Senior Thesis & Senior Essay

A successful Senior Thesis or Essay will deal directly with primary sources (in the original language to the extent possible), show knowledge of and critical engagement with current scholarship on the subject, and present an original argument developed in response to these sources.  The topic might grow out of an oral presentation given in a class, a visit to a monument or site during an overseas study program, or a desire to study in greater depth a set of texts already encountered in a classroom setting.  Students thinking about a thesis may wish to look at the past theses in Downey House 115; see a list of recent thesis titles (1994-2012).

While the Senior Thesis is a two-semester project, the Senior Essay is a substantial one-semester research project undertaken in the context of an individual tutorial. It may be completed in either the fall or the spring semester of the senior year.  Both should be considered serious academic undertakings and students should plan to begin research in the semester or summer which precedes it. While there is no prescribed minimum length, 30-40 pages is the typical range for an Essay and 70-80 pages for a Thesis.  In order to write a thesis or essay, one must first secure the agreement of a departmental faculty member to serve as an advisor.  In consultation with the advisor, the student should then outline the topic and compile a basic bibliography. 

All students who intend to write a Senior Thesis are required to submit a thesis proposal to the Department by April 15 of the junior year. Students who wish to write a Senior Essay should submit their proposal to the Department by the end of the previous semester (April 15 for an essay to be written in the fall semester, November 15 for the spring). 

The Proposal

The Senior Thesis or Essay proposal should be a clear and concise statement of the aims and scope of the project. It should include a description of the central topic or the question to be explored, the main primary sources to be considered, and a bibliography of major secondary sources that will be consulted.  The student should also outline the analytical method to be used and any theoretical approaches that may be brought to bear on the topic under consideration.  The proposal should be no more than 2-3pp. in length.  The student must also include in the proposal the name of the faculty member who has agreed to serve as advisor for the thesis.  Students on foreign study programs in the spring of the junior year should identify an advisor as soon as possible to ensure timely submission of their proposal.

Proposals will be considered by the departmental faculty.  If the project is deemed appropriate in scope, depth and sophistication for a senior thesis, it will be approved.  The student will be informed of the faculty's decision by May 1 (or Dec 1 for fall essay submissions).  Appeals of that decision will not be considered, so it is extremely important that students work with a faculty member well in advance of the deadline to develop a suitable project. 


Junior Spring (or Senior Fall for Spring Essay-writers):  After consultation with the advisor, students submit proposals to the Department for approval. Submission dates are April 15 or November 15. 

Summer before Senior Year:  Research. This might include broad secondary reading, gathering of data or of bibliography, or a first reading of a text in the original Greek or Latin.  Students may wish to look into summer seminars, language programs, or archaeological excavations that will provide skills, ideas, or data sets for a senior thesis.

Senior Fall:  Register for the thesis/essay tutorial (For thesis: GRK,LAT, or CCIV 409; for the Essay:  GRK, LAT, or CCIV 403).  During regular meetings the advisor, in consultation with the student, will establish expectations for the completion of the project in stages.  After discussion with the advisor, a student may wish to consult other members of the department whose expertise may be relevant to the thesis topic.  Work in progress reports are due in January.

Senior Spring: Submit completed thesis in mid-April. The Honors College provides information about formatting theses for submission, including standards for paper, printing and binding.  Students may not use departmental printers or copy machines for theses, but may seek the help or advice of the department for printing Greek or using illustrations.  ITS provides a printing service.

Evaluation and Honors

In most cases, the faculty advisor alone reads the Senior Essay and assigns a grade for the tutorial. Students should not enter upon a Senior Essay project with the expectation of being considered for honors.  Departmental Honors are normally reserved for students who write a thesis, although in extraordinary circumstances the department may elect to consider a senior essay for honors.  For the Thesis, the evaluating committee will consist of the advisor, one additional faculty member within the department, and one faculty member from within or outside the department.  The advisor and the student will discuss and choose the other readers in the spring, with the advisor responsible for contacting readers in other departments (unless both advisor and student agree that the student shall make the contact).  Promptness is recommended in speaking to possible readers in departments like English and History, which typically have many theses to read within their own departments.  

Committee members will receive the thesis soon after it is submitted to the Honors College in April.  They will forward to the departmental chair written evaluations, including a recommendation for a grade, and a recommendation for Honors or High Honors, or a recommendation that Honors not be awarded.  Sufficient time must be allowed for the chair to forward a recommendation about grade and Honors to the Honors College by the deadline.  Each reader has the option of forwarding evaluations, or an edited (shortened or expanded) version of the evaluations, directly to the student, but the student should not be told the recommendation for Honors or grade.  A thesis must receive a grade of B+ or better to receive departmental Honors, and A or better to receive departmental High Honors.  If the readers' recommendations differ, the chair will discuss with them possibilities for compromise or, more rarely, use of an additional reader.  A student who does not receive departmental Honors may and ordinarily will still receive credit for the thesis tutorials, if the advisor feels this is appropriate.  When all decisions have been made about departmental Honors, the department chair or (with the chair's approval) the advisor shall inform the student about the decision regarding Honors and grade.   The advisor shall give the student a course grade for the two terms of work on the thesis; this grade need not be the same as that awarded to the thesis.  Often a grade of "X" will be recorded for work on a thesis in the fall, and grades for both 409 and 410 will be determined in the spring.

Students who have been awarded departmental High Honors for the thesis and who have completed all General Education expectations are eligible to be nominated by the department for University Honors.  A very small number of Wesleyan students compete for University Honors each year; only a handful receives the prize.  This recommendation should accompany the grade and recommendation for High Honors sent to the Honors College on the deadline mentioned above.  Selected nominees for University Honors must qualify in an oral examination administered by the Honors Committee, which includes discussion of the thesis but which focuses on other areas of questioning designed to show the students' breadth of knowledge in all areas of the curriculum.