Honors at Calvin

The English department strongly encourages qualified students to participate in the Honors Program.  The program offers students the opportunity to enroll in smaller, more accelerated sections of core courses, to engage in more comprehensive research projects in upper-divisional English classes, and to develop an extended research or creative project under the supervision of two English professors.  Participating in the Honors Program can be the most rewarding part of a student’s academic work at Calvin College.

Incoming students who have been awarded National Merit, Presidential, Dean’s, Faculty Honors, or Mosaic scholarships are invited to participate in the Honors Program.  Other students whose cumulative GPA at Calvin is 3.3 or higher after at least one year of study are also eligible to participate.

The Director of the Honors Program at Calvin College is Professor Amy Wilstermann of the Biology Department.  Students should consult her for general questions about the program. 

Honors in English

Students who are interested in graduating with honors in English should notify their academic advisor as soon as possible so that they can organize their schedules appropriately.

Course requirements

Students graduating with honors in English will have completed a minimum of six honors courses (or 18 hours of honors work):

  • Three courses from the English department, including ENGL-399: Honors Project, but not including Honors English 101
  • Two courses from the general curriculum
  • One additional course from either the English department or the general curriculum. Honors English 101 may count for this sixth required course

Students must complete English 399: Honors Project as one of their three honors courses in English. 

In addition to maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher, both within the major and overall, students must also earn at least a B+ on their Honors Project in order to graduate with honors.

For specific questions about Honors requirements in the English department, contact Professor Kristine Johnson or Professor David Urban.

The Honors Project

The final requirement for earning honors in English is the taking of English 399: Honors Project. For this course, taken in the fall semester of the senior year, students work with two professors to complete a significant piece of original writing.

Project requirements

The department encourages both critical and creative Honors Projects.  For the critical Honors Project, students write a 6500-8000-word scholarly essay that shows perceptive and original insight into a topic and that contributes to the discipline’s ongoing conversation about that topic.  Students interested in pursuing graduate studies could conceive of this essay as a potential writing sample for their graduate school application. 

The expectations for the creative Honors Project depend on genre and supervisor, but the following are general guidelines:

  • 10-12 poems, or 2-3 short stories, or 2-3 scenes of a script, or 2-3 chapters of a novel; and
  • a 2000-2500-word essay that discusses the student’s understanding of the form of that genre, his or her particular use of that form, and the significance of other writers in shaping his or her own form.

Because projects must be completed before the Honors Convocation in the spring, students are expected to write the Honors Project during the fall semester of their senior year. Students who wish to request an exception must fill out the Request for a Spring Honors Project and submit it with their Honors Application (see below).

The English department expects students to develop their Honors Project from a paper completed in a previous English course.


An Honors Project demands substantial independent work and initiative on the part of the student, but the department is committed to guide this independent work through its system of Project supervision.  A student should seek out faculty members with expertise in the proposed honors topic to serve as primary and secondary readers for his or her thesis. 

The primary reader works with the student to refine an honors topic, approves the Honors Application, advises the student about critical background reading to prepare the Honors Project Proposal, approves the student’s Honors Project Proposal, reads and comments on drafts of the Honors Project, and determines the final grade of the Honors Project in consultation with the secondary reader. 

The secondary reader approves the Honors Project Proposal, reads and comments on at least one draft of the Honors Project, and determines a final grade for the Honors Project in consultation with the primary reader.


The English department requires two preliminary pieces of paperwork before a student writes the Honors Project: an application, due in spring semester of the junior year; and a proposal, due in the fall semester of the senior year.


Students writing an Honors Project must take English 399: Honors Thesis (three credits) in the semester during which they finish the project. To register for this course, students should complete a tutor request form and submit it to the office of the Registrar. The Honors Project is essentially an advanced tutorial, and this form is the mechanism by which the Registrar enrolls students into courses of this kind.


A student must submit an Honors Application form to Professor Kristine Johnson, by April 15 of the junior year.

The Honors Application form should contain the following:

  • A list of the honors courses completed by the student, with the relevant grades
  • The student’s cumulative GPA
  • The title and description of the proposed Honors Project and the tentative argumentative thesis (if a research project) OR central idea and outline (if a creative project)
  • Brief history of the project, including work completed or in progress in other classes
  • The signatures of the student’s academic advisor and primary and secondary readers

Exemplary applications from previous semesters are available here.

Students who wish to request an exception must also fill out the Request for a Spring Honors Project and submit it with their Honors Application form. 

The Honors Sub-Committee will take one of the following actions on the application:

  • Approve without reservations
  • Approve pending revisions
  • Revise and Resubmit
  • Not Approved

After the Honors Application is approved, the student should work with his or her primary reader to prepare the Honors Project Proposal.


The department expects students to work during the summer between their junior and senior years to complete a large portion of their honors research prior to the fall semester in which they take credit for English 399: Honors Thesis. 

By the end of the first week of classes in September, the student must submit an Honors Project Proposal to the chair of the Honors Sub-Committee. Students should consult frequently with their primary and secondary readers and revise their proposals extensively before submitting them to the Student Formation Committee. The Committee will take one of the following actions on the application:

  • Approve without reservations
  • Approve pending revisions
  • Revise and Resubmit
  • Not Approved

The Honors Project Proposals, both creative and critical, should include the cover page and the following:

  • A 500-750-word essay, which should include the proposed argumentative thesis (if a research project) and central idea and outline (if a creative project), a discussion of the critical, theoretical, or artistic approaches of the Project, and an explanation of the influential critics or writers whose work the student will engage;
  • An annotated bibliography, submitted in MLA format, of 10-12 sources; each 200-400 word annotation should summarize the argument of an essay, chapter, or book as it relates to the project and note its significance to the project as whole.
  • A schedule of deadline dates for completing drafts and the final thesis; and
  • The signatures of both the primary and the secondary readers of the project. (See above for information on the roles of each reader.) 

Please note: students who do not submit a satisfactory Honors Project Proposal by the deadline must drop English 399: Honors Project from their schedules for that semester. 


All literary professions—scholarship, teaching, creative writing, and others—involve the sharing of one's thoughts and words with others. As part of earning honors in English, students are given the opportunity to share their work both when it is in process and when it has become a finished product.

Honors colloquium 

Students writing Honors Projects are expected to participate in scheduled Honors Colloquia, at which they will present their ongoing work to fellow students.

Oral Presentation

Students who have successfully completed Honors Projects will present their work at a public forum scheduled by the English department.