student talking to professor

Honors Program

Requirements & Timeline

The Honors Program in the department of Psychological & Brain Sciences (P&BS) is a two-semester program undertaken during the student’s senior year. The primary goal of the Honors Program in P&BS is to provide students with an opportunity to conduct and complete a comprehensive empirical investigation under the direction of a faculty member, who serves as the student's Honors advisor. It is important to note that the Honors Program is not restricted to students who plan to pursue graduate study in Psychology. In fact, a majority of students in the Honors Program do not plan to continue their studies in Psychology.

The Honors Program serves as a capstone experience to a student's career as a P&BS major at Washington University. It is expected that the student will participate in all aspects of the planned investigation, including developing the research question, designing the appropriate methodology, collecting and analyzing data, and completing the written thesis. To graduate with Latin Honors, the student must successfully complete the Honors Program and have the required minimum GPA.


To be accepted into the Honors Program, the student must have both an overall GPA and a Psychology GPA of 3.65 or higher. The program requires that Experimental Psychology (Psych 301/3011) be completed prior to entering the Honors Program. The student also must have obtained an Honors advisor, a faculty member who agrees to serve as the research mentor for the Honors project. (The Honors advisor generally is not the student’s major academic advisor.) Registration for Honors requires that the prospective Honors student meet with the Coordinator of the Honors Program (Dr. Mitchell Sommers) to discuss the proposed project.

The principal requirement for successfully completing the Honors Program is writing the Honors Thesis. The thesis must relate to an empirical study that was conducted specifically for completing the Honors project. Literature reviews or other projects that would not be considered empirical research cannot be used for completing the Honors thesis in P&BS. A project started as part of either independent study or experimental psychology may be used for the Honors thesis, but it must present new or extended aspects of the original project. The thesis must provide a comprehensive report of the Honors project including a critical review of the literature, a description of methods and results, and a discussion of the importance of the findings.

In addition, students are required to present the findings from their investigation at the P&BS Honors Poster Session and at the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium (in the spring). Students must also complete both semesters of the Honors seminar, Study for Honors (Psych 498 and 499). As part of the seminar requirement, students will be asked to turn in a completed draft of the Introduction and Method sections of their thesis by the end of the first semester of Honors.

Psychology 498 (WI): All students in Psychology 498 will present a 30-45 minute talk that reviews the background, rationale, and methods of the project. In addition to providing a terrific opportunity to get feedback on the proposed project, the presentations will serve as the basis for the writing assignments. More details about the presentations, writing assignments, and grading will be provided on the first day of class.

Psychology 498 (WI) Without Honors: Psychology 498 without Honors is designed for students who would like additional research experience under the direction of a faculty member, but who are either unable or ineligible to complete the honors thesis. Therefore, students who either do not meet the 3.65 GPA requirement for enrolling in Honors or do not want to complete an Honor's thesis can still enroll in Psychology 498 with the permission of Dr. Sommers. Please note that this option still affords the student a writing– intensive (WI) course

Psychology 499: Students in Psychology 499 focus on completing their written thesis, preparing a poster for the annual Honors symposium (and for the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium), and presenting their results and discussion to the Honors seminar students.

General Timeline for Honors

Junior Year

By the end of their junior year, students who want to participate in the Honors Program should have an advisor who has agreed to supervise their Honors project. Students should meet with their Honors advisor to identify potential research questions and to obtain necessary background reading. The goal of these initial meetings is to identify the general research question that will serve as the basis for the student's Honors thesis. Please note that a faculty member will likely supervise only one, or at most two, theses. Therefore, the student needs to contact a potential Honors advisor as early as possible.

Special note: If you are planning to study abroad during the second semester of your junior year, it is critical that you contact potential advisors and develop research ideas before going abroad. If you wait until you return from study abroad, it is most likely that you will be unable to find an advisor for your Honors thesis and/or complete the thesis on time.

Reminder: Students must meet with Dr. Sommers before the first Honors class to discuss their projects.

Summer between Junior and Senior Years

It certainly is advisable to maintain contact with your Honors advisor during the summer to continue preparations for your investigation. In fact, for a number of research projects it may be necessary to collect pilot data and/or to begin your Honors research during the summer. This also is the time for you to be reading intensively the research literature related to your project. At the very least, in addition to the reading, you need to determine how you will conduct the research (i.e., the procedures).

Special note: Before any research can commence, you must have completed the necessary forms and received approval from the relevant Human Subjects Review Committee or Animal Studies Committee. Be sure to check with your advisor about completing these forms. This is particularly important for students planning on working with non-traditional populations (e.g., children or clinical populations) because human subjects approval in these cases can take 3-4 months.


At the beginning of their senior year, students should meet regularly with their advisor to finalize details of the investigation. The goal should be to have everything in place (including approval from the Human Subjects Review Committee or Animal Studies Committee) so that data collection, if it has not already started, can begin no later than the beginning of October.


Students should have most of their data collected by the end of the first semester. In addition, students will need to complete a draft of their Introduction and Method sections.


Students should aim to have data collection and analysis completed by the middle of February. Students should attempt to have a complete draft of their thesis to their advisor NO LATER THAN THE END OF FEBRUARY.


Recommendations for Honors are generally due in the Dean's office by the third week of March. As noted, students should submit a completed draft of their thesis to their advisors by the end of February. Once your advisor provides feedback on this initial draft, you should revise your thesis at least once (but typically more than once) based on the comments you receive. The version that you hand in to your advisor in March will be part of the final Honors recommendations. Therefore, the thesis should be in “as close to final form" as possible by the time the Honors recommendation is due.


During April, you should continue to fine-tune your thesis. Your advisor will provide feedback on the drafts that you submit, and you should revise your thesis accordingly. You must turn in a final version of your thesis to your advisor as well as to the Honors Coordinator by the last day of classes for the spring semester.

Special note: Students are also required to present their research at the P&BS Honors Poster Session and at the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium. You will receive instruction on how to design and print a poster. The P&BS Honors Poster Session is usually held on the first or second day of the reading period and the Arts and Sciences symposium is generally held the weekend before that. You should begin working on your poster no later than the second week of April, as you will need to revise it several times based on comments from your advisor

Guide to Honors

Registering for Honors

Study for Honors is a two-semester program (see Requirements). In the first semester, you will be enrolled for Psych 498; the second semester you will be enrolled for Psych 499. Before registering for Honors, however, you must submit a Petition for Permission to Enroll form to the Coordinator of the P&BS Honors Program, Dr. Mitchell Sommers. (Forms are available from the office of the Undergraduate Coordinator, room 207B.) The form must be signed both by you and by your Honors advisor, and must be filed each semester. Only after handing in the signed Petition form to, and obtaining approval from Dr. Sommers, can you then be registered for Honors (Psych 498/499).


Why should I consider conducting an Honors project?

The primary reason for conducting an Honors project is to learn more about an area that is of interest to you. The Honors project will provide an opportunity for you to obtain in-depth knowledge about a particular area. It will also provide you with a strong background in evaluating research -- a skill that is important for almost any career. Finally, the Honors project will allow you to work one-on-one with a faculty member who is an expert in your area of interest. You should NOT conduct an Honors project simply because you think it will improve your chances of getting into graduate school or will "look good" on your transcript.

When should I start thinking about conducting an Honors project?

There are several reasons why students should begin thinking about whether they might want to conduct an Honors project during their sophomore year. First, if you are planning to go abroad for a semester of your junior year, you will need to have completed Experimental Psychology (Psych 301/3011). This means that you likely will need to complete statistics (Psych 300) in your sophomore year. Because space in Experimental Psychology is limited, it is advisable to take statistics no later than your second semester sophomore year and Experimental in the junior year. If you are going abroad for the full year, then Experimental Psychology will need to be completed in your sophomore year. Second, if you are considering an Honors project, it is highly advisable to gain research experience through independent study in Psychology (Psych 333). Approximately half of the Honors projects in any given year are follow-up investigations to projects that were started as part of independent study in P&BS. Psych 333 provides an opportunity for you to identify potential research areas that may be of interest to you as well as to identify potential Honors advisors. The P&BS Department holds an informational session for those interested in Honors sometime near the middle of the spring semester. It is recommended that you attend this session as early as possible in your career – even if you are only considering the possibility of doing an Honors project.

How should I find an advisor/research project?

There are a number of ways to identify potential advisors for your Honors project. As noted, one way is to conduct a follow-up study on a project on which you participated as part of an independent study in Psychology. Another way to identify potential advisors is to look at our brochure, Listing of Psychological Research Opportunities, in which faculty and their research interests are noted. (You may pick up a copy of this brochure from Shelley Kohlman, room 207B) Students are often hesitant about contacting faculty to serve as Honors advisors. However, if you contact potential advisors early enough, most will welcome the opportunity to discuss potential projects with you.

How are final recommendations for Honors determined?

Upon certification by the department that the Honors Program has been satisfactorily completed, the student may be awarded the A.B. cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude according to the following proportions: the top 15 percent in overall grade point average of all Latin honors candidates in the college of Arts and Sciences who complete the necessary requirements of their major departments will graduate summa cum laude; the next 35 percent magna cum laude; the next 50 percent cum laude.

Special note: To graduate with Latin Honors from the College (i.e., summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude) you must successfully complete the Honors Program (that is, have the required minimum GPA, complete an approved honors thesis, complete both Psych 498 and 499, present at the poster sessions – see Requirements).

What kind of course load should I take in addition to the Honors project?

Conducting an outstanding Honors project is extremely time demanding. As a consequence, depending on your constraints and interests, it is advisable that you not enroll in more than 12 units of classes in addition to the Honors course. You should also NOT register for any other research class (e.g., Psych 333) while you are enrolled in Honors.

What do we do in the Honors seminar?

The Honors seminar is designed to provide exposure to a wide range of research projects and to help in the design and implementation of your project. Psych 498 and 499 meet once a week for two hours. Each student is required to give a 30-45 minute presentation about his or her research project. Because most projects will be in the initial stages during the first semester (Psych 498) of Honors (i.e., most will not have any data collected), the talks will center on the background and design of the research project. One of the main goals of the presentations is to get feedback from the class regarding your project. Often, other people in the Honors Program provide suggestions that significantly improve the design or other aspects of the project.


Professor Sommers is the coordinator for the Honors Program.

Contact Professor Sommers