Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

You are here: Home Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Honors Thesis

Guidelines & Schedule of Key Dates for the Department of Political Science Honors Thesis

Director of Political Science Honors Program:  Professor Michael Berkman (

Honors Advisors: Professors Michael Berkman, Gretchen Casper, and Matt Golder

The thesis is likely to be one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments of a student’s undergraduate career. For Political Science and International Politics students, this is an opportunity to actually formulate and complete original research that adds to our understanding of the social and political world.  In the process of pursuing a topic, conducting independent research, formulating, articulating and crafting a sustained argument, students will build on what they have learned in coursework, gain insights into empirical social science scholarship and methodology, and develop their talents as writers and thinkers. Once the thesis is completed students will have the satisfaction of knowing they have produced a work of scholarship that will be permanently archived in the Penn State Library system.  You can easily read completed theses here.

The nature and extent of the research may vary according to the question pursued and the field of study, but most theses in Political Science and International Politics are expected to include these five sections:

  1. An Introduction that provides a clear statement of the "why" question motivating the research and that explains why we should be interested substantively and/or theoretically;
  2. A Literature Review that identifies the literatures bearing on answering the "why" question you have posed;
  3. A Theory section that identifies and fully explains your answer to the "why" question you have proposed, theoretically defining all of the major concepts and hypotheses;
  4. An Analysis section that justifies the unit of analysis and research design employed in your empirical investigation, operationalizes theoretical concepts and provides analyses of the key variables.  Not all theses in Political Science and International Politics are quantitative but most are empirical in some sense, using case studies or textual analysis;
  5. A Conclusion that summarizes your major research findings, identifies the limitations of your research, and discusses why your findings are a contribution to the study of your "why" question.

Most theses in Political Science and International Politics are between 25 and 40 pages.  Those using case studies or other non-quantitative approaches are often longer.  The Schreyer Honors College has a description of the honors thesis and offers advice about how to choose a topic, find an adviser, and budget one’s time, along with their specific requirements on formatting and submitting your final theses.

Writing a Thesis

Only students in the Schreyer Honors College can write a thesis. You must be admitted to Schreyer as an incoming freshmen, through the Paterno Fellows Program, or through the junior gate. Paterno Fellows is most appropriate for University Park freshmen and the junior gate for sophomores and some juniors transferring from other institutions or other campuses, although it may be appropriate for others as well.

To write a thesis in Political Science or International Politics you must have a Thesis Proposal Report (TPR) accepted and signed by a thesis advisor and one of the honors advisors in the Political Science Department.  You must be a Political Science or International Politics major and have completed Pl Sc 300H (see below).  If you were admitted to Schreyer through the Paterno Fellows Program or Junior Gate you are expected to complete your thesis in the department that admitted you; if you were admitted by a different department and want to write a Political Science or International Politics thesis you must complete the same requirements as other students admitted to Political Science through the Paterno Fellows Program.  Details of these requirements are available on the Paterno Fellows webpage.

Finding a Thesis Advisor
Your thesis will be supervised by a thesis advisor, and the final thesis will need to be approved by both the thesis advisor and your honors advisor.  There is no need for any additional readers.   It is your responsibility to secure a thesis advisor by the end of your junior year.  It is therefore a good idea to take courses with potential advisors so you can get to know them, and they can get to know you.

To complete a thesis in Political Science or International Politics you must complete two courses:

  1. Political Science 300H:  An Introduction to Thesis Research.  This three credit course should be taken in your junior year.  In all years it is taught in the fall; in some years it is taught in both the fall and spring semesters.  This course is used to develop a thesis topic and to help you find a thesis advisor.  If you think you will not be able to take 300H because of study abroad in your junior year or some other reason you should consult with your honors advisor about alternate classes or taking it in your sophomore year.
  2. Political Science 306H: Senior Thesis Writing Workshop.  This is a year-long workshop that meets once a week.  You should enroll in 1.5 credits each semester.  This course is used to workshop your thesis as you collect data, complete analysis, and write the final draft.

In addition, all seniors writing a thesis should enroll in 3 credits of 494H with their thesis advisor.  These are independent research credits.

Finally, all students should seriously consider taking Political Science 309: Quantitative Political Analysis or a graduate level statistics course in consultation with your advisor. Students who enter the honors college through the Paterno Fellows Program must take 309 as a part of admittance requirements.

While your final project will be a completed thesis, we encourage all our thesis writers to present their research at the Undergraduate Research Exhibition.

Important Dates to Keep in Mind

  • In your Sophomore Year: complete Political Science 309
  • In your Junior Year: complete Political Science 300H.  Find a thesis advisor and submit your Thesis Proposal Report
  • In your Senior Year: write your thesis in Political Science 306H over the entire year, submit your thesis, present your research at the Undergraduate Research Exhibition
Personal tools
Log in