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Honors Thesis

Honors Thesis

All Schreyer Scholars and Paterno Fellows are required to complete an undergraduate honors thesis. The honors thesis is one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments of a student’s undergraduate career. This is an opportunity to 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.

Honors Thesis FAQ

The honors thesis must be approved by the student’s thesis adviser and his/her honors adviser.

The thesis adviser is a faculty member who will supervise your honors thesis. You will meet with your thesis adviser on a regular basis during the thesis writing process. It is your responsibility to secure a thesis adviser by the end of your junior year. The honors adviser is a faculty member who is assigned to you on entry into the Schreyer Honors College. The honors adviser is there to help you navigate your academic life and achieve your goals at Penn State. While you can discuss your thesis with your honors adviser, most of your interactions during the thesis writing process will be with your thesis adviser. Both your thesis adviser and honors adviser must approve your thesis.

Most Schreyer scholars do not begin looking for a thesis adviser until their junior year when they start to think about potential topics for their honors thesis. It is often a good idea to have taken courses with potential thesis advisers so that you can get to know them and they can get to know you. Most students arrange to meet with potential thesis advisers to talk about their proposed thesis topic. After you have discussed your potential thesis topic with several faculty members, you must get one of them to agree to act as your thesis adviser. It is your responsibility to secure a thesis adviser by the end of your junior year.

The nature and extent of the research conducted in an honors thesis will vary depending on the question being examined and the field of study. That said, most honors theses typically include the following five sections:

  1. Introduction. This is where you provide a clear statement of your research question and why it is substantively and/or theoretically important. The introduction can also provide a brief overview of your main claims or results
  2. Literature Review. Most theses will have a literature review. This is where you situate your research question in the larger literature. Has your research question been addressed before? Are there conflicting results? What do you hope to contribute to the existing literature on your research topic? Do you plan to advance existing research with new data, new theory, and/or new methods? The literature review can also help to highlight why your research question is important. The literature review can be written as its own separate section in the thesis, or it can be incorporated into the Introduction or Theory sections.
  3. Theory: The theory section sets out your answer to the research question that motivates your honors thesis. In this section, you will define your theoretical concepts and specify your hypotheses. Hypotheses are observable implications of your theory.
  4. Empirics: In this section, you will evaluate the empirical evidence in support of your theory. This evaluation could involve things like case studies, textual analysis, or statistical analyses. Among other things, you will discuss how you operationalized your theoretical concepts.
  5. Conclusion. This is where you summarize your major research findings, identify the limitations of your research, and discusses why your findings are a contribution to the existing scholarly literature.

You can find additional information about the general structure of an honors thesis here.

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. Specific information on how to format and submit your final thesis can be found here.

Only students in the Schreyer Honors College can write a thesis. You must be admitted to Schreyer as an incoming freshman, through the Paterno Fellows Program, or through the Gateway program. 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 adviser and one of the honors advisers 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 Gateway program 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 page.

Yes, there are two specific courses you need to take: 

Political Science 300H: An Introduction to Thesis Research.

This three-credit course should be taken in your junior year. The class is generally only taught in the Fall semester. This course is used to develop a thesis topic and to help you find a thesis adviser. 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 adviser about alternative classes or whether you should take it in your sophomore year.

Political Science 309: Quantitative Political Analysis.

This course introduces students to quantitative analysis and the use of a statistical program (in most cases, R). The course should be taken in your sophomore year. 

In your senior year you have the option to take  

Political Science 306H: Senior Thesis Writing Workshop

This is a year-long workshop that meets once a week in your senior year. If you take this course you should enroll in 1.5 credits each semester. This course is designed to help you make progress with your thesis as you collect data, complete analyses, and write up the final draft.

This course is controlled with a limited enrollment. If you and your thesis advisor think this course is a good addition to your thesis writing experience you should complete this short survey by April 15, 2022. 

Finally, all seniors writing an honors thesis should enroll in 3 credits of Political Science 494H: Independent Research. If you are taking PLSC 306H you should enroll in 3 credits of 494H in Spring semester. If you are not taking 306H you can enroll in up to 6 credits of 494H. These are independent research credits. 

  • Sophomore year: Complete Political Science 309: Quantitative Political Analysis.
  • Junior year: Complete Political Science 300H: An Introduction to Thesis Research. Find a thesis adviser and submit a Thesis Proposal Report.
  • Senior Year: Write your honors thesis. Enroll in Political Science 306H: Senior Thesis Writing Workshop for the entire year and if you and your advisor want you to and you are selected for the course. You should also enroll in Political Science 494H: Independent Research.