Honors Theses

  • Students who complete their degree with a 3.6 GPA in their major are eligible to pursue honors by satisfactorily completing independent research in a 1 cu independent study with a professor.

  • The honors thesis is undertaken during a student's senior year and may be started if the student may reasonably expect to graduate with a 3.6 GPA in the major, even if the current major GPA is below that.

  • Honors requires a 1 cu independent study, typically PPE 498: Directed Honors Thesis. Since the honors independent study is 1 cu, seniors considering part-time status should plan accordingly. The honors thesis credit can count towrds both the theme and the honors option on your academic worksheet.

  • To request a permit for PPE 498, a student must identify a research project and a supervisor, who can be any Penn Professor or PPE Fellow, to oversee the project. The project must be in some way related to PPE, and it must be approved by PPE's Associate Director.

  • Once you have found a willing supervisor, complete the form below and submit the form here where it will be reviewed by PPE's Associate Director. Upon approval, you will be issued a permit.

PPE Independent Study and Honors Request Form

Submit completed form here

  • A student may enroll in PPE 498 in either the fall or spring of senior year. Please know that deadlines for honors thesis awards typically fall in at the beginning of April. Examples of these prizes include the Joseph Warner Yardley Prize for best thesis on political economy and the Rose Award for outstanding research achievements by undergraduates.

  • The final thesis is a formal document. We provide this suggested lay-out, though you are welcome to use alternative formal formatting. A copy of the completed honors thesis should be emailed to ppemajor@sas.upenn.edu and this will also be a de facto submission for consideration of publication to our student journal SPICE, unless otherwise indicated in the email. Everyone who completes a PPE honors thesis may elect to publish it online in the PPE Honors Repository in the Penn Scholarly Commons. Bound copies are also available in the PPE Main Office in 311 Cohen. Please visit to see some of our students' excellent work!

  • To be eligible for PPE's "Best Honors Thesis" prize, you must submit your thesis by April 2nd.

Sample Topics: 

For an Independent Study or Honors Thesis to count for PPE credit, it should be interdisciplinary in scope, and relevant to PPE. For example, it could have something to do with how social norms shape human actions, how we might use game theory to model a class of moral or political problems, why some public policy might be justified (e.g. using moral theory and economic analysis), how insights from the behavioral sciences might improve public policy or corporate ventures, whether political authority can be morally justified, the political economy of corruption or development in a particular region, etc.

A good thesis raises counterarguments and interprets opposing views charitably, and a good thesis writer exhibits epistemic humility (acknowledging what they don't know) and cites evidence appropriately (understanding that science is an ongoing process, and that a single publication cannot be taken as proof that a claim is correct). For more on the replication problem in science, see this article.

Finally, it may be worth investing in a writing guide such as Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style, and reading some books and articles apart from class to explore what you're interested in before approaching a faculty supervisor about a topic.

Students can choose to submit their thesis to Penn's online repository. To do so, after your thesis has been approved, please email sarnoa@pobox.upenn.edu and ppemajor@sas.upenn.edu to notify us that you've made the submission.