Honors in Economics
The Honors Program in Economics gives outstanding senior majors an opportunity to design and carry out a research project on a topic of their choice, under close supervision of faculty. Students who are interested in pursuing honors in economics should apply during their junior year. The research project culminates in a senior thesis which, together with the student's record in economics courses, forms the basis for faculty decisions on the award of departmental honors.
The program is administered by the Department's Committee on Undergraduate Honors and Awards. The Committee consists of the Director of Undergraduate Studies and two faculty appointed by the Chair of the Department. (The faculty member directing the Senior Seminar, Economics 398, is not eligible to serve on the Committee.) The Director of Undergraduate Studies serves as the departmental honors coordinator.
Honors Program CRITERIA
Students who are interested in pursuing honors in economics should apply during their junior year by contacting the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Typically, successful students should have:
- An overall GPA of 3.5 or higher.
- Completed, by the end of the junior year, all core courses in economics: Economics 201, 202, 281, 310-1, 310-2, 311.
- A GPA in economics courses of 3.5 or higher, and no grade below a B in the following courses: Statistics 210; Economics 281, 310-1, 310-2, 311.
- Completed, by the end of the junior year, at least two of the six 300-level field courses required for the economics major, and when combined with the registration for the fall quarter of the senior year, have taken at least four of the six required field courses.
Students who fall somewhat short of these criteria but are highly motivated to write a senior thesis should discuss their application beforehand with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
Students will receive a formal notification of the acceptance of their application to the Honors Program.
Structure of the Program
Honors candidates must complete two additional courses in economics, beyond those required for a major, in which they undertake the research and writing of a thesis. Three options are available for these two courses.
- Economics 398-1,2, Senior Seminar
Nearly all candidates elect this option, because it provides a structured environment for pursuing research and allows students to interact with a small group of excellent students who are similarly engaged. A faculty member directs the seminar and provides general instruction in doing empirical work and preparing a research paper. The faculty member will also oversee the progress of each student. However, it is usually the case that students will be referred to another faculty member who specializes in the chosen topic and can give detailed direction and advice. A "K" grade is awarded at the end of the first quarter of 398; a letter grade is awarded at the end of the second quarter which is posted on the transcript for both quarters. Normally 398-1, 2 is taken in the winter and spring quarters of the senior year, but arrangements can be made for students who intend to graduate in quarters other than spring quarter.
- Two quarters of Economics 399, Independent Study
Occasionally a student may already have initiated a line of research with a particular faculty member and may wish to continue working with that person. However, 399's will not fulfill the requirements for honors unless a student has been invited to the Honors Program before enrolling in them. Moreover, students who elect this option must give an oral presentation of the thesis in the Senior Seminar.
- A two-quarter graduate level field sequence, for example, Economics 450-1,2 Industrial Organization
This option is very rarely used. It is appropriate for a student who has completed all requirements for the undergraduate major, who has a serious interest in economic theory, and who wishes to use the senior year to explore economic analysis at greater depth and rigor. This option usually requires taking at least the first quarters of Economics 410 and 411, the first-year graduate courses in microeconomic and macroeconomic theory before embarking on the field sequence. 410 and 411 require extensive preparation in mathematics. Students who elect this option must still complete an honors thesis, which would be written in conjunction with the field courses, and they must give an oral presentation of the thesis in the Senior Seminar.
Completion of the Honors Program is necessary to be eligible for departmental honors, but it does not assure such an award. The Committee on Undergraduate Honors and Awards makes final recommendations on departmental honors, and its recommendations are subject to approval by the WCAS Committee on Superior Students and Honors.
The departmental Committee considers the following criteria in its deliberations:
- Two faculty readers should find the candidate's thesis to be of very high quality. Members of the Committee may serve as readers. At least one reader must be a faculty member who did not serve as the student's immediate supervisor. Each reader must submit a written evaluation based on careful examination of the thesis and a recommendation regarding the award of honors. The evaluation must describe the original contribution of the work and comment on its strengths and weaknesses. In case of a division of opinion, a third faculty reader is solicited.
- The candidate should have attained a minimum GPA of 3.3 in the two additional courses taken in the Honors Program.
- The candidate should have attained a minimum GPA of 3.5 in economics courses offered for the major.
- The minimum GPA requirements in items 2 and 3 may be relaxed if the thesis is judged to be of extraordinarily high quality.
A majority vote of the Committee is required to recommend honors. The Committee's vote on each candidate accompanies its recommendations to the WCAS Committee on Superior Students and Honors.
Guidelines for the Honors Thesis
The thesis must constitute an original contribution to economic analysis and must consist substantially of independent research performed by the candidate. A paper that reviews and summarizes a body of literature on a particular topic will not merit honors, unless it arrives at an especially novel and provocative synthesis of ideas. The mere collection of data without some theory-based application or interpretation of the data will also not normally qualify as an honors thesis.
Any of the following styles of research are acceptable and may result in a successful thesis:
- A thesis may use economic theory to model an economic or social problem, develop interesting hypotheses, and examine the empirical validity of the model and hypotheses using suitable data and econometric methods. The model may pertain to contemporary economic issues or to issues in economic history or the history of economic thought. The model itself need not be original; the innovative contribution may instead lie in examining it with new bodies of data, or employing superior econometric methods to those used in previous work, or pitting conflicting hypotheses against one another in new ways.
- A thesis may study a model or class of models that cannot be estimated but is instead analyzed through simulation methods.
- A thesis may focus on a policy issue, applying standard tools of economic analysis to arrive at new insights about the likely impacts of past or prospective policy interventions.
- A thesis may involve only economic or econometric theory, in which case it must develop new methods for studying economic phenomena, or arrive at significant refinements of existing tools or concepts.
Aspects of these approaches may often be combined in a single thesis, and a novel integration of them to study a given problem may also qualify as original research.
Careful preparation of the final thesis is essential. The thesis must include the following:
- A title page
- A one-page summary
- Text, arranged in major sections and subsections, as appropriate
- Endnotes (if footnotes are not entered on text pages)
The document must be typed and carefully proofread. Endnotes (or footnotes) and references must be prepared in a consistent, accepted style. The thesis is normally submitted in one electronic file (word processing format or a PDF file) to the faculty member teaching the Economics 398 Senior Seminar.
The text should begin with an introduction describing the issues to be studied and the approach to be taken. It would usually proceed to a review and summary of past studies of the topic. The next section would usually lay out the model and hypotheses. If econometric work is undertaken, following sections would describe empirical implementation of the model, the data used, and the statistical results. In other cases, these sections would present the new analyses, insights, interpretations, or theorems. A concluding section would summarize the principal findings and their implications, highlighting the original contributions of the research. It would also note shortcomings of the analysis and propose directions for further research.
Selecting a promising research topic is a great challenge. Broad issues of economic policy are often attractive to students, but unless a topic is narrowed down sufficiently, completion of an original contribution within two quarters of research is unlikely. Even when the topic is suitably restricted, a definitive treatment will usually not be achieved. Thus, it is important that students show awareness in the final text of additional aspects of the problem they might have investigated, or additional statistical tests they might have performed, or improvements in the data they might have made, or additional methods of analysis they might have employed, had they had more time to work on the subject.
Copies of previous honors theses are available for review from the Director of Undergraduate Studies.