Independent Study

Independent Study and Honors
Mount Holyoke College Department of English

Students with special interests they wish to pursue, and who can demonstrate both sufficient preparation and a capacity to work productively on their own, may apply for independent study, either English 295 or English 395.  Please note:  neither English 295 nor English 395 count toward the course requirements for the major or minor.  Sophomores, juniors, and seniors with particular interests or needs may take 295 for 1 to 4 credits, provided suitable directors for the proposed projects are available.   The application submission deadline for fall 2018 projects is 11:59 pm on Sunday, April 15, 2018.

A.  Eligibility for Honors: College Requirements

          1.  A cumulative average of 3.00 in college work or in the major field.
          2.  A minimum of 8 credits of independent study (395) over two semesters.
          3.  Approval of the Department of English.

 B.  Customary timeline

    I.  Junior year, second semester (a calendar-year-long project can be completed in December)
          1.  Eligible students interested in senior independent study should discuss their project with potential faculty advisors, whenever possible, before the end of their junior year. Following such discussion, they should submit the Application Form to the department.
           2.  With her advisor’s permission, the student registers for 4 credits of independent study (ENGL 395) in the first semester of her senior year.  A project becomes a “thesis” only later after one semester when the advisor and student agree that it be submitted for possible honors.  See the catalogue, “Independent Study in English,” the department “Guidelines for Honors and Independent Study”; and the webpage

    II. Senior year, first semester
           1.  During the first two weeks of classes, the student should meet with her advisor to discuss their expectations and to set a meeting schedule. Meeting weekly or bi-weekly is usual, but details are left to the student and her advisor.  Observing these expectations, however, is crucial for the project to continue for a second semester.
          2.  During mid-semester registration the student discusses with her advisor whether the project should continue.  If so, the student registers again for 4 credits of independent study (ENGL 395) for her second semester senior year.  That tentative plan is confirmed at the end of the semester.  For a project “in progress” (IP) no grade is recorded for the first semester’s work.

    III. Senior year, second semester
          1.  The student meets with her advisor during the first week of classes to discuss expectations for spring semester and to set a schedule for meeting and finishing the project.
          2. By mid-semester the advisor and student should determine whether the project is to be a thesis submitted by the deadline (before classes end) or remain independent study.  That decision is made, finally, at the advisor’s discretion.
          3.  Next they should discuss the potential three members of her thesis examining committee:  the advisor, another member of the English department, and an outside evaluator from another Mount Holyoke department or program or from another of the Five Colleges.  The student or her advisor then ask these other two committee members whether they will serve.  Customarily they are not involved until the thesis is submitted, but at times may be asked to consider the work before it is completed.
          4.  A complete first draft of the thesis should be submitted to the advisor at least a month before the college-wide deadline near the end of classes.
          5.  Within ten days the advisor will return the draft with comments and determine whether it may be submitted for honors consideration or remain independent work.
          6.  Together the student and advisor need to schedule the thesis examination, consulting with the other committee members to set a date at least twelve days before Commencement. Once the date and time are agreed upon, the advisor and student ask the Department administrator to reserve a room for the examination.
          7. By the thesis deadline, the student should deliver one printed copy of the thesis to Cindy Meehan, Department Coordinator, 111 Shattuck Hall and submit an electronic copy to
          8.  The student should give a copy of her thesis to each member of her thesis committee before the deadline.
          9. The oral honors examination is one hour long. It must occur at least twelve days before Commencement.  The usual practice for scheduling an English Department thesis defense is to plan it for a day within one week of the department's thesis submission deadline.  By tradition the oral examination is called a “defense,” but that word should not be taken literally.  It is a discussion of the project between the student and her examining committee, in which committee members may ask for elaboration or clarification of specific points or ask the student to relate her work more broadly to her literary studies.  Committee members may suggest or ask the student to make small, proofreading corrections before submitting it to the Library. After the examination, the advisor will tell the student whether she has passed but not what level of distinction the committee will recommend. Levels of distinction and eligibility criteria may be found in the College “Guidelines for the Honors Program and Honors Thesis.”  A thesis not recommended for a degree with distinction will be recorded on the student's transcript as independent study.
         10. After the defense, and after any required changes to the written thesis have been made, the student should submit the corrected bound copies to the English department and to the library and submit an electronic copy to the library.  Full details of these requirements are found in “”Guidelines for the Honors Program and Honors Thesis” at

from 2012-13 College Catalogue
Juniors and seniors who have devised projects in literary criticism and scholarship, or in writing prose and poetry, and demonstrate strong preparation, are encouraged to take 395 for 4 credits.  They should discuss their ideas for projects with their academic advisor and others in the department who might serve to direct the project.  In most cases, a student should seek out department members with whom she has already studied; but if this is not possible, her advisor or the department chair will help her to find someone to supervise the project.  (Students studying off campus may pursue such arrangements by email.)  The department will try to find such advisors, but cannot guarantee a student will be allowed to undertake independent study.  Planning ahead increases the possibility of success.  Again, preference is given to students who can demonstrate thorough preparation, normally through appropriate course work at the 300 level.

Seniors who have shown promise in a semester of 395, and who meet the College requirement of a 3.00 grade point average, may, with the approval of the director of the project, continue the independent work for an additional 4 credits, with a view toward writing a thesis to be submitted for honors. Information on submitting and formatting a thesis can be found on the LITS Archives & Special Collections Web site.  (p. 237)

Printable version of the Independent Study & Honors Guidelines

Independent Study Application
     you may type into this pdf application using Adobe Acrobat Reader, save it, and email the saved pdf to the department
     see application submission deadlines at the top of this page

Information on submitting and formatting a thesis can be found on the LITS Archives & Special Collections web site