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What Are Honors Courses?

Each semester, the department designates several courses, and sometimes sections of larger courses, as honors courses. These 20-student courses often involve more difficult material and assignments and are conducted at a level that requires students’ full concentration and engagement in the course material. In return, they provide a particularly rich learning experience.

Who May Take Honors Courses?

The English Department’s Honors courses are open to all majors who seek an intensive seminar experience within the program. At the same time, these courses particularly serve the needs of English majors who are enrolled in Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) and have chosen to pursue the departmental honors track as part of their Commonwealth Honors College degree, as described below. 

Graduating with Honors 

Latin Honors: As of May 2009, all students are eligible for Latin honors provided they have taken 54 graded credits at UMass. Latin honors are based on the top GPA percentiles of graduating seniors within a school or college. Every fall, these percentiles and their corresponding Latin honors are posted on the registrar's website.

CHC Honors: All Commonweath Honors College students are simultaneously eligible for CHC Honors distinctions. For the requirements for each level of distinction, students should visit the CHC website at CHC Honors; CHC Honors with Distinction; CHC Honors with Great Distinction; CHC Honors with Greatest Distinction.

Two Pathways to Earning Honors  

To graduate with honors, students admitted to CHC first complete a General Education component, consisting of 4 or 5 courses, and then an Advanced Scholarship component. For their advanced scholarship, students choose from 2 options:

  • Departmental Honors: the best option for students who wish to pursue advanced scholarship in their major; graduate studies in their major or related field; or a career related to their major
  • Multidisciplinary Honors (formerly “Interdisciplinary Honors” and “General Honors”) 

Each path includes two additional honors courses plus a capstone thesis of 6 or more credits, usually conducted in the senior year.

Choosing Your Honors Pathway: CHC English majors should begin deciding which track they would like to pursue during spring registration in their sophomore year. To this end, they should meet with the Honors Program Director to explore which track best serves them. This timing is important (particularly if a student plans to go abroad) so that the student can choose courses that might support their thesis work and can develop relationships with faculty who may become members of the thesis committee.

To make an appointment with the Honors Program Director, come to South College E345 or email Janis Greve at

Pursuing Departmental Honors

All students interested in Departmental Honors should make an appointment to speak with the Honors Program Director, ideally after they have completed at least one honors course. Entrance into departmental honors requires a cumulative average of 3.4, and no grades below a B+ in English courses.

The specific requirements for the English Department Honors track are as follows:

  • one honors course in the English Department at the 200-level or above
  • one honors course in the English Department at the 300-level or above. (The Department strongly recommends that students take their Junior-Year Writing courses as Honors courses, where possible.)

And either of two options:

  • The two-semester independent honors thesis or project, worth 6 credits. Students writing a literary-critical thesis or creative project sign up for 499Y (usually in the fall) and 499T (usually in the spring.) The honors thesis counts as 2 of the student's 3 upper-level electives.


  • English 499C/D, “Foundations and Departures in Creative Writing,” a two-semester capstone course, worth 6 credits. English 499C/D also counts as 2 of a student's 3 upper-level electives, and students writing a creative thesis sign up for 499Y (fall) and 499P (spring). Note that admission to this course is via permission of the instructor and requires a sampling of the student’s creative writing. Students interested in the course are encouraged to pursue the Creative Writing Specialization to help them develop their craft and put together a strong portfolio.

The Independent Honors Thesis/Project

The independent honors thesis is typically an analytical work of literary [or rhetorical] criticism (about 50 pages in length) A “project” is typically a collection of poems, stories, or nonfiction writing, or some combination of these.** Both are written under the supervision of at least two faculty members. Typically, both committee members are faculty (not graduate students) of the English department, although one member may be faculty from another department. The chairperson of the committee must be a faculty member from the English Department. During the second semester of the junior year, the student pursuing Departmental Honors should again meet with the Honors Program Director to begin identifying a faculty member to work with. It is the student's responsibility to initiate this meeting with the Honors Program Director and then to approach faculty.

To begin the thesis or project work, a thesis proposal (499 Y) must be submitted through CHC Paths in April or May of the student’s junior year. To complete the 2nd semester of the thesis or project (499 T/P), a more developed proposal must be submitted by November or December of the senior year, also via CHC Paths.

Throughout the senior year, the student will work especially closely with the committee chair, meeting regularly to discuss research, drafts, and revision. At the end of the year, the committee will conduct an oral exam and award a final grade.

** Students should be aware that it is often difficult to find faculty to chair an independent creative project; therefore, planning for Foundations and Departures in Creative Writing is often the best course of action for those with a strong creative writing interest. Since the course is competitive and admission is not guaranteed, having a fallback plan, such as an idea for a thesis, is strongly encouraged.

The Course Option: Foundations and Departures in Creative Writing

A good choice for students with a creative writing background and a desire to conduct their project in a supportive workshop environment, this is a multi-genre, two-semester course in creative writing that allows students to work within the genre of their choice. Both a class in contemporary literature and a writing workshop, Foundations and Departures offers students a wide variety of reading assignments and writing exercises from across all three genres. At the end of the first semester students will submit a portfolio of original work; in the second semester students will finish drafting and revising their Capstone projects. Admission to the course is by permission of the instructor and requires both a personal statement and a sampling of writing. Registration for 499 Y and 499 P is done within the course itself. For questions, please email John Hennessy at

For further information, see the Honors Program Director, Janis Greve, in E345 South College or call 545-5464. You can also email her at Information about Commonwealth Honors College is available at