Independent Study and Senior Thesis

Students with special interests who wish to pursue and who can demonstrate sufficient preparation may apply for independent study, either English 295 or English 395. 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.

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. 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. Preference is given to students who can demonstrate thorough preparation, normally through appropriate coursework at the 300 level.

Seniors who have shown promise in a semester of 395 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.

  • The Independent Study application deadline for Fall 2022 projects is midnight on Friday, April 8, 2022.
  • Please note neither English 295 nor English 395 count toward the course requirements for the major or minor.

Eligibility for Honors

          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.


    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 the advisor’s permission, the student registers for 4 credits of independent study (ENGL 395) in the first semester of their senior year.  A project becomes a thesis only after this first semester if the advisor and student agree that it can be submitted for possible honors.  

    II. Senior year, first semester
           1.  During the first two weeks of classes, the student should meet with their 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 the 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 the advisor whether the project should continue.  If so, the student registers again for 4 credits of independent study (ENGL 395) for the 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 their 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 the 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 their advisor then asks 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.

Thesis Deadline, Submission and Defense

Thesis Deadline

  1. Schedule your Defense: A week before the thesis submission deadline, email your thesis to each committee member and contact your thesis committee members to schedule your defense. The oral honors examination is one hour long and must occur at least twelve days before Commencement. After confirming a date and time with your thesis committee, please contact the department office to schedule a space.
    • 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 their examining committee, in which committee members may ask for elaboration or clarification of specific points or ask the student to relate their work more broadly to their literary studies. 
    • Committee members may ask the student to make small, proofreading corrections before submitting it to the LITS electronic thesis collection.
    • After the examination, the advisor will tell the student whether they have 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.
  2. Ensure your thesis is properly formatted according to the requirements described on the LITS Archives & Special Collections website.
  3. After the defense, and after any required changes to the written thesis have been made, email a copy of your thesis to the English Department at and to the LITS electronic student theses collection. Also review the LITS Theses and honors work page, which contains directions on how to submit a thesis to the Institutional Archive.