Undergraduate Honors Guidelines


The Departmental Honors Program is open to majors in the Department of Art History and Archaeology with a strong academic record and is particularly recommended for those planning to pursue graduate work.  The central requirement of the program is a substantial research paper on a topic of the student’s own choosing, written over the course of the senior year under the direction of a faculty member of the Department of Art History and Archaeology.

The honors thesis is an exciting and satisfying way to complete your undergraduate major.  The project allows you to delve deeply into a subject that interests you, to work closely with a faculty member, and to produce a substantial piece of research and polished writing.  Recent theses in the department have ranged in length from 40 to 70 pages, not including bibliography and illustrations.  Successful completion of the thesis brings with it 6 graded academic credits, 3 of which are in addition to the normal 30 credits required for the major.  Students should anticipate the total commitment of the thesis to be equal to, if not more than, two 400-level seminar courses and should plan their senior year course schedule accordingly. Since the topic is determined late in the junior year, most Honors students devote part or all of the summer between junior and senior year doing preliminary research, so they can start their writing process in the fall.

A student should have had at least one course in the general area where she or he expects to pursue a thesis topic, although the course need not be at Washington University.  It is strongly suggested, but not required, that the student take a course with the department professor they hope will serve as the thesis adviser.  Reading abilities in the relevant foreign language(s) related to the topic of study are strongly recommended, but not required.  A faculty member is not obligated to accept a student for an honors thesis, even if the student meets the various criteria listed below.  It is therefore advisable for a student to consider more than one topic they might wish to pursue, and more than one adviser with whom they might like to work.  Generally, faculty who will be on sabbatical during the student’s senior year are not available to advise honors theses.


To apply for honors, a student should have the following:

  • Junior standing
  • An overall cumulative grade point average of 3.65 or higher
  • An average of A- (3.60) or better in advanced courses (300-level or higher) in the Department
  • Signed agreement of a full-time faculty member of the Department of Art History and Archaeology to act as Principal Adviser of the thesis on the Honors Application Form
  • Signed agreement of a faculty member to act as the Second Reader of the thesis on the Honors Application Form.  Faculty with courtesy appointments in the Department are eligible to be second readers.
  • Students who are double majors may elect to pursue co-advising with a full-time member of another department or program as Second Reader.  The student will be eligible to earn Distinction in the Interdisciplinary Study of Art History and Archaeology.
  • Signed approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Chair of the Department on the Honors Application Form.

Application for honors

Download the Application Form

Application to the program, to be submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies 

A complete Latin Honors application dossier includes three documents:

  1. Completed Latin Honors application form, with advisor and second reader signatures
  2. Thesis proposal (1-2 double-spaced pages) and preliminary bibliography (1 page)
  3. Student transcript (unofficial)

Please compress all documents into a single .zip file and submit by email to the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Art History & Archaeology no later than 31 March of Junior Spring.

Decisions will be communicated before Fall course registration begins in April. The application must be approved before registering for L01-499 Honors in Art History and Archaeology during Fall semester of your senior year. The application dossier will be kept in your student file.

Spring semester of the Junior year

In the early part of the semester, students should begin to develop a topic and should identify a faculty member who is willing to advise the thesis.  Securing a faculty member’s participation will involve submitting a preliminary draft of the project description for the adviser’s comments and approval well in advance of submitting the thesis application to the Department.

Complete application dossiers are due no later than 31 March to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Decisions will be communicated before Fall course registration begins.

Students who will be abroad spring semester should begin this process in the fall semester of their Junior year, and be in contact with their potential thesis adviser during the spring semester.

Summer between Junior and Senior years

Student conducts preliminary reading and critical thinking on their own.  May involve some travel and research at museums and libraries, if possible.  Students are encouraged to apply for the Bemis travel fellowship, if relevant.  The Bemis fellowship of $2,500 is awarded every year for a rising senior to travel to Europe (Eastern or Western).  Deadlines are generally in early February of the junior year.  See the WU International Area Studies website, or contact Amy Suelzer at 314-935-8372, acsuelze@wustl.edu for current information. In addition, funds for summer research may be available from the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Fall semester of the Senior year

August:  Honors students enroll in L01 499 Honors Art History and Archaeology for 3 credits with their thesis adviser as the section instructor.

First week of classes:   meet with thesis adviser to develop a schedule for the timely completion of the thesis. 

First day of exams:  all written work assigned for fall semester due to adviser.  The adviser records a grade for L01 499. After the fall grades are submitted and the GPA is calculated, the adviser either approves continuation of the project into the spring semester or, in consultation with the other committee member (and the Chair), terminates the honors project. Reasons for termination might be insufficient progress during the fall semester, or a drop in the GPA below the threshold of 3.5. If a student is advised not to continue in the Honors Program, the Department will request the L01 499 credit be changed to L01 4900, and Independent Study, for the fall semester. A second independent study course (L01 4900) may be taken in the spring if the student and adviser wish to continue the research project on a non-Honors basis, and the student may then produce a final paper called a Senior Project.  Students who do not earn Departmental Honors are still eligible for College Honors if they meet College GPA requirements (minimum 3.6).

Spring semester of the Senior year

January:  Students continuing the Honors Thesis enroll in L01 499 Honors Art History and Archaeology for three credits with their thesis adviser as the section instructor.

Early in Spring semester of the student's senior year, the advisor sets a date for a defense of the thesis that will allow time for adequate revision of the thesis before spring semester grades are due for graduating seniors.

April 1: Students must be designated as Honors' candidates and entered in SIS (Student Information Services) by the Art History Department Administrative Assistant. The student distributes hard copies of the thesis to the Advisor and Second Reader at least one week before the defense. Final text of the thesis, complete with all documentation, bibliography, and illustrations, is submitted to the Advisor and Second Reader (one copy for each reader). The thesis must be double-spaced and printed on one side of the page only.  Both copies must be comb- or spiral-bound.  Illustrations may be in color or black and white.

Thesis Defense & Grading

Thesis Defense

A brief oral presentation, followed by discussion with the thesis committee. The defense will not last more than one hour. After the defense, the members of the committee discuss the thesis, and determine whether or not to set a "cap" on the level of Honors to be awarded, e.g Cum Laude or Magna Laude (if there is a recommendation to "cap" Honors at a certain level, this must be reported to the College Office by May 9). If there is no "cap" set on the student's Honors level, then Summa/Magna/Cum Laude Honors will be awarded based on the student's overall GPA (Grade Point Average). The level of Honors earned will be printed in the graduation program.

The committee members return copies of the thesis, marked with corrections and revisions.  The student then prepares the final version of the thesis. A copy of the revised/corrected thesis must be returned to the Advisor by an agreed upon date in order for a final grade to be submitted (for Thesis course L01 499). While the final grade will be determined based on the quality of the revisions, the recommendation for honors rests entirely on the quality of the defense copy, and the oral defense. Before graduation, the student provides two hard copies of the revised thesis; these will be bound at the expense of the department. One will be sent to the student, the other will be kept in the Department for consultation by future Honors students. The student should leave a summer mailing address with the Department Administrative Assistant.


The thesis advisor and second reader will recommend a level of honors based on the achievement of the thesis. They will not use the student's GPA as a guideline in this determination. Please note that merely attaining these grade levels and completing an Honors Thesis will not automatically ensure attaining Latin honors.  The thesis adviser and second reader must concur that the quality of the completed thesis merits this level of distinction.  The level of honors earned will be printed in the graduation program. PLEASE NOTE:  If the grades earned in the eighth semester bring the GPA below the College requirement of a minimum 3.65, Departmental and/or College Honors cannot be granted.  However, a successfully completed thesis has its own satisfactions, and will remain a substantial personal achievement, whatever the final GPA is for a student’s college career. 


Distinction in the Interdisciplinary Study of Art History and Archaeology

For students completing double majors in Arts & Sciences (Art History and German, for instance), it is now possible to be advised by a committee comprised of a faculty mentor within Art History and a second mentor from the department or program in which the student is carrying the second major. The student will then be granted Departmental Distinction in the Interdisciplinary Study of Art History and Archaeology (or High or Highest Distinction). This title will be included as a prize on the commencement program, and will appear on the transcript.

Latin Honors

Beginning with the class of 2015, the College of Arts & Sciences has implemented a new system for Latin Honors. To achieve Latin Honors the student must complete an Honors’ thesis [see guidelines above] AND have a minimum overall cumulative GPA of 3.65. This GPA must be maintained through graduation in order to earn Latin Honors. 

In Art History and Archaeology, Latin Honors (cum laude/magna cum laude/summa cum laude) is limited to those students who have successfully completed the Honors’ thesis. The level of honors is assigned by the College of Arts and Sciences-- NOT by the department. Latin Honors will be awarded according to a new percentage system rather than based on GPA cut-off points, as in the past.  Students completing Latin honors requirements as certified by all departments in A&S will graduate with Latin honors, divided according to the following proportions: the top 15% in overall GPA of Latin honors candidates who complete the necessary requirements of their major departments for a degree with Latin honors receive summa cum laude; the next 35% magna cum laude; the next 50% cum laude. Latin Honors will be printed on the transcript and the diploma.

Starting in the Fall of 2014, Art History students pursuing Latin Honors should sign up for L01 499 (three credits) and for the same course number again in the Spring (for three credits again, for a total of six credits). Should the student and/or the faculty mentor decide that after the first or Fall semester of Honors’ research work (L01 499), the results do not merit continuation on the Honors path, the course number will revert to L01 4900, an Independent Study, at the end of the semester.

College Honors

All students completing the Bachelors’ degree are eligible for College Honors, which will go automatically to those with a cumulative GPA of 3.6 or higher. It is not necessary to complete a thesis to receive College Honors. College Honors appears on both the student’s transcript and diploma.

Departmental [or “English”] Honors

In order to qualify for Departmental or what is now termed "English Honors" thesis work, the student must have an overall GPA of 3.5 or higher, as well as a minimal GPA of 3.65 in the major. Upon successful completion of the Honors thesis (see guidelines), the Department will assign the thesis a designation of “With Distinction; High Distinction; or Highest Distinction,” which will appear on the transcript only. A student who completes a Senior Project (see above) is also eligible to earn a Distinction, at the recommendation of her or his committee.

In exceptional circumstances, the Department can override the 3.65 requirement for the overall GPA (give or take .02 percent), if the quality of the thesis merits it.

Please note that in the newly implemented College system, a student may thus receive Distinction, High Distinction, or Highest Distinction on their thesis, while simultaneously receiving Cum, Magna or Summa Latin Honors.

Undergraduate awards in Art History and Archaeology

All majors in the Department are eligible for a series of internal awards given for exceptional work: the Murphy Family Prize for Distinction in Art History and Archaeology (earned by writing an exceptional class essay or Honors Thesis); the Princeton Book Prize for Distinction in Art History and Archaeology; and the Mark S. Weil Prize for Distinction in Art History and Museum Practice. These are not contingent on receiving Latin Honors.