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Honors Program Q&A

Listen in on this informal Zoom session to hear program leaders address questions and answers about the Sanford School's Undergraduate Honors Thesis Program. 

The Whats and Whys of an Honors Thesis

It is a year-long intensive research experience where you do your own research on a topic of your choosing.

The year-long project goes from second semester of your junior year through first semester of your senior year.

  • Graduating with distinction sends a very strong signal to employers/graduate schools that you are among the best of the best.
  • You will get to know your advisor really well, leading to great letters of recommendation.
  • A chance to conduct original research. Many honors students say that doing an honors thesis is the best academic experience they have at Duke.
  • You become the "expert" in something and this provides you with potential topics to use in interviews for jobs and graduate schools as an example of how you work.

You are eligible to graduate with distinction. This is among the highest honors that Duke bestows on its undergraduates.

Qualifying and Enrolling for Honors

Fill out form: Honors Form Fall 2022

  • The honors director will let you know in December, after grades for the Fall 2022 semester, have been finalized.
  • If you are eligible, the director will send you a permission number to enroll in the honors course.
  • You are guaranteed a spot in the honors course if you qualify.
  • You can drop the course during drop/add.
  • You can take one semester of the course and then not take the second semester course.
  • Yes, there are 2: PUBPOL 495S.01 in the spring and PUBPOL 496S.01 in the fall. The thesis writing process requires two semesters. It meets semi-regularly on Friday afternoons.
  • They are for-credit courses and you will receive a grade in the courses.
  • You will need a permission number. For the first course in the spring, you will receive the permission number in December.
  • Both courses count as the upper level elective requirement and are coded as both W and R. 
  • You can be enrolled in the honors course at the same time that you are taking any of the three post-155 core PUBPOL courses.
  • When you complete those courses, we will calculate your GPA and let you know if you qualify.


  • No. To qualify for honors, you have to have a 3.4 GPA for four core PUBPOL courses (155, 301, 302, and 303).
  • If your GPA is below 3.4, you can still enroll in the honors course and complete a thesis, but you will not be eligible to graduate with distinction.

Deadline: October 28, 2022

Please note: You will submit the form by October but then you will not be notified until December if you qualify. After grades for Fall 2022 have been released, we will notify you if you are eligible for honors.

Deciding on Topics and Finding an Advisor

That is OK. Fill out the form with your best guess as to what you want to do and we will work with you in the first few weeks of the course to refine your question/topic.

While advisors from Sanford are preferred, they can be faculty from any department.

Not a problem. The honors director will work with you to identify and contact an advisor.

Yes. The initial form is to provide us with an idea of what you will do, but if the idea changes or doesn’t work out, you can switch to something different within the first few weeks of the spring semester.

Other Questions

  • You can complete an honors thesis by doing an independent study during your senior year. See the information on the Independent Study Route.
  • We strongly encourage students, however, to complete an honors thesis by taking PPS 495S.

Yes, for abroad in junior spring, but no if you are doing Duke in DC.  Contact Professor Christina Gibson-Davis at cgibson@duke.edu for more details.

You can write one thesis and have it be eligible for honors in two departments. However, the thesis has to meet the requirements of both departments. See here:

Graduation: Graduating with Distinction | Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (duke.edu)


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Best Honors Thesis 2021: Sophia Katz

Sophia Katz is interested in the crossover between environmental policy and capital markets and how policy can be used to incentivize investments in clean energy technology and infrastructure. Read more about her thesis >>