who can be reached at: brian.talbot@colorado.edu.

Completed honors theses must be handed in to your honors committee roughly mid-way through your final semester, mid-October or mid-March, depending on when you graduate. Theses must then be defended and final copies must be submitted to the Honors Program Office by early November and early April, respectively. For precise deadlines in a given year, see:  https://www.colorado.edu/honors/graduation#registration_and_deadlines-104

At CU Boulder, eligible students can be awarded General Latin Honors rather than Departmental Honors. Students interested in graduating with General Honors should contact the director of the Honors program rather than the Philosophy Honors Council Representative. For more information about the process of awarding general honors, please see:  https://www.colorado.edu/honors/generalhonors.

The philosophy department allows students to register for Phil 4950: Honors Thesis Hours, a 3-credit independent study course which students working on an honors thesis can take with their advisor. Phil 4950 can be taken once or twice. It can be taken in the student’s second to last semester as well as in the student’s last semester. Note that registering for PHIL 4950 is optional: You can defend your thesis and graduate with honors without taking Phil 4950.

To register for Phil 4950, students need to first secure verbal approval from their advisor and the department Honors Representative. Then they have to fill out the Department contract for PHIL 4950, available here and have both their advisor and the Honors Representative sign the form. The filled-out form should be sent to the Honors Council Representative. Registering for Phil 4950 cannot be done online. The Honors Council Representative will have the registration form processed.   

Factors Considered in Awarding Honors:

  1. Overall academic record. The guidelines for awarding degrees with honors are as follows: cum laude 3.3. GPA or better, magna cum laude 3.5 GPA or better, summa cum laude 3.8 GPA or better. These are merely guidelines and there are exceptions. If you are interested in working for honors in philosophy and have some doubts about whether your academic record makes you eligible, you should contact the Departmental Honors Council Representative or speak to someone in the Honors Program Office.
  2. Academic record in philosophy. As in 1. Please note: a high major GPA cannot make up for a low overall GPA. You are highly unlikely to get honors if your GPA is below 3.3 even if your philosophy GPA is much higher than that. 
  3. Senior honors thesis. You will begin working on your honors thesis in the beginning of your second-to-last semester and complete the thesis in the middle of your last semester in residence. In preparing and writing the thesis, you must work under the close supervision of a faculty advisor of your choosing. The advisor will provide advice and criticism. You must consult with your advisor periodically; this is a requirement.
  4. Thesis defense. Your thesis committee, which consists of your thesis advisor (Philosophy Department), the Philosophy Honors Council Representative, and your external reader (and, occasionally, a fourth faculty member) also conducts your defense. The defense lasts for approximately one hour. Your honors thesis will provide the focus of your defense, but the committee may also examine you on issues they think will border on or are raised by your thesis. Your advisor and the Departmental Honors Council Representative will be happy to answer any questions you may have about the procedure.

When your defense is over, you will be excused, and your committee will discuss its proposed recommendation to the Honors Program Council. This may be “no honors”, cum laude (with honors), magna cum laude (with great honors), or summa cum laude (with highest honors). The Council will meet a few days later to review your academic record and consider the committee’s recommendation. The Honors Program Council then makes the final determination and notifies students of the final decision, usually by email.

Please note that a degree with honors is an award, not an automatic title conferred on everyone who undertakes to complete the requirements for graduation with honors. Not to receive that award is no stigma. You should note, too, that your receiving credit for PHIL 4950 is not contingent on your being awarded honors. If you complete the paper, you will receive 3 hours of credit and a grade.

Procedures and Checklist for Philosophy Honors Candidates

  1. First step. As early as possible in your next-to-last semester, meet with the Departmental Honors Council Representatives to discuss qualification, procedures, tentative proposals for thesis topic, possible thesis advisor, and any other questions you may have.
  2. Consult with thesis advisor. Immediately thereafter, consult a faculty member in Philosophy—usually one from whom you have taken one or more courses and with whom you would like to work—regarding your thesis topic, to see if he or she is willing to supervise your thesis.
  3. Honors thesis credit (Optional). Register for PHIL 4950 (3 credit hours) for your second-to-last semester. You can repeat this in your last semester. If work is completed, credit and grade will be given regardless of the honors decision.
  4. Honors thesis registration.  Early in your second-to-last semester (late September to early October/late March to early April) register your candidacy with the Honors Program Office. Registration is currently done online. For more information on all requirements and where to register, see:  https://www.colorado.edu/honors/graduation#registration_and_deadlines-104.
  5. Advance arrangements with honors committee. Early in your final semester, submit an updated copy of your transcript (available from the Registrar’s Office in Regent) to your advisor. At this time (early in your final semester) also discuss a date and time for your honors thesis defense (usually conducted in late March to early April or late October to early November). Defenses can be conducted either in person or online. It is important to arrange the defense early, because it may be difficult to find a time when all three members are available. Note: this is your defense, and you are the one responsible for scheduling it.
  6. Submit honors thesis to committee. At least 10 days but preferably 2 weeks prior to the scheduled defense, submit a copy of your completed honors thesis as an email attachment to each member of the committee, along with an updated photocopy of your transcript, and a reminder of the date, place, and time of the defense.
  7. Thesis defense. See above.
  8. Submit honors thesis to Honors Office. Shortly after your defense, submit a copy of your thesis to the Honors Office. For submission deadlines and their preferred submission method, see:  https://www.colorado.edu/honors/graduation#registration_and_deadlines-104


  1. Begin the procedure outlined here no later than the start of your second-to-last semester.
  2. Register with the Honors Program Office and learn their deadlines and requirements.
  3. Work with a departmental advisor on your thesis.
  4. Arrange your thesis defense well in advance.
  5. Submit honors thesis to committee 10-14 days before the defense and come well-prepared on the day of your defense.
  6. Remember that you are entirely responsible for following the above instructions and for meeting all deadlines.

If you have any questions, please contact the Philosophy Department Honors Council Representative at brian.talbot@colorado.edu or the Honors Program Office at: honors@colorado.edu or 303-492-6617. The Honors Program Office is located in Norlin Library, M400M.