Writing Resources

Senior Thesis: Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What's the difference between a "Senior Honors Thesis" and a "Senior Project"?  What if I want to write a regular (non-honors) senior thesis?

A:  At Tufts, a Senior Honors Thesis has these characteristics:

  • It is a year-long project (1 credit per semester for two consecutive semesters).
  • You must register for the Senior Honors Thesis through your major department. Your department must approve of your intent to write a thesis. (Alternatively, you may undertake an *interdisciplinary* Senior Thesis or Senior Honors Thesis through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.)
  • Your Honors Thesis must be supervised and approved by a committee of two Tufts professors.  Your committee chair must be from your department and a full-time faculty member.   The second reader may be from either the same or different department.  A third reader is also possible, but not required. 
  • You must defend your thesis when you complete it. (The defense is a formal presentation of your thesis, followed by a discussion of it with your committee. All two committee members must be present at the defense.)
  • Based on the quality of your finished thesis, your committee may award you honors. These honors will appear on your transcript in English as: Thesis with Honors; Thesis with High Honors; or Thesis with Highest Honors. If your committee decides not to award you honors, your transcript will read "Senior Thesis." Your committee will also give your thesis a grade that will apply for both semesters and will be included in your GPA.
  • You must put your thesis in Tufts Archives when you have completed it.

Senior Project or Senior Thesis has these characteristics:

  • You must find one faculty member to supervise and grade your project or thesis. (Some majors will require a senior project, and these majors may require two faculty advisors.)
  • Register for "Special Senior Project" or "Independent Study" or "Supervised Research". The name of this will vary from department to department. Look in the Bulletin for details.
  • A Senior Project or Senior Thesis is for one semester. Credit varies: you can register for a half credit or one credit. Your faculty supervisor will award you a grade.
  • No honors are involved.  In many cases, no formal defense is necessary.

 Q:  Do I have to have a high GPA to qualify to do a Senior Honors Thesis?

A:  In order to qualify to do a Senior Honors Thesis, you must have been on the Dean's List at least TWICE prior to your senior year and you must have approval from your major department. Some departments require a written thesis proposal. Some departments will vote on whether a senior can proceed with the Honors Thesis.  A few departments set a minimum GPA for Honors Thesis candidates. Check with your department!

Q: Do I need to write a Senior Honors Thesis in order to get Summa Cum Laude honors?

A: That depends on your department. The honors you receive on your senior thesis are based solely on the quality of the thesis itself. Thesis honors appear in English on your transcript and are not related to GPA. (For example, you can be awarded Highest Honors on your senior thesis and have a GPA of only 2.90.) Latin honors (such as cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude) are based on GPA and the number of As you receive in your major. However, some departments will only grant summa cum laude honors to students who have completed a substantial independent research project, such as a senior thesis. Check with your department!

Q: What is the "defense"? What exactly am I supposed to defend?

A: "Defense" is an archaic word for the public presentation of one's scholarship. In the Middle Ages, in order to graduate, scholars needed to give a public demonstration of their scholarship by debating with their professors and often with the rowdy crowd that showed up to humiliate the new scholar. Nowadays, the "defense" is much gentler. At Tufts, the Senior Honors Thesis defense is your chance to present your research and discuss it with your committee (and sometimes with invited guests). Your presentation can take a variety of forms. You can choose to do a "closed defense," which is behind closed doors with only your two committee members present, or an "open defense," in which you invite guests to attend and participate.

For more specific questions about thesis requirements, ask your advisor or department administrator. Most departments have their own guidelines for proposals, research requirements, and related topics!

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