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Honors in English

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

–T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Are you getting beyond the two-week, 6-8 page English paper?
Have you wanted to challenge yourself to think deeply and to write at length?
Are you curious about what it means to produce knowledge in English studies?
Have you wondered what extended supervised research in English entails?
Would you like to earn a capstone achievement to your degree?

If so, consider pursuing Honors.

What is the Honors Program?

The Honors Program in English is open to all undergraduate English majors regardless of career aspiration or post-graduation plans. Honors students have entered a wide variety of careers: medicine, law, business, marketing, journalism, industry, doctoral programs in English and other disciplines, teaching, and arts administration, to name a few. Students who complete the Honors Program are awarded the degree BAH (Bachelor of Arts with Honors).

The program involves intensive study of a research topic of your choosing supervised throughout your senior year by a faculty member and a graduate student mentor. With these one-on-one mentorships, you will produce a 40-60 page honors thesis and will develop supportive peer friendships with others in the Honors cohort. The Honors Program aims to be both an inspirational and aspirational forum for advanced literary study. It cultivates a lively intellectual environment within which you can test your ideas, germinate sophisticated critical approaches to historical and/or contemporary texts, and build interpretative, analytical and compositional skills that will have a lasting impact on your intellectual and professional life wherever the future takes you.

Lissten to a recording of the 2021 Honors Interest Info Session

How do I apply?

Admission to the Honors Program is selective; the deadline for 2021-22 admission is Friday, April 16th, 2021 at 4pm

Application Form 

Application form must contain the following items:

  • A one-to-two page proposal (see below)

  • A writing sample from an English course

  • A brief letter or email from one faculty member who has agreed to serve as thesis advisor

  • The name of an additional faculty referee who could comment if necessary on your writing abilities

  • An unofficial transcript (a cumulative 3.7 GPA in English is required, although the Honors Director will look at all compelling aspects of a candidate’s application) If you are unable to access your transcript, please email Vivian Beebe Sana

What is a thesis proposal?

The thesis proposal should give your reader a strong sense of the intellectual merits of your project. What author(s) and text(s) do you wish to study? What particular critical arguments do you foresee interrogating by means of these texts? What historical period(s) will inform your research? What have you discovered already about this topic? What further questions or research avenues might you need to pursue to refine your approach?

Curriculum Details

  • Once applicants are selected for admission to Honors in April of their junior year, a more detailed prospectus with bibliography is due mid-May.

  • Students accepted into the Honors Program may participate in the voluntary, but fully funded “Bing Honors College”, a residential two-week honors ‘boot camp’ that takes place immediately before the autumn of senior year, usually during the first two weeks of September. Confirmed honors students are invited to apply to register online for Bing Honors College in June of their junior year.

  • Honors students take 15 units of Honors in their senior year: 5 units (English 196A. Senior Honors Seminar) in Autumn + 10 thesis units (English 197. Senior Honors Essay) distributed over the Winter and Spring.

  • Theses are due May 8. About a week later, thesis writers will present their work at an end-of-year conference sponsored by the English department and open to friends, family, faculty, mentors, and the wider Stanford community. Plan to invite those who have supported you!

Recent Thesis Titles

  • Spools, Hats, and Handbags: Narrative Entropy in the Plays of Samuel Beckett

  • “I Have a Story to Share”: The Personalization of the National Epic in Moby-Dick and Heart of Darkness

  • Spatial Setting, Malleable Maps: Los Angeles in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange

  • “Instant Nostalgia”, or, Longing under Late Capitalism in Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge

  • Utterance in Exile: Monstrous Aesthetics in Old English Verse

  • “by whyche they came to honour”: Reputation in Malory’s Le Morte d"Arthur

  • How Milton’s Rhythms Work

  • Graced By Another: Gabriel Marcel and the Experience of Intersubjectivity In Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find

  • Books vs. Bombs: Reading Objects in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

  • Kincaid’s Carnival: Performance, Identity, and the Reader in A Small Place

  • Masks, Origins, and Copies in Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker

  • The “African” Novel at Bookshelf’s Edge (and the Online Afterlife of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

  • Magical Orality in Tess Uriza Holthe’s When the Elephants Dance


Read what former honors students say about their experience:

“I look back on writing my thesis as one of my best Stanford experiences.” --Bhavya Mohan (‘06), Doctoral Student in Marketing at Harvard University

“Great program. The critical thinking skills I gained from the honors English program are surprisingly very useful in medical school.” --Anne Ritchie (‘08), Medical Student at UCSF

“I believe participating in honors absolutely helped me in my job search (even in a completely different field). Having it on my resume gave me confidence and usually made an impression on people I interviewed with. […] To anyone considering the honors program: Do it, do it, do it!” --Melinda Kilner (‘10), Process Designer at Inkling

“…students learn ways of thinking and self-confidence that stay with them throughout their life, beginning with the challenges of the first job searches and first job experiences. Still 6 years into my work, I consciously apply the skills I learned, and these have been vital to my ability to succeed.” --Edward Boenig-Liptsin (‘06), Program Manager at Google

“I remain immensely grateful for my experience in the honors program. I am currently pursuing a doctorate in another field after spending several years working as an art critic and editor—positions I no doubt would have been reluctant to assume, if not for the confidence I gained through writing a thesis.” --Joanna Fiduccia (‘06), Doctoral Student in Art History at UCLA

“I would wholeheartedly recommend the English honors program to anyone considering it. It enhanced my critical writing skills, taught me how to tackle a large research project, but more importantly, it was FUN.” --Aysha Pamukcu (‘07), Public Interest Lawyer & Editor

“[Honors] substantially influenced my ability to write, to consolidate a very large amount of information, to work with self-discipline, and to engage with a territory of critical writers and [their] works. Best of all, it gave me confidence that I CAN write coherently and with purpose at length!” --Rachel Kolb (‘12), Rhodes Scholar, Masters Student in Literature at Oxford University

“I think that participating in the honors program and being able to discuss a major independent research project made an impression on my post-graduate employers in the publishing industry.” --Alison Law (‘10), Production Editor at No Starch Press

How to think about Honors

Although students apply for honors in their junior year, if you are interested in the possibility of eventually applying, talk to your individual professors or the Honors Director, Alice Staveley, at any time during your undergraduate career from first year and beyond. Thesis topics are vast and various and can take many different forms. Think about what courses, writers, or ideas have most animated your imagination; what connections keep coming back for you across multiple platforms, inside or outside the classroom; what writers you have sampled and enjoyed, but whose lives and careers you wish to investigate more fully; parse the literary history or critical methods core courses to follow up with seminar courses that broaden your study of a particular theory, writer, theme, or historical period; take courses outside the department that might compliment your literary interests (for instance, a course on 19th century British history if you’re interested in the 19th century British novel, etc.). Drop by professors’ office hours! They are there waiting, eager, and willing to talk about any number of topics with you that, over time, may well become your thesis.

Contact information

Mark Greif
Director of Honors
Office: 460-329
Phone: 650-723-2667