Guide to the Honors Program

Opportunities for Independent Critical and Scholarly Work

Completing the English major with Honors allows students to do independent study on a topic they choose, to work closely with a faculty adviser, and to write a researched critical paper of about 50 pages. Students almost always find the Honors Essay an incalculably satisfying project and a memorable achievement. Here and elsewhere, many graduate school applicants submit part of their Honors thesis as a sample of their critical, scholarly work and of their future promise as scholars. Students preparing for other career paths also write theses in their senior year.

When combined with the opportunity to study one–on–one with a scholar in a field of particular interest, to get a real taste of the pleasures of advanced work, to discuss work with other Honors students, work on the Honors Essay places students in an intellectual community, the memories of which they may well carry into future work and into other intellectual and professional endeavors.

Successfully completing an Honors Essay will require sustained interest, ability, diligence, and enthusiasm—all qualities in large supply among Cornell English Majors.

Requirements and Courses

  • To qualify for the Honors Program, students should have an average of 3.7 in courses that count toward the English major.
  • The Honors Program is, in essence, a three-course commitment in which Honors students enroll:

One Honors Seminar: either English 4910 (Fall) or English 4920 (Spring). Two sections are offered each semester, each on a different topic. Most Honors candidates enroll in the Honors Seminar during fall or spring of the junior year.

Two semesters of the Honors Essay Tutorial: English 4930 (Fall) and English 4940 (Spring). These semesters must be consecutive during the senior year. The Honors Essay Tutorial is a full year independent study course "taken for a letter grade" in which students work one–on–one with their Honors adviser, meeting regularly on a mutually agreed upon schedule between the professor and the student.

Stages of the Program

The year–by–year and semester–by–semester schedule sketched below should give those interested in the Honors Program an idea of the usual way students move through the Program. Other patterns are possible, though. Some students know at the time they declare the English major that they wish to pursue Honors, while others may discover later in their English studies a riveting interest they desire to pursue in depth, and only then consider writing an Honors thesis.

Early planning usually makes it easier to fulfill the Program’s three–course commitment (Honors Seminar, Honors Essay Tutorial I, Honors Essay Tutorial II). But any English major with a strong record in literary studies and curiosity about a topic is welcome to talk to the Director of Honors, at any stage, about the possibility of becoming a candidate for Honors.

Sophomore year

– If you have a strong record, apply to the Honors Program spring semester. A minimum grade point average of 3.7 in courses that count toward the English major is required.

Occasionally, students with especially strong motivation or a defined thesis plan but whose major GPA is somewhat lower will apply for the Honors program. The Director of Honors will then review their junior year English grades to assess their eligibility to continue in the program.

How to Apply:
– Calculate the GPA of your courses that count toward the English major: A GPA of 3.7 or above is required for eligibility to the Honors program.

– Complete the online Honors Program Application by clicking the link below.

Honors Program Application

– Confer with the Director of Honors and receive preliminary acceptance to the Honors Program.

– Pre-­enroll for English 4910 or plan to take English 4920 in the spring of the junior year. If you plan to study abroad one semester of the junior year, you should take 4910 or 4920 in the semester you are studying at Cornell. If you are spending the academic year abroad, you will need to take English 4910 in the first semester of your senior year, keeping in mind that you will also be enrolled in English 4930.

With permission of the professor you may take the honors seminar as a sophomore.

Junior year

– Take English 4910 or 4920, the Honors Seminar. The purpose of the Honors Seminar is to acquaint students with methods of study and research to help them write their senior essay.

– Honors Essay. The seminar will require a substantial essay that incorporates evidence and critical material effectively, quotes and develops an argument. Students need not take an Honors Seminar that applies directly to the subject of their Honors Essay work.

– Look over the papers you have written in your English courses; identify your interests; think about work you have done well in the past and about what work you would enjoy pursuing for two semesters. These suggestions should help you identify your topic for the Honors essay and should help you think about the adviser with whom you would enjoy working. Some of the most successful Honors essays have come out of course work—including the Honors Seminars.

– In April or early May, speak to faculty members who would be suitable advisers for your project, keeping in mind that your Honors Essay adviser should be in residence both semesters. Ask for some suggestions for preparatory reading. Remember that when you pre-enroll for your Honors Essay adviser’s section of English 4930/4940, you must have your adviser’s approval and the approval of the Director of Honors. English 4930/4940 is a year–long, 8–credit course, for which you will receive letter grades each semester.  S/U   grades are not an option for Honors Tutorials I and II.

– Feel free to consult the Director of Honors about appropriate advisers.

– Spend some time in the summer months reading primary texts and thinking about your topic, approach, and argument. If possible, be in occasional email contact with your adviser over the summer.

Senior year

– As soon as you return, consult with your Honors Essay adviser about your topic, discuss requirements and procedures, and set up a schedule for regular meetings. If you have not yet pre-­enrolled for English 4930 you will need to do so with the approval of your Honors Essay adviser and the Director of Honors.

– Set up and follow a schedule for your Honors essay work. Depending, of course, on what you and your adviser agree to, it would be reasonable in the first semester (English 4930) to complete:

•  a short prospectus or essay proposal

•  a bibliography of available and relevant secondary or conceptual work on your topic

•  an annotated bibliography of the work you wish to use, critique, and apply to your research

•  about 20–30 pages of writing

– If you have not already done so, peruse some of the past Honors essays available in the English office.

– In the second term, while registered for English 4940 (Honors Essay Tutorial II), you will write the final draft. Your essay should be about 50 pages in length. Your adviser should read a few drafts of the final version, drafts which you should be submitting and revising under your adviser’s engaged supervision.

–  Allow yourself the last two weeks to edit and proofread your Honors Essay. Please take care that it follows a style guide—either the MLA guide or the Chicago Manual of Style—in quotation, internal citation, footnotes or endnotes, bibliographical entries, etc. Above all, do not sabotage your own project by trying to do too much at the last minute and by not allowing time for refinement of ideas and execution.

– Have the Honors Essay bound and submit it by the deadline in mid-April (or early November for those graduating in January).

– In level of Honors awarded with your degree, the Honors committee considers your GPA in the major as well as the two grades you receive from the readers of your senior Honors Essay, one of whom will be your Honors Essay adviser. The committee also considers your grades in other courses, especially in those related to your major.

While applying to the Honors program and writing an Honors Essay is not a guarantee that you will be awarded Honors in English, most of our students completing an Honors Essay have been successful candidates for Honors.

Enjoy the remainder of your final semester and graduate with Honors!

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