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Independent Study and Honors

The Economics Department encourages majors to consider independent research projects (Economics 401) as part of their major program. Projects can be an extension of work begun in an Economics 300 course. Each year the most promising independent studies are considered for departmental honors. The attached materials are intended to provide prospective majors with an understanding of the requirements and procedures for honors and also with ideas for research projects. You will see that the range of honors topics over the past ten years has been enormous. Members of the department also have a wide range of research interests and in recent years several students have developed honors projects based upon collaboration with faculty in their areas of research.

At any time prior to the senior year, feel free to discuss your prospective research interests and the honors program with your advisor.

An independent study either builds on previous course work or explores a topic not in the curriculum. It is, therefore, expected that students taking independent study will have already taken any existing courses in their area of interest if such a course exists.

An independent study may substitute for a 300-level course as a major requirement. However, this substitution is not automatic. (For example, there may be cases in which a 401 replicates standard course material so closely that it does not constitute a distinct course of study.) Once you and your advisor work out the structure of your 401, you may petition the Department for 300-level credit.


  1. Goals: An honors project provides students the opportunity to en- gage in research with close supervision of a faculty member, and moves the student beyond classroom learning.

  2. Requirements for Honors
    Under present College procedures, the Economics Department can recommend to the Faculty that a degree with Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors in Economics be awarded to a student who has a dis- tinguished record. Based upon a student's grades in economics courses and the quality of the honors project, the department may award "honors," "high honors," or "highest honors". Except in rare circumstances when the faculty advisor makes a case for special con- sideration, the criteria for awarding honors are as follows:

HONORS requires:
the number of A grades in economics courses minus the num- ber of Cs (or Ds) is at least one and the honors committee awards the project honors or better.

HIGH HONORS requires:
the number of A grades minus the number of Cs is at least four and the project is awarded high honors.

HIGHEST HONORS is awarded to students who meet the criteria for high honors and also have truly exceptional grades and honors papers.

(Grade calculations include the grade assessed to the independent study and grades in other second semester senior year courses. A includes A-, C includes C+ and C-.)

III. The Honors Project

The Honors Project consists of a written report based on research in some area of economics. The report should discuss the relevance of the topic, relate it to recent scholarly work in the field, use methods of analysis appropriate for an advanced student in economics, and contain some own contribution to the question addressed. The own contribution may consist of testing of a new hypothesis or new data, of a new model, or of an evaluation of existing analyses in a new context. The Honors Project should provide new insights into questions of interest to economists, other social scientists, or policy makers.

IV. Procedures

  1. A candidate for honors must have the number of A grades in economics courses minus the number of Cs (or Ds) exceed one at the end of the junior year. An economics major who expects to meet the grade requirements noted above and who wishes to do research leading to Department Honors should consult the member of the department in whose field the project would be. Ideally, preliminary discussion should take place the semester before undertaking the work. If the faculty member approves the project topic, the student registers for Economics 4050.

  2. Some honors quality projects can be completed in one semester, but most require two semesters -- one for thorough review and preparation of background materials and another for the development and/or testing of a hypothesis. In some cases, preparatory work may be done in a regular course, particularly at the 300-level. It is also conceivable that a project could be done outside the formal framework of Economics 4050-4051.

  3. The College catalogue describes the general rules for independent study. The independent study registration form is available from the Registrar.

  4. During the semester(s) the student is enrolled in Economics 4050 and 4051, the student and faculty supervisor should meet regularly to discuss the progress of the work. In two- semester projects, the faculty supervisor may require interim papers.

  5. Prospective honors candidates will normally have an opportunity to present their work-in-progress to other Economics 4050 students and faculty at an Honors Seminar. Candidates are required to present at least once at the honors seminar during the year, in addition to the final honors project defense.

  6. In one-semester projects, or in the concluding semester of two-semester projects, a typed first draft of the project report should be ready for review by the faculty supervisor at least three weeks before the beginning of the reading period.

  7. Following the faculty advisor's review of the first draft, the student should prepare a second draft taking account of criticisms and recommendations by the faculty supervisor. It is normal to expect substantial revision between the first and second drafts.

  8. The second draft is due by the beginning of the reading period. The grade for Economics 4050 and 4051 will be based on this draft. This draft should be typed and in good form. A manual, such as A Manual for Writers of Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate Turabian, should be consulted for proper form, documentation of references, and organization.

  9. If the faculty supervisor believes the project to be of Honors caliber, copies of the second draft are circulated to two addi- tional members of the department who comprise the Honors Committee. An oral presentation is scheduled, normally during the examination period. The oral presentation concerns primarily the Honors Project, however, a student may also be asked to explore the connections between the project and the core of economic analysis.

  10. Additional changes in the paper may be required after the oral presentation. These should be incorporated in the third and final draft, three copies of which are to be prepared by the student. The original is placed on file in the Library, the second copy remains in the economics department, and the third is kept by the student.

  11. Recent Honors Projects in Economics »