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My Honors College

Thesis Guide

The flexibility you have in selecting your topic is virtually limitless. You are encouraged to delve deeply into a subject matter within your major or to pursue something entirely unrelated to your chosen degree.

YOU decide what you will research, and YOU decide how that research will be presented. Please keep in mind that the senior thesis is not the time to attempt to learn a new field. Interdisciplinarity or creativity in subject choice is encouraged, however, provided that you and your Director feel the chosen topic is manageable.

Throughout this project, you will rely primarily on your Director and Second Reader for guidance. It is extremely important that you meet regularly with your Director and frequently submit drafts of your paper for feedback. However, you are ultimately responsible for monitoring your progress, keeping track of your remaining tasks, and meeting your deadlines. This responsibility is one reason graduate and professional programs, as well as employers, are so impressed by a student who has successfully completed a senior thesis. If you want this to be the enjoyable learning experience it was meant to be, do not procrastinate!

The senior thesis should be something to which you can point with great pride and satisfaction. It should serve as an example of your finest work. It is for this reason the thesis requirement was instituted, and it has proven beneficial to our students.

We hope this guide will serve to answer some of the basic questions you may have about the senior thesis/project. Students and Thesis Directors can contact Dr. Kay Thomas by email or by contacting her at 803-777-2409.


What is the difference between a thesis paper and a thesis project? A thesis involves extensive research resulting in what amounts to an extended term paper.  Thesis projects involve a more “hands-on” activity, such as a performance, an exhibit, equipment design and construction, etc. A few examples of projects include a musical composition and/or performance; an art exhibit; writing a collection of short stories or an anthology of poetry; creating an advertising, public relations or marketing campaign; writing and directing a play; building a small car, dam, robot, or computer; illustrating and/or designing a book; developing and programming a computer game; creating a short film or documentary; etc.

The written portion of the thesis project (i.e., the paper) tends to be considerably shorter than in a traditional thesis paper. However, students often underestimate the time required to complete their projects. In fact, projects may require considerably more time than the traditional thesis paper. Be sure you have allowed enough time to complete your work before undertaking such an endeavor.  

A senior thesis does not necessarily follow a strict timetable. You may begin research as a freshman that culminates in a thesis project during your senior year. You may enroll in a class during your sophomore year that captures your interest and serves as a springboard for your research. A hobby you have pursued for most of your life may be very appealing as a potential thesis topic.

The Honors College supports a variety of approaches to completing your thesis. With that in mind, the table below offers a suggested course of action for completing your thesis in a timely fashion.

First Semester, Junior Year

Begin thinking of potential topics and senior thesis/project directors. The thesis director must be a full-time USC faculty member. Use the Office of Undergraduate Research faculty database to search for potential thesis directors by areas of research:

During honors advisement, register for SCHC 390, which is typically taken in the spring semester of your junior year.

Second Semester, Junior Year

Take SCHC 390, an online, 1 credit-hour course. In order to earn credit for SCHC 390, you will submit an electronic copy of your Thesis Proposal summarizing your planned research paper or project to your Thesis Director and to SCHC.

Senior Year

Work on the senior thesis should be conducted during the entirety of your senior year. However, you may enroll in SCHC 499 in either semester of your senior year. Regardless of whether you enroll in SCHC 499 during the fall or spring, the Senior Thesis Contract and a copy of your Thesis Proposal is due to Dr. Kay Banks by the end of the first week of classes. Specific deadlines are posted on the SCHC website.

Work on the senior thesis should be conducted during the entirety of your senior year, in consultation with your Thesis Director. You will also identify a Second Reader, someone who can serve as a ‘technical expert,’ giving guidance in the mechanics of writing the resulting paper.

Senior Thesis Paper/Project Defense

The Thesis Defense is a presentation of your thesis work. It is best to ask your Director and Second Reader their preference for how you present your thesis, both in form (eg PowerPoint) and content (eg broad overview or highlight specific details). Typically a thesis defense is between 30 and 45 minutes. You are responsible for scheduling a date and time for your thesis defense. This date must then be submitted to SCHC.

After the Defense

You must complete the online Thesis Submission form and submit the signed title page and final hard copy of your senior thesis (by flash drive or CD) to the SCHC Thesis Coordinator for certification of graduation “with Honors from the South Carolina Honors College.” Unless otherwise noted on the submission form, the copy will be uploaded into the University's Scholar Commons database. Refer to the Thesis Formatting Section in this handbook for specific details on the option of thesis binding.

SCHC 390: Thesis/Project Planning Course was developed to help you have an earlier, smoother, faster start on your senior thesis. This is a one credit-hour, pass/fail course offered each semester via Blackboard and is typically taken in the second semester of your junior year.  If you have not yet taken the course in an earlier semester, your honors academic advisor will enroll you in SCHC 390 for the spring semester of your junior year during fall advisement period.  The course is considered complete when you have submitted a satisfactory thesis proposal to your Director and the SCHC Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. This proposal is typically 2-6 pages in length.  

Failure to meet the requirements for SCHC 390 by the end of the semester will result in a grade of "F" (Fail) unless the director has agreed to give you an "I" (Incomplete).

SCHC 390 is required to graduate with SCHC Honors; however, there are several groups of students who are exempted from this course.

  • Second-semester juniors who are studying abroad, on National Student Exchange, or completing other programs which require them to be absent from campus (i.e. Washington Semester). It should be noted that many students participate in these programs at times other than the second semester of their junior year and they are still required to complete SCHC 390 and submit a thesis proposal.  

  • Students who are required by their major department to complete a course equivalent to SCHC 390. If you are uncertain whether your department has such a course, please contact the SCHC Assistant Dean for Student Affairs.

  • Students in certain majors (e.g. Engineering, Computing and Pharmacy majors) who elect to use a senior project or upper level graduate course required by their major department in place of SCHC 499. Because of the time frame for these projects, such students are not required to complete SCHC 390.

The Honors College senior thesis course, SCHC 499, has been designed as a full-year course. You are expected to spend your entire senior year on its completion. Typically, the grade for SCHC 499 is due during the semester in which you plan to graduate.

To meet the requirements for graduating “with Honors from the South Carolina Honors College,” you are required to enroll in SCHC 499 for a minimum of 3 credit hours. In a typical university course, you are expected to work approximately 3 hours per week for every credit in which you are enrolled. Hence, if you enroll in SCHC 499 (a year-long course) for three credits, you should plan to work on your thesis/project for an average of 4 ½ hours per week throughout your senior year.

You may enroll in SCHC 499 by completing the Senior Thesis/Project Contract form and submitting it, along with your thesis proposal, to the SCHC Thesis Coordinator by the posted deadline. All work (e.g., research, final paper, and defense) must be completed by the grade submission deadline during the semester in which you intend to graduate.

Failure to do so will likely result in your inability to graduate on time. Therefore, it is extremely important that every part of the thesis process, from research to the defense, is timely.  You are advised to begin work on your senior thesis/project as early as possible, even before the semester officially begins. Many SCHC students have found that getting a head start on their theses has saved them from getting behind in their work later in the semester.

It is normal for your topic to shift, to narrow, occasionally even to expand; however, major mutations (major shifts in topics) should be brought to the attention of the SCHC Thesis Coordinator. Likewise, students occasionally need to change directors or second readers. This should happen only in extraordinary circumstances and MUST be cleared with the SCHC Thesis Coordinator first. In other words, if your thesis/project topic changes, or if you change either the Director or the Second Reader or both, you must submit a new Senior Thesis Contract with all the necessary signatures to the SCHC Thesis Coordinator as soon as possible. A change in topic also requires a new proposal be attached to the new contract.

A major hurdle in commencing with the senior thesis is the selection of a thesis director. You may wish to work with a professor with whom you previously took a class, your major advisor, or someone with whom you have been working in a lab. The only requirement by the Honors College is that the Thesis Director be a full-time faculty member on the USC-Columbia campus (someone who has the power to give a grade). We also encourage you to be familiar with your Director’s teaching style and grading methods. You may be forced to seek out a professor from a department with which you are unfamiliar. This is particularly true in the case of interdisciplinary thesis topics and projects that fall outside your major course of study. This is not something we discourage, but it is important that both you and your Thesis Director are clear what each other’s expectations are at the outset.

Usually, students settle on a topic before attempting to locate an appropriate Director. Sometimes, it is difficult to find a faculty member willing to work with you on your proposed topic. If this problem persists during your search for a director, you may find it necessary to alter or completely change your topic.

Your Thesis Director should provide guidance in research, establish the criteria for grading, and will be responsible for entering a grade at the conclusion of the project. Your Director should meet with you regularly and should be accessible throughout the course of your project. Work on the thesis typically begins in the second semester of your junior year and does not conclude until you graduate. Make sure your Director is planning to be on campus or accessible to you throughout that time.

You are expected to remain in close contact with your Thesis Director and Second Reader. Writing should be submitted for review on a regular basis, and you should expect corrections or suggestions to be returned in a timely manner. You must allow a reasonable amount of time for the Thesis Director and Second Reader to review your work, particularly immediately prior to the thesis defense. Keep your appointments, especially if you are having difficulty. The greatest cause of thesis/project anguish is inadequate communication between students and directors. If any problems arise, please contact the SCHC Thesis Coordinator.

You must select a Second Reader prior to enrolling in SCHC 499. In addition to the advice of your own Director, there are typically two principal rationales that may be used in selecting a Second Reader. First, you may wish to choose a Second Reader who will be the "technical expert" during the writing process for the thesis. Since the Thesis Director is primarily responsible for supervising the content of the thesis (e.g., your research and conduct during this undertaking), the Second Reader in this instance would give guidance in the mechanics of writing the resulting paper (e.g., correcting grammar and punctuation, suggesting changes in syntax, etc.).

The second rationale for choosing a Second Reader is most appropriate if you are pursuing an interdisciplinary thesis. In this case, the Thesis Director is chosen from one field while the Second Reader is chosen to represent the second field. The Director and Second Reader complement each other and, together, help to ensure you will include appropriate material from each discipline.

Unlike the Thesis Director, a Second Reader need not be a USC faculty member. You are free to choose any person who has the required expertise in the discipline. In fact, the Second Reader may be a person in the local community and does not have to be affiliated with USC in any way. However, family members, undergraduate students and friends are prohibited from serving as a Second Reader or Thesis Director.  Both the Second Reader and the Thesis Director are responsible for grading your coursework.  In this capacity it is necessary to avoid any conflicts of interest. The Second Reader needs to be accessible to you during the entire senior thesis process and must attend and participate actively in your thesis defense. If you are having trouble finding a suitable Thesis Director or Second Reader, contact the SCHC Thesis Coordinator for assistance.

If you will be receiving 6 or more credit hours for your thesis, you will be assigned to either the Honors College Dean or one of the Associate Deans and will be expected to regularly update him or her on the progress of your work. The thesis proposal should reflect the amount of research/work to constitute the additional hours, basically as if you were taking two thesis courses. Additionally, you will schedule a meeting 30 days PRIOR TO YOUR DEFENSE to include you, your Thesis Director, Second Reader, and your assigned Dean to ensure you are making sufficient progress towards completing your thesis.

You may wish to complete your senior thesis with one or more other students. This is permissible, provided the project warrants giving each student involved a minimum of 3 hours credit. It is important to realize that carrying out a project over the long term with multiple people can significantly complicate matters in terms of scheduling time for research, writing, revisions, and the defense. Carefully consider these factors before undertaking this project with a classmate.

You may be required to complete a senior design project or thesis as part of your major requirements. The Honors College considers such courses to be equivalent to SCHC 499. For example, a history major may be required to enroll in HIST 499, or a chemistry major may be required to enroll in CHEM 499. Provided you submit a proposal (from 390 or its equivalent) and a Senior Thesis Contract to the SCHC Thesis Coordinator and follow SCHC procedures as stated in the Senior Thesis Handbook, the Honors College will count that thesis/project towards fulfilling the requirements to graduate "with Honors from the South Carolina Honors College."

The Honors College encourages you to do an independent study or research before beginning your senior thesis. This is perhaps the best way to gain valuable research skills, self-discipline, and experience working independently before you confront the greater task of completing the senior thesis. Honors students majoring in the natural sciences especially will find that doing an independent study or research first will allow you to "work out all the kinks" before doing your thesis. This, in turn, will enable you to begin your senior thesis without the delays that may be caused by your unfamiliarity with scientific research and laboratory procedures.

Your thesis/project may be a continuation of work you already have started on a research fellowship, in a course, or in independent study. It may not, however, be a repetition of the same work for which you have already received academic credit.

You may opt to do either SCHC 399: Independent Study or a departmental independent study course (e.g., ENGL 399, CHEM 399, JOUR 547, etc.). Check with your major advisor first about which course would be most appropriate.

It is your responsibility to ensure your research complies with University of South Carolina and Office of Research Compliance policies and regulations. If you are using animals in your thesis/project, you must get approval from IACUC or be listed on an approved IACUA, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocol. Likewise, if you are using human subjects or giving out surveys, you must get approval from the University Institutional Review Board, IRB, or be listed on an approved protocol.

Ultimately, details such as page length are left to the discretion of your Director. However, the Honors College has established a general rule for paper length. For a three-credit senior thesis, students in humanities or social science disciplines will write a thesis consisting of approximately forty-five to sixty pages. In fact, those theses tend to be quite a bit longer than those students writing in math, natural science or pre-professional disciplines. The latter may have theses consisting of only twenty-five to forty pages; however, the content in these theses tends to be more tightly packed.

Students who elect to complete a project rather than a traditional research paper or who are using an equivalent departmental course are still required to submit an accompanying paper as part of their senior thesis/project. Depending on the work involved in completing the project itself, it is likely the written component will be quite a bit shorter than a traditional research paper.

The Honors College has a small fund available to support extraordinary expenses associated with your senior thesis. The Honors College will provide a maximum grant of $1,500.00 to purchase needed materials for your senior thesis. Such items can include but are not limited to: chemicals, rats, equipment, and the rental of exhibit space. Items purchased through a senior thesis/project grant become the property of the Honors College, and we request that you purchase items covered by the senior thesis/project grant through the Honors College.

The Honors College thesis grant cannot pay for travel, the typing or copying of a thesis or project paper, photo duplication, or purchasing books, periodicals, meals, or routine supplies (e.g., computer or printer ribbons, computer or typing paper, notebooks, etc.).

To apply for a senior thesis/project grant, you must submit an application (downloadable from the SCHC website) and an itemized budget proposal with a written proposal explaining the project you intend to pursue. When writing the itemized budget, it is to your advantage to give a brief explanation of why you need the items in the budget. If you have been awarded alternate sources of funding (e.g., other Honors College grants, a Magellan scholarship), these must be disclosed in your application for the thesis grant. If you were awarded funding through a previous Senior Thesis grant and are applying for additional funding, you must supply an explanation for why additional funds are needed. No student may receive more than the maximum grant ($1500).

The Honors College will not accept any late application, and deadlines can be found on the Honors College website. You will be notified by mail if you are awarded a grant and will be instructed how to receive reimbursement.

Any work supported by the Senior Thesis/Project grant subsequently presented or published should cite the support as: “This work was supported in part by a South Carolina Honors College Senior Thesis/Project Grant (followed by your initials).”

You are also free to seek financial support through sources such as the SCHC Undergraduate Research Fellowships, the SCHC travel grant, or other research funding available on campus.

A senior thesis defense must be held before your Thesis Director assigns a final grade. Attendance by you, your Thesis Director, and Second Reader is mandatory.

The purposes of the defense are:

  • To examine relevant questions which did not arise during the thesis/project process but do arise during the defense

  • To discuss in which direction you would take the thesis/project if you had more time to do so

  • To provide a sense of closure to everyone involved in this process

  • To give you the valuable experience in oral expression gained from conducting the defense

  • To provide a public venue for you to present your work

You must submit one copy of the pre-defense draft, complete with scholarly apparatus (e.g., appendices, graphs, maps, etc.), to your Thesis Director and one copy to the Second Reader at least two weeks prior to the defense.  This step gives everyone time to review the thesis and to prepare questions for the defense.  Students are required to notify the Honors College about their defense date and time by completing the Senior Thesis Defense Notification Form.   Since thesis defenses are considered public events, it is important to understand that any interested persons may attend, though they may not actively participate in the defense.

It is your responsibility (possibly with help from your Director) to schedule the defense, find a location, and inform the SCHC office (via the Defense Confirmation Form) by the deadline posted on the SCHC Current Student page.  Any scheduling difficulties should be brought to the attention of the SCHC Thesis Coordinator.

The length of a defense usually ranges from thirty minutes to an hour. The Thesis Director and Second Reader determine the format, but the usual procedure is to make a ten-minute presentation on the thesis/project and then respond to questions. Suggestions for revisions will be made both during and after the defense. At the defense's conclusion, both you and the public are excused while the two readers determine the modifications, which must be made before the thesis will be accepted. Finally, you are recalled and informed of the required modifications. Your Thesis Director will need to complete the online defense evaluation form to certify you for graduation.  If the Thesis Director so chooses, you may be informed of the grade you have received for the thesis. However, the Thesis Director may instead choose to delay assigning a grade until after the revisions have been made to the paper. Arrangements should also be made for delivery of the final thesis or project paper to the Thesis Director and Second Reader to acquire their signatures on the title page.

BARSC candidates are required to complete a thesis of at least 9 hours, and, thus, will also be responsible for meeting the requirements for the 6+ hour theses (sending the Honors College dean regular updates on your thesis and for scheduling a meeting 30 days prior to your defense). Your defense should be scheduled well in advance since you must accommodate the schedules of your Director, Second Reader, and the Honors College Dean. BARSC candidates must also submit TWO pre-defense copies of the thesis or project paper and the required Defense Confirmation Form to the SCHC Thesis Coordinator and, of course, one to each reader, at least two weeks prior to the defense.

Grades for SCHC 499: Senior Thesis/Project may range from "A" to "F" and should be posted on SSC as with any other course. It is likely that, for students registered in SCHC 499 during the fall semester, a grade will not be due until the end of the next semester. Under no circumstances should a grade be posted before you have conducted a defense or before your Thesis Director has approved the final copy. If you cannot complete ALL PORTIONS of the thesis before the deadline for submission of grades, your Thesis Director should consider posting an “Incomplete” or an ‘NR'.

Any student who completes the requirements to graduate with SCHC Honors (including all portions of the Senior Thesis/Project) AFTER they have graduated from the University of South Carolina will NOT be able to have the distinction "with Honors from the South Carolina Honors College" retroactively added to their transcripts or to their diplomas. This is part of a policy established by the University Registrar's Office ending the awarding of any kind of honors (Dean's Honor List, President's Honor List, cum laude, SCHC, etc.) after a student has graduated from USC. Therefore, it is imperative that you complete ALL requirements for the senior thesis BEFORE you graduate from the University, including holding your defense, receiving all final grades, and submitting the final copies of your thesis/project paper.

If you complete your senior thesis/project early, the SCHC Thesis Coordinator will send your Thesis Director a grade sheet via email.

From time to time, unavoidable circumstances may occur in the course of completing your senior thesis.

Two examples of more common unforeseen conflicts are:

  • Change in topic or reader

  • Emergencies

Change in topic or reader

Sometimes the topic you originally intended to pursue does not work out. In this case, you are advised to discuss the possibility of choosing a different, more viable topic with the Thesis Director and Second Reader. Often, a change in topic necessitates a change in Director, Second Reader or both. Whether you change the topic, reader, or both, a new Senior Thesis/Project Contract Form must be submitted to SCHC with the signatures of both readers. A change in topic also requires the submission of a new proposal.


If your Director or Second Reader becomes seriously ill or hurt, leaves town, or experiences some other emergency that hinders your ability to complete your thesis, please contact the SCHC Thesis Coordinator as soon as possible. If necessary, the Honors College will help you to locate a new Director or Second Reader. This change in personnel will require you to submit a new Senior Thesis/Project Contract Form with the signatures of both the Thesis Director and the Second Reader.

If you experience an emergency that prevents you from completing the thesis on time, an “Incomplete” may be granted at the discretion of the Thesis Director. If you feel you are unable to complete the thesis, a withdrawal may be granted by the Honors College only in a case with extenuating circumstances (e.g., a lengthy illness, death of a family member, etc.). For more information, refer to the section on “Dropping a Course” in the Undergraduate Bulletin.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your senior thesis, they can be addressed by your Director or the SCHC Thesis Coordinator, supervisor for Senior Theses/Projects for the South Carolina Honors College. The majority of all problems that arise with a senior thesis can be fixed fairly easily, but it is up to YOU, the student, to seek help when necessary and to address problems sooner rather than later. We strongly urge you to keep multiple copies of your paper saved in multiple places. Send copies to yourself in email. Keep multiple discs or flash drives handy. This practice will make corrections after the defense vastly easier and faster. Perhaps more importantly, this practice will save you a lot of panic and headaches in the event of loss, theft or accidental erasure of the original paper. These situations really do happen; be prepared.

The Honors College recognizes the hard work involved in pursuing a senior thesis. Furthermore, we acknowledge that your thesis would not be possible without the assistance received from your Director, Second Reader, other USC faculty, and members of the community. We hope you will endeavor to conduct yourself well throughout this process and that you will demonstrate an appropriate level of gratitude to those people who help you along your journey. The Honors College staff and other members of the USC community continue to be impressed by the amazing and thoughtful projects engineered by Honors students. We hope you, as well, will find this to be a rewarding experience.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.