When the Public Policy department asked its alumni what they valued most about their education at Duke, those who had done honors projects often ranked that experience as the most satisfying part of their college education.

There are many reasons to engage in an honors project: a desire to explore a policy research question in depth; an interest in determining whether academic research might be a potential career path; or the rewards of working closely with an expert in a particular policy field.

For many students, the honors project offers a welcome intellectual challenge. The combination of creativity and sustained effort required for a successful project can yield a strong sense of accomplishment. Down the road, graduate schools and employers see the completion of an honors project as a signal that a student sought the chance to produce excellent work. What students will often take away from the experience, in addition to recommendations and accolades, is a sense of self-awareness and knowledge of what they are capable of producing.


Students complete honors projects in a variety of topic areas using diverse methodologies. Some projects produce essays that resemble academic journal articles. Others produce research monographs that require students to use the skills and perspectives taught in the public policy major—economics, ethics, political analysis, statistics, decision analysis and historical analysis—to delineate the dimensions of a policy problem, identify alternative policy options and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. These projects are akin to the scholarly research published by the Brookings Institution or American Enterprise Institute.

Sample Honors Theses


A Winning Thesis

Arya Patel won the 2022 Best Honors Thesis award. Arya embedded herself with a grassroots organization in India to conduct interviews with migrant women about barriers to access for relief related to COVID-19. 

Explore more honors theses


  • The Effectiveness of YouTube Videos as a Government Communications Tool
  • Analyzing the Development of Social Capital in the Slums of Bangalore
  • Paying College Athletes: An Analysis of Proposed Reforms for the Collegiate Athletic Model
  • Surviving the State: A Case Study Analysis of the Employment Relationship in Contemporary Domestic Work
  • To be Part of Somethin': The Ku Klux Klan and Its Appeal to Working Class North Carolinians During the 1960s 
  • The Skinny on the Skimm: How Does the Summarized News Format Affect College Student Recall of News?

Contact Program Director

Mallory Elizabeth SoRelle

Mallory Elizabeth SoRelle

Assistant Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

Mallory SoRelle is an Assistant Professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Her research and teaching explore how public policies are produced by, and critically how they reproduce, socioeconomic and political inequality in the United States. She focuses primarily on issues like consumer financial protection and access to civil justice that fundamentally shape the welfare of marginalized communities yet are often overlooked by scholars of the welfare state because they are not traditional redistributive programs.

Mallory is the author of Democracy Declined: The Failed Politics of Consumer Financial Protection (University of Chicago Press, 2020), which explores the political response—by policymakers, public interest groups, and ordinary Americans—to one of the most consequential economic policy issues in the United States: consumer credit and financial regulation.

Featured Video

The Honors Thesis: One Student's Story

Ysanne Spence PPS'22 talks about what doing an honors thesis means to her.

Undergraduate Handbook

Get information about the honors program and more - review the Undergraduate Handbook. 

"This was undoubtedly the most rewarding academic experience I've had at Duke."—Dan Pellegrino '14