Editor’s Column: Why I Decided Not to Write an Honors Thesis

In my experience, college has come to symbolize a place where I have learned how to evaluate my priorities. Throughout my time at Colgate, I have encountered several life-altering decisions, ranging from joining a Panhellenic organization the spring semester of my sophomore year to embarking on a year-long study abroad stint to the United Kingdom. Every verdict I have reached and every action I have taken has ultimately affected the trajectory of my personal and professional growth in the best way possible. But while I thought I had tackled every obstacle successfully, I was recently faced with the most daunting of them all: completing an honors thesis for my English major.

Seniors with an average GPA of 3.5 in English courses are eligible to apply and pursue an honors project. In other words, writing a thesis is strictly optional. Although I had always imagined concluding my senior year with a 50+ page honors thesis in hand, my values have evolved. Since I was away from Hamilton last year, I was unable to enroll in English courses and form close relationships with other Colgate professors. And maybe most importantly, there is no topic I am truly thrilled about pursuing.

The decision to write an honors thesis has consumed my life for the past two weeks. While writing an honors thesis is optional, I have become conditioned to believe that “optional” is a gentler term for “highly recommended.” Therefore, I set up numerous meetings with the director of Honors and my English advisor to discuss my dilemma.

During these one-on-one sessions, I was asked why I wanted to write an honors thesis. And to be honest, I realized all of my answers were unconvincing and for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to have “Honors” next to my name in the graduation pamphlet. I firmly believed that writing a thesis was necessary for job applications. I did not want to be perceived as unintelligent or lazy for not writing one. I did not want to disappoint my professors, family and friends. Rather than pushing me to research, the director of Honors and my English advisor assured me that not writing an honors thesis was okay. They both clarified that having “Honors” next to my name at graduation would only be relevant and satisfying for the first six months after college, a thesis will not (and will never) hurt my professional career and my professors, family and friends would support me regardless of my decision. Most importantly, they encouraged me to contemplate how I want my senior year to pan out.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I would not be writing an honors thesis. I always knew in my heart that I was going to be fine in the long run, but I had (and still do have) a hard time walking away from something I had deemed so conventional. Although every person I talked to was understanding about my situation, it was ultimately the self-pressure that took a toll on my mental well-being. At the end of the day, I recognized that I would get more satisfaction from excelling in my classes and participating in extracurricular activities than doing a year-long study on a subject that did not have my undivided attention. 

The last thing I want is for my fellow readers to think that I am using this platform as a vehicle for dissuading anyone from writing an honors thesis. I commend those who are brave enough to venture into this opportunity and I am eager to talk to my classmates about their fleshed-out projects during the spring semester. But for those who are straddling the sides of certainty and uncertainty, I promise that life has its way of working itself out in the end.